An Introduction to Psychological Research - Techniques and Methodologies

Seminararbeit, 2010

22 Seiten

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Table of Contents


The Process of Research

The Research Design

Types of Research

Methods of Conducting a Research

Psychological Measurements

Statistics in Psychology

Ethical Issues in Human and Animal Testing

Brief description of the various fields in Psychology




Understanding Research is a key to understanding psychology which in a way opens access to the psychologist to help individuals with difficulties or suggests a new phenomenon to upgrade the way we handled things such us studying, parenting or even starting a new business.

Whatever methods psychologists use, sooner or later they find it necessary to make statements about amounts or qualities (Hilgard, Atkinson and Atkinson, 1975). Psychology researchers study a wide variety of topics, ranging from the development of infants to the behavior of social groups. Psychologists use the scientific method to investigate questions both systematically and empirically. This scientific method can be divided into two major categories that usually occur in sequence: forming an idea and then testing it.

The study of research methods is a prerequisite to recognition as a licensed psychologist in most countries, moreover, research methods and statistics help one to accurately formulate a theory and follow through with the appropriate investigation and inquiry.

This text is written in an attempt to discuss how these researches are initiated, conducted and publicized.

Iwould like to thank the Atlantic International University for the opportunities of a life time to investigate this course learn from it and being able to write this essay.

The Process of research

What is research?

The American heritage dictionary defines research as “a scholarly or scientific investigation or inquiry.” As the linguistic definition makes it clear Research is a scientific investigation or inquiry that is set to answer questions based on an observation or event.

Research can be based on the surplus of or lack of action that would affect a group or individual.

Psychology researchers study a wide variety of topics, ranging from the development of infants to the behavior of social groups. Psychologists use the scientific method to investigate questions both systematically and empirically.

According to Gregg and Zimbardo , 2005 the process of research typically begins when observations, beliefs, information, and general knowledge lead someone to come up with a new idea or a different way of thinking about a phenomenon. Of course, the next question naturally would be where do researchers come up with their questions from?

Where Do Researchers’ questions originate?

Some of the questions come from direct observations of events,humans and non humans in the environment. And other research addresses traditional parts of the field: some issues are considered to be “great unanswered questions” that have been passed from earlier scholars. Often researchers combineold ideas in unique ways that offer an original perspective.

The hallmark of the truly creative thinker is the discovery of a new truth that moves science and society in a better direction. The most common example would be psychologists in depth research to improve and upgrade education that would change the way the world would understand its environment.

The Theory and hypothesis in research

A theory is a well-established principle that has been developed to explain some aspect of the natural world. A theory arises from repeated observation and testing and incorporates facts, laws, predictions, and tested hypotheses that are widely accepted.

A Hypothesis is a specific, testable prediction about what you expect to happen in your study. For example, a study designed to look at the relationship between study habits and test anxiety might have a hypothesis that states, “This study is designed to assess the hypothesis that students with better study habits will suffer less test anxiety.” Unless your study is exploratory in nature, your hypothesis should always explain what you expectto happen during the course of your experiment or research. (source: http://

While the terms are sometimes used interchangeably in general practice, the difference between a theory and a hypothesis is important when studying experimental design. Some important distinctions to note include:

- A theory predicts events in general terms, while a hypothesis makes a specific prediction about a specified set of circumstances.

- A theory is has been extensively tested and is generally accepted, while a hypothesis is a speculative guess that has yet to be tested.

The research design

The design of a research is the strategy to integrate the different components of the research project in a cohesive and coherent way. Rather than a "cookbook" from which you choose the best recipe, it is a means to structure a research project in order to address a defined set of questions (Trochim and Land, 1982, 2006).

One has to formulate a theory or concept before he/she attempt to conduct any sort of research. Theory in psychology basically means an attempt to understand how brain, mind, behavior, and environment function and hoe the may be related. A theory is an organized set of concepts that explains a phenomenon or set of phenomena. At the common core of most psychological theories is the assumption of deteminationism, the idea that all events – physical,mental, and behavioral –are the result of or determined by, specific casual factors. These casual factors are limited to those in the individual’s environment or within the person. Researchers also assume that behavior and mental processes lawful patterns of relationships, patterns that can be discovered and revealed through research(Gregg and Zimbardo, 2005).Psychological theories are typically claims about the casual forces that underline such lawful patterns.

