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Psychologists study the behavior of both humans and animals in order to understand and improve the quality of human lives.
Psychological research may be either basic or applied in orientation. Basic research and applied research inform each other, and advances in science occur more rapidly when both types of research are conducted.
The results of psychological research are reported primarily in research reports in scientific journals. These research reports have been evaluated, critiqued, and improved by other scientists through the process of peer review.
The methods used by scientists have developed over many years and provide a common framework through which information can be collected, organized, and shared.
The scientific method is the set of assumptions, rules, and procedures that scientists use to conduct research. In addition to requiring that science be empirical, the scientific method demands that the procedures used be objective, or free from personal bias.
Scientific findings are organized by theories, which are used to summarize and make new predictions, but theories are usually framed too broadly to be tested in a single experiment. Therefore, scientists normally use the research hypothesis as a basis for their research.
Scientists use operational definitions to turn the ideas of interest—conceptual variables—into measured variables.
Decisions about whether psychological research using human and animals is ethical are made using established ethical codes developed by scientific organizations and on the basis of judgments made by the local Institutional Review Board. These decisions are made through a cost-benefit analysis, in which the costs are compared to the benefits. If the potential costs of the research appear to outweigh any potential benefits that might come from it, then the research should not proceed.
Descriptive research is designed to provide a snapshot of the current state of affairs. Descriptive research allows the development of questions for further study but does not assess relationships among variables. The results of descriptive research projects are analyzed using descriptive statistics.
Correlational research assesses the relationships between and among two or more variables. It allows making predictions but cannot be used to draw inferences about the causal relationships between and among the variables. Linear relationships between variables are normally analyzed using the Pearson correlation coefficient.
The goal of experimental research is to assess the causal impact of one or more experimental manipulations on a dependent variable. Because experimental research creates initial equivalence among the participants in the different experimental conditions, it allows drawing conclusions about the causal relationships among variables. Experimental designs are not always possible because many important variables cannot be experimentally manipulated.
Because all research has the potential for invalidity, research never “proves” a theory or hypothesis.
Threats to construct validity involve potential inaccuracies in the measurement of the conceptual variables.
Threats to statistical conclusion validity involve potential inaccuracies in the statistical testing of the relationships among variables.
Threats to internal validity involve potential inaccuracies in assumptions about the causal role of the independent variable on the dependent variable.
Threats to external validity involve potential inaccuracy regarding the generality of observed findings.
Informed consumers of research are aware of the strengths of research but are also aware of its potential limitations.