In This Article Research Methods

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • Research Design
  • Archival Research
  • Survey and Questionnaire Research
  • Quasi-Experimental Research
  • Applied Research
  • Experience Sampling
  • Internet-Based Research
  • Qualitative Research

Psychology Research Methods
by
Dana S. Dunn
  • LAST REVIEWED: 08 May 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0049

Introduction

Psychology is an empirical science, one dealing with the prediction of behavior in humans and animals. Conducting empirical research focused on predicting behavior requires the use of research methods. Research methods are the practical tools and techniques psychologists employ to scientifically investigate research questions. Once a hypothesis is formulated, research methodology allows a researcher to execute a study designed to answer such testable questions through manipulating and measuring relevant variables. Research methods in psychology are broad and varied, and their use allows psychologists to appropriately test theories in search of demonstrable cause and effect relationships. These methods lie along a continuum from more passive approaches (e.g., observation) to active interventions (e.g., experimentation) designed to explain why organisms behave as they do. In general, research methods help investigators act ethically, reduce sources of bias that can affect interpretation, rule out alternative explanations for results, demonstrate that findings are valid and reliable, and advance theory development. Research methods are distinguishable by approach (qualitative or quantitative), how the data are sampled, and the type of equipment, if any, relied on for data collection. Although all psychologists are likely to possess a shared understanding of basic research methodology (particularly, for example, the need for randomization), different subfields within psychology are apt to rely on distinct methods designed to examine different levels of behavior. Traditionally, research methods in psychology have relied as much as possible on objective or quantitative approaches, where a favored hypothesis is pitted against some alternative account. Relevant designs incorporate control groups in order to verify predicted relationships by comparing them against competing possible outcomes. Increasingly, however, psychologists are becoming open to exploring more subjective or qualitative approaches where participants’ own perspectives, beliefs, and reports constitute acceptable data. Many psychologists now employ a mix of quantitative and qualitative methods in their research efforts. The first section of this bibliography introduces general overviews, textbooks, and reference works detailing research methods used in experimental, developmental, social, and personality psychology. Attention is also paid to works examining teaching research methods, selective journals that publish articles presenting novel methods, as well as methodological controversies. The bibliography’s remaining sections examine particular methodological approaches, many of which include studies illustrating innovative or modified methods. This selective review highlights issues pertaining to data (collection methods, interpretation, and research design). The bibliography concludes with coverage of ethical debates and issues linked to human as well as animal behavior.

General Overviews

At one level, research methods in psychology all seem to share similar features. At another level, where subareas of the field emerge, these methods take on particular features, theoretical perspectives, and additional terminology. Before exploring the breadth of the methods psychologist use—including considering newer techniques advanced by neuroscience, for example—a reader should gain some perspective on how approaches to asking, testing, and evaluating research questions have evolved. McGuire 2000 offers a cogent account of how research methods in psychology have developed across the discipline’s relatively short history. Recognition that choice of method is also driven by the topic of inquiry is discussed by Fiske 2000. A broad and accessible overview of research methods is provided by the Research Methods Knowledge Base website.

  • Fiske, D. W. 2000. Research methods: Concepts and practices. In Encyclopedia of psychology. Vol. 7. Edited by A. J. Kazdin, 84–87. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

    E-mail Citation »

    This article focuses on how research in psychology is conducted, highlighting the idea that the nature of particular psychological phenomena necessarily drive the choice of method for their exploration and explication.

  • McGuire, W. J. 2000. Research methods: History of the field. In Encyclopedia of psychology. Vol. 7. Edited by A. J. Kazdin, 80–84. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

    E-mail Citation »

    An overview of how methodological developments in psychology have influenced the nature of empirical discovery and the research process as well as the critical evaluation of these two products.

  • Research Methods Knowledge Base.

    E-mail Citation »

    A website that provides a general overview of issues in research methodology for both undergraduate and graduate students. Contains a variety of hyperlinks allowing novice and expert researchers to easily browse.

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