As mentioned earlier one must know and plan the experiments he/she would like to conduct. He/she must know how they would gather data. How he/she will treat the data in order to discover the relationships involved, and the interferences that can possibly be made from the findings.

Sometimes an experiment focuses only on the influence of a single condition, which can be either present or absent. (Such a condition is simply a variable with only two values, one representing its presence, the other is the absence.) In this case, the experimental design commonly calls for an experimental group with the condition present and control group with the condition absent. The results of such an experiment are presented in figure 1 Inspecting the figure , one can see that the experimental group, which received computer –assisted instruction, scored higher on reading achievement tests than the control group, which did not receive such instruction.

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Figure1(Atkinson’s computer assisted reading research, 1974)

Types of Research

There are three of most commonly used research types, let us try and discuss these types briefly:

1. Causal Research

When most people think of scientific experimentation, research on cause and effect is most often brought to mind. Experiments on causal relationships investigate the effect of one or more variables on one or more outcome variables. This type of research also determines if one variable causes another variable to occur or change. An example of this type of research would be altering the amount of a treatment and measuring the effect on study participants.

2. Descriptive Research

Seeks to depict what already exists in a group or population. An example of this type of research would be an opinion poll to determine which Presidential candidate people plan to vote for in the next election. Descriptive studies do not seek to measure the effect of a variable; they seek only to describe.

3. Relational Research

A study that investigates the connection between two or more variables is considered relational research . The variables that are compared are generally already present in the group or population. For example, a study that looked at the proportion of males and females that would purchase either a classical CD or a jazz CD would be studying the relationship between gender and music preference.(source: http//

Psychology researchers study a wide variety of topics, ranging from the development of infants to the behavior of social groups. Psychologists use the scientific method to investigate questions both systematically and empirically. Use this study guide to familiarize yourself with the psychology research process or to brush up on your skills.

Methods of conducting a research

Psychology experiments can range from simple to complex, but there are some basic terms and concepts that all students of psychology should understand. Start your studies by learning more about the different types of research, the basics of experimental design and relationships between variables. (Hilgard, Atkinson & Atkinson, 1975)

The Scientific Methods

Psychologists use the scientific method to conduct studies and research in psychology. The basic process for conducting psychology research involves asking a question, designing a study, collecting data, analyzing results, reaching conclusions and sharing the findings. Choosing a topic, selecting research methods, and figuring out how to analyze the data you collect can be intimidating, especially if you have little or no background in experimental methods. If you need help preparing for a research project, study, or experiment, start by reading this article outlining the basic steps in psychology research.

Correlational research methods

Correlational studies are one of the two major types of psychology research. Correlationalstudies are frequently used in psychology research to look for relationships between variables. While correlational studies can suggest that there is a relationship between two variables, finding a correlation does not prove that one variable causes a change in another variable. In other words, correlation does not equal causation. Learn more about the subtypes of correlation based studies as well as methods of observation and scientific surveys.

Experimental Research Methods

The simple experiment is one of the most basic methods of determining if there is a cause-and-effect relationship between two variables. A simple experiment utilizes a control group of participants who receive no treatment and an experimental group of participants who receive the treatment. Experimenters then compare the results of the two groups to determine if the treatment had an effect. Find more information on the parts of a simple experiment and how results are measured.


Reliability is a vital component of a valid psychological test. What is reliability? How do we measure it? Reliability is an important part of any good psychological test. Simply put, reliability refers to the consistency of a measure. A test is considered reliable if we get the same result repeatedly. Learn more about reliability in psychology tests.


When determining the merits of a psychological test, validity is one of the most important factors to consider. What is validity? Psychological assessment is an important part of both experimental research and clinical treatment. One of the greatest concerns when creating a psychological test is whether or not it actually measures what we think it is measuring. For example, a test might be designed to measure a stable personality trait, but instead measure transitory emotions generated by situational or environmental conditions. A valid test ensures that the results are an accurate reflection of the dimension undergoing assessment.

Psychological Measurements

Due to the fact that psychological processes are so varied and complex, they pose major challenges to researchers who want to measure them. Although some actions are easily seen, many, such as Anxiety or dreaming, are not.(Gregg &Zimbargo, 2005)therefore a researcher need to make the unseen visible, to make private experiences public.

As mentioned earlier, there are two distinct ways of gauging the accuracy of a measure: reliability and validity.

Since the goal of psychological measurement is to generate finding that are both reliable and valid, it is empirical that the researcher checks and cross checks his/her findings several times in a period of time.

