Psychology Research Methods

Research methodology is the backbone of psychology. In order to test new and existing theories and ideas, one must adhere to psychology research principles. These principles, when followed have helped evolve psychology into a well respected discipline.

While psychology is not considered a “hard” science like biology or chemistry, its research methods must be taken seriously. This article will provide a high-level introduction into psychology research methods, including a review of the basic structure of a psychology research paper.

First, the cornerstone of psychological research is the scientific approach, or knowledge based on observation. All psychological research is based on a research question about psychological phenomena, and tested using scientific methods to support or oppose a hypothesis. Most research questions are derived from previous research or serendipitously throughout everyday life.

Once a psychologist has a research question, he or she will develop a hypothesis to that research question. A hypothesis is testable statement or prediction to the answer to a research question. An example of a research question is “What is the relationship between sleep and memory?” Whereas an example of a hypothesis is “The more sleep a person gets, the better they are at memorization.”

Once a person develops a hypothesis, they must test it using one of many methods. Many psychologists will conduct survey questionnaires and/or participate in naturalistic observations to collect data about their research question. Because not everyone can be administered or observed to test a research question, psychologists will select a sample of people to test and generalize their findings to the population.

There are many controls that psychologists try to enforce to ensure that their findings can be generalized to the rest of the population. First, the methods they use to study their research question must be reliable. In other words, the surveys researcher use should produce the same results if a study participant retakes it at a later time.

In addition to reliability, researchers should also have a valid research design and research measures. Any instrument a psychologist uses to test a hypothesis, should in fact be testing the targeted variable and not some other psychological phenomena. Ultimately, research method controls are used to rule out other causes or extraneous variables that could explain your hypothesis.

After a psychologist conducts a research study, they will likely write a research paper. Psychology research papers include an introduction, methods, results, and discussion section. The introduction section includes a background to the research question as well as the purpose to the research study. The methods section includes a description of the study participants or sample and material and procedure used during the study. The results section will summarize the results of the research and any data. The discussion section contains a more detailed description of the results and how they relate to the research question.

Ultimately, psychology as a discipline relies on the findings of sound, ethical research; and without it, society would not have advanced understanding of mental processes and behavior.