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?
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.
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.
The first basic research example is a common type: evaluation. For example, program evaluation is a meticulous look at the benefits, costs and outcomes of a program. Let's say we are program evaluators at a substance abuse rehabilitation facility, or rehab, and we want to know if they are rehabilitating substance abusers. We, as evaluators, might look into:
- How many people relapse?
- How many people successfully complete the program?
- Are the funds being divided and utilized properly?
- What changes could be made to improve the success rate?
The answers to these questions are not applicable to anything, but act as a catalyst for future applied research for the rehab facility. For instance, the last question requires that additional research be conducted, and this question is an applied research question. Again, the two types of research feed into one another; in this case, basic research fed the need for applied research.
The second basic research example deals with the broad research topic of reaction speeds. Does it help to know the speed at which a neuron fires, or the time it takes for your brain to react, or what kind of stimuli can make your brain react?
The information is not helpful unless you are using basic research as information or inspiration. Knowing how fast a nerve fires can help you measure the effects of certain diseases of the brain, like Lou Gehrig's or Parkinson's. Knowing how long it takes a brain to make a decision is instrumental to understanding the shoot or no shoot decisions police officers have to make. And, knowing what type of stimuli can cause a brain to react might help researchers create a better smoke alarm or a harmless riot suppression device.
Applied research is research that seeks to answer a question in the real world and to solve a problem. Basic research is research that fills in the knowledge we don't have; it tries to learn things that aren't always directly applicable or useful immediately. Both types of research feed into one another and one research provides information for the other type.
Upon completing this lesson, you'll be able to:
- Differentiate between applied research and basic research
- Explain how the two types of research relate to and depend on one another
- Understand the purpose of research that doesn't apply to the real world
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?