Psychology and Scientific Methods

Played the "airport game" before? We wait at the terminal and make assumptions about people's occupations based exclusively on their outward looks. It is a good activity, although the estimates are only sometimes accurate. The assumptions that individuals make about particular physical characteristics can also occasionally show their prejudices: guys having thick locks are musicians, men in suits are business people, and so on. We strive to establish facts, lessen the uncertainty, and eliminate bias in psychology. Nevertheless, how do we achieve it?

Brief Overview on Scientific Method in Psychology

Researchers in psychology aims to focus on what is present, not quite what their preconceptions may cause them to view. The scientific method, a method of research designed to lessen the possibility of bias and mistakes in the measurement of data, can be used to accomplish this. A structured approach to observing, collecting data, developing theories, putting assumptions to the test, and evaluating outcomes is known as the scientific method.

To define and quantify behavior, researchers make observations. Researchers develop theoretical explanations for these facts after they frequently observe particular events. A theory is a framework that brings together disparate pieces of knowledge in a logical manner. Researchers typically only develop a theory once they have gathered substantial supporting data and ensured that others could replicate their findings.

Research is repeatable when it can be done again and yield the same outcomes. When psychologists present the findings of their studies, they also go into great depth to explain how they arrived at their conclusions. Psychologists conduct research, ensure that it can be replicated, construct a theory, and then turn the concept into a specific hypothesis. A testable hypothesis is a forecast of what will occur under specific circumstances. Psychologists employ a certain research technique to examine a hypothesis. The psychologist amends or discards the initial theory if the study does not support the hypothesis.

A great theory must organize many observations logically and enable researchers to make precise predictions that can be tested against the theory. Additionally, a strong theory or hypothesis should be disprovable, which implies that it has to be presented in a fashion that allows it to be disproven. To put it another way, we must be able to disprove a theory or hypothesis. All researchers are susceptible to confirmation bias; hence models and propositions must be testable. Confirmation bias is the tendency of some researchers to seek out and embrace information that supports their opinions while ignoring or rejecting evidence that contradicts their beliefs.

Psychologists ensure they can repeat their personal or other researchers' findings by articulating their hypotheses precisely. Psychologists characterize the variables they research using operational definitions to render hypotheses increasingly accurate, and a variable's operational definitions specify the precise measurement method. According to the notion of parsimony, commonly known as Occam's razor, scientists should use the easiest answer to explain any given collection of observations. For example, psychologists attempt to explicate data using well-established theories rather than developing complicated testable concepts. Psychologists are discouraged from creating and pursuing improbable hypotheses by parsimony.

Methods of the Scientific Approach

Following are the major methods of scientific approach −

Naturalistic Observation

Observing how people or animals interact in their natural environment is the most effective technique for studying their behavior. For this reason, researchers study animals in their native habitat, where they feed, play, breed, and rest. Researchers may want to observe people at their homes, offices, or playgrounds when studying people. For instance, a researcher would visit the market weekly to observe how teenagers interact with individuals of different gender in a social context. Because they observe the behavior in its natural environment, researchers can better understand how it happens. In a more carefully orchestrated setting, such as a laboratory, they might observe behavior that is manufactured or unnatural rather than real.

An observer should bear a device to document each data item and a checklist of precisely delineated and specified behaviors to note. The observer must frequently stay undetected because it is common for animals or people to behave abnormally when they are aware that they are under observation (a phenomenon known as the observer effect). It might be challenging to remain anonymous when studying humans. In the mall scenario with the adolescents from earlier, a researcher might discover that appearing to read a novel is an effective cover, particularly if one is wearing glasses to obscure eye movement. Investigators could monitor what transpired between the teens in this situation without them realizing they were being monitored. In other situations, researchers might use one-way mirrors or join the group themselves, a method known as participant observation.

The potential for observer bias is one of the drawbacks of naturalistic observation. This occurs when the observer has a predetermined expectation of what they expect to see. If that is the case, it can happen that a person only notices behaviors consistent with the predetermined anticipation and overlooks behaviors that contradict it. For instance, if we assume that girls start flirting, we might miss the guys who start the flirtation. Another drawback of naturalistic settings is that they are all distinctive and different. Even though the environment is similar, observations obtained in one instance may only sometimes apply to another because the conditions will sometimes differ. After all, researchers have a limited command over the material environment.

Laboratory Observation

Observing behavior in people or animals in the wild is only sometimes feasible. For instance, it might be challenging to build an exact copy of themselves in a natural environment for a researcher to study how newborns respond to it. To control the number of infants, their ages, etc., the investigator could bring the baby to the apparatus. The drawback of laboratory settings is that they might produce artificial behavior since people and animals frequently behave differently there than they do in the real world. The level of oversight it affords the observer is its biggest benefit.

Case Study

The case study is another descriptive method in which one individual is carefully examined. Researchers attempt to learn as much information as they can on the subject of a case study. For instance, Sigmund Freud founded his entire ideology on case reports of his patients, during which he documented details on their early years and all of their associations with others up until the moment. The case study offers an incredible quantity of insight and is the sole way to obtain some things. However, no two individuals are the same and cannot be generalized.


Psychologists occasionally have very private questions, such as those regarding sexual behavior, for example. Asking inquiries is the sole way to learn about really private behavior. In this approach, researchers will pose several inquiries regarding the subject under investigation. Surveys can be done in person, over the phone, online, or via a questionnaire. They can also be conducted as interviews. Researchers are then able to poll a huge number of people and ask a tonne of questions. A survey's main benefit is its capability to access private information. As long as they constitute a representative portion of the population, investigators can get a huge amount of information on many individuals.


No field of science can truly be denoted as a discipline following the empirical structure if it does not produce its data based solely on the principles outlined by the scientific method. A fully scientific theory or research can be falsified, parsimonious, replicated, and available to public scrutiny. While a host of ideas in psychology, or any other field, do not tick all the criteria, they still manage to adhere to the norms.

Updated on: 10-Apr-2023


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