Psychological Research Methods: Overview & Considerations

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  • 0:01 Psychological Research
  • 0:40 Qualitative Vs. Quantitative
  • 2:24 Types of Research
  • 5:05 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

In this lesson, you'll explore the diverse research methods used by psychologists to study the human mind and behaviors. Afterward, you can test your understanding with a brief quiz.

Psychological Research

Think about a dog. What does the dog want out of life? Chase some squirrels, bark at the mailman, chew some shoes. Nap. Life as a dog is pretty easy and studying dogs can be done with a relatively simple set of techniques. Humans are a bit more complex. Our behaviors come from a complex mixture of personal and social influences, past experiences, family expectations, and future goals. The study of the human mind and behavior is a field called psychology, and because humans are so complex, psychologists use a very wide range of techniques, or methods, for their research.

Qualitative vs. Quantitative

Most sciences rely heavily on one of two types of research. Quantitative research is research that relies on mathematical or statistical formulas. A+B=C, that's quantitative research. The opposite is qualitative research or research where data is found without formulas and models. An example would be the research conducted by interviewing a person to get his personal thoughts on a subject. To remember the difference between quantitative and qualitative, just keep in mind that quantitative data is information about quantities, while qualitative data is information about qualities.

Psychologists hold a unique position in the sciences because they rely on both quantitative and qualitative research. One example of quantitative research in psychology is content analysis, the statistical analysis of the appearance of words, images, or concepts in a form of media.

Let's say that a psychologist wants to examine how people are responding to a major event, say the election of a president. The researcher may select a newspaper, then count the number of positive words versus negative words and look for correlation between these words and other ideas, maybe major political issues like the economy. The rate at which certain words appear, and the correlation between them and other ideas, can be used statistically to determine peoples' attitudes and opinions.

A qualitative experiment for a similar topic may include interviewing random people to ask them directly what they think or feel about the topic. The researcher gets good data about peoples' attitudes, but from a different method. Most psychologists rely on both quantitative and qualitative research to get the most accurate data.

Types of Research

In general, psychological research falls into three categories. First is descriptive research. In this style of research, data is collected using statistics with the goal of describing whatever is being researched. For example, if a psychologist wanted to study people's behaviors with shopping, they might begin with a statistical analysis of shopping trends over the last several years, from how much people spent on average to the number of times per year they went shopping. The psychologist wants to study shopping, so they use statistics to help describe past shopping behaviors. Clearly, this form of research falls under the category of quantitative data.

Another form of psychological research that is largely quantitative is correlational research. Correlation means the relationship between things, so this research examines the statistical relationship between two sets of data. For example, our psychologist who wants to study shopping may pick two specific sets of data to look for a relationship, or correlation, between them. For example, the psychologist might look at the price of an object over time, and then look at the rate at which that product was purchased, to see if the price affected people's desire or willingness to buy the product.

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