Methods of Psychology

Methods of Psychology :

Psychologists use a number of research methods to study behaviour. These include surveys, observation, case studies, correlation method and experimental methods. Performing a survey is one of the most widely used methods of psychological research. Representative groups are questioned either face to face or by being given formal questionnaires to complete. There are limitations to surveys. There can easily be a bias within the groups questioned. For example, gender, social or economic differences etc. This can give a limited insight as to the true attitude of the group surveyed. It can also make considerable difference as to how the questions are composed. Any question can be written with a critical or creative style which can determine the way the person taking part in the survey will answer. The only way to take a poll or survey is to guarantee that the individuals surveyed (a sample) will be representative of the whole group you are interested in. In a random sample, every individual in the population has an equal chance to be in the sample.

Observational research methods can either be in a controlled environment or subjects can be observed in their normal day to day habitat, known as naturalistic observation. The most critical feature of naturalistic observation is that the act of observing someone must not interfere with how the person behaves. When people know they are being watched…they are likely to try and look as good as they can. The advantage of naturalistic observations is that they are made under real life conditions. The main disadvantage is that we can seldom say with certainty why people behaved as they did because we do not have any control over the circumstances in which they were behaving.

Most data-gathering procedures in psychology collect a limited amount of information from a large number of people. The aim of a case study is to obtain large amounts of information about an individual or small group. Detail of this kind can help the psychologist understand complex relationships and behavioral patterns. Among the disadvantages of case studies is the potential for observer bias and the lack of proper sampling opportunities.

A list of facts and figures of the kind that may be obtained from any of the previous research methods can only provide a limited insight into the nature of behaviour. A useful strategy is to look for relationships among the various measures obtained. Studies with this purpose are described as correlational. Correlational studies may use a number of different research methods to obtain the data. The distinctive feature of a correlational study is not the method used to gather the data but the questions the data is designed to answer.

The difficulty with correlational studies is not that they fail to suggest causal relations but that they suggest too many. The experiment is the only method by which science can establish causal relations. In experimental research the conditions under which observations are made are arranged so the number of possible causes can be controlled and specified. All experiments have one or more independent and dependent variables. The independent variable is the set of conditions established by the experiment. The dependent variable is that aspect of the subjects' behaviour measured by the experimenter and which could possibly be influenced by the independent variable. Naturally the limitation of any experimental research is the artificial surroundings in which they are performed.

Psychology makes extensive use of statistics. These methods have two broad functions in the analysis of data…descriptive and inferential. The aim of descriptive methods is to provide a summary of data so that important features are more readily apparent. Inferential methods are used to evaluate the extent to which data supports hypotheses or can be generalized beyond the particular study being analysed.

The controlling influence over all of these research methods is of course ethics. Ethics considerations arise with both human and animal subjects. To help researchers, as well as safeguard the welfare of the subjects, ethical guidelines exist in many countries.

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