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Scientific Investigation

Who? What? Where? When? Why? How? What for? Because of who? Whose? Did it really? How come? Oh really?

These questions are all part of a scientific investigation!

  • What is scientific investigation?
  • What is an example of the scientific investigation?
  • What are the different types of scientific investigation?
  • Why is scientific investigation important?

Scientific Investigation Definition

Scientific investigation is the process through which scientists pose a research question and then observe and test varying phenomena. It also refers to the data collection and analysis after the experiment and the guidelines psychologists abide by when conducting research. However, scientific investigations are also daily instances when we make an observation and try to figure out the solution. Scientific investigations allow us to think critically about the world around us, especially in sciences and psychology.

Although scientific investigations are sometimes seen as synonymous with the scientific method, they should be viewed as the umbrella term that the scientific method falls under.

Scientific Investigation Steps

The method of scientific investigation follows a couple steps that help ensure that the research being conducted is as reliable and replicable as possible. Its sibling, the scientific method, has more structural and rigid steps that are to be followed.

For more on the scientific method, click here!

For scientific investigation, there are a couple key parts of the study that need to be done in order to have it follow the steps of the scientific investigation. Researchers need to make sure they design and execute an experiment following the scientific method, analyze their data, and ensure that all ethical guidelines are met.

Scientific Investigation Example

Chances are, you use aspects of scientific investigation every single day, simply by asking a question and trying to figure out the answer.

An example of scientific investigation is one of the most famous (or infamous) psychological studies, known as the Little Albert Experiment. The experimenters were curious about the effects of conditioning – the concept that a person or animal can be conditioned (trained) to elicit a response from an unrelated stimulus – on a human. Ivan Pavlov showed that animals can be conditioned in the late 1800s, and the Little Albert experimenters wanted to see if the same would be possible with an infant. So they paired something the baby was scared of, the noise of a hammer hitting a steel bar, with the visual stimulus of a rat. After exposing him to this multiple times, Little Albert eventually began to show signs of fear when he saw a rat. Interestingly, he also got scared when he saw things that had similar traits to the rat – a dog, cotton, and a Santa Claus mask. While the experiment was true to scientific investigation in terms of testing a hypothesis and conducting an experiment, there are two aspects where this experiment falls short.

Limitations of the Little Albert Study

What about the ethics of this experiment? Was it ethical to condition an infant to be afraid of an animal? Would there be long-lasting impacts of this conditioning? Unfortunately, people are unsure what became of Little Albert, with some reports stating that he passed away when he was six years old from hydrocephalus.

However, even though Little Albert never lived long enough to see if there were lasting effects, it was still a highly unethical experiment to conduct. Pavlov conditioned a dog to salivate when he heard a bell ring; he did not condition the negative emotion of fear. This feature guaranteed this experiment's notoriety.

Furthermore, due to the unethical nature of this experiment, it is unable to be replicated. So how do we know for sure that this produced evidence for his theory? Was it just a fluke? Since the current ethical guidelines would not allow for this study to be reproduced, it’s hard to tell for sure. We know that that specific baby, stimuli, and situations led to those results, but since conditioned fear will never be tested again, we should not take the results at face value.

Through this example, we can see that a scientific investigation includes more than just the scientific method.

Scientific Investigation little Albert experiment StudySmarterLittle Albert experiment, commons.wikimedia/Galiaoffri

Types of Scientific Investigation

There are three main types of scientific investigation – descriptive, comparative, and experimental. Looking for answers to research questions is what these three types have in common. However, there are distinct differences that set them apart from one another.

Descriptive Investigations

A key aspect of descriptive investigations is right there in the name – descriptions. Descriptive investigations are concerned with describing the world around us. They rely on highly detailed observations to bolster the investigation. This type of investigation does not need a hypothesis since it is simply based on observations.

An example of a descriptive investigation would be observing the stars. You can’t actually conduct a typical scientific study on stars (also known as an experimental investigation), so your investigation would rely on detailed observations. Although there is a research question driving the study, there’s no hypothesis able to be made since you can’t create independent and dependent variables with the stars.

Comparative Investigations

Comparative investigations focus on collecting data from different populations and then comparing the data. Unlike the descriptive, these investigations need a hypothesis since there is something to compare. An example of a comparative investigation would be gathering data on high school seniors across different high schools. There would be no control group since the data from the two populations is just being compared, but your experiment would still have a research question, hypothesis, predictions, and the collection of evidence.

