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Scientific Research Introduction

Scientific Research Introduction

Author: Erick Taggart

This lesson will explain psychological research through defining the basic research design concepts of theory and hypothesis while giving an overview of how to understand psychological research.

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Source: Micrographia, 17th century text; Public Domain

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Hello, class. In today's lesson, we're going to be taking a look at what exactly constitutes scientific research, particularly in psychology, but also scientific research in general. So the first thing that we want to do is talk about what is the scientific method? The scientific method is a way of discovering and modifying information about the world around us based on different scientific principles and processes. The focus of scientific method is to determine the causes of different things within our world. We want to know why do things happen.

Now, the scientific method is different from everyday observations because a lot of everyday observations that we make are based on assumptions. In other words, we might make different kinds of assumptions about who a person is and why they acted the way they did when they did something to you. Whereas science, the research has to be empirical, it has to be systematic, and it has to make as few assumptions as possible. So let's look over a few of those specific points that go under scientific methods.

First of all, scientific research or scientific methods must be empirical, as I said. And empirical means that they're taken from observations or from experimentation. They're objective versus being subjective. They're not being reported to us. Rather, they're things that we specifically observed.

Secondly, scientific method means that things need to be measurable, which is to say that we have to be able to take some kind of measure of it in some way. Also, the research needs to be systematic, meaning it follows a certain series of steps, which will be gone over in more detail later. Now, it doesn't necessarily mean that it needs to be physically measurable, but we have to measure some kind of amount or degrees of something.

For example, mental processes, we need to know how much or how little. Also, scientific methodology needs to be reasonable, which is to say it has to be rational or logical. It has to make sense.

Next, scientific method needs to be falsifiable, meaning it has to be able to be proven to be false. We have to determine if it's true or not. So things that are unable to be proven true or false, for example, something like the existence of God, wouldn't necessarily be under the purview of scientific research, which isn't to say it isn't necessarily true. It's just not something scientific.

And finally, scientific methods need to be replicable, meaning we need to be able to duplicate it, or it needs to be able to be seen again. It's not something unique to a specific situation, but something that's generally true. So we can find it to be true in multiple occasions.

Now, within scientific research, there are different levels of scientific thought, and these are things that you might be somewhat familiar with. But a lot of times, the way we use them commonly is a little bit different from the way that we use them scientifically. So let's go over each one in detail.

So we always begin with a scientific thought, with a hypothesis. And a hypothesis is a prediction that we have about the effect or a relationship between different things being measured in our research or what we call variables. So we want to basically how do these different variables relate to each other?

Another way of thinking about a hypothesis is it's an educated guess. So a hypothesis is something that we don't necessarily know for sure, but we have some idea about. And hypotheses are very easy to change and to adapt. So sometimes they can be true, sometimes they can be false given the research within an experiment.

Next on that level is a theory, and a lot of times people confuse theories with hypotheses. Within scientific research, a theory is a summary of multiple hypotheses that are supported by existing data that predicts future outcomes relatively well. OK In other words, a theory is a series of hypotheses that have stood the test of time and stood many different kinds of tests and retests on the same subject. It can be changed-- like a hypothesis-- but it requires a lot more experimentation and effort. It's something that's relatively lasting and people generally think to be true.

So when somebody says a theory like the theory of evolution is just a theory, in fact, it is a theory. But that means more than what we expect. It's something that most scientists take to be actually true. So some scientific ideas like the theory of evolution are something that is accepted by scientists, but because they are either too broad of a topic or too difficult to prove with experimentation because they might talk about processes that occur over, say, a long period of time, or they might be too complex, they don't necessarily make it to the next level.

And the final level within scientific thought is the law. And this is something that is proven to be almost universally true and widely accepted through intensive scientific study and research. This is something that's generally very simple and direct, and it explains things in a short possible way. For example, the law of gravity isn't something that's necessarily complex, although its implications might be and the way you study it might become more complex.

So a law is something that's as close to the absolute truth as possible within science, whereas theories can be changed and modified a little bit more easily, and hypotheses change and can be proven or disproven on a regular basis. OK But laws, it's important to remember, can still be changed or modified. As with anything in science, nothing is absolutely true, and it is subject to new information.

Notes for "Scientific Research Introduction"

Terms to Know

  • Understanding Research
  • Psychologists use research to refine or define theories.  Theories led to the development of hypotheses which are then tested through psychological research.
  • Hypothesis
  • A prediction about the effect of or relationship between different things being measured in research; an educated guess.
  • Theory
  • A summary of multiple hypotheses supported by existing data that predicts future outcomes.