Psychological Research - General Psychological Workshop

Psychological research

Scientific research is a sphere of psychological practice along with psychodiagnostics, psychotherapy, psychological counseling or applied work of a psychologist that we have already considered. However, the study has a specific nature.

The main goal of scientific research in psychology is to establish psychological patterns on the basis of which psychologists can explain the causes of human behavior, predict in certain situations the reactions of people with certain psychological characteristics and develop methods for correcting behavior and preventing the occurrence of psychological disorders.


Scientific research can not be called the only possible form of knowledge in psychology. However, any other forms of cognition are either unscientific or pseudoscientific. An example of an unscientific form

Knowledge in psychology can be ordinary, everyday knowledge. This kind of knowledge in psychology differs from scientific knowledge on a number of features (Table 1.1). However, only the results of scientific research can be considered as a valid and evidence-based fact and use them as an argument in a scientific dispute and as a justification for the effectiveness of procedures for psychodiagnostics, counseling or psychotherapy.

Psychological knowledge obtained by any other means may be part of the personal experience of a psychologist, but until this experience is verified in scientific research, it remains only a personal opinion of a person that can not be extradited for the results of scientific activity. The scientifically grounded judgment of a psychologist is that any psychological experience becomes only after it has been tested by other specialists with the help of scientific methods.

Table 1.1

Differences between scientific and worldly knowledge

Worldly knowledge

Scientific knowledge

Knowledge is acquired through observation, reasoning and own experience

Knowledge is acquired through a special method of cognition, which ensures the objectivity and general validity of the knowledge obtained

The intuitive nature of knowledge (the search for knowledge by the method of random trials and errors)

Explanation of knowledge (they are acquired on the basis of theories that allow to explain the origin and predict the development of phenomena)

Knowledge is transmitted word-by-word, on occasion

There are special methods of storing and transferring knowledge - scientific literature, educational institutions, conferences, seminars, trainings

Knowledge is sketchy, not connected or randomly linked

Knowledge is ordered and systematized in theory on the basis of non-random, scientifically grounded relationships

Specificity of the knowledge obtained, limited by their concrete situation, personal experience

Generality, isolation of knowledge from the situation of its receipt, the validity of laws in the form of which knowledge is represented

Explanation of behavior in scientific research, unlike near-scientific speculation, is based on the principles of objectivity, evidence and reliability.

Reliability means the ability to reproduce the results of scientific research while respecting key research conditions. If the results of the study are unreliable, then they can not be used in the psychological practice or applied work of a psychologist, because the predictions of behavior based on these results can easily turn out to be erroneous, and eliminating the reasons established in an unreliable study may not lead to the desired psychological changes.

The quest for a scientific explanation of behavior towards objectivity is manifested in the fact that it can be checked by any independent researcher. If the explanation of the reasons for the behavior can not be confirmed or disproved, then in this case one can not speak of its objectivity and scientific certainty.

Some theories that claim to explain behavior are based on postulates that can not be verified under any circumstances. For example, the so-called occult sciences explain events taking place in a person's life, the action of otherworldly forces, the existence of a "subtle" a world whose perception is impossible to prove or disprove. This means that these explanations can not be objectively verified, and therefore science in the strict sense of the word has no relation to the occult teachings.

Another example of bias is the situation where not all the facts are used to prove and reinforce the rightness of the allegedly scientific explanation, but only those that confirm it. For example, faith in prophetic dreams is reinforced only by those dreams in which the dreamer has found some correspondence with the events that happened to him in reality. But if you take into account all the dreams that the dreamer saw, and compare them with the "prophetic", it becomes obvious that the "prophetic" dreams can be explained by the coincidence of the events of sleep and real life. And if we take into account the fact that a dreamer who believes in "prophetic" dreams, actively looking for coincidences of events in dreams and in reality, then in general there are no grounds for believing that future events can be seen in a dream.

