The scientific method
The evolution of psychological research
There are quite a number of things which make psychology rather a special sort of science. One of them is its very broad range – from the action of single nerve fibres, to the beliefs of large social groups. Another is the scope of its application: psychology has something valuable to contribute in just about any area of human endeavour – something which psychologists themselves are only just beginning to grasp. And the third is the diversity of its research methods. Psychologists draw on a much wider range of research methods than any other science: from precisely measured and highly controlled laboratory investigation to large-scale action research projects in organisations.
What brings all of these together, as part of the same academic discipline, is the way that psychological knowledge is based on a rigorous and careful collection of evidence – in short, on scientific research. All applied psychologists, no matter what area they are working in, apply psychological knowledge which is based on rigorous and careful research; all research psychologists aim to ensure that the methods they are using are systematic and relevant to the phenomenon they are investigating.
It is psychology's underpinning of scientific investigation which draws psychology, and psychologists, together. And it is for that reason that a sound knowledge of psychological research is an essential part of any psychology student's education in the discipline. This book is designed to provide a basic grounding across the range of psychological research.
In the first part of this book, we will be looking at the process of gathering data. Psychological data can take lots of different forms, and the type of data you gather really depends on what type of psychological event you are interested in - and the level of analysis you are concerned with. You might be studying how the brain works, but if