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Non-experimental Research

Non-experimental Research

Author: Erick Taggart

This lesson will delineate the methods utilized to conduct non-experimental research.

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Hello, class. So while experimental research is probably the most commonly known form of scientific research, and we'll discuss that more in detail in later lessons, it's important to know while experimental research best explains causation or cause and effect relationships because it can use or show relationships more specifically, but there are problems with experimental research. Oftentimes, human behavior is very complex. And the experiment itself might affect the results. Or the different things that are being studied are to specific to the setting or situation, or too difficult to replicate on their own.

And that's when psychology uses a series of non-experimental methods of research to try to explain the wide range of human thoughts and behaviors. So these non-experimental forms of research are not less legitimate than experimental research, they're just different ways of approaching all of the different problems, so we can reach a fuller understanding of them. And we're going to look over five of these today.

The first of these methods is the naturalistic observation method of research, which is when you watch someone or something within its natural setting. You gather information about it and you come to conclusions. And this is helpful in psychological phenomenon, because they can often be very specific to the situations in which they take place. So it's hard to take them out and understand them within, say, an experimental or a lab setting.

For example, altruistic behavior or someone being nice or kind to others is hard to replicate in a lab. It's hard to come up with a situation where a person feels like they should authentically be nice to others within a lab. And so it's helpful to be able to see it outside in the world itself. And this is probably the most common of the non-experimental methods of research. It used often in psychology due to the nature of psychological concepts.

The second one is the clinical method, where we use information gathered from psychological patients to come to conclusions about their mental states and about their behaviors. And so under the clinical method, we can study things that are more uncommon and that defy experimentation. For example, schizophrenia is a mental disorder with a prevalence of about 0.3% to 0.7% of the population.

So a very small amount of people have schizophrenia. So if we want to study it, then it's better to go to a setting where people are more inclined to come there, and to gather information from those settings. While at the same time, we're able to help those people with those problems.

The third type of non-experimental research is a case study, which is an intensive in depth study of a single person or small group of people. And this is for example, if you wanted to study a group of children, and the factors that lead to later success in life. So you could look at a long period of time and you can also gather a great deal of information. So this is when depth is more important to your research, versus breadth, gathering a large amount of information.

It's important when we talk about case studies though, that we don't generalize the information. Because we are looking at a small group of people, we don't want to say it's necessarily completely true for all people in all situations. Somewhat related to that is the correlational study, which is a study that gathers information that compares two or more different variables.

And we use existing data from other sources and often from other fields of study to talk about those concepts. So this is kind of looking at more of a breadth verses depth in information. We're gathering a lot of information. So this is helpful because it does incorporate other areas of research, not just psychology. For example, we might look at crime rates within a city and see how they're related to feelings of stress within people that live within those cities.

And finally, surveys are the use of written or verbal questionnaires to ask psychological questions-- another way that we can gather a large amount of information, relatively easily, about many different types of people. So again, breadth versus depth of information. For example, if we want to ask people about their shopping habits, their personality traits, or their feelings about different types of things within the world, say like the president, when they do a poll, then we would use a survey. And surveys, are again, really helpful because they're relatively easy to do. And so you do see them pretty often. But it is important to understand that they're giving us a relatively broad and simple understanding of those things, depending on how long the questionnaires are, and how valid they are for whatever subject they're talking about.

So these are all the different non-experimental methods that are used within psychological research.

Notes for "Non-experimental Research"

Terms to Know

Naturalistic Observation
Watching someone or something in its natural setting to gather information about the mind and behavior.

Clinical Method
Using information gathered from psychology patients to come to conclusions about mental states and behaviors.

Case study
In-depth research focusing on all aspects of a single person or small group.

Survey Method
Use of written or verbal questionnaires to answer psychological questions.