The scientific method is the set of procedures scientists use to conduct research. When a psychologist makes a professional statement about human behavior, they strive to back up that statement with evidence gathered from prior research. This is a common quality of scientific inquiry that may not be true for others who seek to understand human behavior and solve social problems. A philosopher doesn’t need to repeat experiments before arguing whether humans have free will or not. A politician doesn’t need to remain objective when arguing in favor of their preferred social policy. However, a psychologist will consider the scientific method to be the foundation for meaningful theories.
Scientific research should be empirical, objective, and repeatable. Empirical evidence is based on observation and experience, especially when they form patterns that consistently repeat. Objective research strives to remain free of personal bias of the researcher. When research results are repeatable in multiple experiments, those results represent stronger evidence with which to form new theories.
When psychologists use the scientific method, there is a general set of steps they follow to arrive at reliable results.
|Observation & Research||Scientists examine the way the world and the universe around them work. They will research through libraries, the Internet, and peers to gather as much information about a particular phenomenon as they can to try to objectively answer the question.|
|Question Formulation||Once a scientist has researched a particular phenomenon, he or she will ask a question of that phenomenon, such as, “What is consciousness?”|
|Hypothesis||Scientists will formulate a parsimonious hypothesis, which addresses the question, with a prediction about how the phenomenon works. At this step, they will also design the research method for their experiment.|
|Testing||Scientists will use experimentation to collect data to test their falsifiable hypothesis and their question.|
|Analysis||Scientists evaluate the empirical data from their testing. When necessary, they will repeat the experiment to improve the data.|
|Conclusion||Based on the collected data and information, scientists determine whether their hypothesis was rejected or supported by the results, and communicate their results to the wider scientific community with the goal of contributing to a general theory describing the phenomenon.|
A good hypothesis often uses an if-then form that describes the tested situation and expected outcome.
EXAMPLEA hypothesis might be, “If drivers talk on the phone while driving a vehicle, then they will be more likely to make errors on a driving course than those who do not talk on the phone.”
In psychology, the testing step often takes the form of psychological studies where participants are observed during activities and fill out forms for background data.
Critical thinking is a crucial skill for all people, not just scientists. However, it is especially valuable when conducting research and evaluating prior results and theories. A person is critically thinking when they analyze a source of information, assess its validity, and in the process improve their own understanding of the topic. Critical thinkers are skeptical, open-minded, and will change positions when evidence and reason leads them to do so.
When you are thinking critically about scientific results including in psychology, the information that you are analyzing is usually the empirical evidence gathered by the researchers and the method used to collect it.
Basic research increases our understanding of psychological phenomena and the world around us. The problem-solving skill supports scientists in completing basic research, as they ask questions to find out more about how people experience the world. The majority of psychological research is basic research.
EXAMPLETrying to understand how memory works or what the effects of culture are on individual psychology are both things that would fall under basic research.
Basic research in psychology generally takes place in universities and in dedicated research institutions. Basic research is most often funded by the government because it doesn't have any commercial value in and of itself. This means that the research findings usually won’t make anyone any money.
Applied research, on the other hand, is practical research that is based on real-world problems that people are having. Applied research builds on previous theories, usually the ones discovered by basic research. Applied research is more needs-driven, either for financial benefit or to solve real-world problems. This means that organizations and businesses fund it because they want or need the results for their own benefit.
Why it Matters
EXAMPLEAutism Speaks is an example of an organization dedicated to a psychological cause. This organization funds applied research to further the understanding of Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Applied research typically has more focused areas of research.
EXAMPLEIndustrial-organizational psychology studies and assesses people within organizations. Organizations using this kind of research specifically want to know how to best train and evaluate their own employees, rather than to discover general psychological concepts.
There can also be applied research in fields like education, forensics, or even sports. Many different areas of business -- and of the world in general -- have psychological applied research devoted specifically to them.