Research Methods

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Formulate a research question e.g. How do phobias occur?

Formulate an aim- An aim is a general statement which describes what a psychologist intends to investigate e.g. to investigate whether people recall more words depending on whether they are presented acoustically or verbally. An independant variable

Operationalising- makes a variable measureable and unambigous. Is a definition of the variable based on a set of objective components e.g. measuring hunger through a scale. 

Correlation- a relationship between two variables. It is possible for a hypothesis to predict a correlation
An experimental hypothesis- is a hypothesis formulated specifically for an experiment

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Formulate a hypothesis- a hypothesis is a formal, unambigous statement of what a researcher believes to be true and predicts a difference in the measured variable or a correlation between the variables. It should include all levels of the IV (e.g. list A and list B). 

A directional/one-tailed hypothesis predicts the direction of the effect whereas a non-directional/two-tailed hypothesis anticipates a difference/correlation but not the direction. A null hypothesis predicts no significant difference in a variable or no correlation between variables. An alternative hypothesis predicts a difference/correlation following a null hypothesis.

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Confounding variable- a variable besides the IV which may affect the DV

Extraneous variable- a variable besides the IV which could affect the DV

Standardisation is the process of keeping variables the same, across all conditions

Counterbalancing is the process of ensuring variables occur in all possible combinations an equal number of times

Randomisation is the process of deciding the order or use of variables by chance

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  • Valid
  • Reflect real life more accurately
  • More ethical -> don't manipulate and change participants behaviour in the same way that experiments do
  • Used for situations that cannot be artificially created and can only be studied as they occur e.g. autistic children
  • Don't involve direct manipulation of a situation or behaviour but investigate phenomena as they occur
  • Self report (questionnaires and interviews)
  • Observational studies
  • Correlation studies
  • Case studies
  • Content Analyses
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  • A list of pre-determined questions to which participants respond (often presented in a written form)
  • May focus on opinions, past experiences or certain scenarios
  • Can be administered face-to-face, en masse to a group, by post, via the Internet or over the telephone
  • Large numbers can be administered at one time -> cost efficient and less-time consuming than interviews. Easy to reach a wide range of people (esp. with postal)
  • May have low response rates -> difficult to generalise. Can get a response bias -> only certain people return them -> unrepresentative. Issue of misunderstanding/misinterpreting questions -> invalid responses 
  • Completed privately -> easily made anonymous ->more honest & valid responses but as no researchers are monitoring answers they may be dishonest
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Involve the researcher directly asking questions to participants and recording responses -> often one-to-one

Structured Interviews- Participants are directly questioned using pre-set questions (interviewer has already decided)

Unstructured Interviews- Participants are directly questioned based on the answers they give. Basically conversations with a broad framework to guide discussion


  • Structured- answers more easier to compare and analyse -> easier to identify patterns & trends
  • Unstructured- interviewee can follow new lines of enquiry -> introduce relevant ideas
  • Unstructured- go into more depth, clearer idea of interviewee's world
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Closed questions are questions where the participants are offered a fixed set of responses to choose from e.g. yes/no responses, rating scales or multiple choice.

Open questions do not restrict responses as participants are free to answer how they want to

Open questions are better for exploring in-depth answers -> helps get closer to the truth and discover new lines of enquiry

Closed questions make it easier to compare answers -> identify patterns and trends -> keeps them focused on their aim

Evaluation of self-report methods

Strengths- can access people's thoughts and feelings and they allow the researcher to find out what people would do in certain situations without setting them up (but what they do and what they say may be different)

Weaknesses- need participants to possess skills (ineffective- dishonest, inarticulate, lack confidence & insight and have poor memory) and participants may be influenced by reseachers giving socially desirable responses 

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  • It is possible to access people's thoughts and feelings through questions
  • Allow researcher to find out what people would do in certain situations without having to set them up


  • People may act differently in the situation when actually faced with it than when asked
  • Methods of questioning require participants to possess certain qualities to be reliable. Can be ineffective if participants are dishonest, lack confidence, inarticulate, lack insight or have a poor memory
  • Participants can be influenced by the researcher e.g. in face-to-face interviews they may give socially desirable responses. When questions are pre set, participants may give certain responses.
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  • A small scale, trial study
  • Test questions to make sure they are valid measures of the concept under investigation
  • Make sure questions are understood
  • Are all options covered in closed-questions
  • Involves a smaller sample of participants and sometimes even a sample of questions
  • Can practise any part of a method e.g. a procedure, a coding system, a measure
  • Identifys any factors that may negatively affect outcome
  • Saves wasting money and time on unreliable research
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Involve watching and recording people's behaviour by using a scoring system, a check list of criteria, keeping a tally, making notes or video recording.


