Empirical Methods in Psychological Research - General Psychological Practice

Empirical methods in psychological research

Empirical methods, or methods of data collection, are different ways of obtaining psychological information from subjects. There are quite a few classifications of research methods in psychology. One of the reasons for this is that such methods are very diverse and it is difficult to find common grounds that could unify this diversity. The same methods can be classified in different ways, they can fall into one or in different groups depending on the selected grounds. This often leads to confusion. To avoid it, we confine ourselves here to a description of the sin of the most fundamental classifications. The grounds for dividing methods into groups in them are:

- type of information received;

- presence or absence of the researcher's influence on the subjects;

- a way to get psychological information (data).

The separation methods on the received information type offered classic differential psychology, the author of the theory shestnadtsatifaktornoy

The personality of R. Cattell. He pointed out that there are only three sources of knowledge about psychological phenomena:

- knowledge obtained from observation of human behavior (L-data); knowledge generated by self-report (Q-data);

- the knowledge obtained as a result of demonstration by the subjects of their abilities and capabilities when performing special tests (T-data).

In accordance with this, you can also divide the methods of psychological research.

L-data (Life record data). This is the data obtained during the registration of real human behavior in everyday life. In fact, we are talking about data obtained through observation. This method is good because it provides information on the natural functioning of mental processes and abilities in the ordinary conditions of their manifestation. This information is less subject to distortions on the part of the observed, as it demonstrates the usual behavior for him in natural conditions. However, a significant drawback of data of this type is that there are no people who are constantly monitoring the subjects. Observation is always selective, and therefore incomplete. This incompleteness is a source of distortion due to when and how surveillance is conducted. This question will be discussed in more detail in the chapter Observation & quot ;.

A vivid example of such distortions is the stable opinion that existed among ethologists in the last century, that in natural conditions, outside the laboratory situation, animals do not demonstrate intellectual behavior (solving two-phase problems). The researchers believed that this behavior of primates and other animals demonstrate in response to the problem proposed by the experimenter. A correctly assigned task is 90% solution. Thus, it was believed that intellectual behavior is not inherent in animals, but is the result of their long life together with people, as a result of which they learned the forms of intellectual behavior.

This opinion existed until the moment when a video was used to observe the behavior of animals in an environment that simulates the natural conditions of an animal's life. An analysis of the behavior of animals from such video recordings showed that in their natural behavior, in a situation not organized for them by humans specifically, animals spontaneously demonstrate intellectual behavior (ie solve two-phase problems).

In order to avoid the numerous mistakes made by naive observers, most often registration data of real behavior are obtained by formalizing the assessments of experts observing the behavior of the subject in accordance with certain rules and taking into account various factors capable of distorting the results of the observation (more details about this will be discussed in the chapter on the observation method).

Q -Data (Questionnaire data). These are the data that researchers receive using a variety of forms self-reports - questionnaires, questionnaires, interviews, etc. The psychological information received from self-reports is limited, on the one hand, by what the subjects want or do not want to inform us under the influence of various considerations, for example, expectations of a social assessment of their actions. For example, if the subjects believe that their negative experiences about various social and ethnic groups do not adorn them, they will not talk about their negative attitude towards homosexuals or Jews.

On the other hand, self-reports are subject to distortions related to the psychological characteristics of the subjects themselves. A person can not remember, do not pay attention, and if he does, he does not betray any facts, and therefore does not reflect them in the self-report. He does not even think that he did not disclose some important information for the researcher (he did not want to hide anything!), And at the same time the research will be incomplete or even containing distorted data. For example, when people transmit news to each other, they involuntarily and imperceptibly distort the transmitted information in such a way that the news, having passed from mouth to mouth a dozen times, becomes absolutely unrecognizable. The difference of such a few times the retelling of news from the original source is an example of how the verbal report may be distorted unintentionally under the influence of individual factors. The same thing happens with self-reporting. We will discuss these issues in more detail in the chapter "Conversation".

T-data (objective test data). This is data obtained as a result of objective measurement of the behavior parameters without resorting to self-assessments or expert estimates. To obtain these data, researchers create special situations that contribute to the manifestation of the personality traits they study. For example, in order to determine the thresholds of sensations, the subjects are presented with stimuli of different intensity and find out whether they have experienced the effect of the stimulus or not.

The situation is modeled so that the behavior that the subject demonstrates, as unambiguously as possible, informs the researcher about his psychological background. Therefore, the psychological information obtained in the test situations is free from distortions to which the self-report data and estimates of spontaneous behavior by observers are subject.

However, situations similar to test situations are rare in everyday life. Therefore, participants understand well that they participate in the study, that their reactions are being studied. This knowledge can affect their behavior. Information obtained in such studies is not protected from other distortions, which will be discussed in the relevant chapters, but compared to other sources of psychological information, it can be considered relatively secure.

Classification of methods by the presence of impact allows us to divide them according to the degree of control by the researcher of those impacts that appear on the subjects. The researcher can actively influence the subjects themselves, control external influences or not influence the subjects in any way during the research. According to this criterion, the methods can be divided into the following three groups.

