Psychologists do more than just wonder about human behavior: they conduct research to understand exactly why people think, feel, and behave the way they do. Like other scientist, psychologists use the scientific method, a standardized way to conduct research. A scientific approach is used in order to avoid bias or distortion of information. After collecting data, psychologists organize and analyze their observations , make inferences about the reliability and significance of their data and develop testable hypotheses and theories.
Psychological research has an enormous impact on all facets of our lives, from how parents choose to discipline their children to how companies package and advertise their products to how governments choose to punish or rehabilitate criminals. Understanding how psychologists do research is vital to understanding psychology itself.
Scientist use the following terms to describe their research:
- Variables: the events, characteristics, behaviors or conditions that researchers measure and study. - Subject or Participant: an individual person or animal a researcher studies. - Sample: a collection of subjects researchers study. Researchers use samples because they can not study the entire population. - Population: the collection of people or animals from which researchers draw a sample. Researchers study the sample and generalize their results to the population.
The Purpose of Research
Psychologists have three main goals when doing research:
- to find ways to measure and describe behavior.
- to understand why, when, and how events occur.
- to apply this knowledge to solving real-world problems.
The Scientific Method
Psychologists use the scientific method to conduct their research. The scientific method is a standardized way of making observation, gathering data, forming theories, testing predictions, and interpreting results.
Researchers make observations in order to describe and measure behavior. After observing certain events repeatedly, researchers come up with a theory that explains these observations. A theory is an explanation that organizes separate pieces of information in a coherent way. Researchers generally develop a theory only after they have collected a lot of evidence and made sure their research results can be reproduced by others.
A psychologist observes that some college sophomores date a lot, while others do not. He observes that some sophomores have blonde hair, while others have brown hair: he also observes that in most sophomore couples at least one person has brown hair. In addition, he notices that most of his brown-haired friends date regularly, but his blonde friends don’t date much at all. He explains these observations by theorizing that brown haired sophomores are more likely to date than those that have blonde hair. Based on this theory he develops a hypothesis that more brow-haired sophomores than blonde-haired sophomores will make dates with people they meet at a party. He then conducts an experiment to test his hypothesis. In this experiment, he has twenty people go to a party, ten with blonde hair and ten with brown hair. He makes observations and gathers data by watching what happens at the party and counting how many people with each hair color actually make dates. If, contrary to his hypothesis, the blonde-haired people make more dates, he’ll have to think about why this occurred and revise his theory and hypothesis. If the data he collects from further experiments still do not support the hypothesis, he’ll have to reject this theory.
Making Research Scientific
Psychological research , like research in other fields, must meet certain criteria in order to be considered scientific. Research must be:
Research Must be Replicable
Research is replicable when researchers can repeat it and get the...