Similarly, belief in astrology, palmistry, numerology, graphology, etc. is arranged. All these teachings copy scientific knowledge in that they build predictions and explanations for a person's behavior based on certain regularities that supposedly exist between a combination of stars, the arrangement of lines on the palm of the hand, the number coding the name and date of birth of a person, on the one hand, and his characterological characteristics and behavior on the other. However, as evidence of the reliability of these exercises, as a rule, only successful coincidence of the forecast with real events is considered, and all unsuccessful forecasts are ignored. In turn, people who believe in these teachings themselves seek confirmation of their predictions in their lives or even create them, acting in accordance with information received from the astrologer, palmist, etc.

The real scientists, putting forward the theory, analyze the whole set of data related to it, take into account not only those facts that confirm the chosen theory, but those that contradict it, limit the limits of its effectiveness in explaining the behavior or at all can put under doubt its validity. An objective theory can be recognized that admits both the possibility of its verification and the possibility of refutation.

Finally, the real scientific theory always checks its grounds for the subject of evidence. Explanatory grounds are necessary for every science, since an unlimited number of concrete cases allow to reduce to a limited number of governing laws governing them. For example, many actions of people can be explained by their emotional sensitivity, or locus of control, reaction to frustration, etc. Revealing of the bases allows not to invent for each client a specific way of psychological work for him, but to choose from the already available arsenal one that is suitable for this client.

The scientific research is aimed at finding the causes of phenomena and proving the connection between these causes and their expected consequences. In cases where such a relationship is not proven, such a reduction is called reductionism. In the case of reductionism, the explanation can not be called scientific. So, for example, in psychological science, physiological reductionism is very common, i.e. the conviction that the causes of all psychological phenomena can be explained by the course of physiological processes in the nervous system. Certainly, the nervous system is a necessary substratum of the psyche, and without it no psychological phenomena are possible, but until now scientists have failed to show the connection, if not all, of at least most of the phenomena of the psyche with specific processes in the nervous system.

A simple example of physiological reductionism can serve as the phrenology of the Austrian scholar F. Pyl. In summary, the essence of the teaching is that the human brain grows and develops after birth, about 20-22 years. Gall supposed that the development of the brain can be traced to the cones and dimples on the cranium: in places where the brain tissue grows particularly intensively, a cone will form, and in places where the growth of the brain tissue is weaker, a dimple is formed. Respectively. it is possible to trace the connection between the localization of cones and dimples and psychological features of a person, such as abilities for certain professions, sciences, arts, as well as criminal inclinations, mental deviations, etc.

This author developed a system of representations and published phrenological maps, according to which people could learn to identify the abilities and inclinations of any person on the skull relief. Halle believed that his teaching would help each person to choose a profession that best suited his abilities and abilities, and would also identify future criminals and madmen before they commit a crime and isolate them from respectable citizens. In fact, predictions based on data from phrenology were very often not confirmed, because the connection between the human propensities and some parts of the brain was not proved in the days of Gall, as it has not been established so far.

So, scientific cognition in psychology is sometimes quite difficult to distinguish from near-scientific constructions, which more or less gracefully explain the causes and predict the consequences of human behavior. Unlike scientific knowledge, such constructions are not based on reliable, well-reproduced research results, they do not stand up to objective verification, they ignore those data that contradict their basic postulates, do not check and do not prove the connection between these postulates and those conclusions that are made on their basis. The purpose of scientific research is precisely to obtain reliable, well-reproduced, objective, extensive and evidence-based knowledge about the psychological characteristics of a person.

Depending on the characteristics of the knowledge obtained and the way they are obtained, scientific research can be divided:

- on the fundamental and applied;

- laboratory and field;

- quantitative and qualitative.

Fundamental research is devoted to obtaining knowledge about mental processes, general patterns of their functioning, features and factors that affect their course. For example, a fundamental study is the study of ideas about justice, the identification of different types of justice and their impact on people's behavior without clarifying the specific situation - in a variety of situations. This study is fundamental, because researchers are interested in the general patterns underlying the influence of the notion of justice on thoughts and actions that will explain and predict the behavior of any person in any situation.

