Research Methods


Planning Research

  • Formulate research question
  • Formulate aim- based on theory and should allow predictions
  • Formulate hypotheses
    • Needs to be operationalise the variables


  • Research (H1)= Directional~ will increase/decrease
  • Null (Ho)= No difference
  • Alternative (Ha)= Non directional~ will be a significant difference                                            Used when primary hypothesis is the Null


  • Independent (IV)= Cause (object changed/manipulated)
  • Dependent (DV)= Effect (object measured/observed)
  • Confounding (CV)= Variable that may have effected the DV, that is not the IV
  • Extraneous (EV)= Variable that could affect DV that is not the IV
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Ways of controlling Extraneous Variables


  • Keepimg variables the same e.g. participants, environment, tasks, measures


  • Ensuring variables occur in all possible combinations an equal number of times. 
  • Danger of Order Effects- Practise Effect (improve), Fatigue Effect (worsens) and Demand Characteristics (behave in the way they believe they are expected)


  • Deciding the order or use of variables by chance
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Types of Experiment


  • Carried out in a controlled environment
  • Strength: Allows random allocation (each participant has an equal chance of being in each condition) when appropriate to ensure findings are not biased
  • Limitation: Findings tend to lack Ecological Validity


  • Carried out in a natural environment
  • Strength: More Ecological Validity
  • Limitation: No control over environmental factors making it more difficult to reliably establish cause and effect


  • Experimentor does not directly control the IV when it is naturally occuring e.g. the Weather
  • Can take place in a laboratory or in the field
  • Less ethical issues as participants are not being manipulated as much as in Laboratory or Field
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Experimental Designs

Experiments will have at least two conditions;

  • Experimental: Condition where variable is tested
  • Control: Condition that acts as a comparison; nothing changes

After establishing conditions need to choose an Experimental Design: way participants are used in conditions within an experiment

Types of Experimental Design

Repeated (related) Measures

  • Same participants are used in all conditions
  • Strength: Differences between conditions are likely due to the IV and not due to participant variables (differences between characteristics of participants
  • Limitation: Order effects (reduced by counterbalancing or randomising condition order)
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Types of Experimental Design

Independent Group

  • Different participants randomly allocated to different conditions
  • Strength: no order effects
  • Limitation: Differences between may be due to participant variables.  Larger sample (participants selected from the population) lower probability of a significant participant variables

Matched Pairs Design

  • Different participants are used in each condition but are matched in terms of Key Characteristics
  • Strength: No order effects
  • Limitation: Time consuming and expensive (random allocation tends to give a balance of participants anyway)
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Non-experimental methods

  • Methods that don't involve direct manipulation of a situation or behaviour
  • Used as they are seen as more Ethical

Self-Report Methods


  • List of pre-determined questions
  • Strength: Easily made anonymous.  More honest/valid responses given
  • Limitation: Respondents may misunderstand/ misinterpret questions~ invalid responses
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Self-report methods


  • Directly asking participants questions and recording their responses, often done on a one-to-one basis
  • Structured: Pre-determined questions.  Easier to compare interviewees' answers
  • Unstructured: Start with some common questions and tend to be directed by participants.  Interviewer can follow lines of enquiry and interviewees may introduce relevant ideas

Open and Closed Questions


  • Participants offered fixed set of responses- Yes/NO response; Rating Scales (1-5); Multiple Choice
  • Quantatative Data
  • Easier to compare answers, helps researchers stay focused
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Self-report methods continued...


  • Doesn't restrict responses
  • Qualitative Data
  • Better exploring answers in more depth- closer to truth

Pilot Studies

  • Small scale, trial study to identify any factors that might negatively affect the outcome of a study
  • Ceiling Effects- too easy
  • Floor Effects- too difficult
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Observational Studues

  • Participants' behaviour recorded through watching them
  • Carried out in a number of ways;
    • Scoring System (1-5)
    • Check list of Criteria
    • Keeping a tally
    • Making notes
    • Video recording

Need to decide how observation will be carried out;

  • Laboratory or natural setting
  • Covert or Overt
  • Participant or Non-participant


  • Strength: High level of control- easier to establish cause and effect
  • Limitation: Artificial environment means findings lack ecological validity
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Observational Studues Continued...