The methods of research that do not involve active influence on the subjects include descriptive methods that are based on observation and questioning. The determining condition for using these methods is that the researcher does not interfere in the course of events in any way, but merely fixes what is happening and the reactions of the person who is the object of observation. In this case, it is desirable that the fact of observation itself is hidden from the observed, since knowledge of what is being watched us, as a rule, leads to changes in our behavior. The same goes for survey methods. When using them, the researcher receives information about the events that have occurred, the course of which and the reaction of the person being interviewed, he can not in any way influence.

The goal of the researcher using these methods is the most complete and accurate recording of the behavior of the subject. Further, the researcher can look for similarities in descriptions, build hypotheses about the psychological patterns demonstrated in the behavior described by him, but under no circumstances, on the basis of descriptions, he can draw conclusions about the causes of this behavior and predict its changes.

The research method, in which the researcher affects the behavior of the subjects, is an experiment. At the same time, the researcher's goal is to single out one single impact, and to reduce all other possible effects to naught. If, as a result of this single exposure, the behavior of the subject changes in the way the researcher expected, the latter is entitled to conclude that this influence is the cause of changes in the behavior of the subject. Under no other research procedures the researcher has the right to conclude that there is a causal relationship between the event and the psychological reaction. The identification and proof of the existence of cause-effect relationships between certain influences and behavior is the goal pursued by the researcher, building the experiment. Only on the basis of knowledge of cause-effect relationships can researchers achieve the main goal of psychological science - predicting behavioral responses to events and stimuli and explaining the causes of behavior.

There is a group of methods that occupy an intermediate position by the criterion of impact on the subject between the two named above. These are methods of research in which the researcher himself does not affect the subjects, but using various methods fixes the results of such influences, which he himself can not provide. Such research methods are called quasi-experimental.

For example, a researcher can interview people who survived a car accident and compare their data with those of people who have never been in an accident. To adjust the accident in order to find out how people cope with post-traumatic stress, it would be at least unethical. However, such situations sometimes happen, and the experience of people who successfully coped with stress could help in the rehabilitation of other people who had an accident. Therefore, researchers compare the behavior of those people who have experience of overcoming post-traumatic stress, and those who do not have such experience. At the same time, they believe that the differences found will make it possible to understand and present the psychological consequences of post-traumatic stress, and on this basis to develop ways to more successfully overcome it.

At the same time, researchers never forget that, in addition to post-traumatic stress, the differences between people compared can also be caused by other influences that, in the situation of such a study, they could not control and take into account, just as it is done in the experiment. For example, a person who has been in an accident permanently stays depressed, researchers can write off ignorance for the consequences of the accident because they could not check in advance when exactly this person fell into depression (for example, stayed there for the whole year before the accident).


This is the limitation of quasi-experimental research methods: they establish a connection between phenomena (for example, stress and depression), but do not directly prove that one phenomenon is the cause of another. Causal relationships in this case are established indirectly, as a rule, on the basis of applying various methods of statistical analysis of the data already obtained. Therefore, these methods allow predicting the development of events (based on knowledge of the relationship between them), whereas the explanation of their causes is based on indirect methods.

Each of the three listed methods differs from the others in what type of hypotheses are tested in it (see the "Formulation of the Hypothesis" subparagraph). With the help of the observation method, hypotheses of existence are mainly checked, although, in principle, with a carefully and systematically conducted observation, verification of hypotheses about connections is possible. The quasi-experiment, in its procedure, is primarily aimed at testing the hypothesis of communication, and the verification of causal hypotheses in such studies requires very carefully developed causal models, the verification of which in quasi-experimental studies involves the use of indirect, statistical control procedures carried out post factum . The same experiment is the only method intended specifically for testing cause-effect hypotheses.

Another classification of methods of psychological research allows you to divide methods by the method of data collection. This classification is related to the previous two. Thus, data of different types described in R. Cattell's classification can be obtained in different ways, different methods differing in the degree of influence of the researcher on the subject. There are the following ways of collecting data.

• Hardware, which involves the use of various devices, such as a neurocardography, a tomograph, a device for registering eye movements (aytracker), etc., to obtain information from the test subjects.

• Poll, receiving information from test subjects by polling.

• Projective, in which the researcher receives information indirectly, by analyzing the projections of the personal characteristics of the subjects during the performance of their creative assignments.

• Test, aimed at provoking subjects to demonstrate those psychological features that are of interest to the researcher.

• Expert, in which information on the psychological characteristics of the subjects is obtained on the basis of expert judgments.

• Experimental, testing hypotheses about the existence of causal relationships between certain impacts and response behavior.

• Archival, extracting psychological information from the products of human activities, such as diaries, research records, literary and artistic works, etc.

In order to draw any conclusions regarding the studied problem of psychological research, it is not enough just to collect new empirical data. Correct information based on this data implies their correct processing. For this, as mentioned in the previous paragraph of this chapter, a completely different set of methods is used - data processing methods. Thus, the study goes on to the third stage.

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