7 Important Methods in Psychology With Examples

Important Methods in Psychology

Psychology is a scientific study of the human mind, mental processes, and behavior. It is called a scientific study because psychologists also do various systematic research and experiments to study and formulate psychological theories like other scientists. Psychological researches involve understanding complex mental processes, human behavior, and collecting different types of data (physiological, psychological, physical, and demographic data), psychologists use various research methods as it is difficult to obtain accurate and reliable results if we use a single research method for collecting research data. The type of method they use depends upon the type of research. Broadly, researches are divide into two types, i.e., experimental and non-experimental researches. Experimental researches involve two or more variables, and it studies the effect of the independent variable on the dependent variable (cause-effect relationship), whereas non-experimental researches do not involve the manipulations of variables. The concept of variables is briefly explained further in this article. Let’s get familiar with some widely used methods of collecting psychology research data.

1. Experimental Method

To understand the experimental method, firstly we need to be familiar with the term ‘variable.’ A variable is an event or stimulus that varies, and its values can be measured. It is to be noted that we can not regard any object as a variable; in fact, the attributes related to that object are called variables. For example, A person is not a variable, but the height of the person is a variable because different people may have different heights. In the experiment method of data collection, we mainly concern with two types of variables, i.e., independent variables and dependent variables. If the value of the variable is manipulated by the researcher to observe its effects, then it is called the independent variable, and the variable that is affected by the change in the independent variable is called the dependent variable. For example, if we want to study the influence of alcohol on the reaction time and driving abilities of the driver, then the amount of alcohol that the driver consumes is the independent variable, and the driving performance of the driver is called the dependent variable. Experimental methods are conducted to establish the relationship between the independent variable (cause) and dependent variables (effect). The experiments are conducted very carefully, and any variables other than the independent variable are kept constant or negligible so that an accurate relationship between the cause and effect can be established. In the above example, other factors like the driver’s stress, anxiety, or mood (extraneous variables) can interfere with the dependent variable (driving ability). It is difficult to avoid these extraneous variables; extraneous variables are the undesired variables that are not studied under the experiments, and their manipulation can alter the results of the study, but we should always try to make them constant or negligible for accurate results.

Effect of Alcohol on Driving Abilities

Control Group and Experimental Group

Experiments generally consist of several research groups that are broadly categorized into control groups and experimental groups. The group that undergoes the manipulation of the independent variable is called the experimental group, whereas the group that does not undergoes the independent variable manipulation, but its other factors or variables are kept the same as the experimental group, is called a control group. The control group basically acts as a comparison group as it is used to measure the changes caused by the independent variable on the experimental group. For example, if a researcher wants to study that how does the conduction of exams affects the learning ability of the student, then, here, the learning ability of the student is the dependent variable and exams are the independent variable. In this experiment, some lectures will be delivered to the students of the same class and of nearly the same learning abilities (based on their previous exam scores or other criteria), and then the students are divide into different groups, one group is not subjected to give the exams, while the other group has to give the exam of what they have learned in the lesson. The group of students that were not subjected to give the exams is called the control group, and the group of students that were subjected to give the exams is called the experimental group. The number of experimental groups can be more than one based on how often does the exams are conducted for each group. At the end of the experiments, the researcher can find the results by comparing the experimental group with the control group.

An Example of Experimental Group and Control Group

Types of Experimental Method

Some major types of the experimental method include,

1. Lab Experiments

It is difficult to conduct some experiments in natural settings as many extraneous variables can become a problem for the research. So, researchers conduct the experiments in a controlled manner in laboratories or research centers. It is easy to manage the independent and dependent variables in the controlled settings. For example, if the researcher wants to study the effect of different kinds of music like pop, classical, etc., on the health of the patients, then the researcher will conduct this study in a room rather than in a natural environment as it’s easy to keep extraneous variables constant in the closed settings. Here, music is the independent variable and health is the dependent variable. If the same experiment is conducted outside the lab, then extraneous variables like sunlight, weather, noise, etc., may interfere with the study and manipulate the results of the research.

