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Research Techniques

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Research Techniques

What do sturdy houses and great research have in common? They both have strong foundations!

Houses need solid foundation materials, and experiments need effective and ethical research techniques.

  • We will consider what research techniques are. Among other things, we will consider:
  • What are research techniques in psychology?
  • What are some examples of research techniques in action?
  • What are qualitative research techniques?
  • What are quantitative research techniques?

Definition of Research Techniques

Research techniques are important in psychology because they assist psychologists in performing research and turning hypotheses into theories. Research techniques are necessary; we need them to perform research and make new discoveries. They are different methods or models that psychologists use to test their hypotheses, uncover answers to problems, and provide evidence for theories and interventions.

Research Techniques in Psychology

There are many different ways that psychologists conduct research, and each technique has its unique advantages and disadvantages.

Psychological Experiments

The purpose of conducting experiments is to control variables and measure outcomes to figure out how and why different behaviors occur the way they do. Experiments are well-devised scientific procedures that researchers use to test their hypotheses. Experiments can be categorized into 3 different types: Lab Experiments, Field Experiments, and Natural Experiments.

A man and a woman are conducting an experiment. StudySmarterTwo people conducting a lab experiment, Pexels.com

  • Lab experiments take place in a scientific lab setting and are the most controlled kind of experiment.
  • Field experiments take place within the natural world; due to the field setting, researchers are able to control fewer variables than they can in a lab setting.
  • Natural experiments are conducted without the direct alteration of independent variables; the researcher relies on natural changes or processes in nature for the basis of their experiment. Natural experiments are also referred to as “quasi-experiments”.

Strengths of Experiments

  • Experiments are designed to be highly scientific and verifiable (i.e., good experiments can be replicated by other people and done repeatedly).
  • Experiments can be used to show cause and effect. ONLY experimental research can help us understand cause and effect.

Weaknesses of Experiments

  • Experiments sometimes feel artificial due to a lab setting, or the forcing of certain circumstances.
  • Experiments are limited in what they can study. Some concepts do not lend themselves well to scientific study or control.

Correlational Research

Conducting correlational research allows us to understand the relationship between two or more variables. You can think of a correlation as a relationship. You and your mother are correlated with one another (related or connected to one another). You and the cashier at the grocery store are also correlated with one another, but this relationship is very different from your relationship with your mother. Correlational studies measure the type and magnitude of the relationship.

Correlations between variables can be either negative or positive.

  • A negative correlation is when two or more variables relate in opposite ways. If one variable goes up, the other goes down.
  • A positive correlation is when two or more variables relate in similar ways. If one variable increases, the other also increases.

Your dog is happiest when you are at home. The relationship (or correlation) between you being away from home and your dog's happiness is a negative one. Your dog's happiness goes down as your time away from home goes up.

The relationship between your weight and rich chocolate cake is a positive relationship (or correlation). The more cake you eat, the more your weight goes up!

Correlational studies are usually performed when an experiment is not possible; the reasons can vary for this, but financial cost and ethical concerns are common reasons.

Strengths of Correlational Studies

  • In comparison to experiments, correlational studies are usually easier to conduct.
  • They are usually much more cost-effective.
  • More concepts can be studied via correlational research than experimental research.

Weaknesses of Correlational Studies

  • Correlational studies are unable to show cause and effect. They can only tell us if two or more things are related to each other, and NOT if they cause each other.
  • Correlational research results are more likely to be interpreted based on presuppositions and biases than experimental research.
  • Variables are less controlled, or not controlled at all, in correlational studies.

Survey Research

The purpose of conducting survey research is to gather answers from a certain number of people who are part of a specific population by asking them questions on a certain topic. The researchers get to decide how many people, what population, and what topic to study. Survey research is a quantitative method of research that involves the use of questionnaires/surveys to evaluate a population’s opinions or perceptions.