Experimental Investigations

Experimental investigations are probably the investigations you first think of when someone mentions an experiment. These are the investigations that require the scientific method, variables, and a hypothesis. It requires the psychologist, scientist, or researcher to design a study that will fairly test the hypothesis. An example of an experimental investigation would be trying to determine how much attention someone thinks they’re getting if they’re wearing a T-shirt with an embarrassing image on it. The researchers would have to completely design an experiment using the scientific method, of course including a research question, hypothesis, predictions, and collect evidence.

Importance of Scientific Investigation

This structured scientific investigation is the backbone of furthering our knowledge of psychology.

Without the scientific method and a regulated way of conducting experiments, there would be no accurate way of determining if experiments produce consistent results. It is these results that we base our understanding of psychology on. For example, a psychologist decides to study the impact that inconsistent sleep has on memory. Then, they decide to test this by having participants vary their amount of sleep. On the first night, the participants sleep for four hours. The next night they sleep for nine and carry on this pattern for two weeks.

A little girl asleep in her bed with her stuffed bunny beside her. How do you reliably test sleep? pixabay.com/ddimitrova

If another psychologist wants to study the same theory, but has the participants vary their sleep by only one hour a night; would this be testing the same theory as the first psychologist? What if the other psychologist kept the sleep pattern the same, but tested for six months instead of two weeks? It would still be studying the effect of inconsistent sleep on memory, but would not be studying the identical relationship as the original study.

This aspect of scientific investigation allows for a continued collection of data to bolster existing experiments.

Additionally, it ensures that the participants in the study remain physically and mentally safe not only during the study but also after. The American Psychological Association (APA), has guidelines to make certain the participants are safe and that there are no long-lasting effects from any experiments in which they participate. These guidelines were first implemented in 2003, with the latest revision in 2017.

Scientific Investigation - Key takeaways

  • Scientific investigations are how scientists, psychologists, and researchers examine varying phenomena.
  • Descriptive investigations are just recording data about an observation you have. They don't require a hypothesis since they are based on observations and data recording.
  • Comparative investigations collect data from different groups and then compare the data. They do need a hypothesis, as researchers are required to formulate a theory and test it during their experiment.
  • Experimental investigations are what you usually think of when imagining a scientific investigation - they need a hypothesis, and have to follow the scientific method.
  • Scientific investigations require researchers to follow the APA ethical guidelines to protect the safety (physical and mental) of the participants.

Frequently Asked Questions about Scientific Investigation

Scientific investigation is a process by which scientists observe and test varying phenomena. 

The steps in a scientific investigation are: Designing and executing an experiment using the scientific method, analyzing data, and ensuring ethical guidelines are met. The steps of the scientific method are: Make an observation and ask a question, do background research and make a hypothesis, conduct an experiment, collect data, and draw conclusions. 

The main purpose of a scientific investigation is to provide structure to research through the scientific method, data analysis, and ethical guidelines. 

Components that are part of all scientific investigations are, among others, recording data, analysis of data, and conclusion are part of all scientific investigations. Since descriptive investigations do not require a hypothesis, that cannot be included. 

An example of scientific investigation in psychology is the (in)famous Little Albert experiment. 

Final Scientific Investigation Quiz

Question

What is the definition of Reliability?

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Reliability is the presence of a stable and constant outcome after repeated measurement or test

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What is the definition of Validity?

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Validity is an indicator that a test or tool of measurement is true and accurate.

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What is the importance of Validity and Reliability in terms of research?

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 They indicate whether a measurement is consistent, accurate, and trustworthy. All of which, add value to the research.

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What are two errors of Reliability?

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Method error and trait error.

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What is the issue of Maturation?

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The passage of time in an experiment interferes with the Validity of the measurement.

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What is the bias issue in validity?

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Bias in the selection of participants made by the researcher may affect the validity of an outcome.

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What is an interaction effect in validity?

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multiple tests before one another can negatively impact the outcome of a test that follows.

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Method error is: 

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An issue of reliability stemming from the experimenter or tool of measurement

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Trait error is:

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an issue of reliability that stems from the actions or behavior of a participant/subject

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Can something be Reliable but not Valid?

