What is the Scientific Method? - Steps and Process

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  • 0:00 Definition
  • 0:42 How the Scientific…
  • 1:48 Steps in the Scientific Method
  • 4:19 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Peggy Olsen
The scientific method is an organized, systematic way researchers, including psychologists, perform research. Psychologists use it to observe, describe and explain human behavior. The scientific method includes a step-by-step formula for researchers to follow.


Have you ever tried to improve a recipe? Perhaps you want to make chili that is even better than your grandmother's. If so, you have used a not so formal form of the scientific method, which has five steps:

  • Observe (I bet this recipe could be better.)
  • Question (I wonder what ingredients would help.)
  • Form a hypothesis (More family members will prefer this recipe with one tablespoon chili power than without chili powder. More is defined as over 50 percent.)
  • Test hypothesis (Make both recipes exactly the same, except for the addition of chili powder, and do a taste test.)
  • Analyze results (Was the hypothesis confirmed?)

How the Scientific Method Works

The scientific method is a very formal procedure scientists, including psychologists, use to evaluate their predictions or hypotheses. The hypothesis is based on observations and other research. Testing the hypothesis requires variables, or factors that change. The independent variable is changed or manipulated by the experimenter; the dependent variable changes because of the change in the independent variable.

The experimenter also has to define the terms using an operational definition; that is, define terms in a way that can be measured. If you do not define what 'tastes better' means, you will not know if your hypothesis about adding chili powder was confirmed. Once those important details are defined, the experimenter can test the hypothesis by manipulating a variable.

What did the results show? Was the hypothesis confirmed? Even when the hypothesis is confirmed, more questions result and the procedure may be repeated.

Steps in the Scientific Method

Psychologists use the scientific method to research human behavior. Psychological research involves systematic, organized scientific research. Observations lead to questions.

Psychologists come up with a question that leads to a hypothesis. For example, are married people happier than single people? Of course, that is just a general question, and a hypothesis must be a more specific prediction.

The hypothesis might be, 'Married men are happier than single men.' But what is happiness? How will the psychologists know if the hypothesis was confirmed?

They must have an operational definition, meaning a definition based on some measurable value. In the above example, the operational definition might be, 'Married men score higher on the XYZ Happiness Scale than single men.'

After forming a hypothesis, psychologists are ready to test the hypothesis. To do this, they design an experiment. In our example, psychologists might give the XYZ Happiness Scale to two groups of men. One group would be married, and the other group would be single. Which group has the higher Happiness Score, the married group or the single group?

Next, psychologists would analyze the results and use statistics to determine which group had a higher happiness score. Do the results indicate that married men scored higher on the XYZ scale? If so, the hypothesis is confirmed. If not, it is not confirmed.

Whether the hypothesis is confirmed or not, studies like these lead to more questions, which can result in repeating the process to answer a different question.

As the last step in the process, psychologists analyze the results. Writing down the process and results is an important part of research so others can review and evaluate the research. All the information is important so other scientists can replicate, or repeat, the research.

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