Devin has taught psychology and has a master's degree in clinical forensic psychology. He is working on his PhD.
Psychological science occupies a unique place amongst the sciences. It is a mixture of observation, measurement and experimentation on a wholly unique subject: the human mind. In the course of psychological research, scientists have attempted several mediums to try and understand the mind. Some tools help us understand what makes us human; others have had harmful side effects.
Everyone has a bit of a psychologist in them. It usually comes out when we watch other people and attempt to understand why they are doing something. Observation is the act of meticulously viewing another's interactions with their surroundings. It is a little bit more complicated than just looking at someone doing something.
Naturalistic or field observation happens when a researcher carefully observes and notes a participant in their natural setting without interference. For example, a researcher might be curious about how two people in different social positions interact in a job setting. This can't truly be created in the lab, especially without the two people knowing they're being watched, so it has to be observed live in the field.
A laboratory observation is when a researcher creates a precipitating condition and then observes the ensuing behaviors in a natural environment. What this means is you start something, and then see how people run with it. One famous study that involved laboratory observations has been nicknamed the Bobo doll study. Albert Bandura had two groups of children each watch a different video, one with an adult playing nicely with a Bobo doll and the other of an adult hitting the inflatable doll. When the children were let loose in a playroom, the ones who observed the violent behaviors of the adults acted in the exact same way, while the other children largely ignored the Bobo doll.
A notable issue with observations is the observer bias, or when an observer sees what he or she wants to see. Looking back at the aggression example above, it is possible that the researcher might record acts as more aggressive or violent than they actually were because this is what they are looking for. Some ways to avoid observer bias is to have the single or double blind study, as well as recording what you are observing for later verification.
Psychological measurements are assessments conducted by a trained researcher to understand underlying features of an individual. Assessments can be about many things, including:
- Cognitive elements, such as IQ or brain damage
- Emotional adjustment and maturity
- Social views and opinions, often collected by surveys
- Behavioral or motor concerns
These tools help researchers understand individuals, usually by way of comparing them to others. For instance, several personality measures compare your answers to a group of others. If your answers were similar to people living with depression, then the results indicated that you are most likely also living with depression.
Psychological measurements are often laborious and require extensive time to score, which means they are rarely used in large-scale research studies. However, that does not discount them when they are used. They can provide detailed information on a person not available to a researcher by just observing. For instance, Alexander Luria and others combined cognitive, emotional and behavioral indices from hundreds of cases of accidental brain injuries to create a comprehensive test to assess for traumatic brain injuries.
One of the backbones of any science is the ability to perform experiments. Psychological experiments are designed and controlled scenarios that manipulate a variable to test a hypothesis or answer a question. The exact variable manipulated can be almost anything that the experimenter can control. For instance, some famous experiments include the following.
- Work by Elizabeth Loftus examined how asking questions differently will alter a person's memories.
- Work by Solomon Asch focused on how individuals would rather be wrong than go against group opinion.
- Work by Leon Festinger showed how people would perform menial tasks for less money, but feel better about themselves.
Experimentation provides us with a great deal of information about how people will react and think when presented with certain stimuli. While I have selected some of the more popular studies in psychology, there are literally thousands that have been completed.
Psychological research has taught humans a great deal about themselves. One way is by simple observation, or the meticulous viewing of another's interaction in their natural habitat. Another way to examine how they think, feel and act is by conducting detailed measurements, which are assessments or interviews conducted to understand the underlying thoughts and emotions. Lastly, there are simple and complex experiments, or designed and controlled scenarios to test a hypothesis. Psychologists have learned a lot using their tools, but there is still a lot to learn.
Following this video lesson, you will be able to:
- Describe three ways that psychologists perform research: observation, measurements and experiments
- Identify two types of observation and potential problems that can arise with observation
- Provide examples of characteristics that can be measured
- Recall examples of famous psychological experiments
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