AQA As Psychology Unit 1 Research Methods Revision Notes

Notes for Research Methods

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Research Methods in Psychology
Ethical issues in Psychological research
Ethics are the moral codes laid down by professional bodies to ensure that their members or representatives adhere
to certain standards of behaviour. All scientific bodies have such codes but those in psychology are particularly
important because of the subject matter of the topic.
1. Psychology is unlike most other subject areas in that its subject matter is entirely human or animal. Because of
this practically all research involves living things that can be caused physical or psychological harm.
2. Psychological research also needs to consider the wider community. Milgram's research taught us something
unpleasant about the human race in general. Some research, for example studies on IQ, have been used to
discriminate against different races or ethnic groups. It could be argued that Bowlby's research was used to
discriminate against women, making them feel guilty for not being at home caring for their children.
3. The knowledge gained from psychological research can be exploited by people or groups to gain an advantage
over others. Skinner's work on behaviour shaping could be abused in this way.
Protecting the individual in psychological research
Many of the ideas mentioned in this section will be raised as we cover other topics later in the year and particularly in
the last topic on social influence.
Consent (informed or not)
Protection of participants from physical and psychological harm
The right to withdraw
The right to withdraw data
Confidentiality and Privacy
Mr Wallace with the `dicky ticker.'
Milgram's procedure involved deception, lack of informed consent, physical and psychological harm, denied
participants their confidentiality and right to withdraw (allegedly). However, a therapeutic debrief was provided and
no ethical guidelines were broken since they didn't exist at the time!
Did what we learn justify these methods?
Examples of studies involving deception: Asch, Milgram, Cruchfield
Deception involves either concealing the real intention of a study from participants or taking steps to mislead
them at the outset. All of the examples above used the second ploy, deliberately lying to participants about
the genuine reason for a study. Two of them also used stooges or confederates (people pretending to be
participants who are really part of the experimental set up). The use of stooges always means deception has
been used.
However, is deception necessary? The researchers above would all argue that their experiments could not
have taken place without it. Imagine if Milgram had said at the start, `Mr Wallace is really a stooge, who will
scream a bit but will receive no shocks.' The study would have told us nothing of interest and obedience
would doubtless have been close to 100%.
To a lesser extent nearly all studies involve an element of deception in that it generally isn't a good idea to
tell your participants what you are looking for in advance. Menges (1973) estimated that as few as 3% of
studies involve no deception at all. When using the BEM sex role inventory to test gender, telling male
participants in advance that you are trying to find how masculine or feminine they are will almost certainly
influence the way they respond to the questionnaire!
Baumrind on the other hand argues that deception is always wrong since it prevents informed consent (see
below), researchers have an obligation to protect their participants (see below) and psychologists should be
seen as professional and therefore trustworthy.
It is really a matter of common courtesy to debrief your participants at the end of any procedure and inform
them of the point of the research. Debriefing is crucial if any form of deception has been employed.
A proper debrief should:
1. Inform participants of the purpose of the research

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Ensure that there are no negative or unforeseen consequences of the procedure
3. Ensure that the participant leaves in `a frame of mind that is at least as sound as when they entered.' (Aronson
4. Give the participant the right to withdraw their data and to see the finished write-up of the report if they so wish.
As well as having the best interests of the participant in mind, debriefs can also be a useful source of additional
information in an experiment.…read more

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Piliavin conducted research on the
NY underground in which stooges
pretending to be blind or drunk
(not both!), fell over. The research
team observed the reactions of
bystanders. In situations like this
`participants' are not aware that
they are taking part in a study so
cannot give consent.…read more

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Ethical guidelines and codes of conduct
Following the immoral experiments of the Nazis in WWII, each country set up its own set of guidelines for performing
scientific research. In Britain the British Psychological Society (BPS) and in the USA the American Psychological
Association (APA), produce codes of conduct for both experimentation and for clinical practice.
For human participants the codes cover topics already mentioned such as deception, consent, withdrawal of data,
confidentiality etc.…read more

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Confounding variables
These are variables that get in the way of our results or make our results difficult to interpret.
Think of Brady's executive monkeys. Brady assumed that being in control had caused the stress that lead to the
ulcers. Control being the IV and ulcers being the DV. In fact it was more likely to be the activity levels of the monkeys
that caused the results. This is an example of a confounding variable.…read more

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As a result we
have greater ecological cannot be certain that the IV
validity. has caused the change in DV.
Cause and effect relationships
are therefore difficult to
establish.…read more

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Problems with internal validity ­ many extraneous variables that cannot be controlled, meaning that
we cannot conclude cause and effect
No random allocation to conditions
Experimental research design
Here we decide how we are going to sort or group our participants. Do we use the same people in all conditions or
groups, or do we choose different people for different conditions or groups? In some cases, as we'll see the
decision is made for us.…read more

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Sex differences
Age differences
By definition the two conditions are different. You couldn't have someone in the male condition and the female
condition, or in the under 30 condition and the over 30 condition!
1. No order or practice effects
2. Can use the same stimulus material (such as word lists in memory) for each group
1. Participants are not matched in terms of IQ, personality, age etc.
2. You will need twice as many participants.…read more

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Examples include:
Seyfarth & Cheney's research on the warning calls of the vervet monkey
Sylva's study of play in young children.
Much of the work carried out by Konrad Lorenz
Ethologists specialise in studying animals in their natural environment.
The researcher observes behaviour in its natural environment as many of the ethologists studying animal behaviour
record their information. Ainsworth's study of attachments in Ugandan women would be a human example of
naturalistic observation.…read more

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Participants are unaware of the observation. This raises ethical issues (privacy and consent) but increases validity by
reducing demand characteristics. Sometimes one way mirrors might be used to discretely observe people, for
example shopping behaviour in a supermarket.
Here the researchers get involved with the group of participants they are observing. Festinger (1956) joined a cult
to observe how they would react when their predicted end of the World deadline came and went.…read more


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