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Chapter 2

Chapter 2- How Psychologists do Research.docx

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Lawrence Murphy

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How Psychologists do Research  Research methods matter so much to psychologists because they allow researchers to separate reliable information from unfounded beliefs, sort out conflicting views, and correct false ideas that may cause people harm. (Autistic children and Facilitated Communication)  Research methods are the tools of the psychological scientist’s trade, and understanding them is crucial for everyone who reads or hears about a new program or an “exciting finding” that is said to be based on psychological research What Makes Psychological Research so Scientific? Characteristics of the ideal scientist:  Precision. Theory: an organized system of assumptions and principles that propose to explain a specified set of phenomena and their interrelations. Proven and things we’re sure about. Hypothesis: a statement that attempts to predict or to account for a set of phenomena; scientific hypotheses specify relations among events or variables and are empirically tested. Theory leads to hypothesis which leads to predictions. Operational Definition: a precise definition of a term in a hypothesis, which specifies the operations for observing and measuring the process or phenomenon being defined (separately defines each term used)  Skepticism. Scientists don’t accept ideas on faith or authority. Some of the greatest scientific discoveries originated from those who questioned what everyone else thought was true. Skepticism means treating conclusions, both old and new, with caution. Caution must be balanced with openness to new ideas and evidence  Reliance on Empirical Evidence. Theories and hypotheses not judged on how pleasing or entertaining they are. Idea may generate excitement because it’s plausible or imaginative but it must be backed with empirical evidence eventually. “The intensity on the conviction that a hypothesis is true has no bearing on whether it’s true or not.”  Willingness to Make “Risky Predictions”. Principle of Falsifiability: the principle that a scientific theory must make predictions that are specific enough to expose the theory to the possibility of disconfirmation; that is, the theory must predict not only what will happen but also what won’t. Confirmation Bias: the tendency to look for or pay attention only to information that confirms one’s own beliefs.  Openness. Science depends on the free flow of ideas and full disclosure of the procedures used in a study. Secrecy big “no-no”; willing to tell others where they got their ideas, how they were tested, and the results. Must be done clearly and in detail so other scientists can replicate their studies and verify or challenge the findings. Replication is vital because sometimes what seems to be a fabulous phenomenon turns out to be a fluke.  Principles of good science correspond to critical-thinking guidelines. Formulating a prediction- “define your terms”, openness- “ask questions” and “consider other interpretations”, reliance on empirical evidence- “avoid oversimplification”, principle of falsifiability- “analyze assumptions and biases”, and until scientists have had their results replicated and verified, must- “tolerate uncertainty”.  Passion fuels progress. Can cloud perceptions or lead to fraud and deception  Research methods provide a way for psychologists to separate well-supported conclusions from unfounded belief. An understanding of these methods can also help people think critically about psychological issues and become astute consumers of psychological findings and programs  The ideal scientist states hypotheses and predictions precisely, is skeptical of claims that rest solely on faith or authority, relies on empirical evidence, resists the confirmation bias and complies with the principle of falsifiability, and is open about methods and results so that findings can be replicated. The public nature of science and the peer review process give science a built-in system of checks and balances Descriptive Studies: Establishing the Facts  Representative Sample: a group of individuals, selected from a population of study, which matches the population on important characteristics such as age and sex.  Those who study human behaviour must often settle for a “convenience” sample- undergrads  Descriptive Methods: methods that yield descriptions of behaviour but not necessarily casual explanations Case Studies  Case Study: a detailed description of a particular individual being studied or treated o May include information about person’s childhood, dreams, fantasies, experiences, and relationships- anything that will provide insight into person’s behaviour  Case studies illustrate psychological principles in a way that abstract generalizations and cold statistics never can, and produce a more detailed picture of an individual  Serious drawbacks o Information is missing or hard to interpret o Observer who writes up case may have biases that influence which facts get noticed or overlooked o Person who is the focus of study may have selective or inaccurate memories, making any conclusions unreliable o Person may be unrepresentative of the group the researcher is interested in, case study method has only limited usefulness for deriving general principles of behaviour  For all these reasons, case studies are usually only sources, rather than tests of hypotheses Observational Studies  Observational Studies: a study in which the researcher carefully and systematically observes and records behaviour without interfering with the behaviour; it may involve either naturalistic or laboratory observation  Usually involve many participants  Primary purpose of naturalistic observation is to find out how people or animals act in their normal social environments  Used wherever people are- home, playgrounds or streets, schoolrooms, or offices  People don’t rely on their impressions or memories of study, they count, rate, or measure behaviour systematically, to guard against noticing only what they expect or want to see. Also keep careful records so others can check observations  Observers must be discreet so subjects will behave naturally  Sometimes laboratory observation is used so researchers have more control of the situation. Can use sophisticated equipment, determine number of participants, maintain clear line of vision, etc.  