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Discovering Psychology: Updated Edition

Explorations Research Methods

In this activity you will explore how psychologists draw solid conclusions from the complex and often ambiguous phenomena they study -- how you think, feel, and behave.

From Question to Conclusion

To begin, imagine you are a research psychologist. You will learn about and then put into practice some of the key terms and concepts you will need to master if your research is to succeed. Even if you never conduct your own research, mastering this information can help you become a wiser consumer, as you assess research-based claims that you confront in everyday life.

Begin by exploring Investigation.

Investigation: The Question

In the initial phase of research, often referred to as the discovery phase, your observations, beliefs, and general knowledge lead you to come up with a new question around an unexplored area of interest.

At the core of your approach is the concept of determinism, the idea that all events are determined by knowable and therefore testable factors. Next, you may develop a theory around your question. Your theory accounts for both known facts about your question and your new idea and explanation. This new explanation is your hypothesis.

Click on the links to learn more, then test your knowledge:

Question 1: Your ___ is your tentative and testable explanation of how two or more events or things are related.

a. theory

b. conclusion

c. hypothesis

d. correlation

Question 2: ___ is the doctrine that all events are determined by specific and potentially knowable factors.

a. general knowledge

b. observational knowledge

c. determinism

d. personal belief system

 

Next, explore procedures.

Answers to "The Question" Quiz

Question 1: Your ___ is your tentative and testable explanation of how two or more events or things are related.

Answer: c. Your hypothesis is your tentative and testable explanation of how two or more events or things are related.

Question 2: ___ is the doctrine that all events are determined by specific and potentially knowable factors.

Answer: c. Determinism is the doctrine that all events are determined by specific and potentially knowable factors.

Investigation: Procedures

In the next phase of research, often referred to as the justification phase, you bring evidence to bear on your hypothesis. The Scientific Method of inquiry helps you, the researcher, to minimize error and yield dependable generalizations. In order to obtain reliable evidence that will generate valid conclusions, your research must be as objective as possible. To maximize objectivity and reduce influences and biases that could distort your evidence, you must follow certain procedures.

Click on the links to learn more, then test your knowledge:

Question 1: The scientific method is a ___.

a. general set of procedures you use throughout your study

b. general set of ethics and codes developed by scientists

c. general set of procedures applicable only if you conduct your research in a lab

d. protocol for publishing your findings in a journal

Question 2: In order to obtain reliable evidence in your research, you must do everything you can to minimize ___ and maximize ___.

a. cost; results

b. reliability; validity

c. operational definitions; confounding variables

d. bias; objectivity

Question 3: Which of the following is an example of a placebo bias?

a. when your expectations influence participant response

b. when cultural beliefs influence participant response

c. when participant behavior changes even when not receiving the experimental treatment

d. when participant behavior doesn’t change even though receiving the experimental treatment

Answers to "Procedures" Quiz

Question 1: The scientific method is a ___.

Answer: a. The scientific method is a general set of procedures you use throughout your study.

Question 2: In order to obtain reliable evidence in your research, you must do everything you can to minimize ___ and maximize ___.

Answer: d. In order to obtain reliable evidence in your research, you must do everything you can to minimize bias and maximize objectivity.

Question 3: Which of the following is an example of a placebo bias?

Answer: c. A placebo bias is when a participant’s behavior changes even when they are not receiving the experimental treatment.

Investigation: Sample and Variables

Now that you are following the scientific method and ensuring objectivity, you can next clearly define who and what you will study.

Click on the links to learn more, then test your knowledge:

Question 1: The participants selected for your study make up a group called the ___.

a. sample

b. population

c. dependent variable

d. independent variable

Question 2: The variable that you manipulate so that its effects may be observed is called the ___.

a. manipulated variable

b. causal variable

c. dependent variable

d. independent variable

Question 3: Having a representative sample in your study allows you to:

a. come up with new questions about the larger population

b. generalize your results to the population your sample represents

c. generalize your results to one age group or gender

d. reduce the number of times you have to test your participants

Answers to "Sample and Variables" Quiz

Question 1: The participants selected for your study make up a group called the ___.

Answer: a. The participants selected for your study make up a group called the sample.

Question 2: The variable that you manipulate so that its effects may be observed is called the ___.

Answer: d. The variable that you manipulate so that its effects may be observed is called the independent variable.

Question 3: Having a representative sample in your study allows you to:

Answer: b. Having a representative sample in your study allows you to generalize your results to the population your sample represents.

Investigation: Methodology

After defining your sample and describing your variables of interest, you can then decide on the best research method and design, and what, if any, control procedures you may need in order to safeguard from alternative explanations. Alternative explanations result when factors other than those you are researching cause the observed effects.

