Basic Research and Applied Research: Definitions and Differences

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  • 0:05 Different Kinds of Research
  • 1:10 Applied Research
  • 2:29 Basic Research
  • 4:41 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Devin Kowalczyk

Devin has taught psychology and has a master's degree in clinical forensic psychology. He is working on his PhD.

Expert Contributor
Lesley Chapel

Lesley has taught American and World History at the university level for the past seven years. She has a Master's degree in History.

In this lesson, we look at the difference between basic and applied psychological research and discover why there is a separation. Through examples, we'll answer the questions, 'What is the purpose of research if it doesn't apply to the real world?' and 'How are the two interrelated?'

Different Kinds of Research

Human beings like to categorize things. We don't like amorphous groupings of ideas floating around. It just makes things difficult to comprehend. I'm not going to shock anyone when I say that one thing that is divided into categories is research. One way to make research topics more manageable is dividing the topics by asking the question, 'What will this be used for?'

Applied research is one type of research that is used to answer a specific question that has direct applications to the world. This is the type of research that solves a problem. We will look at an example later.

Basic research is another type of research, and it is driven purely by curiosity and a desire to expand our knowledge. This type of research tends not to be directly applicable to the real world in a direct way, but enhances our understanding of the world around us. So, the real difference between the two types of research is what they will be used for. Will the research be used to help us understand a real world problem and solve it, or will the research further our general information?

Applied Research

As mentioned before, applied research is something that we can use. Here is a simple question: 'How should a student study?' There are many ways to go about answering this question, and the ones we will look at have a direct and applicable finding. For example, what can research tell us about how a student studies?

Most people like to study in their bedroom, laying on their bed in some weird posture. They collect all their notes and spread them haphazardly across the bed. Just reading is boring, so they may have the radio on. Some people have both the radio and the television on. Then, people have to talk to their friends so their phone isn't far off. And, pets are usually somewhere in the paperwork. However, research has found that a quiet room, without music, animals or television, improves concentration.

Sitting like you will take the test creates a state of consciousness similar to taking the test. And, instead of taking all the notes and trying to cram before the test, it should be spaced out. When proper study habits are applied, they can increase scores on tests and allow a person to retain the information longer. In other words, we researched the best way to study and will now apply our findings - this is applied research.

Basic Research

We have an idea of what applied research does, but how does basic research fit into the broader world of research? If it costs money, time and other precious resources, but does not have a direct application, then why bother? Because basic research feeds applied research, and applied research feeds basic research. Basic research is a little less direct than applied research, so we will look at two different examples.

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Additional Activities

Writing Prompts About Basic Research and Applied Research

Graphic Organizer Prompt 1:

Create some type of graphic organizer that defines basic research and applied research and describes their differences. Also be sure that the graphic organizer shows how applied research and basic research are connected. Tip: A poster could work well, but a flow chart might be even better, as it could really allow you to illustrate the link between both types of research, in spite of their differences.

Essay Prompt 1:

Write an essay that details an example of applied research. Be sure to describe the scenario being researched, and then explain how the research can be applied to the real world.

Example: People who are trying to quit smoking often find that certain activities are triggers for their smoking habit. For instance, people who smoke often like to do so while driving. Smokers also tend to enjoy the oral stimulation that smoking provides. Therefore, the best thing to do to prevent people from smoking while driving is to make sure that they have suckers or hard candies in their vehicle, and that their cigarettes are inaccessible. This will allow them to enjoy the oral stimulation from the candy and prevent them from smoking while driving.

Essay Prompt 2:

Write an essay that details an example of basic research. Be sure to include the concept of evaluation in your example.

Example: You are curious about life in the Antebellum South, so you decide to go to the library and read some history books written on it. As you begin your research, though, you evaluate the Antebellum South and ask yourself what would be helpful to know about it. As you evaluate, you might ask questions like, What was the economy like? How many slaves were there in the population? What states comprised the Antebellum South? What were the roles of women?

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