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2. Field Experiments

Sometimes, lab experiment results face criticism for their lack of generalizability as they are not conducted in real-life settings. Field experiments are conducted in the natural environment and real-life settings like schools, industries, hospitals, etc., so they are more ecologically valid than lab experiments. For example, if we want to study whether classroom learning or open environment learning is the best teaching method for students, the researcher would prefer the field experiment over the lab experiment. However, in field experiments, it is very difficult to control the undesired or extraneous variables, which makes it difficult to establish an accurate cause-effect relationship. Moreover, they consume more time than the lab experiments.

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3. Quasi Experiments

In lab experiments or fields experiments, sometimes, it is difficult to manipulate some variables due to ethical issues or other constraints. Quasi-experiments are conducted in this situation. In quasi-experiments, the researcher studies that how does a single or many independent variables impact the dependent variable but without manipulating the independent variable. For instance, if the researcher wants to study the effect of terrorism or bomb blasts on the children who have lost their families, then it is difficult to create this situation artificially, so researchers use the quasi-experiments approach. Here, the researcher selects the independent variable instead of manipulating it and compare it with the dependent variable. The researchers will take a group of children who have lost their families (experimental group), and the children who suffered the bomb blast but did not lose their families (control group), and by comparing both these groups, the researcher can analyze the effect of terrorism on the children who lost their families.

2. Observational Method

The observational method is a non-experimental and qualitative research method in which the behavior of the subject under research is observed. An observational method is a great tool for data collection in psychology because the researcher does not require any special types of equipment to collect the research data. We observe several items throughout our day, but psychological researches are different from our daily observations as it involves some important steps such as selection of the area of interest, noting the observations, and analyzing the obtained data. Gathering the data through observation is itself a skill as an observer should be well aware of his actual area of research and he/she should have a clear picture in mind that what qualities or attributes he should observe, and what he should avoid. The researcher should have a good understanding of the correct methods of recording and analyzing the gathered data. The major problem of the observational method is the observer’s biases, there are high chances that the observer may judge the event according to his/her biases rather than interpreting the event in its natural form. We can relate it to a famous saying,

We see things as we are and not as things are”

So, it is the responsibility of the observer to make accurate observations by minimizing his/her biases.

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Types of Observations

The observational methods are broadly categorized into the following types,

1. Naturalistic Observation

If the researcher has made the observations in real-life or natural settings such as schools, institutes, homes, open environments, etc., without interfering with the phenomena under observation, then it is known as naturalistic observation. In this type of observation, the researcher does not manipulate or control any situation, and he/she only records the spontaneous behavior of the subject (individual or event under investigation) in their natural environment. Naturalistic observations provide more generalized results because of the natural settings, but it’s difficult to manage the extraneous variables in natural observations and ethical issues of privacy interference and observer bias are some other major problems of naturalistic observations.

Naturalistic Observations in Psychology

2. Controlled Observation

The observations that are conducted in the closed settings, i.e., their various conditions and variable are highly under control, are known as controlled observations. In these observations, variables are manipulated according to the need of the research. For example, if the researcher wants to study the effect of induced workload on the worker’s performance, the research should be conducted in a controlled setting as the researcher can control the independent variable (workload). However, due to the controlled settings approach, these observations are far less to ecological validity than the naturalistic observations, and the behavior of the participants or subjects that are being studied may change because of their awareness of being observed.

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3. Participant Observation

The types of observation in which the observer or the researcher itself becomes part of the research are called participant observations. The other participants in the research may or may not be informed about the presence of the observer in the group. However, if the participants are not aware of the observer’s presence, then the results gathered will be more reliable and satisfy ecological validity. In participant observation as the researcher acts as an active member of the observed group, the observer has to be cautious about the fact that other members of the group won’t recognize him/her, and he/she should maintain the proper relationships and a good rapport with the participants under investigation. The strength of the participant observation is that it provides the researcher a holistic approach to understand the process not only from his/her own perspective but also from the participant’s perspective, which reduces the research biases. However, Participant observation is time-consuming, and the findings of this type of observation are usually not generalizable because of the small research groups.

4. Non-Participant Observation

In this type of research, the observer is not present in the research, but he/she uses other means to observe the spontaneous activities or behavior of the individual or group members, this may include installing the camera in the rooms that need to be observed. The main benefit of non-participants’ observation is that the actual behavior of the participants can be observed without making them aware of being under observation. An example of non-participation observation is a school principal who observes the classroom activities of the teacher and students through the CCTV cameras in his/her office.

