Many college students, when they think of science, think of physics, chemistry, geology, biology, astronomy and other similar fields of study. Psychology, which is the study of the human psyche and of behavior, rarely comes to mind. But psychology is inherently scientific, which is why it is classified as a behavior science.
Like other scientists, psychologists hold a “scientific attitude,” meaning that every aspect of research is critically and skeptically examined, and all biases are purposefully ignored during the research process. As such, the scientific method plays an integral part in the process of psychological research.
The scientific method is a systematic approach to research that involves the use of critical observation and analysis as a means of drawing conclusions that explain the scientific findings resulting from testing a hypothesis based on initial observations. In other words, the scientific method involves the following steps:
1. Identifying a problem
2. Making an educated guess (or hypothesis) about a possible solution
3. Conducting an experiment to test the hypothesis
4. Analyzing and recording information collected during the experiment
5. Making a conclusion that explains the findings of the experiment.
Identifying a Problem
This first step is more complicated than one might think. First, the researcher must decide on the topic to be studied. Once a topic is chosen, the researcher needs to review all existing literature covering the topic of choice, including academic journals. government studies and psychology books. Doing so will help the researcher to understand what is already known about his or her topic. Many psychologists also will conduct an initial survey to gather basic information. Once all background research is completed the researcher is ready to form a testable hypothesis.
Formulate a Hypothesis
A hypothesis takes vague ideas and translates them into a specific prediction about the relationship between variables. A good hypothesis uses specific language to identify a predicted cause and effect in a research study.
Testing the Hypothesis
To test a hypothesis, a researcher needs to create a study that will produce evidence to prove the hypothesis right or wrong. Psychologists, like other scientists, use two main forms of research to collect data: descriptive research and experimental research. Descriptive research involves observing and recording behavior and then using the recorded information to draw a conclusion. This type of research is typically seen in animal psychology and case studies.
Correlational studies, which are similar to descriptive research, identify relationships or correlations between non-manipulated materials. In experimental research, the psychologist artificially changes one of the variables and observes how this affects the other unchanged variable.
Analyzing Data and Drawing Conclusions
Once all the information regarding the study has been compiled, it must be examined. Using statistics, the researcher can summarize findings and decide if they support the hypothesis and then draw a conclusion, which is often publicized in academic journals.
The scientific method is important in psychology research because it provides a clear and understandable means of using collected information to draw verifiable conclusions.