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Research Methods in Psychology

Various research methods in psychology are used to test different theories and obtain results.

Psychological research follows either a quantitative or qualitative research method. The most appropriate research method is chosen depending on the research objective.

Research methods and statistics in psychology

Let us look at types of research methods in psychology and some examples. The types of research in psychology can be divided into two main categories: 1) quantitative and 2) qualitative.

Quantitative research

Quantitative research uses mathematical modelling and statistical estimation or inference to describe variables, predict findings, and explore potential correlations and causality between variables.

Imagine a researcher would like to investigate the effects of learning through StudySmarter. There are two groups: group A is given access to StudySmarter as their revision medium, and group B continues with traditional textbook revision. After a month, the academic performance of the participants is measured and the statistics are compared.

Research Methods in Psychology Statistic analysis StudySmarterStatistic analysis, Pixabay

Qualitative research

Qualitative research uses non-numerical data such as text, audio, and video, which investigates and attempts to understand or interpret various phenomena such as societal or individual perceptions and actions.

Compared to quantitative research, the aim is to focus on the human condition and the language they use, rather than statistical differences. Interviews and focus groups are key tools in qualitative research.

Research Methods in Psychology Focus groups in qualitative research StudySmarterFocus groups as the main tools in qualitative research, Optinmonster

Types of research methods in psychology

There are distinct approaches employed in psychological research under each of the two main categories. While this is not an extensive list, it highlights five of the most common strategies used in psychological research. These are the experimental methods, observational techniques, self-report techniques, correlational studies, and case studies.

Experimental methods

The experimental method is a procedure carried out to support or reject a hypothesis. Experiments provide insight into cause-and-effect by demonstrating what outcome occurs when a particular variable is manipulated. Experimental studies are classified as quantitative research.

There are mainly four types of experiments in psychology:

  1. Laboratory experiments
  2. Field experiments
  3. Natural experiments
  4. Quasi-experiments

Each type of experiment has strengths and limitations.

Observational techniques

Observational techniques are used when a researcher observes how people behave and act in order to learn more about their ideas, actions, and beliefs. Observation studies are mostly categorised as qualitative in nature. However, they may also be quantitative or both (mixed-methods).

The two main observation techniques are:

  • Participant observation.

  • Non-participant observation.

Observations can also be overt and covert, naturalistic and controlled.

Self-report techniques

Self-report techniques refer to data collection approaches in which participants report information about themselves without interference from the experimenter. Ultimately, such methods require respondents to give responses to a set of pre-set questions. Thus, self-report techniques can provide researchers with both quantitative and qualitative data, depending on the set-up of questions.

Self-report techniques can include

Self-report techniques can include

  • Questionnaires.

  • Interviews.

  • Psychometric testing

Content analysis is a technique for analysing qualitative data. The researcher will code their data to look for common patterns and themes. They can then analyse and draw conclusions from the patterns and themes they find. Content analysis converts non-numerical data into different categories to make it easy to analyse. This technique is applied to qualitative data such as interview transcripts, videotapes, and audio recordings. The coding standard can vary largely depending on the data used.

Correlational studies

Correlational Studies measure the strength and direction of a statistical relationship between two co-variables. Correlational studies are quantitative in nature, and the findings are displayed in scattergrams. There are two types of correlations that the researcher may observe. These are:

Positive correlations (where one variable increases as the other variable increases)

How do umbrella sales increase as the rainy weather increases?

Negative correlations (where one variable increases as the other decreases)

How do hot chocolate sales increase as the temperature decreases?

Case studies

Case studies belong to a qualitative research methodology. Case studies entail an in-depth investigation of persons, groups, communities, or events. They frequently employ a multi-methodological approach that includes participant interviews as well as unobtrusive observations. Case studies in psychology are conducted on targeted participants. A psychology case study typically gathers critical and influential biographical moments from a patient's past, and salient details in the individual's daily life that may drive the development of particular behaviours or thinking.

A famous psychological case study is H.M. From his case study we learned the effect of hippocampal damage on memory.

Research Methods in Psychology - Key takeaways

  • Research methods in psychology can be divided into two main categories, namely qualitative and qualitative research.
  • Quantitative research employs numerical data.

  • Qualitative research employs non-numerical data, the focus is on language.

  • Experimental methods, observational techniques, self-report techniques, correlational studies and case studies are the five of the most common methodologies employed in psychological research.

Frequently Asked Questions about Research Methods in Psychology

Experimental methods, observational techniques, self-report techniques, correlational studies and case studies are five of the most common methodologies in psychological research.

Research methods in psychology refer to the various methods of testing different theories and obtaining results.