Shortcoming of laboratory observation- presence of researchers and special equipment may cause people to behave differently than they would in their natural surroundings Tests  Psychological Tests: procedures used to measure and evaluate personality traits, emotional states, aptitudes, interests, abilities, and values  Objective tests, also called inventories, measure beliefs, feelings, or behaviours of which an individual is aware; projective tests are designed to tap unconscious feelings or motives  Tests may be used to promote self-understanding, to evaluate psychological treatments, or draw generalizations about human behaviour  Well-constructed psychological tests are a great improvement over simple self-evaluation as many people have a distorted view of their own abilities and traits  Standardize: in test construction, to develop uniform procedures for giving and scoring a test  Norms: in test construction, established standards of performance  Reliability: in test construction, the consistency of scores derived from a test, from one time and place to another  Can measure test-retest reliability by giving the test twice to the same group of people and comparing them statistically. Drawback- people tend to do better on a test the second time  Solution is to compute alternative-forms reliability by giving different versions of the test  Validity: the ability of a test to measure what it was designed to measure  Most tests are judged on criterion validity- the ability to predict independent measure, or criteria, of the trait in question Surveys  Surveys: questionnaires and interview that ask people directly about their experiences, attitudes, or opinions  Volunteer Bias: a shortcoming of findings derived from a sample of volunteers instead of a representative sample; the volunteers may differ from those who did not volunteer  Non-representative sample doesn’t mean it’s useless, but means that the results may not be true for other groups  People sometimes lie during surveys especially about touchy or embarrassing topics  Likelihood of lying is reduced when asked privately  Researchers can check for lying by asking the same question in different words  Technology helps surveys because people feel more comfortable with anonymity  In any study, the researcher would ideally like to use a representative sample, one that is similar in composition to the larger population the researcher wishes to describe. But in practice, researchers must often use a “convenience” sample, which typically means university undergrads. In the study of many topics, the consequences are minimal, but in other cases, conclusions about “people in general” must be interpreted with caution  Descriptive methods allow psychologists to describe and predict behaviour but not necessarily to choose one explanation over others. Such methods include case studies, observational studies, psychological tests, and surveys, as well as correlational studies  Case studies are detailed descriptions of individuals. They are often used by clinicians and can also be valuable in exploring new research topics and addressing questions that would otherwise be difficult to study. But because the person under study may not be representative of people in general, case studies are typically sources rather than tests of hypotheses  In observational studies, the researcher systematically observes and records behaviour without interfering in any way with the behaviour. Naturalistic observation is used to find out how animals and people behave in their natural environments. Laboratory observation allows more control and the use of special equipment; behaviour in the laboratory, however, may differ in certain ways from behaviour in natural contexts  Psychological tests are used to measure and evaluate personality traits, emotional states, aptitudes, interests, abilities, and values. A good test is one that has been standardized, is scored using established norms, and is both reliable and valid. Critics have questioned the reliability and validity of even some widely used tests  Surveys are questionnaires or interviews that ask people directly about their experiences, attitudes, and opinions. Unrepresentative samples and volunteer bias can influence the generalizability of survey results. Findings can also be affected by the fact that respondents sometimes lie, misremember information, or misinterpret the questions. Technology and use of the internet can help psychologists minimize some of these problems, but they also introduce some new methodological challenges. People should be cautious about tests they take on the internet because not all of them meet scientific standards Correlational Studies: Looking for Relations  Want to know whether two phenomena are related and, if so, how strongly  Correlational study: a descriptive study that looks for a consistent relation between two phenomena Measuring Correlations  Correlation: a measure of how strongly two variables are related to one another  Variables: characteristics of behaviour or experience that can be measured or described by a numeric scale  Positive Correlation: an association between increases in one variable and