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Steps of the Scientific Method

The Scientific Method in Psychology Research

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Psychologists and other social scientists regularly propose explanations for human behavior. On a more informal level, people make judgments about the intentions, motivations and actions of others on a daily basis. While the everyday judgments we make about human behavior are subjective and anecdotal, researchers use the scientific method to study psychology in an objective and systematic way. The results of these studies are often reported in popular media, which leads many to wonder just how or why researchers arrived at the conclusions they did.

In order to truly understand how psychologists and other researchers reach these conclusions, you need to know more about the research process that is used to study psychology and the basic steps that are utilized when conducting any type of psychological research. By knowing the steps of the scientific method, you can better understand the process researchers go through to arrive at conclusions about human behavior.

What Is the Scientific Method?

The goals of psychological studies are to describe, explain, predict and perhaps influence mental processes or behaviors. In order to do this, psychologists utilize the scientific method to conduct psychological research. The scientific method is a set of principles and procedures that are used by researchers to develop questions, collect data and reach conclusions.

What are the goals of scientific research in psychology? Researchers seek not only to describe behaviors and explain why these behaviors occur; they also strive to create research that can be used to predict and even change human behavior.

Key Terms to Know

  • Hypothesis: An educated guess about the possible relationship between two or more variables.

  • Variable: A factor or element that can change in observable and measurable ways.

  • Operational Definition: A full description of exactly how variables are defined, how they will be manipulated, and how they will be measured.

Before a researcher can begin, they must choose a topic to study. Once an area of interest has been chosen, the researchers must then conduct a thorough review of the existing literature on the subject. This review will provide valuable information about what has already been learned about the topic and what questions remain to be answered.

A literature review might involve looking at a considerable amount of written material from both books and academic journals dating back decades. The relevant information collected by the researcher will be presented in the introduction section of the final published study results. This background material will also help the researcher with the first major step in conducting a psychology study — formulating a hypothesis.

Step 1 – Forming a Testable Hypothesis
Step 2 – Devise a Study and Collect Data
Step 3 – Examine Data and Reach Conclusions
Step 4 – Report the Findings of the Study

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