What Research Methods are Typically Used in Psychological Research?

One of the first things that you’ll learn as a psychology student are the differences between the various psychology research methods. Even introductory level courses give you an overview of these methods. When you take higher level classes, you’ll study those methods more in-depth and have the opportunity to conduct research on your own. While there are three major types of psychological research, there are also other methods that professionals use to gather and compare data.

Correlational Research

Correlational research looks at how certain types of stimuli can affect the brain and how different actions and thoughts can affect behavior. Correlation refers to a connection that exists between two or more things, and psychologists using this type of research often want to prove that a relationship or connection exists. For example, a psychologist might look at how students view different colors. If students pay more attention when a professor wears blue than any other color, there might be a link between that color and how well they focus in class.

Descriptive Research

According to theĀ Office of Human Research Protocols, descriptive research refers to a study that focuses on one select group of people. The OHRP also divides this field into cross-sectional studies and longitudinal studies. A cross-sectional study looks at one group of people to see how they think, feel or act at that moment. A longitudinal study will follow a group of individuals for an extended period of time, and some of these studies can last for years or even decades. Psychologists use this form of research to find out how and why people think or behave in certain ways and if their background determines those thoughts and actions.

Experimental Research

Experimental research looks for an answer to a specific problem. A psychologist will look at a question or problem and create a hypothesis. He or she will then do experiments to either prove or disprove that hypothesis. This subject is so popular that you might take courses on experimental research both in college and in graduate school. You might pose a hypothesis that states students left alone in a classroom will leave if the professor doesn’t arrive within 10 minutes. You can then work with the professor to see what students do in that same situation.

Other Methods

Psychology research methods can consist of other ways of studying thoughts and behaviors. You may take classes that teach you how to create an unbiased survey to find out how respondents feel about a certain company or politician. Psychologists will also conduct field experiments that look at how different factors can affect the actions of participants. Twin studies, which closely examine the differences between two people with the same genetic predispositions, are also common. Other methods used by psychologists may include case studies, observational studies and interviews. You’ll generally learn more about each method in your upper level psychology courses.

Psychologists use unique research methods as a way of finding answers to questions and to look at how different factors affect people of different ages and backgrounds. While you may only go over a few of the more popular psychology research methods as an undergraduate, most graduate programs require hands on experience with various research methods.