It is the use of the scientific method that makes psychology a science (Ray, 2012 in King, 2013) A key theme in the scientific method is that knowledge comes from empirical research. (King 2013). Indeed most of the studies psychologists publish in research journals follow the scientific method, which is summarized in these steps:
1. Observing Phenomenon. The first step in conducting scientific inquiry involves observing some phenomenon in the world. The phenomena that the scientists study are called variables – anything that can be change. One example of a variable is happiness. Some people are happier than others. What might account for the difference? Considering the probable answer to this question, scientists often develop a theory.
A theory is a broad idea or set of closely related ideas that attempts to explain observation (King 2013). An important characteristic of scientific theory is that is must be falsifiable; meaning that even a scientist who believes that a theory is true must be able to generate ideas about research that would prove the theory wrong and test those ideas.
2. Formulating Hypotheses and Predictions. A hypothesis is a testable prediction that derives logically from theory. For example, a researcher who believes that social belonging is the most important aspect of human functioning might predict that people who belong to social groups will be happier than others, or might hypothesize that individuals who are excluded of the social group will be more aggressive.
3. Testing through Empirical Research. To test hypotheses, the researchers collect and analyze data. The use of various research methods allows them to test prediction, however, the first thing that the researchers need in order to conduct the study is a concrete way to measure the variables of interest. Thus, an operational definition of the variable is going to be measured and observed in a particular study.
A key aspect of the process of testing hypothesis is data analysis. Data refers to all information (all those numbers) researchers collect in the study. With data analysis, mathematical procedures (e.g. statistics) are applied to understand what the numerical information means (Howell, 2013 in King, 2013).
4. Drawing Conclusions. The scientists then draw conclusions from their research based on the results of the data analyses. If the results of the study ( or a series of studies) support predictions, then a theory may gain credibility, however, a theory may gain credibility, however, a theory is always open to revision. Before a theory is accepted or changed, the scientific community must establish that the research can be replicated by other scientists using different methods.
5. Evaluating Conclusions. The final step in the scientific method, evaluating conclusions, is one that never ends,. Researcher submit their work for publication, and it undergoes rigorous review. Afterward, the published studies are there for all to see, read and evaluate continually.
Type of Psychological Research
Naturalistic observations are research studies that are conducted in the environment in which the behavior typically occurs. Naturalistic observation can provide a picture of behavior as it normally occurs. However, in conducting such, researchers should attempt to minimize reactivity to ensure that they are observing the true behavior of their participants (Pastorino- & Doyle-Portillo, 2013)
Case study is an in-depth observation of one participant. This participant may be a person, an animal, or even setting such as business or a school. It provides in-depth information on rare and unusual conditions that we might not otherwise be able to study. However, the main disadvantage of case study method is its limited applicability to other situations. It lacks generalizability or how well a researcher’s findings it lacks generalizability or how will a researcher’s findings apply to other individuals and situations (Pastorino- & Doyle-Portillo, 2013).
Survey is a straight forward way to measure psychological variables, thus, constructing them requires care (Stangor, so11 in King, 2013). Survey presents a standard set of questions or items, to obtain people’s self-reported attitudes or belief about a particular topic (King, 2013).
Correlational studies test the relationship between or more variables (e.g. television watching and violent behavior, or depression and gender). The researcher does not control variables but rather measures them to see whether any reliable relationship exists between them. The strength of correlation is measured in terms of correlation coefficient – statistics that tells us how strong the relationship between two factors is. Correlation coefficients range from (-1.00) to (+1.00). The closer the correlation coefficient is to (-1.00) to (+1.00), the stronger the correlation or the more related the two variables are. A positive correlation exists when one variable increases, the second variable also tend to increase, or as one variable decreases, the other variable tends to decrease. On the other hand, negative correlation exists to decrease or there is inverse relationship (Pastorino- & Doyle-Portillo, 2013)
Longitudinal design involves observing and measuring the same variables periodically over time. Longitudinal research can suggest potential causal relationships because if one variable is thought to cause changes in another, it should at least come before that variable in the (King, 2013).
