The purpose of this essay is to review the literature investigating key research methods that are used in Social Psychology, while providing an overview of the respective method’s strengths and weaknesses. The essay will also seek to review any ethical considerations which should be taken into account when pursuing a particular research route within social psychology.
Social psychology employs the scientific method of research to study behavior and as such has been defined as: ‘The scientific investigation of how the thoughts, feelings and behaviours of individuals are influenced by the actual, imagined or implied presence of others.’ (Hogg and Vaughan, 2011, p.8).
When a researcher is investigating a particular field of study they have several options available to them, surveys can be completed, their own intuition implemented, questionnaires developed or observations made, essentially the chosen approach will vary depending on a variety of considerations (McQueen & Knussen, 2006, p. 8). These factors may include the context, ethical issues and practical considerations at play. (McQueen and Knussen, 2006, p.8).
In most instances the research process aims to investigate, if a relationship exists between or among variables (McQueen and Knussen, 2006, p.67). The concept of causality or ‘cause and effect’ has been extremely important throughout the history of psychology (Baron, Branscombe and Byrne, 2009, p.24). Within a social psychology context the approach is to review the level to which a number of variables are associated to each other, when taken at a single point in time (Howitt and Cramer, 2011 p. 8). In essence causality is a statistical index or test, which describes the degree and direction of the relationship between two characteristics or variables. (Howitt and Cramer, 2011, p. 8). Thus it can be said that the stronger a correlation exists, the more confident one can be in predicting the outcome. This can also be known as the correlational method (Baron et al, 2009, p.24).
In the research design phase, hypotheses (or predictions) are formulated (Walliman, 2006, p.68). Researchers will deduce hypotheses from a range of sources such as prior knowledge, casual or systematic observation or indeed perhaps even speculation (Baron et al, 2009, p. 33). As defined by Walliman (2006, p. 68) they are ‘empirically tested predictions about what goes with what, or what causes what.’ Tests can contradict hypotheses, causing it to be either rejected, revised or tested in some other way. However, if a hypotheses is found to be supported, one has the opportunity to more finely tune it. (Walliman, 2006, p.68).
Broadly speaking social psychology has two types of methods for testing hypotheses, these methods are known as – experimental and non-experimental (Hogg and Vaughan, 2011, p.7). The first method of testing hypotheses (experimental) is essentially a test in which something is done to see its effect on something else. It is said to involve intervention by manipulating one or more independent variables and then measuring the effect on one or more focal dependent variable (Walliman, 2006, p.69). Social psychology is said to be largely experimental, with social psychologists preferring to test experimentally where possible (Hewstone, Schut, de Wit, Van den Boss & Stroebe, 2007, p. 296). An example of a conventional social psychology experiment may be to challenge the hypotheses that violent video games may increase aggression in adolescents. A researcher may assign 50 children to two conditions in which they individually play a violent or a non-violent game, and then evaluate the amount of aggression they may display immediately afterwards while interacting with other children. Importantly participants in such studies must be randomly assigned to ensure no bias is incorporated in such a study. If you test one group of females against another group of males in the above example, as males are more pre-disposed to...
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