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Psychological Research: Psychology as a Science

Psychological Research: Psychology as a Science

Having looked at the importance of ethics in research, as well as the types of study, it might next be sensible to discuss the actual scientific nature of psychological research. There is much debate over whether or not psychology can be considered a science, and most people will have an opinion about this, but it is important to realise that this is affected most by the research methods used in the studies, and so my next step will be to explain how a study can be made as scientific as possible, and what effect this will have on the study as a whole.

The first way in which a study can provide more valuable data, is by increasing its validity. This refers to the extent to which it measures what it sets out to measure. It may seem obvious, but our study will only be useful if it measures what we want it to. If there are many extraneous variables (things changing between trials that are unrelated to our experiment), then how can we be sure that one of them is not causing changes in the dependant variable, as opposed to the independent variable that we are studying. To solve this problem we should control studies much more. However, as discussed previously, this comes with the problem that it reduces the reality of the experience for the participant, and so reduces ecological validity anyway. This creates a big problem when it comes to designing a study, since the researcher must try to balance both keeping the study controlled, and keeping it natural to real life.

Secondly, a study is seen as more scientific it is highly reliable. This is a term that confuses some at first, and is sometimes misinterpreted as having the same meaning as validity. This is due to the fact that they are in some ways linked, but the two are in fact distinct terms that must be dealt with in their own separate ways. Reliability refers to the ability for a study to be repeated many times, whilst retrieving the same results. This is separate from validity in that, a study can get the same results each time, but these can still be incorrect results. High reliability is achieved by controlling the study more thoroughly, just as is done to increase validity, and using other methods to make the study as easily replicable as possible for later researchers. One easy test for reliability is to repeat the study many times, checking for the same results, yet for some expensive and long studies this may be impossible. A specific type of reliability, which is especially important for observation and interview studies is inter-rater reliability, which refers to the ability for many different researchers to complete the study and get the same results. Since each person will have a subjective (distinct and personal) view of the world, it is important that inter-rater reliability is high for a study, so that the results are not based on just the researcher’s subjective view.

When a study is completed, the researcher will generally attempt to get it published in academic journals and papers, not just for recognition for their research, but more importantly to get feedback from other academics. This is important, since it allows the theories suggested to be tested, and can provide inspiration for further study. This ensures that research findings are not simply accepted by the community, but rather are constantly improved upon. In any case, journals are also needed in order to keep track of psychological knowledge so far, since without them to catalogue our findings, we would never get any further in our collective understanding of the mind.

Over the past few articles, we have seen that there are many considerations when designing a piece of psychological research, and this of course makes it pretty much impossible to design a faultless study, especially since there are positives and negatives to any one method. This is why there is no one correct way of doing a piece of research, but rather a better way of doing things for each individual study, since each is unique. The important and probably most challenging thing for researchers to do is to balance the different needs of a study, whether it be the practical issues, reliability, validity, ecological validity or ethics.


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