Experimental method determines whether a causal relationship exists between variables (Myers & Hansen, 2012 in King, 2013). An experiment is a carefully regulated procedure in which the researcher manipulates one or more variables that are believed to influence some other variable. If manipulation led to differences between two groups (e.g. intelligence), the manipulated variable caused the difference. Causation is based on the idea that if participants are randomly assigned to groups, the only systematic difference between them must be the manipulated variable (King, 2013). Random assignment means the researchers assign participants to groups by chance. This technique reduces the likelihood that the experiment’s results will be due to any preexisting differences between groups (Eimes, Kantowitz, & Roediger, 2012 in King, 2013).
Experiments have two types of variables: independent and dependent. An independent variables is manipulated experimental factor. It is the variable that the experimenter changes to see what its effects are; it is the potential cause. A dependent variable is the outcome - the factor that can change in an experiment in response to changes in the independent variable. Experiments involve experimental and control groups. An experimental group consists of the participants in an experiment who receive the treatment that is of interest to the researcher; the control group is as much like the experimental group as possible and is treated in every way like the experimental group except for a manipulated factor, the independent variable…The control group provides a comparison against which the researcher can test the effects of the independent variable (King 2013). In some experiments, the control group receives a placebo or inactive substance such as a sugar pill, rather than being given nothing. The placebo effect occurs when participants show changes simply because they believe or expect a treatment to have certain effects. In double-blind studies, neither experimenters nor participants know who is receiving a placebo and who is receiving the actual treatment; they are blind to which group (experimental or control) a person has been assigned. In this way, neither the participant’s nor the experimenter’s expectations will bias the results (Pastorino & Doyle-Portillo, 2013)
Within-participant designs ensure that a control group and an experimental group are as similar as possible. Instead of relying on random assignment to produce equipment groups, a researcher has the same group of Participants experience the various conditions of the study.
For instance, a researcher predicts that the presence of other people (independent variable) decreases math performance (dependent variable), she/he might have participants complete math problems first whole alone and then with others, and compare performance in two conditions to test her prediction. The advantages of this design are(a) only requires only half of the number of the participants and (b) knowing that the groups are the same people in each condition. The disadvantages include concerns about whether the two math tests are really equivalent and how the order of the conditions might influence their effects on performances (King, 2013).
Quasi-experimental design is somewhat similar to experimental research but they key difference is that quasi-experimental design does not include random assignment of participants to condition, because such assignment is either impossible or unethical (Reichardt, 2009 in Kind, 2013).
When psychologists conduct a study, they usually want to be able to draw conclusions that will apply to a larger group of people about which the investigator wants to draw conclusions is the population. The subset of the population chosen by the investigator for study is the sample. However, to mirror the population as closely as possible, the researcher uses a random sample, a sample that gives every member of the population an equal chance of being selected. In selecting a sample, the researcher must strive to minimize bias (Matlin, 2012 in King 2013) in terms of ethnicity, gender, religion and other factors because psychology is the scientific study of human behavior.
Conducting Ethical Research
Ethics is an important consideration for all science. At the base of all ethical guidelines is the notion that a person participating in psychological research should be no worse off coming out of the study than he or she was on the way in. The American Psychological Association (APA) has developed ethical guidelines for its members. The APA code of ethics instructs psychologists to protect their participants from mental and physical harm. The participants’ best interest need to be kept foremost in the researcher’s mind (Christensen, Johnson, & Turner, 2011 in King, 2013). APA’s guidelines address four important issues:
• Informed Consent: All participants must know what their participation will involve and what risks might develop.
• Confidentiality: Researchers are responsible for keeping all the data they gather on individuals completely confidential, and when possible, completely anonymous.
• Debriefing: When preliminary information about the study is likely to affect the results, participants can at least be debriefed after the completion of the study by informing them the purpose and the methods used.
• Deception: This can range from deception by omission to active deception. Deception by omission means not telling participants what a study is really about. Active deception means misleading participants about what is going on in the means misleading participants about what is going on in the study (e.g. giving participants false feedback about their performance on task or leading them to believe that a confederate is just another participant in the study. In all cases of deception, however, psychologist must ensure that deception will not harm the participants and that the participants will be told the true nature of the study. (will be debriefed) as soon as possible after the study is completed.
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