  • Strength: High level of Ecological Validity so findings should be generalisable to real life
  • Limitation:Many uncontrolled variables making it difficult to draw any conclusion about causation


  • Undercover observation
  • Strength: Behaviour should be normal giving valid results
  • Limitation: Ethical Concerns- is it right to watch someone without concent?


  • Open observation (aware)
  • Strength: Ethically sound but may withdraw themselves as a consequence
  • Limitation: Observer effect- behave different making unreliable results
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Observational Studues Furthered


  • Joining in with activity
  • Strength: allows researcher to experience a situation giving greater insight increasing validity
  • Limitation: Researcher may become too involved and lose their ability to be objective


  • Not joining in
  • Strength: Researcher remains objective
  • Limitation: researcher may not have a true understanding of behaviour being too removed from the situation
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Correlation Studies

  • Relationship shown graphically using a scattergram and measured by correlation co-efficient

Positive /

  • Relationship between variables- both increase and both decrease
  • Co-efficient of +1

Negative \

  • Relationship between variables- one increases as the other decreases and vise versa
  • Co-efficient of -1


  • No relationship between variables
  • Co-efficient of 0

Difference between correlation studies and Experiments:                                                    Correlation Studies cannot reliably establish cause and effect

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Content Analysis- Psychology and the Media

  • Interpreting secondary material as a means of understanding people
  • Data can be quantitative (counting- number/percentage) or qualitative (more descriptive)
  • Strength: few ethical issues- no or little direct contact with 'participants'
  • Limitation: Easier to misinterpret their thoughts and behaviour

Qualitative Data

  • Methods: Self Report (interviews); Describing Observations; Case Study
  • Strength: Generally seen to have more construct validity

Quantitative Data

  • Methods: Experiments; Structured Observations; Correlation
  • Strength: Easily summarised into graphs or statistics
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  • Sample of target population- wider group of people that research findings should apply to
  • Sample is then projected onto the rest of the population
  • Need to ensure there is not a biased sample
  • Taken from the sampling frame that is within the Target Population

Types of Sampling Techniques

Random Sampling

  • Every person in the sampling frame has an equal chance of being selected
  • Strength: Avoids bias, once researcher has decided the nth Term, there is no control over who is selected
  • Limitation: Chance (although unlikely) of a 'freak' sample
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Types of Sampling techniques

Systematic Sampling

  • Choosing every nth person in the sampling frame (every person in the sampling frame doesn't have an equal chance of being selected
  • Strength: avoids bias, once researcher has decided the nth term, as there's no control over who is selected
  • Limitation: Freak sample

Stratified Sampling

  • Divided the sampling frame into key groups and selecting from each of these groups
  • Strength: Avoids 'freak' sampling
  • Limitation: Time-Consuming

Opportunity Sampling

  • Participants chosen because they are conveinient
  • Strength: Less time-consuming
  • Limitation: Likely for biased as only certain types of people would volunteer
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Respect- for all individuals

  • No more risk of harm than everyday life
  • Negative effects of an investigation and long term consequences
  • Debrief
  • Use the smallest number of people as possible

Unethical Research is possible if psychologist can show that means justify the ends

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Representing Data

  • Tables graphs etc are immediate representation of data that is easy to read
  • Bar Graphy (gap between)
  • Line Graph
  • Histograms (no gap)
  • Scatter grams

Descriptive Data

Central Tendency

  • Mode- most common
  • Median- Ordered list and find the middle (2 numbers divided by 2)
  • Mean- Add up and divided by number of figures
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Measures of Dispersion

Range- Highest take away from the smallest

Standard Deviation


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