Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.
Psychologists have many different options for where and how to do research. Watch this video to learn more about the difference in field and lab research and the advantages and disadvantages of observational research
Peter is a psychologist. Recently, he took a CPR class, and it made him wonder, 'How do people react in emergency situations? Do they step in to help others, or do they ignore the problem and go about their business?'
Peter has a research question, which is how all research starts. He wants to know how people react in emergency situations. But there are many ways to try to answer that question. He can ask people about or put them in a situation and see how they react. He can observe a real emergency or set up a fake one. He, himself, can be part of the experiment or not.
Research design is the decisions a researcher makes in order to answer a research question. Peter has a lot of different ways to set up his research, and the decisions he makes are part of his research design.
Let's look closer at two options that Peter has for his design: field research and observational research.
One of the first questions that Peter has to answer about his research is where to do it. There are essentially two places that he can do his experiment: in the real world or in the lab. Now, when I say 'lab,' don't think about a room where people in goggles and white coats mix chemicals in beakers.
A psychology lab is just a place where a psychology experiment takes place that's not the real world. Often, it's just a room, like a classroom or an office.
On the other hand, some psychological research is field research, or research done in the real world. This can happen anywhere, as long as it's happening in the real world. For example, Peter might want to do field research at a hospital emergency room. After all, where better to find a real-world emergency situation?
In contrast, if Peter does research in a lab, he might have his subjects sit in a classroom and imagine that they are in an emergency situation. Then he could ask them what they would do.
There are advantages and disadvantages to both field and lab research. In the lab, Peter can control the situation more, which allows him to get a very good picture of his data. On the other hand, field research offers Peter the best view of what happens in real world situations.
Let's say that Peter decides to give up some control in order to get a real-world view of how people act. That is, he decides to do field research. So he decides to go to the emergency room and hang out there to gather his data. But how exactly should he gather data? Should he ask people questions about what they do in an emergency, or should he just hang out and see what he notices about how people act?
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Observational research involves watching how people act. You can remember it because the researcher is observing the participants. Observational research almost always happens in the field, not in a lab.
For example, Peter might want to hang out in the emergency room and observe what people do in emergencies. How many people are brought into the emergency room by strangers as opposed to family members or friends? Are the people bringing people into the ER calm and collected or a total emotional mess?
Non-observational research might involve Peter asking people what they did or would do in an emergency. This is a good way to get into the head of the participants, but they might not be completely honest. For example, they might want to make themselves look good, so they tell Peter that they did things that are more heroic than what they actually did during the emergency.
For this reason, observation is often used. After all, if Peter is just watching the participants, he doesn't have to worry about whether they are being honest or not. The problem is that observation can raise some ethical questions if Peter doesn't tell the participants that they are being observed. And if he does tell them that they are being observed, they might behave differently than normal.
Research design is the process whereby a researcher designs a study to answer a research question. There are two settings for research: in a lab and in the field, or real world. Lab research offers more control, while field research offers a more realistic view. One type of field research is observational research, which involves the researcher watching how the participants act. This offers a good, honest view of how people act in the real world, but it raises some ethical questions.
By the end of this lesson you should be able to:
Define research design
State the two research options available and give examples of each
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