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What Is Social Science Research? - Definition, Methods & Topics

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  • 0:00 What Is Social Science…
  • 0:20 Methods
  • 3:05 Topics
  • 3:15 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Dana Dance-Schissel

Dana teaches social sciences at the college level and English and psychology at the high school level. She has master's degrees in applied, clinical and community psychology.

Social science research investigates human behavior. This lesson defines social science research, explains the methods used and the topics studied within the field.

What is Social Science Research

Have you ever wondered why people behave in certain ways? How about the way someone thinks or approaches a new situation? Well, social science research works to answer many of the questions we have about human behavior. Through scientific study, social science research seeks to understand the hows and whys of human behavior.

Methods

Social science researchers follow the five steps of the scientific method to conduct their research.

Step 1

The scientific method begins with a question or curiosity. An example of a research question might be the following: Does texting while driving increase the rate of car accidents?

Step 2

After a research question is determined, social science researchers must form a hypothesis. A hypothesis is an educated guess regarding what the researchers expect to find. Usually, social science researchers base their hypotheses on previous research in the field. In the case of our texting and driving example, researchers might hypothesize that texting while driving increases car accidents because previous research determined this.

Step 3

The third step that social science researchers take is to test the hypothesis through empirical research. Empirical research is the process of collecting and analyzing data. This can be done through descriptive research, experimental research, or correlational research. Descriptive research describes a behavior. In our example, descriptive research might describe commonalities among those who are most likely to text and drive.

Experimental research manipulates variables to measure changes in other variables. More specifically, social science researchers manipulate the independent variable to see how that manipulation changes the dependent variable. For our example, experimental research might compare accident rates in those who text and drive versus those who do not text and drive. The behavior of texting and driving would be the independent variable while the outcome (accident or no accident) would be the dependent variable.

Correlational research examines the relationships, if any, between variables. For our example, we might find that younger drivers have an increased rate of accidents while texting and driving. This would show a correlation between age and rate of accidents.

Step 4

The fourth step followed by social science researchers is to draw conclusions based on their data. In our example, we might conclude that texting while driving increases the rate of car accidents.

Step 5

The final step that researchers must follow is to evaluate their conclusions. In other words, how do these findings increase our understanding of human behavior? Sometimes, the final step of evaluation leads to future research. For example, if our texting and driving research indicated a gender difference in texting behavior, we might want to conduct additional research to determine why one sex is more likely to text and drive than the other.

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