Reliability refers to the consistency or dependability of behavioral data resulting from psychological testing or experimental research.On the other hand Validity emphasize on the fact that the information produced by the research or testing accurately measure the psychological variable or quality it is intended to measure.

Self-report measurements are used to obtain data on experiences that are not visible and cannot be directly observed. Sometimes internal psychological states such as beliefs, attitudes, and feelings researchers use the self – report interview techniques.

So we have discussed the two methods of research the case study and survey both depend on questions and some scientific interpretations, the third descriptive method of research is naturalistic observation.

Naturalistic Observation

This research method involves watching and recording the behavior of an organism in its natural environment. These Naturalistic Observation range from watching chimpanzee societies in the jungle, to using unobtrusive measures of parent – child interactions in different cultures, to recording students’ self-seating patterns in the lunchrooms of multicultural schools (Myers, 2005).

The following table 1.2 shows the various research methods and compares them each with the other.(Myers,2005)

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Figure 1.2 Comparing research methods (Myers, 2005)

Statistics in Psychology

Ware and Brewer in their handbook for teaching statistics and research methods (1999) estimated that “almost 75% of undergraduate psychology departments in the United States require their students to complete an introductory course in statistics”(pp1). And According to the (APA) Monitor, an experimental methods course is among the few required courses in most psychology curricula (the evolution of experimental psychology, 1999).

Thought Statistics and research methods are among the most valuable courses a psychology student would need in his/her career as a psychologist, due to the lack of proper planning in most pedagogical Universities students dread this courses to the point of absolute confusion. (Mckeachie& Brewer, 2002)

I believe it is very important for students to see the use of these courses in their future careers.

Ethical Issues in Human and Animal Research

Issues on human research

The issue of ethics has been challenging science for centuries, psychology is no exception. Respect to the basic rights of humans and animalsis a fundamental obligation of all researchers (Gregg and Zimbarg,2005,)Beginning 1953 the American psychologist Association (APA) has published guidelines for ethical standards for researchers. Current research practices are governed by the 2002 revision of those guidelines. The following are few of the required to all researchers.

- Participants must have an informed consent
- Researchers must conduct a risk/gain assessment before hand
- There must be a sufficient debriefing to all participants to acquire a complete information exchange.

However, in researches that are designed to discover the placebo effect (the effects of false belief held by participants, psychologist may divert the truth in order to keep the originality of the test.

As the 2002 guidelines clearly put it “Psychologists prospective participant about research that is reasonably expected to cause physical pain or severe emotional distress.” (APA,2002, pp1070.)

Ethical Issues on animal Research

Psychology is a vast science with several sub fields and therefore the testing and research types would vary. The Idea of animal testing is help in two polar opposite regards, one advocating the need to experiment and practice on animals before applying and research or finding on humans with the evidence of the scientific breakthroughs (Domjan and Purdy, 1995; Petrovich 1998) and the other that would dictate that we, as human being who are the most advanced beings in the planet must care and treat all animals fairly “In terms of ethics, the main issue in animal testing is simply that many experimental animals suffer in ways which are unnatural to them. Through the use of genetic manipulation, obese mice, diabetic mice, and mice with Huntington’s disease can be created. Surgical experiments can be performed on larger animals – such as pigs, sheep, and dogs, as “practice” for human surgery.” (Source:

Each sub field has its own guidelines and ethical directive that governs its research.

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Figure 1.3

Skinner’s Pigeons in Operant Conditioning

Image courtesy of

Summary of the Various Fields in Psychology

Psychologists study mental processes and human behavior by observing, interpreting, and recording how people and other animals relate to one another and the environment. To do this, psychologists often look for patterns that will help them understand and predict behavior using scientific methods, principles, or procedures to test their ideas. Through such research studies, psychologists have learned much that can help increase understanding between individuals, groups, organizations, institutions, nations, and cultures. Let us see some those fields in brief:

Like other social scientists, psychologists formulate theories, or hypotheses, which are possible explanations for what they observe. But unlike other social science disciplines, psychologists often concentrate on individual behavior and, specifically, in the beliefs and feelings that influence a person’s actions.

Research methods vary with the topic which they study, but by and large, the chief techniques used are observation, assessment, and experimentation. Psychologists sometimes gather information and evaluate behavior through controlled laboratory experiments, hypnosis, biofeedback, psychoanalysis, or psychotherapy, or by administering personality, performance, aptitude, or intelligence tests. Other methods include interviews, questionnaires, clinical studies, surveys, and observation—looking for cause-and-effect relationships between events and for broad patterns of behavior.

