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Experimental Method as the Key Method of Study in “Mainstream Psychology”

There are two main goals of a research study into psychology. To start with, such a study aims at giving out a human description, along with “its underlying psychological processes” (Breakwell at al 2006). Secondly, psychological research attempts to give an explanation to such an observed behaviour. The activity of collecting enough evidence to warrant the descriptive activity of a psychological research may very well be attained by use of diverse systematic methods of research, and this includes, but is not limited to, experiments. Nevertheless, the power and uniqueness that the experimental methods portray has enabled researchers to overcome the explanation problem. It transcends the problem description, in as far as the giving of answer regarding why and how an observed behaviour occurred (Colman 2006). What this means is that through the application of experiments, there is a possibility that questions regarding behavioural causes may be answered. In line with this, students at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels are substantially trained on experimental design principles, in addition to the undertaking of experiments on their own.

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From a historical point of view, there has been a widespread application of experiments while undertaking research studies into psychology that dates as far back as the 19th century. In fact, Wundt is credited with having established tin 1979 the very first laboratory for experimental psychology. Experimental design as a research methodology was to later on evolve, thanks largely to a rise of behaviourism and statistics in the early part of the 20th century. Ever since, the application of experiments in as far as psychological research is concerned “has become synonymous with psychology’s acceptance as a scientific discipline “(Breakwell et al 2006).

Having said that, it is worth of note here that the early influences into psychology further causes the experimental methodology to bear a correlation with “ a mechanistic approach to human thinking and behaviour” (Breakwell 2006). In as much as there could be a link between theory and method, a majority of the psychologists that have embraced experimental methodology have also been seen to test other theories that at best, are far removed from the learning theory of behaviourism. Instead, such psychologists appear keener on mental processes that are quite observable. Experimental psychologists often view the field of conventional psychology as mope of a natural science. In this case, research gets conducted via the application of experimental methods. Experimental psychology appears mote concerned with a discovery of those processes that at the heart of cognition and behaviour.

Given the complexity that characterizes mental processes and human behaviour, their interpretation ambiguity, coupled with the level of unconscious processes that they are prone to is what appears to give weight to the utilization of experimental methods of research into mainstream psychology (Pervin & John 2005). Even then, it is important those extraneous variables are controlled, while at the same time also curtailing experimenter bias potential. Perhaps it is from such a perspective that psychology students are exposed to statistics and methods of research.

As a ‘methods of choice’ in a majority of the scientific experiments, it is also not a wonder that the experimental method should also be the most favoured method in as afar as the study off mainstream psychology is concerned. To start with, it is worth of note that all those methods that are non-experimental in nature are deficient in terms of control over a given situation in hand. As such, the experimental method tries to remedy this kind of a problem. There are those proponents who have time and again argued that the experimental methods are the very cornerstone of the discipline of psychology. Part of the reason why such a view should be so widespread and popular, has to do with the fact that experiments often play a crucial role in a majority of the physical sciences (Davis 2005). In addition, experiments have also proved to have been quite valuable with regard to the historical perspective of the field of psychology, as a science. It is for this reason that a significant number of research in the field of psychology relies on experimental method or research. At the very basic level, an experiment may be seen as an examination of both the cause and effect of a certain phenomenon. The difference between on the one hand, an experimental method and on the other hand, non-experimental methods is that the former takes into account “the deliberate manipulation of one variable, while trying to keep all other variables constant” (Davis 2005).

Often times, experimental methods in psychology involve working in a laboratory. Just like the experiments in nay other field, those in the area of psychology attempts to maintain all but one element of an experiment constant. This exception is of course the one that a given research experiment seeks to explore. For example, an experiment may be carried out to assess which of two given methods may be the most successful with regard to say, the teaching of children how to read. In this case, one aspect of the two experiments (this is called the independent variable) has top be varied. This independent variable often gets changed in quite a precise manner. This way, it would be possible to determine the method that yields the greatest amount of success in as far as the teaching of children is concerned.

As one of the methods used in the collection of data, the experimental method occupies a central position in the filed of mainstream psychology. So much so that the discipline that is the mainstream psychology has today assumed the name “experimental psychology”. What this means is that mainstream psychology now gets to be defined in respect of the method that it utilizes. In deed, a reference to experimental method has come to be identified as a criterion for assessing the field of psychology, from the point of view of a scientific discipline. The position that psychology has sought to assume is primarily as a result of the experimental method that this discipline has taken, relative to other biological sciences (Robins et al 2007). This takes into account the applied and theoretical aspects of the discipline. Nevertheless, it is not unusual to notice that a majority of the psychologists shall often commence their practice, having an active belief and enthusiasm about the experimental methods of this discipline. However, as these professional grow and develops in their careers, often times they are seen to move away from a laboratory setting, instead embracing the general and systematic theory of psychology. There are two reasons that have been put forth to justify such an observation.