Click on the links to learn more, then test your knowledge:

Question 1: If your study is designed to test the cause-and-effect relationship between two variables, you are using ___.

a. correlational methods

b. experimental methods

c. experimental bias

d. between subjects design

Question 2: If, in your study, you measure participants against themselves, you are using ___.

a. within-subjects design

b. the scientific method

c. between subjects control procedures

d. the self-test method

Question 3: Using a double-blind-control allows you to ___.

a. ensure that you don’t have to do double the amount of work

b. prevent the possibility of two explanations

c. eliminate experimenter bias

d. double-check your methods

Answers to "Methodology" Quiz

are researching cause the observed effects.

Click on the links to learn more, then test your knowledge:

Question 1: If your study is designed to test the cause-and-effect relationship between two variables, you are using ___.

Answer: b. If your study is designed to test the cause-and-effect relationship between two variables, you are using experimental methods.

Question 2: If, in your study, you measure participants against themselves, you are using ___.

Answer: a. If, in your study, you measure participants against themselves, you are using within-subjects design.

Question 3: Using a double-blind-control allows you to ___.

Answer: c. Using a double-blind-control allows you to eliminate experimenter bias.

Data: Collection

Now you are ready to assess the phenomenon in your hypothesis by collecting data. Because psychological processes are so varied and complex, it is very difficult to quantify them. Although some actions and processes are easily seen, many, such as anxiety and dreaming, are not. As a result, one task for you as a researcher is to make the unseen visible, internal events and processes external, and private experiences public. To do so, you must select the proper measurement technique to collect your data, then ensure that it is accurate.

Click on the links to learn more, then test your knowledge:

Question 1: Questionnaires, surveys, and interviews are all ___ measures.

a. self-administered

b. self-report

c. interpersonal

d. oral

Question 2: In order for your chosen measure to be accurate, it must be ___ and ___.

a. tested; re-tested

b. coherent; concise

c. quantified; qualified

d. reliable; valid

Answers to "Data: Collection" Quiz

Question 1: Questionnaires, surveys, and interviews are all ___ measures.

Answer: b. Questionnaires, surveys, and interviews are all self-report measures.

Question 2: In order for your chosen measure to be accurate, it must be ___ and ___.

Answer: d. In order for your chosen measure to be accurate, it must be reliable and valid.

Data: Analysis

Now that you’ve collected your data, how do you make sense of it? Statistical analysis allows you to discover if your hypothesis is correct. Psychologists use two types of statistics to make sense of the data they collect and to provide a quantitative basis for the conclusions they draw.

Click on the links to learn more, then test your knowledge:

Question 1: Using descriptive statistics could help you to ___.

a. see if there are any patterns in your data

b. rule out alternative explanations

c. account for chance variation

d. describe the data you collected for each participant

Question 2: If you found differences between the groups you are studying, inferential statistics could help you determine if the differences are ___.

a. the result of bias

b. the result of error

c. statistically significant

d. relevant to your study

Answers to "Data: Analysis" Quiz

Question 1: Using descriptive statistics could help you to ___.

Answer: a. Using descriptive statistics could help you to see if there are any patterns in your data.

Question 2: If you found differences between the groups you are studying, inferential statistics could help you determine if the differences are ___.

Answer: c. If you found differences between the groups you are studying, inferential statistics could help you determine if the differences are statistically significant.

Ethics

Respect for the basic rights of humans and animals is the obligation of all researchers. As a result, you must always consider a variety of safeguards to guarantee ethical and humane treatment of all participants. Professional organizations conducting or overseeing research have established detailed guidelines, standards, and review processes to ensure that participants’ rights are honored.

Click on the links to learn more, then test your knowledge:

Question 1: Before beginning an experiment, all of your participants must read and sign a statement of ___.

a. confidentiality

b. consent that outlines the research procedures, benefits, and risks

c. personal responsibility

d. purpose

Question 2: Talking with participants after your study is called ___.

a. consent

b. deception

c. debriefing

d. summative discussion

Answers to "Ethics" Quiz

Question 1: Before beginning an experiment, all of your participants must read and sign a statement of ___.

Answer: b. Before beginning your study, all of your participants must read and sign a statement of consent that outlines the research procedures, potential risks, and expected benefits involved.

Question 2: Talking with participants after your study is called ___.

Answer: c. Talking with participants after your study is called debriefing.

Glossary

 

Determinism: The doctrine that all events — physical, behavioral, and mental — are determined by knowable and testable individual and environmental factors.

Hypothesis: A tentative and testable explanation of the relationship between two (or more) events or things; often stated as a prediction that a certain outcome will result from specific conditions.