Strengths of Survey Research

  • Survey research, in comparison to the other research techniques, is typically the most cost-effective.
  • Surveys allow for more anonymity than other kinds of studies.

Weaknesses of Survey Research

  • Not everyone chosen for the survey will want to fill it out.
  • Surveys rely heavily on self-reporting, which can sometimes be inaccurate or deceptive.

Naturalistic Observations

The purpose of conducting naturalistic observations is to study behaviors without intrusion (i.e. the researcher just observes and records). Naturalistic observations are used to observe people in a natural setting and document behaviors that are not directed or controlled. Researchers want to see real-life actions without influencing them.

Strengths of Naturalistic Observations

  • Naturalistic observations feel the most authentic. They are real-life situations!
  • Some phenomena can only be studied this way.

Weaknesses of Naturalistic Observations

  • Naturalistic observations are completely uncontrolled. This is both a strength and a weakness.

Case Studies

The purpose of conducting case studies is to study unique or rare circumstances in individual lives. Most case studies are conducted to better understand unusual circumstances or behaviors.

Sophia has a very rare disease that is difficult to manage and treat. Psychologists want to better understand what it is like to live with the disease, so they do an in-depth study of Sophia's life. They conduct naturalistic observations, interviews, survey research, and correlational research to dive into Sophia's world and better understand her struggles.

Strengths of Case Studies

  • Case studies generally provide unique information that can be obtained no other way.

Weaknesses of Case Studies

  • Case studies require a lot of time; some studies can take months or even years to complete.

Cross-Sectional Studies

The purpose of conducting cross-sectional research is to observe volunteers categorized into different groups within one setting. Cross-sectional studies are conducted within a specific timeframe to observe and compare the development of individuals in different groups. A researcher may want to conduct cross-sectional research on millennials and Gen Z by choosing groups of participants from both sets, and having them answer the same questions. The researcher can then compare the results and observe differences and similarities.

Strengths of Cross-Sectional Studies

  • Cross-sectional studies allow us to compare groups within the same study.

Weaknesses of Cross-Sectional Studies

  • Cross-sectional studies are difficult to control. They are correlational in nature.

Longitudinal Studies

The purpose of conducting longitudinal studies is to study the same group of people over a selected amount of time. This research technique can take years or even decades to perform. Longitudinal studies are designed to study a designated group over a specified timeframe, and to study the development of the group as a whole as it relates to individual people in the group.

Strengths

  • Longitudinal studies can be used to observe change and consistency over time.

Weaknesses

  • Longitudinal studies take a lot of time, effort, and money.

Examples of Research Techniques in Psychology

So many studies have been conducted in the world of psychology! In this section, we will take a look at real research techniques in action.

Watson's Little Albert Experiment

Conducted by John Watson, this experiment involved a baby boy named Albert (this was the pseudonym given to protect the real child). In this experiment, Watson wanted to understand how fear works and why we become afraid of certain things. Watson used loud noises to make Albert associate being frightened (by the loud noises) with harmless objects.

The independent variables in this experiment were the noises Albert heard and the objects. The dependent variable was the fear Albert exhibited after listening to the noises. Watson controlled certain variables, like where the experiment took place, what days and times it took place, what loud noises were used, and what objects were used. This is an example of a very early lab experiment.

Correlational Study on the Effects of Stress on Health

It is common knowledge that stress can impact our overall health, but this was not always known. Researchers Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe (1967) decided it was time to prove that there was a correlation between stress and health. To conduct their study, Holmes and Rahe created a test that measured stress reactions to both concerning and normal situations.

These situations involved both happy and sad events (e.g., a job promotion, or the death of a loved one). As you probably can guess, this study did show a positive correlation between stress and health. These results are only correlational; they don't tell us what causes this relationship between stress and health.

