The scientific method is the method that underlies psychology, as well as the other scientific fields. This method is the way of discovering and modifying information on the world around us based on scientific principles and processes.
The use of the scientific method distinguishes psychology from other disciplines, like philosophy, which doesn't necessarily use that type of process.
There are several different terms used in the scientific method that describe the qualities of scientific research. Understanding these terms will help you understand the principles and processes of science.
Scientific research is not taken from somebody's subjective experience or from reports given by other people. This is the difference between objective and subjective information.
This doesn't necessarily mean that it's physically measurable, like with a ruler, but rather that researchers can apply some amount or degree to what they're studying.
When it comes to mental states, this research usually can't be measured physically. Instead, researchers need to understand how much or how little of something there is in a given context.
Psychologists and other scientists should have to make the fewest possible assumptions about the subject of their study to understand the activity occurring.
If they have to postulate about brain activity in order to understand what's occurring, then their theories are probably too complicated, and thus likely incorrect from a scientific point of view.
In other words, scientific research isn't unique to specific situations; rather, it is something that is generally true in most circumstances.
If it's neither true or false, or if it can't be determined as either of these through experimentation, then chances are that it doesn't fall under the realm of science.
EXAMPLEThe existence of God or gods is something that's not necessarily scientific because it can't be proven in any way. The same goes for the existence of an afterlife. Both of these things require somewhat of a leap of faith; they can't be experimented on or observed. Thus, they are considered unscientific.
There are several different ways in which the scientific method can be applied to psychology to gather information.
A hypothesis is a proposed explanation about something that's happening. In other words, it's an educated guess about what scientists see occurring in whatever subject they're studying. A hypothesis can either be proven or disproven through the experiment being performed.
EXAMPLEIf you wanted to know the effect that sugar has on children, you might do an experiment to show that sugar makes children more hyperactive. "Sugar makes children more hyperactive" would be your hypothesis, and you would either confirm or deny that through the use of your experiment.
Sometimes it isn't possible to experiment on certain occurrences in the realm psychology. Instead, researches need to look at these subjects within their natural settings. The purpose of this would be to watch them, and gather information from what is being seen.
EXAMPLEReturning to the example about the effects of sugar on children, you might go to a school and watch children after lunch to see whether the children that had more sugar were more hyperactive than the children that had less sugar.
EXAMPLEYou might look at the sales of sugary products during lunch or at a certain convenience store, and then look at instances of detention at the school. Again, you're trying to figure out whether the sugary snacks have an affect on the children's behavior, making the children act out more.
The important thing to remember with correlation studies, as well as with a lot of other research methods, is that correlation doesn't necessarily equal causation. This means that just because you know about the existence of two variables, one of them doesn't necessarily make the other occur.
EXAMPLEYou can't assume that sugar makes children more hyperactive simply because you see instances of detention. There might be something else that's affecting the children outside of that environment.
EXAMPLEAs opposed to the experiment, which involves looking at a broad range of children in relation to sugar consumption, the case study focuses on specific children, detailing exactly what those children are doing. The actions of this specific group give you more depth versus the breadth of a lot of other research methods.
A survey is the use of a public polling technique; researchers mail out questionnaires, call people on the phone, or implement online questionnaires.
Through the survey, scientists hope to learn more information about whatever their specific psychological questions might be.
EXAMPLEIf you're studying sugar and its effects on children, you might poll parents to ask which children are eating more or less sugar. This allows you to gather a lot of information about your subject, as opposed to a case study involving a very small data set that only allows you to make very limited conclusions about the subject.
Source: This work is adapted from Sophia author Erick Taggart.