A2 OCR Psychology- G544

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  • Created on: 14-01-13 13:44

Research Methods- Experiments

Hypotheses (alternative/null)

Lab, Field or Quasi.

Independent/ repeated measures, Matched pairs.

Strengths:  Standardised procedure, High degree of control over extraneous variables leading to the ability to infer cause and effect between IV and DV because if all variables are controlled then the only reason for results are the changes in IV e.g. Loftus and Palmer. Also the results are often objective because the data collected is usually quantitatifve, the high amount of quntitative data can be statistically analysed.

Weaknesses:  High levels of control lead to low ecological validity  e.g. Loftus et al. Mostly quantitative data because of the use of scientific equipment means that there are no reasons for the results provided. Also demand characteristics can often occur (lab) due to the setting and may often also be time locked leading to external validity issues.


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Research Methods- Self Report

  • - When an individual reports on their own behaviour, recording aspects such as feelings, emotions and attitudes. This can be collected in the form of questionnaires (open, closed, likert) or interviews (Structured, Semi-Structured, Unstructure.d, therapeutic). This can collect both Quantitative and Qualitative data
Strengths: Ability to collect a large amount of data relatively quickly and cheaply in a large population. This means it can be generalised because you have a bigger sample.
Quantitative Data is collected which is easy to analyse and come to conclusions about and apply to real life. High in validity because the individual is inferring about their own internal mental processes e.g. Gudjonsson
Weaknesses: Responses can biased due to social desirability (define) or demand characteristics this can affect the validity, especially when closed questions are used because they may choose the answer because there isn’t an option that suits them. Experimenter Bias in interviews using leading questions to encourage a certain answer to be given, reduces the reliability and validity e.g. Freud. When rating scales are used they can be subjective as to how you interpret them e.g Reicher and Haslam
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Research Methods- Case Study

  • - A detailed study into the life and back ground of one person or a very small group of similar people
  • - Make use of past records, school and health records, and asking the participant about past and present experiences
  • -Often conducted on people who have unusual ability or difficulties, can be done over a long period of time to look at changes in behaviour and is often completed in the participants natural environment.
StrengthsGive a detailed picture of an individual and help to discover how their past can be related to their present behaviour e.g. Freud. Because we are studying more about the unusual we can learn more about the usual and therefore identify abnormalities and find treatments before they cause more problems.
Weaknesses: Often rely on memory and this can be distorted and biased e.g. Thigpen and Cleckley. The interviewer may be biased/the interviewee may not tell the truth e.g. Freud – Hans’ dad was a believer of Freud’s theories so was biased towards his theory.


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Research Methods- Observations

Overt, covert, participant, non-participant, naturallistic, controlled. Can use time (at intervals) or event sampling (everytime behaviour occurs).

 Strengths: High in ecological validity (define this!), mostly the case in naturalistic observations because the participant is unaware that they’re being observed. More useful findings e.g. Piliavin et al. Useful in the understanding the behaviour of children and animals. Can’t use self-report in these situations

Weaknesses: If a study is high ecological validity then the ethics are often low because deception is involved, there isn’t a brief or debrief, leading to some participants experiencing traumatic stress. When used in children and animals you can’t use self-report to increase validity so you have to infer cognition which decreases the validity e.g. Bandura and Ross and Savage Rumbaugh. Lack validity because the researchers can’t manipulate factors which may affect the behaviours examined in observation (extraneous variables) e.g. Piliavin - Reliability is another problem in this study because of observer bias, but this can be improved by using inter-rater reliability (when two observers are used and they record the same information and compare) e.g. Savage-Rumbaugh used video checks

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The Social Approach

The Social Approach assumes our interactions with those around us and our environment effect how we behave, a persons appearance and personality can define how we communicate and act around them. Many methodologies are used but observation and experiment are the most common.

 Strengths: Observations such as Piliavin allow us to see interactions in a natural environment, this consequently helps us to explain how and why we behave in group situations meaning there are applications in real life.

Weaknesses: Only gives one explanation for our behaviour making it both deterministic and reductionist, looking at just the situational elements and overestimating these whicle ignore individual differences and the impact of free will. There are often also ethical problems due to the nature of the experiment leading to deception issues and lack of consent/debrief (Piliavin). There are also often issues with ecological validity.