increases in another- or between decreases in one and in another o Height and weight, IQ scores and school grades  Negative Correlation: an association between increases in one variable and decreases in another o The higher the income, the fewer dental problems. The older adults are, the fewer km they can run. Number of hours of TV watched and GPA’s  Coefficient of Correlation: a measure of correlation that ranges in value from -1.00 to +1.00, 0= no relationship. Good strong correlation is ~0.8, perfect is -1.00 & +1.00 Cautions about Correlations  Many correlations in news are based on rumour or anecdote  Illusionary correlations: apparent associations between two things that aren’t really related  A correlation does not establish causation o Often easy to assume that if variable A predicts variable B, A must be causing B o Salary and alcoholism in high school teachers  In descriptive research, studies that look for relations between phenomena are known as correlational. A correlation is a measure of the strength of a positive or negative relation between two variables and is expressed by the coefficient of correlation. Many correlations reported in the media or on the internet are based on rumour and anecdote and are not supported by data. Even when a correlation is real, it does not necessarily demonstrate a casual relation between the variables Experiments: Hunting for Causes  Experiment: a controlled test of a hypothesis in which the researcher manipulates one variable to discover its effect on another. Experimental Variables  Independent Variable: a variable that an experiment manipulates  Dependant Variable: a variable that an experimenter predicts will be affected by manipulations of the independent variable  Every experiment has at least one of each  In cellphone related to car crash example, independent variable is cellphone use (use vs. non- use) and the dependent is the number of collisions  Ideally, everything during the experiment is constant except for the independent variable Experiments and Control Conditions  Control Condition: in an experiment, a comparison condition in which participants are not exposed to the same treatment as in the experimental condition  Random Assignment: a procedure for assigning people to experimental and control groups in which each individual has the same probability as any other of being assigned to a given group  Placebo: an inactive substance or fake treatment used as a control in an experiment or given by a medical practitioner to a patient Experimenter Effects  Single-Blind Study: an experiment in which participants do not know whether they are in an experimental or a control group  Experimenter effects: unintended changes in study participants’ behaviour due to cues inadvertently given by the experimenter  Double-Blind Study: an experiment in which neither the people being studied nor the individuals running the study know who is in the control group and who is in the experimental group until after the results have been tallied o Essential in drug research so researchers record accurate, unbiased observations  Experimenters can affect the behaviour of a study’s participants by giving off non-verbal cues. Ex. Walk around campus and either smile or keep a neutral expression while glancing at strangers. Keeping the length of the glance the same whether smiling or not, record the results. Chances are that people who you smile at will smile back whereas those who you glance blankly at will do the same. This is why double-blind studies are so important  Field research: descriptive or experimental research conducted in a natural setting outside the laboratory (school or workplace) Research Methods in Psychology: Their Advantages and Disadvantages Method Advantages Disadvantages Purpose Example Good source of Vital information may be To understand the Developmental hypotheses. Provides in- missing, making the case development of history of a serial Case Study depth information on hard to interpret. aggressive killer individuals. The person’s memories behaviour in a Unusual cases can shed may be selective or particular light on situations or inaccurate. individual; to problems that are The individual may not formulate research unethical or impractical be representative or hypotheses about to study in other ways typical the origins of aggressiveness Allows descriptive of Allows researcher little To describe the Observation of behaviour as it occurs in or no control of the nature of hitting, kicking etc., Naturalistic the natural environment. situation. aggressive acts in during free-play Observation Often useful in first Observations may be early childhood periods in a stages of a research biased. preschool program Does not allow firm conclusions about cause and effect. Allows more control Allows researcher only To find out whether Observation than naturalistic limited control of the aggressiveness in through a one-way observation. situation. pairs of same-sex window of same- Laboratory Allows use of Observations may be and different-sex sex and different- Observation sophisticated biased. children differ in sex pairs of equipment. Does not allow firm frequency or preschoolers; pairs conclusions about cause intensity must negotiate and effect. who gets to play Behaviour may differ with an attractive from behaviour in the toy that has been natural environment. promised to each child Yields information on Difficult to construct To compare the Administration of Test personality traits, tests that are reliable personality traits of personality tests to emotional states, and valid. aggressive and non- violent and non- aptitudes, and ability. aggressive persons violent prisoners Provides a large amount If sample is non- To find out how Questionnaire of info on large numbers repre
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