In applied research, not a psychological function as such, but its individual aspects, associated with a specific task, is studied. The investigation of the influence of the notions of justice on the severity of the verdict in the jury trial will be an example of applied research, for the knowledge obtained in such research will be applicable to explaining and predicting the behavior of only jury (but not a judge, prosecutor, lawyer, witnesses) and only in court. The results of such a study can not be used in the daily behavior of the same jury house, at work, in the market, etc.

Fundamental research is usually financed by research grants, whereas applied research is more often in demand for commercial purposes: for developing advertising, for assessing the intuitive understandability of interfaces, increasing staff productivity, and improving customer service.

Laboratory and field studies differ in the degree of control of the study conditions. Laboratory research is not necessarily carried out at the laboratory premises, it can be any conditions in which the researcher is able to control all the effects on the subject in the course of his research tasks. Because of such increased control, laboratory research is not an ordinary, natural situation of human functioning. In a laboratory situation, people, firstly, know that they are participating in the research and, secondly, they behave differently than in everyday life. A classic example of such a study is the experiments of W. Wundt's laboratory, in which the amount of attention was revealed. In the ordinary situation, people never encounter (with very few exceptions) the necessity of sitting in complete silence, to call the number of single events - metronome beats that occurred per unit of time, without recounting them.

In a field study, on the contrary, subjects may not know at all about what is involved in the study, and simply act and react as they naturally do. However, in doing so, the researcher sacrifices the ability to control the impact on the test subjects of random extraneous factors, which can only be weed out in the laboratory.

A good example of field research is the work of R. Kraut and R. Johnston, devoted to the function of a smile. Researchers have installed in the bowling two video cameras. One of the cameras fixed the faces of the players when they were alone on the track, and the other - the faces of players returning to their team. The researchers counted the number of smiles of the players in order to compare when people smile more often - at the moment when they enjoy the achievement of a goal (successful throw), or when they enter into communication with other people. Thus, in a study in a natural situation, the usual behavior of people who did not know what was involved in the study was recorded.

Quantitative and qualitative studies differ in the way data is presented. In qualitative research, as well as in quantitative ones, numerical data can be used. However, in qualitative research they are used to describe a certain phenomenon (for example, the length of the maximum list of words that a person possessing a phenomenal memory can remember). In quantitative studies, numerical data are used to compare different quantitative indicators with each other (for example, to compare which type of memory - imagery or verbal - is more effective, we need to compare two quantities: the material, remembered with the help of images and remembered with the help of words ).

Most of the scientific psychological studies are quantitative. Qualitative research is conducted in those cases when researchers make a primary description of a certain psychological phenomenon, which should be clearly described before, and then subjected to research. For example, in the work of AR Luria, "A Little Book of Great Memory" This phenomenon has become a man - the owner of a unique memory. T. Dembo's study describes the phenomenon of frustration-all possible reactions of subjects to a collision with an unobvious obstacle for them on the way to achieving a simple goal with long-term attempts to achieve it. The researcher described the reactions themselves, their number and frequency, depending on the duration of the solution of the problem. However, numerical comparisons were not carried out in this work, the author only described various reactions to frustration, therefore this work is also an example of qualitative research.

All three classifications of types of scientific research are combined. Both fundamental and applied research can be both quantitative and qualitative, both field and laboratory. So, the just mentioned T. Dembo's study serves as a good example of a fundamental, laboratory and qualitative study of frustration. The study of the amount of attention in the laboratory of W. Wundt is an example of a fundamental, laboratory and quantitative study.

These are the most common ideas about psychological research. In the following chapters, we will only talk about this kind of psychological practice. This is the main task of the general psychological workshop - to introduce the student to the preparation, organization and conduct of scientific psychological research. Other functional roles and labor posts psychologist are considered in other training courses.

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