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The 5 most common study methods in Psychology

The 5 most common study methods in Psychology

June 25, 2022

There are many efforts to turn the chaos of psychological knowledge into a well-organized, systematized and empirically validated theoretical corpus complying with the criteria of the scientific method.

For this, psychology employs a series of study methods that allow psychologists to approach the questions posed in the most optimal way and with the least number of biases, in order to build knowledge that will serve as the basis for new hypotheses.

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There is no better method than another, each has its advantages and disadvantages. It is more about choosing the method that best approaches the phenomenon we want to know. According to our objective, we will use one or the other. Let's see below which are the most used.


Methods of study in psychology

Typically, research methods in psychology are divided into three large families . The correlational method, the descriptive method and the experimental method, each one with its particularities and advantages over others.

Although we will not see the whole genealogical tree of study methods, we will specify some methodologies that are particularly important for the study of psychology.

1. Correlation method

When we talk about correlation, we refer to the association between two variables. A correlation indicates how many times in which we observe a phenomenon A, we can observe at the same time a phenomenon B. For example, If we take the variables "socioeconomic level" and "academic success" we can ask ourselves if these two correlate , that is, if the appearance of one predicts the appearance of the other. If after examining a sample we found that the increase of one is associated with the increase of another, we could speak of a positive correlation.


This is useful because it allows predictions to be made. If we know that weight and height correlate positively, when we see a tall person we can predict that he will have a high weight. At this point we must stop and make a distinction between association and causality .

A correlation indicates an association that allows prediction, but does not offer an explanation that answers why it happens. We often reason in a fallacious way and assume that when two phenomena occur together, one causes the other. Many times we ignore the presence of third variables that mediate the relationship between one phenomenon and the other. That is why to deduce causality we use another method that we explain at the end of the article.

Psychologists use the correlational method to obtain information about phenomena impossible to reproduce in laboratory conditions. For example, if we want to examine the relationship between alcohol intake and the number of visits to emergency services it would be optimal to design a correlational study to see how as the consumption of alcohol increases, the number of visits also increases.


2. Descriptive method

Psychologists choose this method of study when we want to describe a phenomenon as it happens , in a thorough and exhaustive way in all its aspects. It consists of any attempt to determine or identify what the phenomenon is without entering into the why, the when or the how.

It is the method we choose when we want to answer questions such as: "What attitudes do people over 65 in rural settings have toward homosexuality?" Through surveys, case studies and systematic observation it is possible to answer unquantifiable questions. It also allows a first approach to an issue that can be more thoroughly addressed through correlational or experimental studies.

3. Experimental method

Within the methods of study of psychology, The experimental method aims to elucidate what the cause-consequence relationship is through the manipulation of one of the variables. These are the so-called laboratory studies. This method has the advantage of being objective, the preconceived ideas of the researcher have little weight on the results and hardly generate biases.

For this reason, it is the method par excellence if we want to obtain safe, reliable and accurate data when the phenomenon to be studied allows it. This does not mean that they are the only type of valid studies to generate knowledge, it is possible to generate knowledge through correlational studies, but the experimental designs allow a greater degree of security and explanation.

In experimental studies, the researcher modifies a variable that he controls, called the independent variable, to observe changes in a second variable, the dependent variable.

For example, If we want to observe the causal relationship between the administration of a drug and the disappearance of symptoms, we will use the experimental method of study . Dividing the sample into two groups, where one is given a drug and the other a placebo, if we measure the symptoms at various points of the investigation we will obtain experimental data about how the dependent variable "symptoms" disappears when we introduce the independent variable " drug".

To know how much the dependent variable has changed after the introduction of the change, it is essential to take data before the change. This is the so-called baseline, the point of departure of the experimenter.

4. Study with twins

Sometimes psychologists use methods that do not end up falling into one of these three large families. For example, when we want to know if the personality is the result of socialization or if it is inheritable, we use twin studies . In these studies we take separated twins at birth who grow up in different families and study their personality at different points in their lives.

After a while, we compared the differences between twins and, with a sample of twins large enough, we can get an idea of ​​how much is due to genetic factors and how much the children are raised.

5. Computer models

Another way to study behavior is through computer models . This is a very frequent method in the study of thought. It consists of developing a theory about how a specific mental process works, for example the recognition of words, and creating a program that simulates this process as we think it happens. Then we test different hypotheses through this program, performing simulations as a human would. However, the validity of this method depends on the validity of the theory that sustains it.


Psychological Research - Crash Course Psychology #2 (June 2022).


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