We can divide the types of research in psychology into two main categories: 1) quantitative and 2) qualitative.

Final Research Methods in Psychology Quiz

Question

What is an experimental design?

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Experimental design is a method used to allocate participants to different groups/ conditions of an experiment.

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What are four examples of experimental designs?

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The four experimental designs are independent measures, repeated measures, matched-pairs, and quasi-experimental designs.

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What is an independent measures design?

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The independent measures design is an experimental design in which different participants are used to test each condition of the independent variable. 

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What is a repeated measures design?

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A repeated measures design is when participants are assessed in all of the independent variable levels. Therefore, data obtained for each condition of the independent variable are taken from the same participants.

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What is a matched-pairs design? 

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Matched pairs design is when participants are paired in terms of specific characteristics such as age, ethnicity, or education level. Each individual of the matched pair is randomly assigned to the experimental or control group.

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What is a quasi-experimental design?

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This method involves different participants being tested on each independent variable level. This is usually used in psychology research to determine the effectiveness of pre-existing treatment/interventions. As a result, participants allocation into experimental and control groups is fixed. 

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Question

For the following research scenario, ‘an investigation to identify if Clozapine (medication) is an effective drug to minimise symptoms of schizophrenia’, which experimental design would be appropriate to use and why?

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A quasi-experimental design would be appropriate because it can compare schizophrenia patients taking Clozapine (experimental group) and patients with schizophrenia using a different drug. This allows the researcher to identify if Clozapine or another drug is better at minimising symptoms of schizophrenia in the recruited sample. This design is required, as ethically, researchers cannot change patients medication because it may cause physical and/or psychological harm to participants.

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How do independent group designs and quasi-experimental designs differ?

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Independent measures design and quasi-experimental designs are similar experimental designs. However, they differ in terms of sampling methods. For instance, independent group designs use random sampling, whereas group allocation is fixed in quasi-experimental designs. 

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Question

What is an advantage of using a repeated measure design over using independent measures experimental design?

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An advantage of using a repeated measures design instead of an independent design is that it is a more statistically robust design, accounting for individual differences. This can increase the reliability and validity of findings.

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Question

What are the advantages and disadvantages of using a matched-pairs experimental design?

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The advantage of using a matched-pairs design is that it accounts for individual differences as participants are matched according to key characteristics such as age, ethnicity. This limits confounding variables, and this design is not affected by order effects. This design also uses random sampling techniques, increasing the reliability and validity of results. However, the disadvantages are that it is challenging to match participants, and the recruitment of participants can be time-consuming.

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What is counterbalancing and its purpose? 

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Counterbalancing is when the researcher changes the order that measures are presented to participants to reduce order effects. Order effects are when the order of measures presented influences participants performance. There are different order effects, such as the fatigue effect and practice effect. These can lower the validity of findings if they have not been combated with counterbalancing techniques.

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Which research designs have random sampling implications?

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Independent measures and quasi-experimental designs cannot use random sampling techniques.

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Question

According to the scientific process, what should a hypothesis be?

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Hypotheses need to be predictive, falsifiable, and verifiable statements.


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Why is the scientific process also called the hypothetico-deductive model?

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The scientific process involves the following stages for empirical research: forming a hypothesis, using inductive methods and deducing supporting or negating evidence using experimental techniques.

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What inductive method do we use to form research questions?

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Accumulation of observations of natural phenomena to comprise a theory/principle.

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Write a directional hypothesis based upon the research question 'Does sleep affect memory performance?'.


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The 'sleep-deprived' individuals will have lower memory scores than those with 'normal sleep'.

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Describe a method that will provide empirical data that tests whether sleep affects performance in memory tasks.

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The study could randomly assign participants to two groups: the 'sleep-deprived' and the 'regular sleep' group. The two groups could then carry out a memory task and the study would then analyse and compare the scores. 

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What should be done if data negates the hypothesis proposed?

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The researcher should report the data following APA guidelines, revise the hypothesis, and repeat the scientific method.

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Why do we need the scientific process?

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The process provides an empirical, standardised method for producing research that increases the reliability and validity of the results.

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What are interviews?

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An interview in psychological research is a conversation between two people, one of whom asks questions (interviewer) and the other responds to those questions (interviewee).

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State the three interview types.

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Unstructured, semi-structured, and structured interviews.

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Which interview type uses only close-ended questions?

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Structured interview.

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In the following research scenario, ‘an investigation of young women’s perspective of body changes that’, what could be an appropriate interview type to use and why?

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Semi-structured interviews could be an appropriate method to collect data as it allows the researcher to guide the conversation, as interviewees may not be sure what they should talk about. However, as this method is not rigid, they can also openly express their opinion and experiences.

