Why It Matters: Psychological Research

Why learn about research and ethics in abnormal psychology?

How do you know what you know? And how do you know that what you believe to be true is really true? Many of us might just say that we know what we know because of what we have experienced in life. People are naturally inquisitive, so they often come up with questions about things they see or hear, and they often develop ideas or hypotheses about why things are the way they are. Sometimes we just have a gut feeling about certain things based on phenomena we have observed. However, if we are to be objective, one way of finding out if we are accurate in our beliefs is to conduct research. Consider the types of headlines that you might read in the popular media:

  • Diet of fish ‘can prevent’ teen violence[1]
  • Social isolation may have a negative effect on intellectual abilities[2]

Each of these statements is biased in one way or another. Both contain a direct claim that the writer wishes the audience to accept; however, there is some problem with design, methodology, or analysis making it possible to account for the findings by considering other variables or even a rival hypothesis. It is possible the research findings were reported incorrectly. Statements like the ones above should only be made if there were empirical research studies to back up the results or findings. Results from the studies need to be conveyed in an objective manner. Furthermore, only a specific type of experimental research design should be used before making these statements.

This issue is important in abnormal psychology. Is the will to live a consequence or predictor of depression? [3] We may think we know the answer based on our life experiences or based on our clinical practice, but what we think we know about mental health and where mental disorder comes from should be verified and clarified in rigorous research studies.

In their research, psychologists use case studies, naturalistic observation, and surveys to describe behavior. They use correlation to assess the relationship between variables and use experimentation to uncover cause-effect relationships. Researchers use statistics to describe their data, assess relationships between variables, and determine whether differences are significant.

Watch It

Watch the CrashCourse video to review the main types of research studies that you learn about in this module, then read through the following examples and see if you can come up with your own design for each type of study.

You can view the transcript for “Psychological Research: Crash Course Psychology #2” here (opens in new window).

  1. Hinsliff, G. (2003, September 14). Diet of fish ‘can prevent’ teen violence. The Observer. Retrieved from www. theguardian.com/politics/2003/sep/14/science.health.
  2. Social isolation may have a negative effect on intellectual abilities. (2007, October 30). Medical News Today. Retrieved from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/ releases/87087.php.
  3. Carmel S, Tovel H, Raveis VH, O'Rourke N. Is a Decline in Will to Live a Consequence or Predictor of Depression in Late Life? J Am Geriatr Soc. 2018 Jul;66(7):1290–1295. doi: 10.1111/jgs.15394. Epub 2018 Apr 20. PMID: 29676436.