Kinsey's Survey Research

Dr. Alfred Kinsey's research involved large-scale surveys and interviews that began at Indiana University, during a college course on sexuality that Kinsey himself taught. In both the survey and interview process, people were asked several questions regarding their sexual preferences and sexual habits. The purpose of the study was to gather data about human sexuality and sexual orientation. This large-scale survey and interview process took place between 1938 and 1956. Kinsey and his team collected data from around 20,000 people!

Check out Sexual Motivation for more information on this subject.

Naturalistic Observations of Chimpanzees

While some psychologists study humans, Jane Goodall studied chimpanzees for three decades! Three decades sounds like a long time (30 years), but Goodall's observations taught us that chimpanzees are omnivorous and not vegetarian. Goodall was able to observe the mating practices of chimpanzees, as well as their social hierarchy and daily habits. The original purpose of her study was to document similarities between humans and chimpanzees, but it evolved into learning and understanding the behaviors of chimpanzees in their natural habitat.

Jane Goodall studied chimpanzees for three decades! StudySmarterA chimpanzee in its natural habitat, Pexels.com

Case Study of Phineas Gage

Phineas Gage is one of psychology's most famous case studies. Phineas survived an incident that seems impossible to live through. In 1948, Gage was doing his job tamping explosives for a new railroad line. An explosive accidentally went off, causing Gage's tamping iron to shoot back into his face, through his brain, and out the back of his head.

Gage miraculously lived, but he was never the same. His case studies helped psychologists understand how damage to certain areas of the brain impacts human behavior. The damage to Gage's prefrontal cortex made him moody and impulsive.

Cross-Sectional Study of the Loneliness of Left-Behind Children

A recent cross-sectional study was conducted with children from rural China. In this study, children were divided into two groups: children who were "abandoned" by their parents, and those who were raised by their parents. (The children who were abandoned by their parents were raised by guardians.)

The goal of this study was to better understand the differences between children raised by their parents and raised by guardians. Specifically, the researchers wanted to know if loneliness was more prevalent in abandoned children. The study confirmed the researchers' hypothesis that children who were abandoned did feel lonelier than those that were not.

Harvard Longitudinal Study of Adult Development

This longitudinal study first began in 1938, with 268 male sophomores at Harvard. The point of this research was to study adult development in men and see if there are any secrets to living a long and happy life. As of now, only 90 of those original 268 males are alive and still partaking in the study, but the observations of the researchers show consistency in what the volunteers describe as living a good life.

One of the biggest insights that researchers have gained is the importance of relationships. The volunteers have consistently shown that happy relationships positively correlate with living a good life. Having good health is important, but human connection is even more important.

Qualitative Research Techniques in Psychology

Qualitative research is a research method that collects non-numerical data. Research techniques like naturalistic observations and case studies are examples of this method.

Josephine conducted a case study on Vietnam War veterans. She conducted interviews with the veterans to gather data about their experiences during the war. Some of Josephine's data can be turned into numbers (i.e., how many of the veterans lost a friend during the war), but most of it is qualitative in nature.

Strengths of Qualitative Research Techniques

  • Qualitative research relies on data that is personal. Due to close involvement with volunteers, the researchers can gain an insider's view, learning about internal and external aspects of human life.

Weaknesses of Qualitative Research Techniques

  • Qualitative research requires more time to sort through and understand than numerical data. Numbers give quick results; non-numerical data has to be read, organized, analyzed, and interpreted.

Quantitative Research Techniques in Psychology

Unlike qualitative research, quantitative research requires the collection of numerical data. Quantitative research can be conducted through techniques like lab experiments and correlational studies.

For quantitative research, think "quantity." You want to know the quantity or the number. For qualitative, think "quality." You want to know about the qualities that people possess.

Mike wanted to know how long (on average) it took volunteers to take a quiz he designed. He timed the volunteers and averaged out the results.

Strengths of Quantitative Research Techniques

  • Quantitative research lends itself to statistical equations and controlled scientific experiments.