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What would be an appropriate interview type to use when researching sensitive topics?

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Unstructured interviews, as the participant can choose what they wish to talk about and evade topic areas if they are too sensitive. This approach can combat ethical issues raised.

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What is the definition of open-ended questions?

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Open-ended questions are when interviewees respond in-depth and however they choose.

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What are three examples of methods used to analyse data obtained from interviews?

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Statistical analysis, thematic and content analysis.

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Why does structured use different analysis techniques for semi-structured and unstructured interviews?

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Structured interviews collect quantitative data and use statistical analysis, whereas semi-structured and unstructured interviews collect qualitative data and use thematic and content analysis.

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Question

What are the advantages of using interviews as a data collection method?

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The advantages of using interviews as a research method include having a higher response rate than posting questionnaires. Additionally, the interviewer can build a report with the interviewee, so the interviewee may answer more truthfully, increasing the validity of the result.

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What are the disadvantages of using interviews as a data collection method?

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The disadvantages of using interviews are that data collection and analysis requires trained personnel, can be time-consuming and expensive. Moreover, qualitative data is difficult to analyze and argued not to be empirical data.

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What is meant by observation technique?

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Observational techniques is when the researcher (observer) watches how participants behave and how they act to understand more about participants thoughts, actions, and beliefs.

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What are the different types of observational techniques? 


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The four types of observational techniques are overt, cover, participant, and non-participant observations.

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For the following research scenario, what would be the ideal type of observation technique to use: ‘research investigating if prison guards conform to violent behaviour’?

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The ideal observation design to use would be covert participant observations. The design would involve the researcher instigating violent behaviour and identifying if other prison guards conform to this behaviour.

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For the following research scenario, what would be the ideal type of observation technique to use: ‘Research investigating how often bullying occurs in a playground’?

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Non-participant, covert observations would be the ideal observation design for this research as, ethically, the researcher cannot participate in it. Also, if children knew they were observing them, they would bully others less.

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What is the difference between structured and unstructured observations?

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Structured observations use coded schedules identified before the investigation to measure the variables investigated. Whereas in unstructured observations, researchers do not have specific instructions of which behaviours they should record. Instead, the researchers record as much data as possible and then determine what behaviours they are interested in.

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What type of observation design did Mary Ainsworth use in her famous research that investigated attachment styles between mothers and their children?

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A structured observation.

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What is the Hawthorne effect?

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The Hawthorne effect is when participants may easily interpret the research hypothesis and act accordingly, reducing the validity of findings.

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What are the advantages of structured observations?

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  • Easy to replicate; therefore, it is easy to identify if the design and data collected are reliable.
  • The data collected is easy to interpret using statistical analysis; therefore, it is easy to identify any patterns and trends between the variables being investigated.
  • Observer bias is less likely to occur. 

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What are the disadvantages of structured observations?

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  • Participants may easily interpret the research hypothesis and act accordingly, reducing the validity of findings. This effect is known as the Hawthorne effect.
  • As behavioural categories are predetermined, important behaviours may be omitted if they do not fit into the fixed categories.

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What are the advantages of unstructured observations?

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  • The researcher can get the in-depth information to help them understand more about a phenomenon.
  • Researchers can observe unexpected behaviour of participants as this method is less rigid than structured observations. 

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What are the disadvantages of unstructured observations?

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  • Observer bias can easily influence the research, decreasing the validity of results.
  • This method produces qualitative data, which is much more difficult to analyse than quantitative data. 

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What are some examples of observational research designs?

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Answer

Some examples of observational research designs are structured observations, for instance, controlled observations and unstructured observations, such as natural observations.

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Question

What is time sampling?

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Collecting data at different intervals of time.

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What is situation sampling?

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Collecting data in different settings and/or situations.

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Question

What are the different types of methods researchers use to analyse data?

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Answer

  • Tally counting.
  • Video/audio recording.
  • Observer narrative. 

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What are independent variables?

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Answer

The IV is a factor that the experimenter manipulates to identify if it affects the DV.

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What are dependent variables?


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The DV is a variable/factor measured or being tested in the experiment and allows for inferences to be made of whether it has a causal relationship with the hypothesised IV.

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Question

How can the experimental research method be used to identify causal relationships between variables? 


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Answer

Causal relationships are identified if changes in the IV have an effect on the DV. 

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What information does operationalisation give about variables?

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Answer

How the variable is defined and measured.

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Of the following examples, which one is operationalised?

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IV- amount of water (ml) given to a plant & DV- height plant grown (cm).

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How do confounding variables affect the validity of results?

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Confounding variables can cause findings to under or overestimate the independent variable's impact on the DV, reducing the validity of conclusions.

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