Summary and Key Terms

Why Is Research Important?

Scientists are engaged in explaining and understanding how the world around them works, and they are able to do so by coming up with theories that generate hypotheses that are testable and falsifiable. Theories that stand up to their tests are retained and refined, while those that do not are discarded or modified. In this way, research enables scientists to separate fact from simple opinion. Having good information generated from research aids in making wise decisions both in public policy and in our personal lives.

Research Methods

The clinical or case study involves studying just a few individuals for an extended period of time. While this approach provides an incredible depth of information, the ability to generalize these observations to the larger population is problematic. Naturalistic observation involves observing behaviour in a natural setting and allows for the collection of valid, true-to-life information from realistic situations. However, naturalistic observation does not allow for much control and often requires quite a bit of time and money to perform. Researchers strive to ensure that their tools for collecting data are both reliable (consistent and replicable) and valid (accurate).

Surveys can be administered in a number of ways and make it possible to collect large amounts of data quickly. However, the depth of information that can be collected through surveys is somewhat limited compared to a clinical or case study.

Archival research involves studying existing data sets to answer research questions.

Longitudinal research has been incredibly helpful to researchers who need to collect data on how people change over time. Cross-sectional research compares multiple segments of a population at a single time.

Correlation vs. Causation

A correlation is described with a correlation coefficient, r, which ranges from -1 to 1. The correlation coefficient tells us about the nature (positive or negative) and the strength of the relationship between two or more variables. Correlations do not tell us anything about causation—regardless of how strong the relationship is between variables. In fact, the only way to demonstrate causation is by conducting an experiment. People often make the mistake of claiming that correlations exist when they really do not.

Researchers can test cause-and-effect hypotheses by conducting experiments. Ideally, experimental participants are randomly selected from the population of interest. Then, the participants are randomly assigned to their respective groups. Sometimes, the researcher and the participants are blind to group membership to prevent their expectations from influencing the results.

In ideal experimental design, the only difference between the experimental and control groups is whether participants are exposed to the experimental manipulation. Each group goes through all phases of the experiment, but each group will experience a different level of the independent variable: the experimental group is exposed to the experimental manipulation, and the control group is not exposed to the experimental manipulation. The researcher then measures the changes that are produced in the dependent variable in each group. Once data is collected from both groups, it is analyzed statistically to determine if there are meaningful differences between the groups.

Psychologists report their research findings in peer-reviewed journal articles. Research published in this format is checked by several other psychologists who serve as a filter separating ideas that are supported by evidence from ideas that are not. Replication has an important role in ensuring the legitimacy of published research. In the long run, only those findings that are capable of being replicated consistently will achieve consensus in the scientific community.

Ethical Considerations

Ethics in research is an evolving field, and some practices that were accepted or tolerated in the past would be considered unethical today. Researchers are expected to adhere to basic ethical guidelines when conducting experiments that involve human participants. Any experiment involving human participants must be approved by an IRB. Participation in experiments is voluntary and requires informed consent of the participants. If any deception is involved in the experiment, each participant must be fully debriefed upon the conclusion of the study.

Animal research is also held to a high ethical standard. Researchers who use animals as experimental subjects must design their projects so that pain and distress are minimized. Animal research requires the approval of an IACUC, and all animal facilities are subject to regular inspections to ensure that animals are being treated humanely.

Key Terms:

archival research
method of research using past records or data sets to answer various research questions, or to search for interesting patterns or relationships
reduction in number of research participants as some drop out of the study over time
cause-and-effect relationship
changes in one variable cause the changes in the other variable; can be determined only through an experimental research design
clinical or case study
observational research study focusing on one or a few people
confirmation bias
tendency to ignore evidence that disproves ideas or beliefs
confounding variable
unanticipated outside factor that affects both variables of interest, often giving the false impression that changes in one variable causes changes in the other variable, when, in actuality, the outside factor causes changes in both variables
control group
serves as a basis for comparison and controls for chance factors that might influence the results of the study—by holding such factors constant across groups so that the experimental manipulation is the only difference between groups
relationship between two or more variables; when two variables are correlated, one variable changes as the other does
correlation coefficient
number from -1 to +1, indicating the strength and direction of the relationship between variables, and usually represented by r
cross-sectional research
compares multiple segments of a population at a single time
when an experiment involved deception, participants are told complete and truthful information about the experiment at its conclusion
purposely misleading experiment participants in order to maintain the integrity of the experiment
deductive reasoning
results are predicted based on a general premise
dependent variable
variable that the researcher measures to see how much effect the independent variable had
double-blind study
experiment in which both the researchers and the participants are blind to group assignments
grounded in objective, tangible evidence that can be observed time and time again, regardless of who is observing
experimental group
group designed to answer the research question; experimental manipulation is the only difference between the experimental and control groups, so any differences between the two are due to experimental manipulation rather than chance
experimenter bias
researcher expectations skew the results of the study
objective and verifiable observation, established using evidence collected through empirical research
able to be disproven by experimental results
inferring that the results for a sample apply to the larger population
(plural: hypotheses) tentative and testable statement about the relationship between two or more variables
illusory correlation
seeing relationships between two things when in reality no such relationship exists
independent variable
variable that is influenced or controlled by the experimenter; in a sound experimental study, the independent variable is the only important difference between the experimental and control group
inductive reasoning
conclusions are drawn from observations
informed consent
process of informing a research participant about what to expect during an experiment, any risks involved, and the implications of the research, and then obtaining the person’s consent to participate
Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC)
committee of administrators, scientists, veterinarians, and community members that reviews proposals for research involving non-human animals
Institutional Review Board (IRB)
committee of administrators, scientists, and community members that reviews proposals for research involving human participants
inter-rater reliability
measure of agreement among observers on how they record and classify a particular event
longitudinal research
studies in which the same group of individuals is surveyed or measured repeatedly over an extended period of time
naturalistic observation
observation of behaviour in its natural setting
negative correlation
two variables change in different directions, with one becoming larger as the other becomes smaller; a negative correlation is not the same thing as no correlation
observer bias
when observations may be skewed to align with observer expectations
operational definition
description of what actions and operations will be used to measure the dependent variables and manipulate the independent variables
personal judgments, conclusions, or attitudes that may or may not be accurate
subjects of psychological research
peer-reviewed journal article
article read by several other scientists (usually anonymously) with expertise in the subject matter, who provide feedback regarding the quality of the manuscript before it is accepted for publication
placebo effect
people’s expectations or beliefs influencing or determining their experience in a given situation
overall group of individuals that the researchers are interested in
positive correlation
two variables change in the same direction, both becoming either larger or smaller
random assignment
method of experimental group assignment in which all participants have an equal chance of being assigned to either group
random sample
subset of a larger population in which every member of the population has an equal chance of being selected
consistency and reproducibility of a given result
repeating an experiment using different samples to determine the research’s reliability
subset of individuals selected from the larger population
single-blind study
experiment in which the researcher knows which participants are in the experimental group and which are in the control group
statistical analysis
determines how likely any difference between experimental groups is due to chance
list of questions to be answered by research participants—given as paper-and-pencil questionnaires, administered electronically, or conducted verbally—allowing researchers to collect data from a large number of people
well-developed set of ideas that propose an explanation for observed phenomena
accuracy of a given result in measuring what it is designed to measure



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Introduction to Psychology Copyright © 2021 by Southern Alberta Institution of Technology (SAIT) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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