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2.1: A Model of Scientific Research in Psychology

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    16101
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    Learning Objectives

    1. Review a general model of scientific research in psychology.

    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\) presents a simple model of scientific research in psychology. The researcher (who more often than not is really a small group of researchers) formulates a research question, conducts a study designed to answer the question, analyzes the resulting data, draws conclusions about the answer to the question, and publishes the results so that they become part of the research literature. Because the research literature is one of the primary sources of new research questions, this process can be thought of as a cycle. New research leads to new questions, which lead to new research, and so on. Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\) also indicates that research questions can originate outside of this cycle either with informal observations or with practical problems that need to be solved. But even in these cases, the researcher would start by checking the research literature to see if the question had already been answered and to refine it based on what previous research had already found.

    A-Simple-Model-of-Scientific-Research-in-Psychology.png
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): A Simple Model of Scientific Research in Psychology

    The research by Mehl and his colleagues is described nicely by this model. Their question—whether women are more talkative than men—was suggested to them both by people’s stereotypes and by published claims about the relative talkativeness of women and men. When they checked the research literature, however, they found that this question had not been adequately addressed in scientific studies. They then conducted a careful empirical study, analyzed the results (finding very little difference between women and men), and published their work so that it became part of the research literature. The publication of their article is not the end of the story, however, because their work suggests many new questions (about the reliability of the result, about potential cultural differences, etc.) that will likely be taken up by them and by other researchers inspired by their work.

    As another example, consider that as cell phones became more widespread during the 1990s, people began to wonder whether, and to what extent, cell phone use had a negative effect on driving. Many psychologists decided to tackle this question scientifically (Collet, Guillot, & Petit, 2010)[1]. It was clear from previously published research that engaging in a simple verbal task impairs performance on a perceptual or motor task carried out at the same time, but no one had studied the effect specifically of cell phone use on driving. Under carefully controlled conditions, these researchers compared people’s driving performance while using a cell phone with their performance while not using a cell phone, both in the lab and on the road. They found that people’s ability to detect road hazards, reaction time, and maintain control of the vehicle were all impaired by cell phone use. Each new study was published and became part of the growing research literature on this topic.

    Key Takeaways

    • Research in psychology can be described by a simple cyclical model. A research question based on the research literature leads to an empirical study, the results of which are published and become part of the research literature.

    Exercises

    1. Practice: Find a description of an empirical study in a professional journal or in one of the scientific psychology blogs. Then write a brief description of the research in terms of the cyclical model presented here. One or two sentences for each part of the cycle should suffice.
    2. Watch the following TED Ed video, in which David H. Schwartz provides an introduction to two types of empirical studies along with some methods that scientists use to increase the reliability of their results

    References

    1. Collet, C., Guillot, A., & Petit, C. (2010). Phoning while driving I: A review of epidemiological, psychological, behavioral and physiological studies. Ergonomics, 53, 589–601.
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