Research in psychology seeks to understand and explain thought, emotion, feelings, or behavior. The research findings of psychologists have greatly increased our understanding of why people and animals behave as they do. For example, psychologists have discovered how personality develops and how to promote healthy development. They have gained knowledge of how to diagnose and treat alcoholism and substance abuse, how to help people change bad habits and conduct, and how to help students learn. They understand the conditions that can make workers more productive. Insights provided by psychologists can help people function better as individuals, friends, family members, and workers.

Psychologists may perform a variety of duties in a vast number of industries. For example, those working in health service fields may provide mental healthcare in hospitals, clinics, schools, or private settings. Psychologists employed in applied settings, such as business, industry, government, or nonprofit organizations, may provide training, conduct research, design organizational systems, and act as advocates for psychology.

Psychologists apply their knowledge to a wide range of endeavors, including health and human services, management, education, law, and sports. They usually specialize in one of many different areas.

Clinical psychologists—who constitute the largest specialty—are concerned with the assessment, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mental disorders. While some clinical psychologists specialize in treating severe psychological disorders, such as schizophrenia and depression, many others may help people deal with personal issues, such as divorce or the death of a loved one. Often times, clinical psychologists provide an opportunity to talk and think about things that are confusing or worrying, offering different ways of interpreting and understanding problems and situations. They are trained to use a variety of approaches aimed at helping individuals, and the strategies used are generally determined by the specialty they work in.

Clinical psychologists often interview patients and give diagnostic tests in their own private offices. They may provide individual, family, or group psychotherapy and may design and implement behavior modification programs. Some clinical psychologists work in hospitals where they collaborate with physicians and other specialists to develop and implement treatment and intervention programs that patients can understand and comply with. Other clinical psychologists work in universities and medical schools, where they train graduate students in the delivery of mental health and behavioral medicine services. A few work in physical rehabilitation settings, treating patients with spinal cord injuries, chronic pain or illness, stroke, arthritis, or neurological conditions. Others may work in community mental health centers, crisis counseling services, or drug rehabilitation centers, offering evaluation, therapy, remediation, and consultation.

Areas of specialization within clinical psychology include health psychology, neuropsychology, gero-psychology, and child psychology. Health psychologists study how biological, psychological, and social factors affect health and illness. They promote healthy living and disease prevention through counseling, and they focus on how patients adjust to illnesses and treatments and view their quality of life. Neuropsychologists study the relation between the brain and behavior. They often work in stroke and head injury programs. Gero-psychologists deal with the special problems faced by the elderly. Work may include helping older persons cope with stresses that are common in late life, such as loss of loved ones, relocation, medical conditions, and increased care-giving demands. Clinical psychologists may further specialize in these fields by focusing their work in a number of niche areas including mental health, learning disabilities, emotional disturbances, or substance abuse. The emergence and growth of these, and other, specialties reflects the increasing participation of psychologists in direct services to special patient populations.

Often, clinical psychologists consult with other medical personnel regarding the best treatment for patients, especially treatment that includes medication. Clinical psychologists generally are not permitted to prescribe medication to treat patients; only psychiatrists and other medical doctors may prescribe most medications. However, two States—Louisiana and New Mexico—currently allow appropriately trained clinical psychologists to prescribe medication with some limitations.

Counseling psychologists advise people on how to deal with problems of everyday living, including problems in the home, place of work, or community, to help improve their quality of life. They foster well-being by promoting good mental health and preventing mental, physical, and social disorders. They work in settings such as university or crisis counseling centers, hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and individual or group practices.

School psychologists work with students in early childhood and elementary and secondary schools. They collaborate with teachers, parents, and school personnel to create safe, healthy, and supportive learning environments for all students. School psychologists address students' learning and behavioral problems, suggest improvements to classroom management strategies or parenting techniques, and evaluate students with disabilities and gifted and talented students to help determine the best way to educate them.

They improve teaching, learning, and socialization strategies based on their understanding of the psychology of learning environments. They also may evaluate the effectiveness of academic programs, prevention programs, behavior management procedures, and other services provided in the school setting.

