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Psychological research refers to research conducted by psychologists. Psychologists employ a wide range of methods in order to research and analyse the experiences' and behaviour of individuals or groups. Their research can have educational, occupational and clinical application's amongst others
There are many research methods used by psychologists, and categorical distinctions of methods have emerged amidst ongoing reflection by methodologists. All methods can be split with respect to the data that they produce; either into qualitative or quantitative types, and both are used for pure or applied research.
Experimental methods are commonly used within the field of psychology, producing what is known as experimental psychology. Experiments are designed to either test specific hypotheses (the deductive approach) or evaluate any functional relationships (the inductive approach). The method of experimentation involves an experimenter changing some influence on the research subjects, which is known as the independent variable or "IV" and studying the effects it has on an expected aspect of the subjects behaviour or experience, known as the dependent variable or "DV". Any other variables to consider during experimentation are known as the extraneous variables, and are either controllable or confounding (unavoidable). Confounding variables sometimes produce unexpected and unreliable results. For example; the psychologist Seymour Feshbach conducted an experiment to see how violence on television (the independent variable), affected aggression in adolescent boys (the dependent variable). His results were published in a paper called Television and Aggression in 1971, showing that in some cases, the lack of violence on television made the boys more aggressive. This was due to a confounding variable; which in this case was frustration. This means that extraneous variables are important to consider when designing experiments, and many methods have emerged to scientifically control them. For this reason, many of the experiments in psychology are done within laboratory conditions because they can be more strictly regulated.
Alternatively, some experiments are designed to be less controlled. Quasi-experiment's are those set up in a controlled environment, however the experimenter does not control the independent variable, like for example; Michel R Cunninghams used a quasi-experiment to "measure the physical in physical attractiveness". On the other hand, field experiments; are those which let the experimenter controls the independent variable, but not control the environment where the experiment takes place. Experiments are sometimes less controlled to remove the potential for biases. A true experiment is one such that the participants are randomly chosen, to remove the chance of experimenter's bias.
- See also; Natural experiment
Observational research, (a type of non-experimental, correlational research), involves the researcher observing the ongoing behaviour of their subjects. There are multiple methods of observational research such as; participant observations, non-participant observations and naturalistic observations.
Participant observations are those methods that involve a researcher becoming a member of the particular social group that they are studying. For example; the social psychologist, Leon Festinger and his associates, joined a group which was called "The Seekers" in order to observe them. The Seekers believed that they were in touch with aliens, and that the aliens had told them the world was about to end. When the forecasted event didn't happen, Festinger and his associates observed how the attitudes of the group members changed. The results were published in book in 1956 called When Prophecy Fails. David Rosenhan in 1973 published another famous journal that involved research by participant observations. see: on being sane in insane places.
The other method used in observational research is non-participant observation. In particular naturalistic methods are those methods that simply study behaviours that occur naturally within natural environments; this definitively means without any manipulation at all by the observer. The events studied must be natural and not staged. This fact gives naturalistic observational research a high ecological validity. During naturalistic observations, researchers can avoid interfering with the behavior they are observing by using unobtrusive methods, if needed.
Both types of observational methods are designed to be as reliable as possible. Reliability can be estimated using inter-observer reliability, that is; by a comparison of observations that have been conducted by different researchers. Intra-observer reliability means estimating the reliability of an observation using a comparison of observations conducted by the same researcher. The reliability of conducted studies is important in any field of science.
All scientific processes begin with a description that is based on observations; and theories may later be developed to explain these observations or to classify associated phenomena. In scientific methodology, the conceptualizing of descriptive research precedes the hypotheses of "explanatory research".
An example of a descriptive device used in psychological research is the "diary", which is used to record observations. There is a history of use of diaries within clinical psychology. Examples of psychologists that used them include B.F. Skinner (1904–1990) and Virginia Axline (1911–1988). A special case of a diary in this context, that has particular importance in development psychology, is known as the baby biography, and was used by psychologists such as Jean Piaget.
A case study (also known as a case report) is an intensive analysis of a person, group, or event, stressing the developmental factors related to the context. Case studies may be descriptive or explanatory. Explanatory case studies explore causation in order to find underlying principles. However, there is a debate to whether case studies count as a scientific research method. Clinical psychologists make use of case studies most often; especially to describe abnormal events and conditions, which are of particular importance in clinical research. Sigmund Freud made extensive use of case studies to formulate his theory of psychoanalysis. Some famous case studies include: Anna O. and Rat Man of Freud's; Genie, who is one of the most severe cases of social isolation ever recorded, and Washoe, a chimpanzee who was the first non-human that had learned to communicate using American Sign Language.
Interviews and questionnaires intrude as a foreign element into the social setting they would describe, they create as well as measure atti- tudes, they elicit atypical role and response, they are limited to those who are accessible and who will cooperate, and the responses obtained are produced in part by dimensions of individual differences irrelevant to the topic at hand. Webb et al — Unobtrusive methods: Nonreactive research in the social science (1966).
Bradburn et al. (1979) found a tendency for survey respondents to over- report socially desirable behaviours when interviewed using less anonymous methods.
The term "unobtrusive measures" was first coined by Eugene Webb, Campbell, Schwartz, & Sechrest in a 1966 book titled Unobtrusive methods: Nonreactive research in the social science, in which they described methodologies which do not involve the direct induction of data from research subject's. For example, the evidence people leave behind as they traverse their physical environment would be regarded as unobtrusive. Unobtrusive methods are used to get around biases such as the selection bias and the experimenter's bias that result from the researcher and his intrusion, but consequently these methods reduce the amount of control that a researcher has over the type of data collected. These methods are regarded by Webb amongst others as an additional method to be used as well as the more common and reactive; "intrusive methods".
- List of psychological research methods
- Quantitative psychological research, Qualitative psychological research
- Scientific method, Design of experiments
- Experimental psychology
- Sociological research
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