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The Developmental Approach

Looks at changes that occur in our behaviours over the course of a lifetime, focuses on how behaviours emerge/initiate and how they then develop, this approach often works with children and young people and looks at both inhertited factors and nurture contribution, in each phase of early life common changes occur and these can be examined
  • Strengths: Identifies the changes that are common to most people and to understand and predict age related changes in behaviour. Increases our understanding of changed that takes place in most people, allowing us to recognise abnormal or dysfunctional behaviour. Longitudinal methods can be used to measure the long term effects of an experience
Weaknesses: Longitudinal studies are difficult to control extraneous variables which reduce the validity. Research could be reductionist, overestimating the influence of age, ignoring social and cognitive factors. Large samples are often required in order to generalise findings to the general population as otherwise it could just be an individual’s dysfunction.


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The Cognitive Approach

The cognitive approach assumes that our internal, mental processes are what governs our behaviour such as perception, language and memory, it assumes we act as a computer, inputting, outputting and storing information and we are rational processors. Most research tends to use laboratory experiments which can often cause low ecological validity
  • Strengths: Mostly carried out in a laboratory setting which increases reliability and decreases the extent to which extraneous variables affect the results e.g. Baron Cohen use of control tasks. Studies phenomena which cannot be investigated in terms of externally observable behaviour, understanding cognition and causes of certain behaviour e.g. Loftus and Palmer manipulating certain variables. Approach isn’t deterministic and allows humans to have free will and make their own decisions about behaviour
Weaknesses: Mental processes are essentially private and this means they can be difficult to reveal in non- experimental conditions. However experimental studies lack ecological validity. Use of laboratory experiments lowers ecological validity, but reliability is increased due to large amount of control. Approach tends to ignore social, motivational and emotional factors so is therefore reductionist in its purest form as it underestimates the role of emotion.


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The Physiological Approach

Assumes behaviour is explained in terms of biological systems such as genes and hormones, focussing on chemical basis of human behaviour e.g. serotonin and depression, also looks at genetic basis. Deterministic – reducing complex human activity to simple scientific systems, ignoring other factors. Often uses technical equipment such as MRI scanners to establish a correlation between 2 variables. Behaviour and experience can be reduced to the functioning of physiological systems.
  • Strengths: Provides a large body of evidence about the locations and chemical basis of behaviour. Now clinicians can treat mental disorders with chemicals or surgery e.g. Sperry allowed us to understand the functions of the hemispheres of the brain
  • - Approach is objective and reductionist so encourages experimental research, less change to be affected by extraneous variables e.g. Dement and Kleitman

Weaknesses: Approach can be regarded as reductionist as it doesn’t take past experience as an influence on our behaviour into account, which as a whole is over simplistic. Therefore it is more appropriate as an explanation in only some cases. Tends to be low in ecological validity as the experimental method doesnt reflect real life, could also mean social desirability.

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Individual Differences

Tends to use case study method, treats each person as a unique person because as humans we are diverse in terms of intelligence and personality etc. and the as a whole questions the need to provide generalisations of behaviour. Focus on dysfunctional behaviour. Looks at personality traits in a  group (dispositional explanation).
  • Strengths: Approach had many useful applications for real life as we can find causes of disorders; the result that labelling has serious effects on mental health and that it stayed with them forever. A holistic approach, looking at factors as a whole and using a variety of methods to come to a conclusion. Use of the case study method give a very detailed picture of an individual and help to discover how a person’s past may be related to their present.

 Weaknesses: Use of case study method reduces replicability because the findings can only be applied to the individual in question because ‘treats each person as a unique person’ e.g. Freud, Little Hans is an individual and his problems reflect his past experiences. His phobia of a horse is reflective of his dad is unique and it’s unlikely someone would have the exact same problem because of difference experiences and upbringing.

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The Behaviourist Perspective

Assumes that all behaviour is learnt and that experience and interaction with the environment make us what we are because we learn stimulus-response units of behaviour/ All behaviour can be explained through conditioning (classical or operant) All behaviour is determined by environmental influence i.e. social learning. We are born a blank slate (environmental determinism)Limited to observable behaviour only with research being focussed on objective experimental techniques 
  • Strengths: Studies behaviour in a scientific way, controlling extraneous variables so the IV can be isolated inferring case and effect e.g. Bandura, Ross and Ross – direct link between aggressive and non-aggressive/no role model on a child’s behaviour. Many practical applications support for operant and classical conditioning in many environment. Many therapies have come out of this approach which has helped to remove some behaviours e.g. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

 Weaknesses: This approach is deterministic because it says that behaviour is learnt by operant or classical conditioning and this is the only way it will occur and won’t happen in any other format. Approach is reductionist because it reduces complex behaviour to stimulus-response links and concentrates on observable behaviour. Often use of laboratory experiments leads to low levels of ecological validity

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The Psychodynamic Perspective