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First, there is the observation that experimental psychology, within the realm of mainstream psychology, is quite a recent development. Secondly, it has also been noted that by nature, psychological problems often tend to be unfavourably complex. This does not by any means suggest that there is a link between on the one hand, the age of a scientific investigation and on the other hand, a possible success of the same scientific investigation. By the same breath, it would be foolhardy to front an attack against psychological problems on grounds that these are complex, and that in order to attack these, we can only result to theoretical methods. For these reasons, that is why mainstream psychology relies on experimental methods to better understand the discipline of psychology (Roberts et al 2005).

This way, not only are we able to witness what a given study has accomplished, but also there is evidence of the possibilities to which a given psychological study may be further arrived at. This kind of a survey would assists in shedding light on the level of suspicion with which psychology may be interpreted, relative to other biological sciences. It is worth of note here that the earliest scientists to experiment with the field of psychology happened to have been physiologists and physicists. For a majority of these, their one similar characteristic was a deep-seated inclination to the filed of philosophy, in as far as their overall perspective was concerned. Indeed, it is this first group of physiologists are physicists who established a standard that, in quite a number of ways, has not just confined, but also cramped experimental psychology to-date.

At a time when a physicist is faced with a problem that entails his stating of a given stimulus effect may bear a correlation to an observed response, often times, such a physicist ends up concentrating much of his explanation to such a phenomenon on the perceived stimulus. If there is a possibility that this scenario could be controlled, simplified and determinatively varied, we may observe that it would be quite easier now to not only observe, but also explain the ensuing response differences (Pervin & John 2005). Furthermore, such a stimulus often times gets to bee seen as being external to the actual response. On the other hand, if we were to have a physiologist having a look at this same kind of a scenario, he is bound also to lay more emphasis on the ensuing responses external to the observed relationship. It is from this background therefore that experimental methods found their way into the field of mainstream psychology.

Experimental methods are more appealing to the filed of psychology mainly because it is concerned with the behavioral process of an organism. As such, by varying one component of a research set up, it is possible to investigate the outcome of a certain reaction to an organism. Experimentalists in the field of psychology are trying to investigate a number of modes of conducts which that constitutes the human and animal life. From the perspective of a human being, a majority of such modes of conducts seems to be determined, accompanied even, by a several kinds of content, such as images, sensations, trains of reasoning, and judgements (Levine & Parkinson 1994). At other times, an experimenter in psychology likes to directly apply his problems from the perspective of such contents. This is with a view to determining how and why these occur, how to tell if at all they have taken place, and if at all there is a possibility that these could have an impact on other kinds of contents. Again, the ability of experimental methods to embrace the cause and effect of a given phenomenon ensures that the techniques get applied in the field of psychology.

The term experimental closure is used while individuals are being separated, literary from a ‘street context’ and instead having such individuals placed in such a perspective that their ability to respond to certain stimuli may be estimated. This is particularly the case with regard to conditions in as laboratory. Positivist science often entails a dependence on experimental closure for purposes of aiding the researchers to “identify the ‘laws’ of nature” (Stoddart 1997). This closure paves way for a “manipulation of causal relationships” in order that the ensuing observation may be arrived at, with respect to the periodic conjunctions that results in an identification of experimental connects that such kinds of laws symbolises. From a realist point of view, it is important to note that in this kind of an experimentation, the ‘constant conjunctions so witnessed in these kinds of closed experiments are on their own, a part of the main experimental closure. This then makes us to arrive at a bizarre conclusion, to the effect that one may quite possibly cerate the laws of nature thanks to experimental activities (Stoddart 1997). What this appears to imply is that a scientific activity model that needs an experimental closure, measurement as well as an observation to create explanation and understanding, often calls for an assessment.


Breakwell, G. M, Hammond, S. & Chris, R, 2006. Research methods in psychology. London, Sage.

Colman, A. M, 2006, Psychological research methods and statistics. London and New York, Sage.

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Davis, S. F, 2005, Handbook of research methods in experimental psychology. London: Wiley-Blackwell.

Levine, G, & Parkinson, S, 1994, Experimental methods in psychology. New Jersey, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates

Pervin, L. A. & John, O. P, 2005, Handbook of personality: Theory and research. NewYork, Basic Books.

Robins, R. C, Fraley, R. C. & Robert, F, 2007, Handbook of research methods in personality psychology. New York, Guilford Press.

Roberts, M. C. & Stephen S. Ilardi, S. S, 2005, Handbook of Research Methodsin Clinical Psycholo gy. London: Blackwell Publishing.

Stoddart, D. R, 1997, Process and form in geomorphology. London: Routledge.

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