Uses of Computers in Psychological Research
Russell M. Church Brown University
A computer is a general-purpose device that can do the jobs of many special- purpose devices, and do them better. In the past, different special-purpose devices were required in each stage of the research process; now computers are often used instead. This use of a single device to do many qualitatively different tasks has greatly facilitated research in psychology. This chapter can only give a brief overview of the uses psychologists have made of computers, but much more detail can be found in a journal of the Psychonomic Society, Behavior Research Methods, Instruments, & Computers.
The stages of research include literature search, experimental design, experimental control, data acquisition, data retention, data analysis, development of theory, comparison of data with theory, drafting of figures, preparation of manuscripts, and communication. This chapter describes the uses of computers in a single experimental study of repetitive timing. The computer methods used are compared with other methods currently available, and some speculations are made about changes in the use of computers in psychological research in the next five years.
In research reports, investigators rarely report the details of the computer techniques employed. A single sentence might be included in the apparatus section, such as "An IBM-AT computer controlled the experimental equipment and recorded the responses." Occasionally a software package might be named, but the reader normally has little basis for knowing whether or not computers were used extensively in each stage of the research reported. This is appropriate for a report on the substance of the research. For this purpose, one wants to know the background of the research (the introduction), what was done (the method), what was found (the results), and how the results might be explained (the discus-