Chapter 2: Psychological Research

Learning Objectives

  • Explain the steps of the scientific method
  • Describe why the scientific method is important to psychology
  • Summarize the processes of informed consent and debriefing
  • Explain how research involving humans or animals is regulated
  • Differentiate between quantitative, qualitative, and mixed-method research
  • Differentiate between descriptive, experimental, and correlational research
  • Explain the strengths and weaknesses of case studies, naturalistic observation, and surveys
  • Describe the strength and weaknesses of archival research
  • Compare longitudinal and cross-sectional approaches to research
  • Explain what a correlation coefficient tells us about the relationship between variables
  • Describe why correlation does not mean causation
  • Describe the experimental process, including ways to control for bias
  • Identify and differentiate between independent and dependent variables
  • Define reliability and validity
  • Describe the importance of distributional thinking and the role of p-values in statistical inference
  • Describe the role of random sampling and random assignment in drawing cause-and-effect conclusions
  • Describe replication and its importance to psychology
  • Describe the basic structure of a psychological research article
Children sit in front of a bank of television screens. A sign on the wall says, “Some content may not be suitable for children.”

Figure 1. How does television content impact children’s behavior? (credit: modification of work by “antisocialtory”/Flickr)

Have you ever wondered whether the violence you see on television affects your behavior? Are you more likely to behave aggressively in real life after watching people behave violently in dramatic situations on the screen? Or, could seeing fictional violence actually get aggression out of your system, causing you to be more peaceful? How are children influenced by the media they are exposed to? A psychologist interested in the relationship between behavior and exposure to violent images might ask these very questions.

The topic of violence in the media today is contentious. Since ancient times, humans have been concerned about the effects of new technologies on our behaviors and thinking processes. The Greek philosopher Socrates, for example, worried that writing—a new technology at that time—would diminish people’s ability to remember because they could rely on written records rather than committing information to memory. In our world of quickly changing technologies, questions about the effects of media continue to emerge. Is it okay to talk on a cell phone while driving? Are headphones good to use in a car? What impact does text messaging have on reaction time while driving? These are types of questions that psychologist David Strayer asks in his lab.