Theory: An organized set of concepts that explains a phenomenon or set of phenomena.

The Scientific Method: A general set of procedures used for gathering and interpreting objective information in a way that minimizes error and yields dependable generalizations.

Procedures

Standardization: A set of uniform procedures for treating each participant in a test, interview, or experiment.

Operational Definition: How your concept or phenomena are to be communicated, observed, and measured.

Influences

External Influences: The culturally imposed systems of belief, including the mass media, cultural, social, or other external factors that influence people to accept a particular view of the world. These may shape an individual’s belief system and sense of subjective reality, influencing his or her perceptions of the world.

Confounding Variables: A stimulus, other than the variable an experimenter specifically introduces into a research setting, that affects a participant’s response.

Biases

Personal Biases: The distortion of evidence that results when personal beliefs, attributes, or past history interfere with accurate perceptions and interpretations of some aspect of reality.

Observer Bias: The distortion of evidence because of the personal motives and expectations of the viewer.

Expectancy Biases: The distortion of evidence that results when a researcher or observer subtly communicates to participants the kind of behavior he or she expects to find, thereby creating the expected reaction.

Placebo Biases: The distortion of evidence that results whenever a behavioral response is influenced by a participant’s expectations of what to do or how to feel, rather than by the specific intervention or procedures employed to produce that response.

Who

Population: The entire set of individuals about which generalizations will be made based on experimental findings.

Sample: A subset of the population selected as participants in an experiment.

Representative Sample: A sample that closely matches the overall characteristics of the population with respect to certain characteristics: the distribution of males and females, racial and ethnic groups, and so on.

What

Variable: A behavior or event that can be changed.

Independent Variable: The variable that is manipulated in an experiment.

Dependent Variable: The variable that is measured and expected to change as a result of experimenter manipulation of the independent variable.

Research Methods: Investigation: Methodology

Methods

Correlational Methods: A research method used to uncover associations or patterns between two variables. Patterns which are revealed through correlational methods may be used to develop inferences, but do not make any statements about cause and effect.

Experimental Methods: A research method used to uncover cause-and-effect relationships between variables. In an experiment, the researcher manipulates the independent variable and watches for consequent changes in the dependent variable.

Design

Between-Subjects Design: A research design in which different groups of participants are randomly assigned to an experimental condition (exposed to one or more experimental treatments) or to a control condition (not exposed to an experimental treatment).

Within-Subjects Design: A research design that uses each participant as his or her own control; for example, the behavior of a participant before receiving treatment might be compared to his or her behavior after receiving treatment.

A-B-A Design: A research design in which participants first experience the baseline condition (A), then experience the experimental treatment (B), and then return to the baseline (A).

Control Procedures

Control Procedures: Consistent procedures for giving instructions, scoring responses, and holding all other variables constant except those being systematically varied.

Double-Blind-Control: An experimental technique in which the researchers and the participants are unaware of who is and is not exposed to the experimental treatment.

Placebo Control: An experimental condition in which treatment is not administered; often used in cases where a placebo effect might occur.

Measurement

Self-Report Measures: Verbal answers, either written or spoken, to questions the researcher poses.

Behavioral Measures: Ways to study overt actions and observable, recordable reactions.

Accuracy

Reliability: The degree to which a test produces similar scores each time it’s used; stability or consistency of the scores produced by an instrument.

Validity: The extent to which a test measures what it was intended to measure.

Statistics

Descriptive Statistics: Statistical procedures that provide a summary picture of patterns in data. They are used to describe sets of scores collected from one experimental participant, or more often, from different groups of participants as well as relationships among variables.

Inferential Statistics: Statistical procedures that help researchers determine whether obtained results support their hypotheses or can be attributed to chance variation.

Safeguards

Risk/Gain Assessment: Because living subjects, animals or humans, are often part of psychological experiments, researchers must weigh potential risks to the participants against potential benefits to science and society.

Informed Consent: A description of research procedures, potential risks, and expected benefits that is given to human participants. Participants must read, understand and sign it, indicating that they have been informed and consent to participate.

Debriefing: A procedure conducted at the end of an experiment in which the researcher provides human participants with as much information about the study as possible, making sure no participant leaves feeling confused, upset, or embarrassed.

 

Intentional Deception: For some types of research it is not possible to tell participants the details of the study without biasing the results. While there may be reasons to temporarily “deceive” participants, the American Psychological Association enforces clear guidelines about deception in research.

Animals

Issues in Animal Research: In response to heightened concerns about the use and treatment of animal participants, the American Psychological Association and other organizations involved in research have established ethical standards and guidelines for animal experimentation.

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