Participation Observation Vs Non-Participation Observation in Psychology

3. Case Study

In the case study method, the researcher does qualitative research and in-depth analysis of a specific case (subject under investigation). The results obtained from this method are highly reliable; in fact, many famous theories such as the psychoanalytic theory of Sigmund Freud and Jean Piaget’s cognitive development theory are the results of well-structured and proper case studies of the subjects. The case study method allows the researcher to deeply study the psyche of the cases. The researcher does the case studies of the people or events that provide some critical information about the new or less discovered phenomena of the human mind. The number of cases can be one or more, or they are of different or same characteristics, for example, a patient suffering from a mental disorder, a group of people belonging to the same gender, class, or ethnicity, and effect on the people of various natural or man-made disasters such as flood, tsunami, terrorism, and industrialization. Case studies involve the multi-method approach as it uses various other research methods like unstructured interviews, psychological testings, and observations to get detailed information about the subjects. It is the best method to deeply understand and analyze the impact of certain traumatic events on the psychological health of the individual, and it is widely used by clinical psychologists to diagnose various psychological disorders of the patients.

Psychology Case Studies

4. Correlational Research

The researcher uses the correlational method if he/she wants to examine the relationship between the two variables. It is to be noted that here researcher does not vary the independent variable as he is only concerned about whether the two variables are linked to each other or not. For example, if you are interested in finding the relation between yoga and the psychological health of the person, then you simply try to find the relationship between these two factors rather than manipulating anything. The degree of the association between the variables is represented by the correlational coefficients ranges from +1.0 to -1.0. The correlation can be of three types, i.e., positive correlation, negative correlation, or zero correlation. If we increase or decrease the value of one variable, the value of another variable also increases or decreases respectively, then it is called a positive correlation, and the value of the correlation coefficient would be near +1.0. If we increase or decrease the value of one variable, the value of another variable decreases or increases respectively, then it is called the negative correlation, and the value of correlational coefficient would be near -1.0, and if the changes in the value of one variable do not affect the other variable, then there does not exist any relationship between the variables, and it is called zero correlation with the correlation value near or equal to zero.

Correlational Coefficients

5. Content Analysis

In content analysis research methods, the researcher analyses and quantifies various types of content pieces such as articles, texts, interviews, researches, and other important documents to get useful information about their area of research. Content analyses involve various steps that are data collection, examining the research data, and getting familiar with it, developing á¹­he set of rules for selecting coding units, making coding units (coding unit is the smallest parts of the content that is analyzed) as per the developed rules, and then, finally, analyzing the findings and drawing conclusions. Content analysis is generally of two types, i.e., conceptual analysis, and relational analysis. These are briefly discussed below.

Conceptual Analyses

It involves the selection of the concept (word, phrase, sentence), and then examining the occurrence of the selected concept in the available research data. In conceptual analyses, the researcher selects the sample according to the research question and divides the content into different categories, which makes it easier to focus on the specific data that gives useful information about the research, and then coding and analyzing the results.

Relational Analyses

The initial steps of the relational analyses are the same as the conceptual analyses like selecting the concept, but it’s different from the conceptual analyses because it involves finding the associations or relationships among the concepts. In conceptual analyses, we analyze every concept, but in relational analyses, the individual concepts do not have any importance, instead, the useful information is assessed by finding the associations among the concepts present in the research data.

Content Analysis Method in Psychology

6. Survey Research Method

Survey research is the most popular mean of data collection in almost every branch of social sciences. It finds its applications in election poll results (election surveys), literacy rate, and population rate analysis. The survey research methods help the researchers understand the actual ground reality of the event by analyzing the social views, attitudes, behavior, and opinions of the people. The researchers use various techniques of survey research methods, which are briefly discussed below.

