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Psychological Research Tools: Observation, Measurement & Experimentation

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  • 0:05 Psychological Tools
  • 0:46 Observation
  • 2:58 Measurements
  • 4:29 Experimentation
  • 5:33 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Devin Kowalczyk

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

What are the primary ways a psychologist goes about conducting research? In this lesson, we will look at the three main ways a researcher can go about learning something, as well as some of the more famous psychological research that has used these techniques.

Psychological Tools

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 organ between your ears. Some tools help us understand what makes us human; others have had horrifying side effects.

What are some of the more common ways of studying the normal and bizarre behaviors, cognitions and emotions of the creature that named itself Homo sapiens sapiens, or the wise wise guys?

Observation

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 his or her surroundings. It is a little bit more complicated than just looking at someone doing something, even if you use one of those fancy two-way mirrors.

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 narcissists in different social positions interact in a job setting. This can't truly be created in the lab, especially without the two narcissists 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 beating the living stuffing out of the inflatable doll. When the children were let loose in a play room, 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.

Measurements

What is psychological research without psychological measurements?

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 depressed people, then you are most likely depressed. If your answers are similar to a manic person, then you're most likely manic.

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