Psychology relies on scientific methods to understand human behavior and mental processes. Among the various research methods, a researcher chooses a research method that is commensurate with his or her objectives/hypotheses. There is no consensus on the main specific research methods used by psychologists, but one thing is for sure. Regardless of the type of research method chosen, it is either experimental, descriptive or correlational. Either of the research methods is regarded as qualitative or quantitative. Whereas qualitative methods are important for generating hypotheses and theories, quantitative methods are useful for testing the hypotheses. This paper aims at giving insight into these research methods that are commonly employed in psychology.
Psychology is a science that relies on scientific methods (deemed systematic and integrate research practices from different researchers) to inform and practice. There are various research methods used in psychology, but they can be classified into three common classes: descriptive, experimental and correlational research methods. Each method has its pros and cons and selection of category of method to use is determined by various factors including resources and research objectives.
Descriptive research methods mainly involve observing behavior. Recording behavior can be used alongside,, observing behavior. Four common descriptive research methods include:
- Case studies.
- Standardized tests.
Observations are conducted in the natural environment or in laboratories. The difference between the two modes of observations is manipulation. Often, observations occur within the laboratories and this may lead to manifestation of unnatural behaviors by subjects due to the awareness that they are being studied. This results in the achievement of ecological validity while employing the naturalistic observation methods as opposed to the laboratory observation (Jackson, 2009). Surveys entail administration of questionnaires that can be in the form of standardized test, as well as conducting interviews.
The questionnaires should be structured in a manner that makes them clear and easy to understand. This is very important in the case of self-reports or instances where questionnaires are mailed to targeted respondents. The tests are important when a research process requires the measurement of particular elements of a person’s psychology, for example, personality trait. The interviews are very common in instances of qualitative surveys (Culver, Gilbert & Trudel, 2003). The case study is a detailed account of an individual that helps understand a case, but one case cannot be generalized to other people.
Correlational research methods are the other types of scientific approaches used in psychology. These methods help to obtain a relationship between variables. These relationships help psychologists to make predictions, but not to highlight causative factors. Correlation coefficients are useful in indicating the strength of a relation between factors while the associated sign helps to understand the direction of the correlation. A positive sign indicates direct proportionality while a negative sign indicates inverse proportionality.
Unlike the correlational research methods, experimental research methods establish a causative pattern and helps to attribute certain behaviors and mental processes to certain causative factors. The use of experimental methods entails the manipulation of one variable to allow measurement of another variable deemed to be affected by the variable under manipulation. Experimental research methods are deemed to be the most valid and reliable due to the nature of processes involved. To begin with, the participants are randomly assigned to different groups, mainly an experimental group, and a control group. The existence of a control group is the other imperative characteristic of true experimental research methods, and it is this aspect that validates the cause-and-effect phenomenon (Breckler, 2004).
Culver, D., Gilbert, W., & Trudel, P. (2003). A decade of qualitative research in sport psychology journals: 1990-1999. The Sport Psychologist, 17, 1-15.
Jackson, S.L. (2009). Research Methods and Statistics: A Critical Thinking Approach 3rd edition. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Breckler, S. (2004). Legitimate psychological science. American Psychological Association. Web.