IN PSYCHOLOGICAL RESEARCH
Basic Introduction to Psychological Research Methodology
Psychologists and other social scientists regularly propose explanations for human behavior. And there are a huge amount of resources available using the internet to discuss these topics.. My purpose here is not to repeat a few basics, with of course Google and Wikipedia beeing useful starttng points for anyone wishing to look into these matters in more depth. I'll primarily be just mentioning some of the basics, providing links to some material I've found useful, and then go off on "tangents" -- identifying some material people may not be aware of, but which is important to understanding, and evaluating the published research that exists. Naturally, this aspect is an ongoing "work in progress".
One of the things you can look into using Wikipedia is the expression: "Lies, damned lies, and statistics" referring to types of "falsehoods". The phrase alluds to the persuasive power of numbers, particularly the use of statistics to bolster weak arguments. It is also sometimes colloquially used to doubt statistics used to prove an opponent's point.. This is one issue I hope to discusse briefly on this site, as it is an issue of crucial importance.
On an informal level, people make judgments about the intentions, motivations and actions of others on a daily basis. While the everyday judgments we make about human behavior are subjective and anecdotal, researchers use the scientific method to study psychology in an "objective", but primarily systematic way. Of course, empirical research often involves the use of statistics, and there's the "quote" (of unknown origin): The results of these studies are often reported in popular media, which leads many to wonder just how or why researchers arrived at the conclusions they did.
In order to truly understand how psychologists and other researchers reach these conclusions, you need to know more about the research process that is used to study psychology and the basic steps that are utilized when conducting any type of psychological research. By knowing the steps of the scientific method, you can better understand the process researchers go through to arrive at conclusions about human behavior.
What Is the Scientific Method?
The goals of psychological studies are to describe, explain, predict and perhaps influence mental processes or behaviors. In order to do this, psychologists utilize the scientific method to conduct psychological research. The scientific method is a set of principles and procedures that are used by researchers to develop questions, collect data and reach conclusions.
What are the goals of scientific research in psychology? Researchers seek not only to describe behaviors and explain why these behaviors occur; they also strive to create research that can be used to predict and even change human behavior.
Key Terms to Know
Hypothesis: An educated guess about the possible relationship between two or more variables.
Variable: A factor or element that can change in observable and measurable ways.
Operational Definition: A full description of exactly how variables are defined, how they will be manipulated, and how they will be measured.
Before a researcher can begin, they must choose a topic to study. Once an area of interest has been chosen, the researchers must then conduct a thorough review of the existing literature on the subject. This review will provide valuable information about what has already been learned about the topic and what questions remain to be answered. A literature review might involve looking at a considerable amount of written material from both books and academic journals dating back decades. The relevant information collected by the researcher will be presented in the introduction section of the final published study results. This background material will also help the researcher with the first major step in conducting a psychology study — formulating a hypothesis.
Step 1 – Forming a Testable Hypothesis This is the step wich often determines whether or not a PhD will be successful -- the point of a PhD is to satisfy the criteria of an academic institution. Whether or not it actually contributes "substantially" (to a LARGE) extent is NOT the criterion, and is in fact probably an unrealistic goal. A "testable" hypothesis should be able to be able to stated in a "thesis" consisting of between one and three sentences.
Step 2 – Devise a Study and Collect Data -- crucial to this step are the methods used to collect data; the criteria by which data are selected; and the means by which the data are analysed -- how the data is collected (from whom "data" is obtained -- qualitative or quantitative; the observation schedule, say); the statistical analyses performed) etc.
In clinical research, data is obtained from "known groups" -- groups (sometimes of 1!) "known", or defined, as possessing some set of characteristics, often "diagnosis". Currently there are two principal diagnostic "systems" -- the American Psychiatric Association's (APA) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, with Version 5 due to appear in June 2013; and the United Nations' International Classification of Disseases (ICD), which is often designed to be "in step" with the DSM. The DSM in particular, especially its proposed Version 5, has attacted a great deal of criticism from people outside of the APA -- e.g. [LINK]-- for further discussion see my page on Disgnosis [LINK]
Step 3 – Examine Data and Reach Conclusions -- crucial to this stage are the criteria selected for "significance" -- including the difference different between types of errors; the difference between clinical and statistical significance; and the limitations of the study. See my discussion of statistical procedures here (includes discussion of "Covariance" [LINK])
Step 4 – Report the Findings of the Study -- a crucial aspect of this step is the consideration of the theoretical, and the "real world", implications of the results of the analyses. In Psychology, as in most fields of academic enquiry, this communication is usually done in a specified format -- in Psychology, the commonest format being version 6 of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association -- a useful online guide is available here [LINK]. However, this is not to say that other forms of presentation are not extremely important in developing and shaping professional opinion with one of the most important being conference papers and posters. BUT for the former it's important to avoid "death by Powerpoint" -- the quick loss of cconnection caused by poor use of presentation software, but also by poor "presentation communication" skills. One useful tool is Prezi [LINK]. For the latter I find the resources available from Ellen Finkelstein.com quite useful [LINK]
For a basic introduction to these topics see [LINK]
For a selection of books relevant to psychological research methodology in a local academic library -- the University of Cantebury, Christchurch [LINK]
For practising psychologists and other professionals I cannot recommend too strongly the excellent materials available on Ken Pope's site, such as:
I most certainly welcome contributions from those aware of relevant research I seem unaware of, especially your own published or unpublished research. No one area or type of abuse will be highlighted, for research has shown that different forms of abuse and neglect often occur together (Pears, Kim, & Fisher, 2008). Research studies will be cited in the style of the Sixth Edition of the American Psychological Association (reflecting my experience as a psych).