Unit 3 introduces the concept of a causal relationship—a lofty notion accompanied by specific requirements on methods, assumptions, and analyses. Cause and effect is an important consideration of science and manifest in the scientific method. However, to establish a cause and effect relationship, the researcher must manipulate conditions using a true experimental method, which is covered in Unit 5. Cause and effect relationships are frequently investigated using experimental methods found in the pure sciences such as physics, chemistry, and biology; and less frequently reported in behavioral and social sciences. There are two reasons for this: research ethics and valid measures.
The subjects of research in physics and chemistry typically focus on inanimate life forms such as elementary particles in physics and chemical compounds in chemistry. The subjects of research in biology may investigate products of animate life, such as blood, muscle, and skeletal tissue, but may not involve violation or compromise life. The subjects of research in behavioral and social sciences typically focus on humans and animals, which are protected. The American Psychological Association Code of Ethics prescribes ethical principles for the conduct of research on humans and animals, and institutions where research is conducted are regulated by the Office for Human Research Protection. Therefore, the investigation of cause and effect is constrained across the pure to behavioral continuum of scientific disciplines.
A second limiting factor in the prevalence of cause and effect research pertains to the validity of measures. To attribute an effect to a cause, researchers must use measures that evidence validity and reliability. In physics, for example, measures such as velocity, momentum, acceleration, and mass are standardized. There is no doubt what we mean by velocity—distance traveled over time. Both distance and time are... [continues]
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