Psychology focuses on studying behavior. There are three goals in studying behavior, describing behavior, predicting behavior and explaining behavior (Wortman, Loftus, and Weaver, 1999, p. 39). Describing behavior pertains to deliberate descriptions of behavior, how individuals “think, feel and act” (p. 39). On the other hand, predicting behavior occurs in situation where psychologists gauges how an individual will think, feel and act in future situations based on previous behavior. While human behavior is always complex and other factors may affect future behavior, psychologists’ interest lies in anticipating behavior given a recurring theme. More than describing and predicting behavior, psychologists try to explain why such behavior occurs. It is not enough to merely provide a detailed description and projection of human behavior but delving more into the “whys” and reasons as to why people behave as such. Digging deeper and untangling the web of behavior is what makes psychology unique. More so, it is the various methods and psychological researches that enable psychology to key to understanding the solving the human phenomena.
Research is an integral part of psychology. Psychological researches make it possible to fully understand the theories and hypotheses that come with it (Feldman, 2005, p. 29). Research is defined as a systematic method of trying to explain or provide solutions to a problem (Leedy, 1985, p. 4). It is a “way of thinking” (p. 4). As a process, research has several unique characteristics. First, it must be controlled, meaning the external factors may be controlled or minimized in relation to studies examining the interplay of two variables (Kumar, 1996, p.7). Second, research must be rigorous. This means that the process of doing it must be precise, careful and meticulous to ensure that the procedures are “relevant, appropriate, and justified” (p.7). Furthermore, research should be systematic. For a research to be systematic, it must follow a consistent method. Likewise, a research must be valid and verifiable (p. 7). The findings must not only be correct but can be verified by others. A research must also be empirical, meaning the conclusion should be based on the findings. Lastly, a research must be critical. This signifies that the methods employed by the research must be able to hold up to criticisms (p. 7). Grinnel [in Kumar] further explains that research is a “structured inquiry” that employs the scientific method as a means to offer solutions and bestow new information that will be of value to the public (p. 6). Research and scientific method go hand in hand. What exactly is scientific method? Lundberg [in Kumar] posits scientific method as a process that entails three pertinent actions: observation, data classification and interpretation (p. 6). It is a way of discovering knowledge. During the time of Aristotle, seeking the unknown was done by means of deductive reasoning (p. 81). Deductive reasoning is a methodology popularized by Aristotle and is based on “logical reasoning” starting with a major premise (p. 81). It begins with a general statement which would trickle down to specific declarations. For some time, people accepted this way as means of discovering knowledge. However, with the dawning of the Renaissance, a new approach was introduced- the inductive reasoning, also known as the scientific method. Unlike deductive reasoning, the scientific method begins with a specific statement. The term literally translates to “method that searches after knowledge” (p. 82). Galileo, Copernicus and Paracelsus were just a few of the great men who paved the way for the scientific method (p. 82)
The scientific method has four major steps: problem identification, data gathering, hypothesis testing, and data analysis and conclusion (Leedy, 1985, p. 82).The scientific method is said to be the “basis for research methodology” (p. 82). Furthermore, the scientific method is used not just by psychologists but of all scientists as means to obtain knowledge and understand behavior. Through research and the scientific method, questions are answered and theories and hypotheses are formed, identified and tested to see which could explain the occurrence of a phenomenon. Theories and hypotheses are important aspects in psychologists for they offer a framework wherein data gathered could correspond into something. Furthermore, theories and hypotheses enable psychologists a proper medium in setting “appropriate questions” (Feldman, 2005, p. 29).
In studying behavior, psychologists are guided by five principles:
Behavior must be measurable
Objectivity in method and data used
Ability of the procedure to be repeated
Results of study must be communicated to the public, e.g. through scientific meetings and journal publications
Use of systematic means in data gathering and analysis (Engle and Snellgrove, 1991, p. 21).
Data gathering may be classified in two categories: primary and secondary. Primary data is first hand information (Kumar, 1996, p. 104). Examples of primary data are questionnaires, observations, and interviews. On the other hand, secondary data pertains to data that is readily available such as government and semi government publications, earlier research, personal records and mass media (p. 124). Primary and secondary data, however, do not provide 100% accurate information. Data gathering depends on a number of factors such as validity and reliability of information, availability of data, and the ability of the researcher to deal with situational and respondent-related factors that may come his way. Moreover, choosing any method of data collection is dependent on the purpose of information collection, type of information collected, availability of the resources and skills of the researcher and the socio-economic and demographic features of the study population.
When data collection is completed, statistics is often used to summarize the data in a concise way. A number of statistical techniques are often used in researches, among which are the measures of central tendency (Wortman, Loftus, and Weaver, 1999, p. 56). One common measure of central tendency is finding the average or mean. To do this, the scores are added up and divided by the number of scores (p. 56). Another way of measuring the central tendency is the median, or the middle scores. Finding the mode is also another way. The mode is defined as the most frequent score (p. 56).
In the 60s and 70s, psychological researches rely on quantitative means in summarizing and analyzing data (Byrne, n.d.). Statistics in psychological researches would refer to “path analysis, covariance analysis and structural equation modelling, discrete multivariate analysis and time series analysis” (n.d). Additionally, measurements in psychological researches would include “multidimensional scaling, item response theory and generalizability theory” (n.d). In a study by Aiken, it was found that “statistical and methodological curricula in psychology” has undergone little progress in a span of 20 years (n.d.). The study, which included 22 psychology departments and schools in the US and Canada, observed that the use of statistics in psychological researchers, has in fact, saw a deterioration. Statistics in psychological researches were limited to the use of correlation and analysis of variance (n.d.). The measures were deemed “inappropriate” in settings where issues were “relative to naturalistic settings” (n.d.). Thus, it was suggested that students and psychological researchers be given the potential to learn new approaches in data analysis.
Research and statistics are vital components in the area of psychology. Through studies and experiments, psychologists are able to draw an accurate picture of human behaviour. It is imperative to study behavior scientifically given the complexity of human beings. Researches and the scientific method provide psychologist a clearer view and explanation of why various phenomena occur.
Byrne, B. (n.d.). Status of quantitative methods in psychology: past, present
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