  • Findings are reliable as the researchers can see for themselves how participants behave rather than relying on self report methods
  • Most take place in natural settings so have high ecological validity
  • People are more likely to behave normally in natural settings and if observation is covert


  • It is difficult to make judgements about thoughts and feelings as these features are not clearly observable
  • Observer bias as they can only perceive things from a certain perspective although using more than one observer increases inter-rater reliability
  • Observer effect- participants are aware they're being observed and so may act differently giving invalid results
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Laboratory observations are observations in a controlled environment e.g. whether people perform better in a task in the presence or absence of an audience

Naturalistic observations take place in a natural setting/environment. The behaviour observed is relatively unconstrained and people can choose how they behave e.g. observing children's toys choice in a nursery school. 

A lab observation offers a high level of control so its easier to reliably establish cause and effect relationships but the artifical environment lacks ecological validity

Natural setting offers high ecological validity as the situation is not set up and so findings should be generalisable to real life. However, there are many uncontrolled variables and so it may be difficult to draw any conclusions about the cause.

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Covert observations describe observations where the psychologist observes an individual, group or situation without people being aware of this. They may pretend to be part of a group without revealing their true aim or identity e.g. in gangs or from a hidden viewpoint/ two-way mirror e.g. school children

Overt observations desribe observations were the psychologist is open about their research. They make their presence obvious and people know that their behaviour is being recorded e.g. in an experiment

Covert brings about ethical concerns as they do not know they are being watched and the psychologist does not have their consent

Overt is more ethically sound but people may withdraw themselves as they are being watched and they may act differently as they are being observed (observer effect) leading to unreliable results

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In participant observations, the psychologist joins in with the group/situation they are observing whilst also recording data.

Non participant observations are where the psychologist is not directly involved in what is being observed and records behaviour from a distance.

Participant allows the researcher to experience a situation as participants. Gain great insight into the lives of people, increasing validity. They may become too involved and so lose their ability to be objective. Practical of how to record data

Non PO allows them to remain objective as they are not directly involved but they may not have a true understanding of behaviour, they are too removed.

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Describe a process rather than an actual method.

Correlation analysis- the analysis of data to test for a relationship between 2 variables 

Can only be done on quantitative data, as it is a statistical process and because they actually measure the strength and direction of the relationship between 2 variables.

Can be shown on a scatter gram or measured using a correlation co-efficient (a number measuring the strength and direction of a correlation)

Limitations They cannot reliably establish cause and effect relationships, lack of control over other variables and the variables have to be quantified which means the measures lack construct validity e.g. can anxiety be scored?

Strengths Can establish the strength and direction of the relationship between variables and they allow researchers to statistically analyse naturally occuring phenomenon which could not be set up ethically or practically

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An in-depth investigation of one individual, group or organisations

Strengths Offer high levels of validity as they go into depth and give insight, allow researchers to study events that they could not practically/ethically manipulate and are efficient as it only takes one case study to disprove a theory

Weaknesses small samples so difficult to generalise, researcher can become too involved losing their objectivity, may misinterpret or influence outcomes and often picked up after the event and so it can be difficult to establish cause and effect.

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The process of interpreting secondary material as a means to understanding people. Investigate the materials that people produce rather than investigating the actual people themselves.

Coding is operationalising variables for analysis

Strengths allow researchers to study people they would have llittle/no access to and they have few ethical issues as there is no/little direct contact with participants

Limitations  have no direct contact and so easy to misinterpret thoughts and behaviour, qualitative content analysis are particularly open to interpretation as they are mainly based on opinion and they are more objective as coding systems are used which may lack construct validity

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