Traced to early conflicts in childhood which is then carried on into adulthood. Mainly uses case study with observation or self-report. Considers that human behaviour is as a result of unconscious processes which are developed during childhood, and are responsible for forming ‘models of the mind. Models form the basis of behaviour later in life. Developed by Freud and explains behaviour in terms of an interaction between innate drives and early experience.
  • Strengths: Has been extremely influential both in psychology and beyond. Focusses on the individual, rather than the general laws of behaviour.Tends to use the case study method which generates a large amount of rich qualitative data into the experiences of one person e.g. Freud looked at the case of Little Hans who had a phobia of horses and consequently his father, explaining this in terms of the Oedipus Complex
Weaknesses: Reduces human activity to a basic set of abstract concepts (id, ego and superego) which are presented as if they were real things. Deterministic because it implies that people have little free will and suggests that adult behaviour is determined by childhood experience. Highly subjective as data was collected retrospectively by biased researchers and is also hard to prove scientifically. Use of case studies means the samples are very small so the results or conclusions can’t be generalised.
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Belief that your group is more superior than another group. Inability to think outside of one’s cultural experience and a tendency to assume that what happens in your culture is common in another. Psychologists draw conclusions from the experience of their own culture or group and mistakenly can be generalised
  • Strengths: Identifying characteristics and behaviour that seems universal can provide informed evidence for the nature-nurture debate
  • - Highlighting the differences between different cultures helps us to challenge our assumptions as to what behaviour is normal/abnormal
  • Weaknesses: Cross culture studies are expensive and time consuming and can be used to suggest that one culture is superior or ‘normal’
  • -Questions may be understood differently by individuals from different cultures
  • - Cross cultural studies are only a sample of that culture and may not be generalizable
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  • - A piece of research is valid if it tests what it set out to test
  • - Can be affected by extraneous variables because you can’t be sure what you’re measuring so you can’t infer cause and effect.
  • - Different types of validity including internal, external, concurrent, face, ecological and population validity.



Baron Cohen – high levels of concurrent validity because Happe’s Strange Stories was used to check the measure of the Eyes Test

When research is highly valid…

- Reliable because if you’re measuring what you set out to measure then you’re isolating the IV to measure the effect on the DV so there are no extraneous variables, so it can be easily replicated with the same results.


  • How to check validity
  • §  Face validity- does it look like it measures what you mean to measure
  • §  Criterion validity- would you get the same score if you used an alterative way to measure
  • §  Ecological validity- to what degree does the measurement show real life ability


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Determinism/Free Will

  • - Determinism – the view that all behaviours and mental acts such as thoughts are determined by factors beyond our control. Can be biological or environmental
  • - Free Will – belief that our behaviours and mental acts are products of our own choice and will. Emphasises that humans have the cognitive ability to make choices about their actions. Often scientific views so there are high levels of control, which avoid extraneous variable so IV can be isolated to measure the effect of the and then cause and effect can be established

  Heavily scientific so reductionist and therefore online looks at one aspect of human behaviour, ignoring other factors. Affects the usefulness.

- Based on scientific research so are low in ecological validity, so problems with applications of research





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  • - How true to real life your findings are
  • - We can only accurately repeat a study if there are high levels of control or a standardised procedure because we need to be able to repeat the experiment in exactly the same way.
  • - Most reliable method is laboratory experiment. A field experiment is low in reliability because it’s in a natural environment and if repeated you wouldn’t have the same results.
  • closed questions mean the questionnaire was quick and easy to complete which means it’s more likely to be reliable
  • When High..
  • - Levels of control aren’t high so the situation is more natural leading to higher ecological validity, so the results can be applied to everyday life and to other natural settings e.g. Piliavin et al
  • - Less control means that there is less likely to be a chance for demand characteristics or social desirability bias because the situation isn’t artificial.


  • When low… 
  • - Low reliability infers that the situation isn’t highly controlled and extraneous variables haven’t been controlled so that means that you can’t isolate the IV to measure the effect on DV, so it’s harder to infer cause and effect.
  • - Leads to low levels of validity because we can’t be sure what is affecting the IV as extraneous variables aren’t controlled.