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yes

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Anne is playing a game of darts. She throws all of her darts on the lowest scoring area of the board every single turn and loses the game. Were the shots taken by Anne reliable or valid? Explain.

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Reliable but not valid. Because Anne consistently hits the same area each turn, it is reliable. Anne failed to achieve the goal of the game by hitting the center of the board, therefore it was not valid.

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You step on a new weight scale and see an accurate number on the scale of how much you weigh. You step on the scale 4 more times and get a completely different weight every time. Valid or Reliable? Why?

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The scale was Valid once for reading a correct weight; however, because the result was not consistent it is not a reliable measurement.

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List the 4 types of Reliability

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  1. Test/retest
  2. Alternate-forms
  3. Split-half
  4. Interrater

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List the 3 types of Validity

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  1. Content
  2. Criterion
  3. Construct

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What Scientific process is used in all research?

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The Scientific Method

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What is Informed Consent?

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Informed Consent must include a signed document that verifies a participant has been informed about the study and is aware that they are participating, what risks are involved, that their participation is voluntary and may be terminated at any time.

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Ethical Guidelines in psychology are in place to _____. 

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Protect the research subjects.

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What does IRB mean?

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 Institutional Review Board

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You must obtain ______ _______ from a participant before your study begins.

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informed consent

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APA stands for? 

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American Psychological Association

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True/False: Participants have the right to withdraw from a research study at any time.


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True: The right to withdraw is a part of informed consent. 

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What requires study participants to be told the purpose and truth about the research they participated in?


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Debriefing 

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Are researchers allowed to offer incentives to participate in research studies?

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Yes- explanation of incentives is a part of the 7 ethical guidelines

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What are sampling methods used for?

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Sampling methods are techniques used to collect a specific sample of participants that are relevant to the target population of a study. 

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What are the four types of sampling methods?

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Stratified random, cluster, convenience, and quota sampling methods.

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Describe quota sampling.

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Participants are selected through convenience, but are filtered to ensure they meet the representative criteria of the population.

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Describe convenience sampling.

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Convenience sampling is the collection of a sample through any means available and without a strategy.

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Describe cluster sampling.

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Cluster sampling uses smaller groups than the population to collect a representative sample.

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Describe stratified random sampling.

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Uses subgroups/strata of the given population while accounting for the different dimensions of the population.

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A research team wants to conduct a study on income levels in the state of Texas. Which sampling method should they use?

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Cluster sampling method.

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Convenience sampling is the most valid and accurate sampling method. True or False?

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False. It is the least accurate and valid of the four.

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A class is conducting a study on personalities within their university. They have no financial resources for this study and have very little time to turn in their results. In this case what would be the appropriate sampling method?

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Convenience sampling method.

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What are some cons of stratified random sampling?

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Difficult to compute statistically, takes more time.

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What type of error occurs when the researcher selects participants, or only interested volunteers participate? 

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Selection bias/error

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What are the cons of cluster sampling?

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Potential underrepresentation, result in possible biases

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Stratified sampling method is very time-efficient and simple to analyze. True or false?

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False

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Quota sampling collects participants out of convenience but ensures the sample is representative. True or false?

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True

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What is a non-response error?

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Lack of willing participants leads to a sample that is not completely representative of the target population.

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______ in psychology means that there is a collection of data, analysis of data, and interpretation of results.

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Research design

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________ design follows the same principles as the scientific research method.

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Quantitative research

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The basis of the ________ research type is to describe the status of an identified variable.


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descriptive

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This research type looks to describe the what, when, where, or how of phenomena.


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Descriptive research

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______ research looks for a connection or relationship between two or more variables of statistical data.


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Correlational

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______ research requires the interpretation of numerical data and patterns.


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Correlational 

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________ research seeks to define a cause and effect in its data collection.

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Causal/Comparative

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______ research aims to identify and control all variables but one.

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Experimental

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_______ most often happens in two types of scenarios; in a naturalistic place (in public) and laboratory setting.

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Observation

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_________ is when more than one observer is used to ensure validity.

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Inter-coder reliability

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_____ methods are grounded theory, thematic analysis, discourse analysis.

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Qualitative

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_____ analysis explores the language or social contexts used in data collection.

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Discourse

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