Weaknesses of Quantitative Research Techniques

  • Quantitative research generally produces more shallow results than qualitative techniques. This is both a strength and a weakness, as this makes quantitative research more precise.

Research Techniques - Key takeaways

  • Research techniques are different methods or models that psychologists use to test their hypotheses, uncover answers to problems, and provide evidence for theories and interventions.

  • Experiments are well-devised scientific procedures researchers use to test their hypotheses. They can be categorized into 3 different types: Lab Experiments, Field Experiments, and Natural Experiments.

  • Correlational studies measure the type and magnitude of a relationship between two or more variables. A negative correlation is when two or more variables relate in opposite ways. If one variable goes up, the other does down. A positive correlation is when two or more variables relate in similar ways. If one variable increases, the other also increases.

  • Cross-sectional studies are conducted within a specific timeframe to observe and compare individuals in different groups.

  • The purpose of conducting longitudinal studies is to study the same group of people over a selected amount of time.

Frequently Asked Questions about Research Techniques

Research techniques, in psychology, are different types of research that psychologists/researchers undergo to test their theories, formulate answers, or provide substantial evidence for what they are studying. 

Qualitative research techniques are methods that do not rely on numerical data. Examples include case studies, and naturalistic observations. 

Research techniques that use quantitative methods are most commonly used in marketing, as it requires numerical data.  

Quantitative research techniques are methods that require numerical data, for example, lab experiments. 

Experiments: Research that involves different variables, which can be altered or kept constant, to observe the different outcomes or possibilities that can come about. 

Correlational Studies: Research that involves the observation of two or more variables to determine if a correlation can or cannot imply causation. 

Survey Research: Research done via a survey given to a certain number of people regarding a specific topic.

Naturalistic Observations: Research that involves observing volunteers/participants in a natural setting with no aid or guidance from the researchers. 

Case Studies: Research that involves producing a thorough study on an individual or small group of people. A specific circumstance has been created that involves the participant(s).

Cross-Sectional Studies: Research that involves volunteers being divided into different groups and observing them in one setting. 

Longitudinal Studies: Research that involves the observation of the same group of people over some time. 

Final Research Techniques Quiz

Question

What are research techniques? 

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Answer

Research Techniques, in Psychology, are different types of research that psychologists/researchers undergo to test their theories, formulate answers for their subfield in Psychology, or provide substantial evidence for what they are studying.  

Show question

Question

What are examples of research techniques? 

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Answer

  • Experiments
  • Correlational Studies 
  • Survey Research
  • Naturalistic Observations 
  • Case Studies
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Longitudinal Studies

Show question

Question

What are quantitative research techniques?  


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Answer

Quantitative research techniques are methods that require numerical data. 

An example of this is Lab Experiments.  

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Question

What are the research techniques used in marketing? 

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Answer

Research techniques that use quantitative methods are most commonly used in marketing because it requires numerical data which can provide statistical figures.   

Show question

Question

What are qualitative research techniques? 


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Answer

Qualitative research techniques are methods that do not rely on numerical data. Examples include Case Studies and Naturalistic Observations.  

Show question

Question

What are Case Studies?

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Answer

Research that involves producing a thorough study on an individual or small group of people. A specific circumstance has been created that involves the participant(s). 

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What are Longitudinal Studies?

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Answer

Research that involves the observation of the same group of people over some time. 

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What are Cross-Sectional Studies?

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Research that involves volunteers being divided into different groups and observing them in one setting. 

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What are Naturalistic Observations?

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Answer

Research that involves observing volunteers/participants in a natural setting with no aid or guidance from the researchers. 

Show question

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What is Survey Research?

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Answer

Research is done via a survey that is given to a certain number of people regarding a specific topic. 

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What are Correlational Studies?

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Research that involves the observation of two or more variables to determine if a correlation can or can not imply causation. 

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What are Experiments?

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Answer

Research that involves different variables, which can be altered or kept constant, to observe the different outcomes or possibilities that can come about. 