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 Reductionism- oversimplifying behaviour in psychology and using just the one explanation, some psychologists believe behaviour is too complex to break down. Holism – attempts to take into account a whole range of factors that might together explain  human behaviours
  • - One of the basic goals of science is to reduce all phenomena to separate simple parts in order to understand how they work, and as reductionism does this it means it may be necessary to fully understand behaviour
  • - Reductionist hypotheses are easier to test and unlike holistic hypotheses they can be ‘proven’ right or wrong.
  • -Can provide basis for further research, to find out how other factors affect what you’re researching.
  • - Singling out one factor allows you to see the effect it has on behaviour e.g. Baron Cohen singled out just one factor
  • - Usually collects quantitative data which is easy to analyse due to scientific methods often used


  • -Limits the usefulness of research e.g. Palmer and Hollin found criminals view others as hostile and this aspect is reductionist and hence can limit usefulness as it doesn’t consider social factors. Palmer and Hollin realised this and considered the role of factors such as parenting
  • - Low ecological validity because on a daily basis variables aren’t manipulated to measure the effect of them, affecting ability to generalise
  • - Scientific Measure means there is a lack of qualitative data


- Raine – reduces behaviour of a murdered to a measure of metabolic activities and murder is more complex than this and other factors are important


Wikstrom – explanations aren’t limited to one thing suggest that it could be any different factors


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Ecological Validity

  • - The extent to which the research reflects behaviour in real life
  • - Using an environment which is natural to the participant is high in ecological validity and will obtain results which are generalizable because they represent everyday life.
  • - In a laboratory experiment, it’s not the participants natural settings so the ecological validity is



  • Pickel – using a mock trial has a low ecological validity because it uses a mock trial and jury.
  • - Loftus and Palmer – low because in a real life car accident you’d have emotions and it would be distressing which would affect the results, more likely to be paying full attention in an experiment
  • - Savage Rumbaugh – unnatural for a chimp, but they did get to have some form of freedom
  • -Piliavin et al – high because of it was a field experiment
  • - Reicher Haslam – high because there were many likeness to a real prison, also high levels of experimental realised, but some may have faked behaviour for TV cameras (although it would be hard to act for 9 days and there normally is CCTV in prison)
  • When low…(
  • - More likely to be controlled conditions were the IV is isolated so cause and effect can be inferred e.g. Loftus and Palmer isolated IV so they could infer cause and effect between the verb and speed estimate
  • - A controlled situation is likely to have a standardised procedure increasing the reliability so the study can be repeated e.g. Bruce et al used standardised images and composites, and the procedure was standardised, so can repeated to check for reliability.
  • - Highly scientific equipment is often used where ecological validity is low because scientific equipment isn’t something you come across every day. Allows objective measurements to be made, collecting quantitative data which is easy to analyse and compare e.g. Dement and Kleitman used electrodes attached to eyes and low in ecological validity because you usually don’t sleep with electrodes
  • - Harder to generalise and apply results when ecological validity is low e.g. Dement and Kleitman the highly controlled situation meant that they didn’t gain a normal night’s sleep so dream content and REM could’ve affected. Also the participant may drink caffeine or alcohol on a normal day and hence this would lower the ecological validity.
  • - Lack of qualitative data, since highly scientific equipment is used, reducing the ecological validity, this means you can’t gather opinions e.g. Maguire et al used MRI scans
  • f
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  • - Longitudinal is when a piece of research is conducted over a period of time
  • - Snapshot or Cross Sectional Studies are conducted on a one off occasions
  • - Shows that length of time for a participants involvement and also it’s often indicated in the aim of the study
  • - Baron Cohen – Snapshot study because each individual was individually tested on a one off occasion
  • - Farrington – Longitudinal study because their development is measured throughout adolescence and later life
  • -Wikstrom – Snapshot study giving an instant picture instead having to wait for results
  • - Savage Rumbaugh – longitudinal, more representative of ‘normal’ behaviour than snapshot study, but chimps get used to the environment and it’s time consuming.
  • - Snapshot – Easy to organise and provides immediate results
  • - Snapshot – Tends to collect quantitative data and test participants objectively using scientific measures, easy to come to conclusions e.g. Raine et al used PET scanners and came to conclusion that murders have different brains to non-offenders.
  • - Longitudinal – provides rich qualitative data about participants
  • - Longitudinal – Rich data enables us to understand development over a time period
  • - Longitudinal – Enables predictions about effects of variables to be made
  • - Longitudinal – Time consuming and participants may drop out e.g. Lewinsohn  - as they examined the effectiveness of the treatment in the months after the participant numbers dropped
  • - Longitudinal – Qualitative Data is subjective and down to the interpretation of the researcher, hard to analyse and come to conclusions e.g. Freud, Freud came to the conclusions but they were hard to analyse and if another psychologist had analysed the data they may have come to another conclusion.
  • - Snapshot – Ethnocentric as they often only look at one culture and don’t make cross comparisons e.g. Wikstrom only looked at poverty and disadvantaged neighbourhoods in Peterborough.
  • - Snapshot - Lack of qualitative rich data to provide reasons for the behaviour shown e.g. Watt et al could’ve had more qualitative data to suggest reasons why
  • - Snapshot – doesn’t examine behaviour over time leaving explanations incomplete e.g. Watt et al, was the adherence due to the novelty effect?
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Qualitative Vs Quantitative

