Research methods in psychology

All sciences require evidence based on careful observation and experimentation. To collect data systematically and objectively, psychologists use a variaty of research methods:

  1. Naturalistic Observation:
    • Systematic study (of animals or human behaviour) in natural setting.
    • Advantages: behaviour observed is more natural, spontaneous and varied than that observed in a laboratory. Provides new ideas and suggests new theories.
    • Limitations: no control (to stop), observer bias (expectations or biases of the observer), results should not be generalized, takes lots of time, presence of observation may alter participants' behaviour.
    • Best practice: team of observers, study is videotaped.
  2. Case Studies:
    • Detailed description and analysis of one or a few people. Variety of methods used to collect information.
    • Advantages and best practice: good for special cases (ex: brain-damaged patients). Useful for forming hypothesis.
    • Limitations: observer bias, results should not be generalized, time-consuming.
  3. Surveys:
    • Questionnaires or interviews, such as polls prior to an election. Provides raw data to describe beliefs, opinions and attitudes.
    • Advantages: can generate a lot of information for a fairly low cost
    • Limitations and best practice: questions must be constructed carefully as to not elicit dishonest answeres, sampling group should be selected with care.
  4. Correlational research:
    • Research technique based on the naturally occurring relationship between two or more variables
    • Advantages: used to make predictions, such as the relation between SAT scores and school success
    • Limitations: cannot be used to determine cause and effect
  5. Experimental Research/Method:
    • Research technique in which an investigator deliberately manipulates selected events or circumstances and then measures the effects of those manipulations on subsequent behavior.
    • Components of an Experiment:
      1. Participants or subjects
      2. Independent variable (IV): Cause (hypothesis), variable that is manipulated by the experimenter
      3. Dependent variable (DV): Effect (result of experiment), variable that is measured by the experimenter
      4. Experimental group: Receives treatment
      5. Control group: Does not receive treatment, but is the same in every other way
    • Advantages: the only research method that can be used to determine cause and effect; can explain behaviour
    • Limitations: artificiality of the lab may influence participants' behaviour; unexpected/uncontrolled variables may confound results; many variables (love, hartred, grief) cannot to controlled and manipulated, ethical issues.
  • Multimethod Research: Studies often combine several methods
  • The Importance of Sampling in Research
    1. Sample: Small representative subset of a larger populationpopulation
    2. Random sample: Every subject had equal chance of being selected
    3. Representative sample: Characteristics of participants correspond to larger population

Ethics and Psychology

  • The first code of ethics was published in 1953
  • After Milgram's Obedience to Authority Experiment (1963) a new code of ethics on psychological experimeentation was approved.
  • The APA code of ethics requires that:
    1. Researchers obtain informed consent from participants
    2. Participants must be informed of nature of research. Deception about the goals of research used only when absolutely necessary.
    3. Risks and limits on confidentiality must be explained.
    4. Deception cannot be used about aspects of research that would affect participant's willingness to participate
    5. If participation is a course requirement in an academic setting, alternative activities must be offered
  • Researchers are required to follow goverment's set of regulations conserning the protection of human participants in all kind of research

References and more info