Chapter 3. Psychological Science & Research
Psychologists study the behaviour of both humans and animals. The main purpose of this research is to help us understand people and to improve the quality of human lives. The results of psychological research are relevant to problems such as learning and memory, homelessness, psychological disorders, family instability, and aggressive behaviour and violence. Psychological research is used in a range of important areas, from public policy to driver safety. It guides court rulings with respect to racism and sexism (Brown v. Board of Education, 1954; Fiske, Bersoff, Borgida, Deaux, & Heilman, 1991), as well as court procedure, in the use of lie detectors during criminal trials, for example (Saxe, Dougherty, & Cross, 1985). Psychological research helps us understand how driver behaviour affects safety (Fajen & Warren, 2003), which methods of educating children are most effective (Alexander & Winne, 2006; Woolfolk-Hoy, 2005), how to best detect deception (DePaulo et al., 2003), and the causes of terrorism (Borum, 2004).
Some psychological research is basic research. Basic research is research that answers fundamental questions about behaviour. For instance, biopsychologists study how nerves conduct impulses from the receptors in the skin to the brain, and cognitive psychologists investigate how different types of studying influence memory for pictures and words. There is no particular reason to examine such things except to acquire a better knowledge of how these processes occur. Applied research is research that investigates issues that have implications for everyday life and provides solutions to everyday problems. Applied research has been conducted to study, among many other things, the most effective methods for reducing depression, the types of advertising campaigns that serve to reduce drug and alcohol abuse, the key predictors of managerial success in business, and the indicators of effective government programs.
Basic research and applied research inform each other, and advances in science occur more rapidly when each type of research is conducted (Lewin, 1999). For instance, although research concerning the role of practice on memory for lists of words is basic in orientation, the results could potentially be applied to help children learn to read. Correspondingly, psychologist-practitioners who wish to reduce the spread of AIDS or to promote volunteering frequently base their programs on the results of basic research. This basic AIDS or volunteering research is then applied to help change people’s attitudes and behaviours.
Psychological studies start with a research design, which is the specific method a researcher uses to collect, analyze, and interpret data. Psychologists use three major types of research designs in their research, and each provides an essential avenue for scientific investigation. Descriptive research is research designed to provide a snapshot of the current state of affairs. Correlational research is research designed to discover relationships among variables and to allow the prediction of future events from present knowledge. Experimental research is research in which initial equivalence among research participants in more than one group is created, followed by a manipulation of a given experience for these groups and a measurement of the influence of the manipulation. Each of the three research designs varies according to its strengths and limitations, and it is important to understand how each differs.
It is important that research in psychology is conducted in an ethical, moral, and responsible manner. Our research ethics are interpreted by important moral principles like respecting people’s rights and dignity. These moral principles are then translated into ethical codes – or set of rules – that researchers must follow. These codes have developed over time, often in response to historical and scientific events. One example rule is that participants must give informed consent before participating in a research study. That is, they must be aware of the procedure, potential risks, and benefits before explicitly stating if they wish to participate.
The results of psychological research are reported primarily in research articles published in scientific journals, and your instructor may require you to read some of these. The research reported in scientific journals has been evaluated, critiqued, and improved by scientists in the field through the process of peer review. In this book there are many citations of original research articles, and I encourage you to read those reports when you find a topic interesting. Most of these papers are readily available online through your college or university library. It is only by reading the original reports that you will really see how the research process works. A list of some of the most important journals in psychology is provided here for your information.
Psychology is not without its share of contentious issues, like many areas of scientific inquiry. One of the most recent debates is about replicability – or ability for findings to be supported by multiple studies and generalize across time and situations – and whether or not replicability should even be a goal of psychological science. We will discuss this issue and its impact on our field.
The following is a list of some of the most important journals in various subdisciplines of psychology. The research articles in these journals are likely to be available in your college or university library. You should try to read the primary source material in these journals when you can.
- American Journal of Psychology
- American Psychologist
- Behavioral and Brain Sciences
- Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science
- Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology
- Canadian Psychology
- Psychological Bulletin
- Psychological Methods
- Psychological Review
- Psychological Science
Biopsychology and Neuroscience
- Behavioral Neuroscience
- Journal of Comparative Psychology
Clinical and Counselling Psychology
- Journal of Abnormal Psychology
- Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology
- Journal of Counselling Psychology
- Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology
- Cognitive Psychology
- Journal of Memory and Language
- Perception & Psychophysics
Cross-Cultural, Personality, and Social Psychology
- Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology
- Journal of Experimental Social Psychology
- Journal of Personality
- Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
- Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin
- Child Development
- Developmental Psychology
Educational and School Psychology
- Educational Psychologist
- Journal of Educational Psychology
- Review of Educational Research
Environmental, Industrial, and Organizational Psychology
- Journal of Applied Psychology
- Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes
- Organizational Psychology
- Organizational Research Methods
- Personnel Psychology
Alexander, P. A., & Winne, P. H. (Eds.). (2006). Handbook of educational psychology (2nd ed.). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Borum, R. (2004). Psychology of terrorism. Tampa: University of South Florida.
Brown v. Board of Education. (1954). 347 U.S, 483.
DePaulo, B. M., Lindsay, J. J., Malone, B. E., Muhlenbruck, L., Charlton, K., & Cooper, H. (2003). Cues to deception. Psychological Bulletin, 129(1), 74–118.
Fajen, B. R., & Warren, W. H. (2003). Behavioral dynamics of steering, obstacle avoidance, and route selection. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 29(2), 343–362.
Fiske, S. T., Bersoff, D. N., Borgida, E., Deaux, K., & Heilman, M. E. (1991). Social science research on trial: Use of sex stereotyping research in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins. American Psychologist, 46(10), 1049–1060.
Lewin, K. (1999). The complete social scientist: A Kurt Lewin reader (M. Gold, Ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Saxe, L., Dougherty, D., & Cross, T. (1985). The validity of polygraph testing: Scientific analysis and public controversy. American Psychologist, 40, 355–366.
Woolfolk-Hoy, A. E. (2005). Educational psychology (9th ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.