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Research Methods

Systematic Observation

  • Naturalistic Observation—observe the behavior of interest in natural environment.
    • Pros: reflects natural/every day behavior
    • Cons: can’t control conditions
  • Structured Observation—observe behavior in a lab, where conditions are the same for all
    • Pros: each participant gets an opportunity to display behavior of interest
    • Cons: Unnatural conditions may inhibit natural behavior


Self Reports

  • Clinical Interview—flexible interview to obtain insight of participant’s thoughts
    • Pros: Great depth and breadth of info can be obtained
    • Cons: Reporting may be inaccurate because of desire to please the interviewer
  • Structured Interview—participants are asked the same questions via self-report instruments (questionnaire, surveys)
    • Pros: Allows for comparison
    • Cons: Not same depths of info acquired in clinical interview


Clinical/Case Study—

  • combines interviews, observations, and test scores (sometimes) to assess psychological functioning
    • Pros: provides insight of developmental process
    • Cons: Can’t be used to make inferences about general population
  • Ethnography—aimed toward understanding a culture or a distinct social group through entering into close contact
    • Pros: thorough description
    • Cons: may be biased. Findings are exclusive to chosen culture.


General Research Designs

  • Correlational Research—research in which the relationship between two sets of variables is examined to determine whether they are associated.
  • Represented by a mathematical statistic—correlation coefficient
    • Ranges from +1.0 to -1.0
  • Drawback
    • Cannot demonstrate cause-and-effect relationships


Correlational Research

  • Positive correlation—indicates that as the value of one variable increases, other variable will also increase.
    • Positive correlation is indicated by a positive number.
    • The greater the number, the stronger the correlation.
    • More study time =  higher test scores (+.85 correlation)
  • Negative correlation—tells that as the value of one variable increases, the other variable will decrease.
    • More study time = less hours spent partying (-.85  correlation)
    • Ranges between 0 and –1.0
  • Little or no relationship
    • Number of study hours and height (-.02)
    • Lack of relationship would be indicated by correlation close to 0


General Research Designs

  • Experimental Design—the investigation of the relationship between two (or more)variables by deliberately changing one variable in a controlled situation and observing the effects of that change on other aspects of the situation. 
    • Only method that can establish cause-and-effect relationships.
    • Experimental manipulation—the change that the experimenter deliberately makes.


Experimental Design

  • Experimental research requires comparison between, at least two groups.
    • Experimental/Treatment group—group that receives a treatment
    • Control group—group that receives no treatment
      • Treatment—manipulation implemented by experimenter.
      • Using both groups rules out external factors.
    • Independent variable—manipulated variable
    • Dependent variable—measured variable that is expected to change as a result of manipulating the IV


Experimental Design

  • Random assignment to condition—participants are assigned to groups based on chance.
    • Make experiments valid
    • Flip the coin method
      • Guarantees equal chance of characteristic distribution to various groups.
  • Significant outcome—meaningful results that lead to confirmation of hypotheses.
  • Replicated research—repeated research using different procedures, settings, groups of people to increase confidence in previous findings


Developmental Research Design

  • Cross-Sectional Research—compares people of different ages at the same point in time
    • Differences among groups of people
    • e.g. IQ scores between 25, 45, and 65 year olds.
  • Limitation
    • Cannot be sure that different findings are due to age differences alone.
    • Cohort Effects
      • e.g. people in older group may belong to a cohort that was less likely to attend college than younger cohorts.


  • Longitudinal Research—traces the behavior of one or more participants as the participants age
    • Asses change in behavior over time
    • e.g. intellectual development during adulthood.
      • IQ test every 20 years to same group of people (25, 45, 65 yrs).
    • Limitations
      • Time expenditure
        • Researcher must wait as participants age
      • Drop out
        • Move away, die, or simply stop showing up
      • Participants may become “test-wise”


  • Sequential Research—combines cross-sectional and longitudinal approaches
    • Makes up for limitations in cross-sectional and longitudinal
    • Takes a number of different age groups and examines them at several points in time
      • e.g. group of 3, 5, and 7 year olds and examines them every 6 months for a period of several years.
    • Limitations
      • Same as Cross-Sectional and Longitudinal



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