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What are the 3 categories/types of Experiments? 

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Answer

  • Lab 
  • Field
  • Natural

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Question

Give an example of a Qualitative Research Technique? 

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Answer

  • Case Study
  • Naturalistic Observations

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Give an example of a Quantitative Research Technique?  

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Answer

  • Lab Experiments 

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What is a case study?

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Answer

A means of research where the psychologists focus on a single person or a small group of people and make extremely detailed observations

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What is not a limitation to case studies?

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Too much time

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Question

What part of Phineas Gage's brain was impacted by his accident?

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Answer

Frontal lobe

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What accident did Phineas Gage have?

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A tamping iron shot up through his mouth, behind his left eye, and out through the top of his head

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What change did Phineas Gage have a result of his accident?

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His personality changed

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What gives a conductor full control over an experiment through the manipulation of variables?

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Answer

A laboratory experiment

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What 6 step method is used in laboratory experiments?

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Answer

The Scientific Method

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What step of the scientific method is creating a hypothesis?

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Step 3

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What is a proposed idea or question that is formed to predict what will happen in a scientific experiment?


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Hypothesis

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_________ variables are used to control certain aspects of an experiment and are part of the scientific method.

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Independent

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What is an extraneous variable?

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anything that can impact or influence the experiment that you are not necessarily paying attention to.

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What are examples of extraneous variables?

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temperature, previous knowledge, time, lighting, noise, etc.

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True/False: Lab experiments are done in a person's home

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False

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How many steps are there to the scientific method and what are they?

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6 steps. 

1. Ask or establish a question to test.

2. Obtain background information or research.

3. Create a hypothesis (prediction of outcome).

4. Conduct an experiment/test hypothesis.

5. Analyze data and findings.

6. Final report and analysis.

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What is a major benefit regarding lab experiments?

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Answer

More thorough analysis.

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 What is something that stays constant throughout an experiment, it doesn't change?

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Controlled variable

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True/False: Controlled variables can be extraneous variables.


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True


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Bias in laboratory experiments is often called...

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Research Bias

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What is when someone that is conducting research uses tactics to manipulate the outcome of the results to fit their wants?

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Answer

Research Bias 

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An example of laboratory experiments could be?


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Sleep labs

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The experimental method is a part of what set of scientific steps?

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The scientific method.

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List the seven steps of the scientific method.

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1.) Ask a question

2.) Research

3.) Form a hypothesis

4.) Experiment

5.) Observe 

6.) Analyze results

7.) Conclusion

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Define the experimental method in psychology.


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Answer

 the scientific study of a theory or hypothesis in an effort to identify a causal or correlative relationship between an independent and dependent variable

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What is the independent variable?

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the variable that is often manipulated or used to determine the presence of an influence or correlation between it and another variable

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What is a dependent variable?

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 It is the outcome or variable affected by the independent variable

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Identify the independent variable in this example: Experiment testing the relationship between stress and binge eating.

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Answer

The IV is the stress.

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Identify the dependent variable in this example: An experiment testing the relationship between wealth and spending.

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Answer

spending is the dependent variable.

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What is a causal relationship?

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Causal relationships between two variables infers that one thing causes another. 

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Every experiment and study implies a causal relationship. True or False?

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FALSE

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Define a correlation

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Correlations are used to identify relationships between two variables that are not considered cause and effect.

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What is a positive correlation?

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A positive correlation happens when the dependent variable increases as the independent variable increases or the IV decreases and the DV decreases.

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Negative correlation

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Answer

 A negative correlation is when an independent variable increases or decreases while the dependent variable does the opposite

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List the three types of experimental methods in psychology.

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1.) Lab experiment

2.) Field experiment

3.) Observational experiment

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Lab experiment

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Answer

In a lab experiment, the study is conducted in a highly controlled environment. 

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Field experiment

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Answer

A field experiment utilizes the “real-world” environment

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