Updated: Jan 5, 2020
Imagine that you're sitting by yourself in the park. As you're happily soaking up the autumn weather, you discover a dark blue minivan with stick figure family car window stickers: one dad, one mom, three kids, and a small cat.
A guy sitting next to you on the wooden bench suddenly turns to you and says, "Did you know that families that have those family window stickers also have happier kids than families without them?" One of your eyebrows perks up as soon as you hear his words. Seriously? Is that even true?
You hesitantly thank him for giving you this information, and you start walking back home. His claim strikes you as a bit outlandish, but you begin to wonder if there is some truth to it. Sounds like the perfect chance to do some research!
Conducting research is super important in the world of psychology because psychology is a science. Claims about our mind and behavior can be empirically supported through the scientific method. The scientific method is an organized and systematic way to discover how things in the universe work.
It's helpful to know the different ways to conduct research:
Descriptive Research focuses on how we describe what is happening. There are two main types of descriptive research:
Naturalistic Observation is when you just sit and watch your participants in their natural habitats and never interact with them at all. For example, look for about 20 different families with cars that do have stickers and ones without stickers. Follow the families around all the time but never intervene in their daily activities. As you're writing down notes, you would be trying to get a realistic picture of how having car stickers may be associated with certain behavior of the kids.
Case Studies are useful when you want to get a detailed picture of one participant or a small group of participants. For example, find a single family that owns a car with family car window stickers. After you interview, get DNA samples, and write careful notes on the kids in that particular family, then you would definitely get a clear picture of the kids. Now, although you may conclude that the kids from that particular family seem to live happy lives, you can never generalize this information to a larger population and say "All kids are happier if their families own cars with stickers!" because it was just ONE family!
Correlational Method is when you try to look for a significant relationship between two variables. This could be done through a survey, naturalistic observation, or a case study. For example, you may find that compared to families that don't have cars with stickers, families that do own cars with those stickers usually have happier kids. However, does this mean that having stickers causes this mysterious increase in happiness in kids? No, you simply found an association.
Experimental Method is the only way for you to find a cause-and-effect relationship. Experiments can be done by randomly assigning participants to different conditions. They can also be divided into laboratory experiments and field experiments.
So... how should we approach our research question? Could the random guy at the park be right? Well, there's only one way to find out!