Psychologists use a number of different scientific methods to conduct research on social psychology topics. These methods allow researchers to test hypotheses and theories and look for relationships between different variables. Which type of research is best? This depends largely on the subject the researcher is exploring, the resources available, and the theory or hypothesis being investigated.
The goal of descriptive research is to portray what already exists in a group or population. One example of this type of research would be an opinion poll to find which political candidate people plan to vote for in an upcoming election. Unlike causal and relational studies, descriptive studies cannot determine if there is a relationship between two variables. They can only describe what exists within a given population. An example of descriptive research would be conducting a survey to find out people's attitudes toward a particular social issue such as divorce, capital punishment, or gambling laws.
Social psychologists use correlational research to look for relationships between variables. For example, a social psychology might carry out a correlational study looking at the relationship between media violence and aggression.
Conducting surveys, directly observing behaviors, or compiling research from earlier studies are some of the methods used to gather data for correlational research. While this type of study can help determine if two variables have a relationship, it does not allow researchers to determine if one variable causes changes in another variable.
Experimental research is the key to uncovering causal relationships between variables. In experimental research, the experimenter randomly assigns participants to one of two groups: the control group and the experimental group. The control group receives no treatment and serves as a baseline. Researchers manipulate the levels of some independent variable in the experimental group and then measure the effects. Because researchers are able to control the independent variables, experimental research can be used to find causal relationships between variables.Further Reading:
The Simple Experiment
Introduction to Research Methods