Research Methods

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Laboratory Experiments

Definition -  A controlled environment, where the variables are controlled  

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Laboratory Experiments - Advantages


  • High degree of control - all variables are controlled e.g. IV and DV can be precisely operationalised
  • Replication - other researchers can repeat the experiment
  • Cause and effect - you can assume the effect was caused by the manipulation of the IV, as long as other variables are controlled
  • Accurate measurements - tecnological equipment used in labs create accurate measurements 
  • Isolation of variables - individual pieces of behaviour can be isolated and rigorously tested
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Laboratory Experiments - Disadvantages


  • Experimenter bias - experimenters' expectations can influence participants affecting the results
  • Problems operationalising the IV and DV - measurements might become to specific and not relate to wider behaviour
  • Low ecological validity - unrealistic experiments, meaning the results cant be generalised
  • Demand characteristics - participants guess the purpose of the experiment and act accordingly 
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Field experiments & Natural experiments

Definition of FE- It's performed in natural surroundings of the participants. The IV is manipulated by the experimenter and as many variables as possible are controlled. 

Definition of NE - the IV occurs naturally, it is not manipulated by the experimenter. This method is used when it is unethical to manipulate the IV. 


  • High ecological validity - more realistic, meaning the results can be generalised
  • No demand characteristics - participants may be unaware they're taking part


  • Less control - difficult to control extraneous variables
  • Replication - the conditions are never exactly the same, so it's hard to replicate
  • Ethics - lack of informed consents - more field experiment 
  • Sample bias - participants are not randomly allocated to groups 
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Correlational analysis

Definition - Measures the relationship between two or more variables to see if a pattern or trend exists. 

Positive correlation - one co-variable increases while another co-variable increase

Negative correlation - one co-variable increases while another co-variable decreases


  • Allows predictions to be made 
  • Allows quantification of relationships - shows the strength of the relationship
  • No manipulation - are used when manipulation is unethical 


  • Cause and effect - interpretation of results are difficult becuse they do not show causality
  • Extraneous relationships - extraneous variables influence the measured variables 
  • Only works for linear relationships - only measures linear relationships

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Naturalistic observations

Definition - observing naturally occurring behaviour in the real world. 


  • High ecological validity - results can be generalised to other settings
  • Practical method - can be used in situations where it would be unethical to manipulate the variables. Useful for when the cooperation of those being observed is unlikely and the full social context for behaviour is needed.
  • Few demand characteristics - participants are usually unaware of being observed


  • Cause and effect - little control over extraneous variables
  • Observer bias - they need observers to show the same, consistent results as other observers so that there is inter-rater reliability, comparisons from the start to the end of the experiments would check to ensure they have intra-rater reliability 
  • Replication - lack of control means the observation can't be repeated, affecting the reliability and the validity 
  • Ethics - issues with invasion of privacy and informed consent 
  • Practical problems - problems with staying unobserved 
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Definition - A written method of data collection where respondents record their own answers to a pre-set list of questions.

Closed (fixed) questions - responses are fixed by the researcher e.g. 'yes' 'no'

Open questions - allow participants to write their answer in their own words

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Questionnaires - Advantages & Disadvantages


  • Quick - large amounts of information can be gathered quickly in a short period of time
  • Large samples - can be completed without the researcher's presence, postal questionnaires can gain large samples
  • Quantitative and qualitative analysis - close and open questions can provide both quantitative and qualitative data
  • Replication - easy to replicate studys, especially questionnaires with closed questions


  • Misunderstanding - participants may misunderstand or misinterperate questions 
  • Biased samples - certain types of people may not put any thought into answering the questions meaning they may not be representative of the whole population
  • Low response rates
  • Superficial issues - not suitable for sensitive issues
  • Social desirability/idealised answers - participants may change their answers so they put themselves in a positive light or on sensitive issues
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Definitions - asking questions in face to face situatuons 

Structured (formal) - simple, quantitative questions are read out and the response is written by the interviewer. The same questions are used by each participants

Unstructured (informal) - less controlled, an informal discussion on a predetermined topic. A friendly rapport between the interviewer and the participant is important in order to gain the required level of detai and understanding.

Semi-structured - a mix of structured and unstructured interview, producing quantatitive and qualitative data

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Case studies

Definition - in-depth, detailed investigations of one individual or a small group. 


  • Rich detail - provide greater depth and understanding about individuals and information relates to a real person, not an average gathered from many
  • The only possible method to use - allows psychologists to study behaviours, experiences or experiments that would be unethical to study any other way.
  • Useful theory of contradiction - a case study can contradict a theory


  • Unreliable - no two case studies are alike, therefore results can't be generalised to other people
  • Researcher bias - may be biased in their interpretations or method of reporting 
  • Reliance on memory - often dependent upon participants having full and accurate memories
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Interviews - Advantages & Disadvantages


  • Complex issues - respondents feel relaxed when talking about complex issues in a face to face situation, enhancing the quality of the answers
  • Ease misunderstanding - misunderstandings can be resolved and the interview can explore answers fully
  • Data analysis - allows analysis of both quantitative and qualitative data
  • Replication - the structed the interview, the easier it is to replicate. Unstructed interviews are harder to replicate but other researchers can review the data produced


  • Interviewer effects - subject to demand characteristics and social desirability bias
  • Interview training - Interviewers have to train for unstructured interviews, meaning only select availability of interviewers
  • Ethical issues - issues with informed consent
  • Respondent answers - respondents may not be able to put into words their feelings 
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