  • - Qualitative – data that is not numerical, descriptive data, rich source of information of information about behaviours and attitudes.
  • - Qualitative – in order to draw conclusions you often have to impose structure such as content analysis
  • - Quantitative – numerical data which can be analysed statistically to provide comparisons between groups to show significant relationships between variables
  • - Quantitative – data is analysed statistically
  • - Many studies collect both quantitative and qualitative data

  Wikstrom, Reicher and Haslam– both quantitative and qualitative data

- Maguire et al – used techniques such as pixel counting which is only quantitative data

  • - Qualitative  - not limited by preselect categories and therefore enable a full description of behaviour, emotion or attitude
  • - Qualitative – more holistic than quantitative data because it explains things in more depth, providing reasons and explanations for behaviour 
  • - Quantitative -  allow statistical analysis, enabling cause and effect to be measured and relationships between variables to be analysed e.g. Palmer and Hollin – used factor analysis to analyse the quantitative data
  • - Quantitative – reliable data as if repeated it could be obtained in the same way
  • - Qualitative – can be difficult to analyse and make comparisons to make meaningful conclusions about
  • - Qualitative – Subjective so is subject to the interpreters bias
  • - Quantitative – can impose limited choices on participants providing no reasons making it reductionist, as it ignores other factors i.e. reasons
  • - Quantitative – imposed choices can lead to researchers missing out on important aspects of behaviour, leaving behaviour unexplained e.g. Gudjonsson – Likert scales were used and no questions allowing further data to be obtained about why they’d made false confessions
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  • Deception – deceiving the patients and not telling them to full aims of the study and then using their results when you haven’t told them to full aim
  • Consent – informed consent in form of information about what they’ll be doing should always be given or parental consent and children should be asked for assent (happy to continue)
  • Confidentiality – participants should not be named and shouldn’t talk to others about their performance, should be told this.
  • Protection– research should avoid inducing unpleasant emotions or states or mind, so could avoid this by telling them what they might come across
  • Debriefing – at the end participants should be told the real aims and given the opportunity to ask any questions
  • Right to withdraw researcher must tell the participants that they have the right to withdraw and they have the right to not answer any question
  • Savage Rumbaugh signs of frustration ‘scratching all over’, chimps become humanised, chimps have rights too but they don’t have the chance to withdraw or give informed consent, but they were well looked after
  • Bandura and Ross – deliberately antagonised
  • Piliavin et al Deception involved, unaware they were taking part
  • Zimbardo poor ethics due to deception and pathological effects on the prisoners
  • Reicher Haslam – consultation with BPS ethical committee, consent form, clinical psychologists on hand, security guards, however distress and tension were caused
  • Milgram et al Deception was needed, told they could leave and distress and tension were questioned and helped afterwards
  • Thigpen and Cleckley did all 3 personalities give consent and who said that Jane was more suitable to make the decision, could 1 withdraw?
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Individual Vs Situational

Individual: Everything you do is due  to your characteristics as an individual - personality, genetics, intelligence, skills and abilities. Situational: your behaviour is a product of the environment and social situations you're in - upbringing, economy, effects of being institutionalised, friend groups. Strengths: discovering whether a behaviour is a result of situation or individuality this can have applications in society for therapies, or building communities to be a better environment.

Weaknesses: discovering that behaviour is a result of complex interactions of different influences this can open up pathways for further research into the debate


Milgram- the influence of the authority of the experimenter, location (yale university), prods cause participant to give the shocks, but they were able to stop and not all went to 450V meaning there are also individual factors influencing behaviour. 


Reicher and Haslam - looked at how we identify with roles within a group situation as a result of the prisoner/guard environment. Also the psychometric tests used showed the individual explanations for some of the behaviours demonstrated.


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Nature Vs Nurture

Definition: Nature - behaviours are innate, our behaviours and personalities are genetically determined. Nurture - behaviours are acquired or learnt through experiences in environment.

Strengths:  By distinguishing which behaviours are genetically determined, this may allow us (if they're biological) to create drugs or if its nuture to manipulate the situation to prevent bad behaviours. Also can be useful in determining if upbringing has negatively effected a child or whether behaviours are biological (child care systems).

Weaknesses: Reductionist- this is because the human mind is too complex to split it's behaviours into just two categories as its often a complicated mixture. Deterministic- as behaviour is being blamed on one of the two aspects, particulalry applies to nature. Validity- hard to establish cause and effect, can we ever decide and conclude for sure? Everyone is individual so this will never be the same for everyone - individual differences.

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