Industrial-organizational psychologists apply psychological principles and research methods to the workplace in the interest of improving the quality of work life. They also are involved in research on management and marketing problems. They screen, train, and counsel applicants for jobs, as well as perform organizational development and analysis. An industrial psychologist might work with management to reorganize the work setting in order to enhance productivity. Industrial psychologists frequently act as consultants, brought in by management to solve a particular problem.

Developmental psychologists study the physiological, cognitive, and social development that takes place throughout life. Some specialize in behavior during infancy, childhood, and adolescence, or changes that occur during maturity or old age. Developmental psychologists also may study developmental disabilities and their effects. Increasingly, research is developing ways to help elderly people remain independent as long as possible.

Social psychologists examine people's interactions with others and with the social environment. They work in organizational consultation, marketing research, systems design, or other applied psychology fields. Many social psychologists specialize in a niche area, such as group behavior, leadership, attitudes, and perception.

Experimental or research psychologists work in university and private research centers and in business, nonprofit, and governmental organizations. They study the behavior of both human beings and animals, such as rats, monkeys, and pigeons. Prominent areas of study in experimental research include motivation, thought, attention, learning and memory, sensory and perceptual processes, effects of substance abuse, and genetic and neurological factors affecting behavior.

Forensic psychologists use psychological principles in the legal and criminal justice system to help judges, attorneys, and other legal professionals understand the psychological findings of a particular case. They are usually designated as an expert witness and typically specialize in one of three areas: family court, civil court, and criminal court. Forensic psychologists who work in family court may offer psychotherapy services, perform child custody evaluations, or investigate reports of child abuse. Those working in civil courts may assess competency, provide second opinions, and provide psychotherapy to crime victims. Criminal court forensic psychologists often conduct evaluations of mental competency, work with child witnesses, and provide assessment of juvenile or adult offenders.

Work environment. Psychologists' work environments vary by subfield and place of employment. For example, clinical, school, and counseling psychologists in private practice frequently have their own offices and set their own hours. However, they usually offer evening and weekend hours to accommodate their clients. Those employed in hospitals, nursing homes, and other healthcare facilities may work shifts that include evenings and weekends, and those who work in schools and clinics generally work regular daytime hours. Most psychologists in government and industry have structured schedules.

Psychologists employed as faculty by colleges and universities divide their time between teaching and research and also may have administrative responsibilities; many have part-time consulting practices.

Increasingly, a good number of psychologists work as part of a team, consulting with other psychologists and medical professionals. Many experience pressures because of deadlines, tight schedules, and overtime. (source: Bureau of Labor Statistics:

Research methods in psychology are important in the study of psychology and performed in an ethical manner they could change the way we live by helping us understand ourselves and our community better and thus creating more tolerance, respect and acceptance and less victimization and war.


Psychological research has always been part of the historical evolution of psychology, and as a philosophical or behavioral science it deals with the behavior of the individual or the group. If we consider Ivan Pavlov’s dogs,Skinner’s pigeons or Freud’s subjects we learn that all research of observation or testing has led psychology to the advanced level it has reached.

Psychology is a universal science that uses physics, mathematics, chemistry, biology and many more sciences to conduct and study the mental process and also predict and solve situations.

Psychological measurements are used to improve performances of students, athletes, workers and businesses. Psychology drives a nation’s economy; through the study of consumer behaviors and patterns. Research proves that our spending habits very much depend on our moods and there is no science as psychology to create the right moods and atmospheres to revive at risk economies or unhappy nations. For this to happen it is crucial that ongoing researches are conducted and reported.

The teaching of research and statistics in psychology are the vital areas for psychology students to learn and practice. With great care for validity as well as reliability psychology students can design researches from small –in classroom – scale to large out to the public to help and answer every day questions like why, how, etc…

By observing and measuring the tiny body languages and gestures one can learn to differentiate. After all Psychology is a science of observation, and measurement, though no one can read the minds of people, one can learn and understand a great deal by reading and testing peoples’ reaction.

However, it is a moral obligation of the psychologist to adhere to professional ethics in research and measurements to avoid manipulation and exploitation of the research subjects.

I believe this study of research methods in psychology has helped me learn more on how and why to conduct my research and observations as a psychology student.

As they say charity begin at home, and if I want to help and contribute my fellow humans I must start my research and help with myself.


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An Introduction to Psychological Research - Techniques and Methodologies
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Wayne Adrian Davis (Autor), 2010, An Introduction to Psychological Research - Techniques and Methodologies, München, GRIN Verlag,


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