Research methods

  • Types of data
  • Practical Issues
  • Natural and Field experiment and 'Mundane Realism'
  • Laboratory Experiment
  • Field Experiment
  • Natural (Quasi) Experiment
  • Solomon Asch (1951) - Conformity Experiment

Types of data

Quantitive data: This is numerial information which is usually obtained in large quantities - This is standardised data is objective and reliable. It is easy to quantify.

(e.g. large scale surveys, structures interviews, offical statistics, non-participant observations)

Qualitive data: This is textual information which is usually obtained in smaller quantities - this is detailed in-depth data which is subjective and valid. It is difficult to quantify and relies on interpretations.

(e.g. small scale surveys, unstructured interviews, participant observations, diaries, newspaper articles, autobiographies, life histories)

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Practical Issues

Time and Money: participant observations are cheap but takes up lots of time

Funding bodies: governments, businesses, universities require different types of data, so the researcher has limited choices

Personal skills and characteristics: each researcher is different so limited in their choice of methods

Subject matter: if topic requires thoughts + feelings it will impact choice of method

Research oppurtunity: in some cases research oppurtunities occur unexpectedly and effects researchers time and plannning

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Natural and Field experiment and 'Mundane Realism'

Difference between a natural and field experiment

In a field experiment you have some control over the independant variable (what you are manipulating). It also has a higher ecological validity than a loboratory experiment. Whereas in a ntural experiment the independant variable occurs naturally. So it has an even higher ecological validity.

'Mundane realism'

The extent to which the experiment is something the participants might do in real life. For example, a memory task isn't something people tend to do in their daily tasks however reading a newpaper and remembering its contents is more common. This makes it higher in mundane realism.

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Laboratory Experiment


  • conducted under highly controlled conditions
  • purpose of control is to enable experimenter to isolate one key variable and observe effect on other variable
  • control is intended to allow us to control

Example: Stanford Prison Experiment


  • controlled environment
  • removes bias
  • reliable


  • effect on subject -ethical?
  • not informed consent
  • lacks ecological validity
  • society cannot fit inside a laboratory - not true to life
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Field Experiment


  • conducted in 'the field' - real world situation
  • participants not aware they are an experiment
  • aims to follow behaviours in a natural setting 

Example: Rosen ham et al - mental patients, Sissons - actor asking directions to Paddingon station, Garfinkel - queues


  • natural behaviour
  • able to control some variables to observe effects
  • no Hawthorne effect as subjects aren't aware they are being observed


  • not usually possible to gain informed consent from participants
  • ethical issue of deceit
  • depends on skill of observer
  • impossible to control all variables
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Natural (Quasi) Experiment


  • independant variable (something you manipluate) occurs naturally, not manipulated by researchers
  • researcher takes advantage of pre-existing conditions (age, sex) or an even the researcher has no control over (natural disasters)

Example: The Feral Child, Secret of the Wild Child- Genie


  • participants are often unaware they are taking part in an investigation and may not be as artificial as if they were taking part in a loboratory experiment


  • harder to establish casual relationships because they independant variable is not being directly manipulated by researcher
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Ethical Consideration

Ethics: when something is morally right

  • Ethics is thta which is deemed acceptable in human behaviour in persuit of goals or aims. It is not simply a questions of right, but out of balance between the interests of the participant and the scientific value of the research.

Main Ethical Considerations:

Can Do Can't Do With Participants

  • Consent
  • Deception
  • Colleagues
  • Debrief
  • Withdrawal
  • Protection
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Ethical Consideration - Consent

  • participants should give informed consent
  • studies involving children, informed parental consent should be obtained
  • payment should not be used to induce risk taking behavious
  • special safeguarding precedures
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Ethical Consideration - Deception

  • Intentional deception over the purpose of the investigation should be avoided where possible
  • there must be strong medical or scientific justification for any deception
  • appropraite consultation with disinterested colleagues or ethics committees must precede the investigation if it involves deception
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Ethical Consideration - Confidentiality

  • the source of all informatio should remain confidential
  • legislation, including the data protection act should be adhered to
  • if confidentiality cannot be guaranteed, the subject should be duly warned
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Solomon Ash (1951) - Conformity Experiment


Aim: to investigate the extent to which social pressure from a majority group could affect a person to conform

  • used a line judgement task

  • put naive participant in a room with seven confederates

  • confederates had agreed in advance what their answers would be when presented with line task

  • real participant didn't know this and believed other seven were also real participants like himself

  • each person had to state aloud which comparison line (A,B or C) was most like the target line

  • the answer was always obvious- real participant gave his/her answer last- sat at end of the row


  • 18 trials in total and confederates gave wrong answer on 12 trials

  • 32% of participants placed in situation went along and conformed with the clearly incorrect majority

  • over the 12 critical trials, 75% of participants conformed at least one and 25% of participants never conformed in the control group, less than 1% of participants gave the wrong answer

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