What are the Different Research Methods in Psychology?
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Psychology is a diverse field as it offers psychologists an opportunity to specialize in varied aspects of human behavior. Furthermore, the field of psychology has undergone a lot of changes given new developments and trends influencing the discipline.
For instance, modern psychology lays emphasis on identifying the differences in human behavior as a result of cultural or gender variations which were earlier absent. Such a multicultural perspective giving attention to the cultural and ethnic diversity of human beings has helped the discipline in understanding human behavior in a much better way.
Besides this, knowledge about human behavior is applied in different fields to improve procedures or performances.
Thus, such knowledge about human behavior has been evolving as a result of psychologists using scientific methods to answer questions about cognitive processes and behaviors.
But what motivated psychologists to adopt a scientific approach in order to understand various aspects of human behavior?
Well, the very values and assumptions that underlie scientific method inclined them towards using such methods to gain reliable knowledge about human behavior and cognitive processes. These values include a commitment to achieving accuracy, objectivity, open mindedness and an attitude of questioning the findings until they are verified.
Moreover, such scientific methods not only allowed psychologists to study the human behavior but also helped them to explain the underlying reasons for specific behaviors. And to arrive at such reasons, psychologists have been making use of frameworks known as theories to explain various processes or events concerning human behavior.
Thus, the use of scientific methods by psychologists has certainly helped them in gaining reliable information about human behavior. But, what are the different methods in psychology that psychologists adopt to increase their knowledge of human behavior?
Fundamentally, there are three procedures or research methods in Psychology: observation, correlation and experimentation.
1. Observation Method
One of the basic techniques to study human behavior is through careful observation. This technique involves carefully observing the events or occurrences in natural settings and measuring such systematic observation accurately.
Thus, this method of research involves systematic observation over informal or casual observation. There are different forms of this research method in order to study the human behavior. These include:
This research method studies behavior in natural settings where it normally occurs. Typically, this method studies the behavior of animals in natural settings.
For example, evolutionary biologists and psychologists have been studying the behavior of primates such as chimps, bonobos, and orangutans to study the sexual behavior in humans. One of the studies reveals that humans have an inclination for mating with multiple partners in place of sexual union with a single partner. This is much like non – human primates.
Similarly, human behavior can be studied in public places like airports, bus stops etc to know how and why they behave in a specific manner when exposed to certain external factors.
The case study is another method that uses systematic observation to study human behavior. In this method, you collect detailed information about specific individuals. Then you use such information to formulate principles that apply to a large number of people.
Sigmund Freud, the pioneering Austrian neurologist used the case method to formulate theories of personality and mental illness by studying a small number of cases. This method can be very useful in getting insights into various facets of human behavior. Furthermore, the study of unique behaviors in specific human beings can be al the more insightful.
However, this method has some innate challenges. Firstly, it will be quite deceptive to use unique cases to formulate generalizations and apply them to a wider audience.
Secondly, there is a high chance that the researchers studying such unique individuals become emotionally involved with them as a result of meeting them quite often. This may lead to losing out on scientific objectivity because of such a personal bias at the researcher’s end.
This method is exactly the opposite of the case study method. Survey method focuses on getting insights about human behavior from a large number of individuals instead of a smaller group.
Typically, you use questionnaires to gather these details. Thus, you use the survey method not only to study human responses on specific issues. But, you also use it on a regular basis to understand changes in human behavior over long periods of time. This research method offers a good number of benefits.
Firstly, you can collect the details quickly and that too from a larger set of people. In addition to this, you can gather the responses on upcoming issues quickly as questionnaires can be framed within no time.
However, this research method faces its own set of challenges. One such challenge is that you tend to select individuals randomly for the survey. Such individuals might not perfectly represent the target population.
The second issue relates to the articulation of surveys. The use of wrong or difficult words can sometimes change the meaning question itself. This may strongly impact individual responses and hence the survey result.
2. Correlation Method
There are times when it appears that one event is related to the other. Say, for instance, when the price of commodity increases, the quantity demanded decreases. Similarly, people suffering from insomnia and or having feelings of loneliness may be the victims of depression.
Thus, it is said that events are correlated when such relationships exist between events. This means when there is a change in one event, the other event also changes.
So, psychologists or researchers call such events as variables. These variables refer to the different aspects of the natural world that can take up different values as and when changes occur.
Thus, a correlation between two variables is quite useful as the information of two or more variables determines the information of the first variable. Psychologists determine different aspects of human behavior by using such correlations between various variables.
For instance, by studying behavior and cognitive processes of school going children, psychologists can determine what profession can such children adopt. Also, by studying the behavior, cognitive processes as well as the social culture from which adults come from, psychologists can determine the success of such adults in relationships.
Thus, in this method psychologists make systematic observations of each variable and then undertake statistical analysis to determine the extent to which the variables are correlated.
Correlation between variables ranges between -1 to +1. The more it moves away from zero, the stronger the correlation between variables. For instance correlation of +.90 is stronger than that of +.15. Furthermore, a positive correlation between variables indicates that if one variable increases, the other also increases and vice versa. However, a negative correlation between variables indicates that if one variable decreases, the other increases. Although, cor-relational method of research is very useful in determining the relationship between two variables, it does not state the underlying reasons or causes for such a relationship.
2. Experimentation Method
Since the correlation research method does not help in determining the causation behind the relationship between two variables, the researchers use the experimental method to know the underlying reasons.
The experimental method of research is the one in which the researchers systematically change one or more variables in order to determine whether such alterations influence some aspect of behavior.
The researchers conducted an experiment on toddlers. Few toddlers were in a fully-equipped playroom, while others were in an empty room. Thus, the toddlers in the playroom behaved differently from the ones in the empty room. In other words, the toddlers in the playroom behaved quite cheerfully. Whereas the toddlers in the empty room felt quite disturbed and started getting cranky.
Thus, the factor changing systematically is the independent variable. Whereas, the aspect of behavior studied is the dependent variable.
Thus, different participants are exposed to varying degrees of the independent variable in the experimental method. The researcher then carefully measures the behavior of participants in order to determine whether the changing degree of variables to which participants are exposed have any different impact on their behavior.
To understand how experimentation method is used in psychological research, let’s take an example.
A psychologist calls a set of smokers via referrals or advertisement and divides them into two groups. One of the groups is shown videos that talk about the ill-effects of smoking in general. Whereas, the other group of people are shown videos that are traumatic and showcase the stories of people suffering from deadly diseases and undergoing treatment for the same. This experiment is conducted for an hour. After an hour, participants come up with their views about smoking and their level of motivation to quit the same.
Thus, in this simple experiment, the videos form the independent variable whereas participants’ level of determination to quit smoking is the dependent variable.
In order to come with even detailed results, the researcher can add variations to the independent variable. These may include increasing the time period for which participants are shown such videos, getting influential people in the videos etc.
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