1. Direct Interviews

An interview process involves direct communication between the interviewer/researcher (who asks the question) and the interviewee/respondent (who answers the questions). Interviews give better in-depth results than any other technique of data collection as the researcher gets first-hand information about the respondent’s mind through communication and observation of his/her behavior. Interviews may be structured or unstructured, when the researcher prepares the sequential list of the questions about when and what questions to be asked in the interview, it is called a structured interview, whereas if the questions to be asked in the interview are not pre-planned, and flexibility is provided to the interviewer to ask questions according to the situation, then it is called the unstructured interview. The responses to the questions in the case of structured interviews are also specified to some extent, such questions are called close-ended questions, while in the case of unstructured interviews, the respondent is free to answer the questions according to his/her desire, and these types of questions are called open-ended questions. For instance, if you ask the respondent whether he/she likes the coffee, then the answer would be either yes or no, i.e., a close-ended question. However, if you ask the respondents about their hobbies, then the respondent will answer it according to his/her will, hence it is an open-ended question. An interview can be of the following types, depending upon the number of interviewers and interviewees involved in the interview. For example,

  • One to One Interview: When only the interviewer and one interviewee are present in the interview process.
  • Individual to group Interview: When one interviewer interviews a group of people.
  • Group to Individual: It is also called group panel interview, in this case, an individual is interviewed by a group of interviewers.
  • Group to Group: When a group of interviewers, interviews a group of interviewees.

The most important thing in direct interviews is that the researcher/interviewer should have good interviewing skills, and the ability to build a good rapport with the respondent and making him/her comfortable enough to give accurate answers to the questions asked. The main purpose of conducting an interview is to gather the data about the subject, but the interviewer should be sensitive to the emotions and behavior of the respondent and should not pressurize him/her to give the answers to which he/she is not comfortable enough. The process of the interview is very time-consuming, so it is not much effective as in psychology researches, it would become tedious to take interviews of a large section of society, which is why it is usually preferred for some specific population that may include illiterate or blind people as the interviewer can verbally ask them questions and make sure that whether they understood the questions or not.

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2. Telephonic or Digital Surveys

Telephonic surveys involve asking questions about the survey through direct calls or messages. Digital surveys through ‘Google forms’ are also commonly used these days. Telephone and digital surveys are easy to conduct, and they do not consume much time. However, they have many limitations such as the results obtained through them are not much reliable because in this method the researcher does not have proper evidence of certain factors like respondents’ age, gender, and qualifications, etc., and the respondents may have given the manipulative or vague answers.

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3. Questionnaires

Questionnaires consist of a well-structured set of questions that are distributed to the people to mark or write the answers. The questions can be open-ended or close-ended, depending upon the type of survey. It is one of the most commonly used survey techniques as it is easy to conduct, less time-consuming, and a cost-effective method to collect research information. It is a better method than the interview for obtaining accurate answers because, in this method, the proper assurance of confidentiality is provided to the respondent, hence the respondent is more likely to mark the accurate answer. Earlier, only paper-based questionnaires were used, but due to the advancement of technology, digital questionnaires, which are sent to people through emails or google forms, are also used these days.

7. Psychological Testing

Psychological testing is also known as psychometrics. Psychological tests are scientifically proven and standardized tests that are constructed by psychologists. These are used to assess the various characteristics of humans such as attitude, aptitude, personality, intelligence quotient, and emotional quotient. There are many psychological tests available these days such as aptitude testing, mental health assessment, educational testing, personality assessment, etc., which are used for different purposes. The multiple-choice questions (MCQs) of the psychological tests are carefully designed, and the factors like gender, age, class, qualification, etc., are considered before conducting these tests. Psychological tests can be conducted offline (pen-paper-based) or online (digital format), depending upon the applicability and availability. The necessary part of the psychological tests is that the participants or the subjects, upon whom the test is conducted, should be properly informed about the testing procedure, and proper instructions about marking or filling the test, time durations of the test, should be verbally provided to them for their better understanding. These tests are constructed by following a systematic approach and three important factors, i.e., validity, reliability, and norms. These are briefly discussed below,

  • Validity: The most obvious criterion of constructing the test is that it should be valid. The validity of the test implies that the test should measure what it is designed for. For example, the psychological health assessment test should measure the psychological health of the person rather than the physical health.
  • Reliability: The results obtained by the psychological test should be reliable, i.e., there should be almost negligible variations in test scores if the same test is repeated upon the same subjects after some time.
  • Norm: For every psychological test, norms are developed, these are the standard values that represent the average performance of the subject or the group of subjects in the tasks that are provided them. Norms enable psychologists to interpret and compare the results obtained by the psychological tests. There are various types of norms for different types of psychological tests such as descriptive norms,  grade norms, age norms, and percentile norms.
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