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Methods of Research in Psychology

Lab Experiments

In Psychology this is one of many methods that we can use to investigate something. The key things that make it an experiment are that it is usually carried out in a controlled environment which will probably be a laboratory; and key variables are manipulated. The experimental approach is the sort of approach that is used almost exclusively in other sciences like Chemistry.

Variables are a key feature and there are two types that we have. The independent variable is the condition that is manipulated. For example, in the levels of processing experiment this was the depth of processing.

And then there is the dependent variable that is what you are measuring. In the levels of processing experiment this was recall of words. In the experiment everything except the independent variable is kept the same; but factors that you haven't controlled that could affect your results are called extraneous variables.

A further feature of lab experiments are experimental designs, which outline how you use your particpants. The table below goes through some of the different experimental / research designs.

Repeated MeasuresThe same group of people are used in both the conditions.Same people are used so there are no differences in characteristics between the two. So there are no participant variables.

Uses fewer participants which reduce cost and makes it easier to carry out the experiment.
There are practice effects where participants are already aware of how to do the task. Also order effects where the order that you do something in could affect the outcome.

These two issues can remedied by counterbalancing where half the participants do A then B and the other half do B then A.
Independent SamplesDifferent participants are used in each of the conditions.There are no order or practice effects.

Exactly the same materials can be used.
The participant variables are not controlled at all.

Using two groups of people mean that more resources have to be used.
Matched PairsTwo seperate groups of people are used, but they are matched up so that on some variables (like sex, age, class) there is someone exactly the same on the other side.No order or practice effects.

Characterisitcs are controlled.
Complicated to match people up.

Not possible to have two people exactly the same so two groups can't be said to be exactly the same.


An observation is where a Psychologist will go into a situation and look at how people behave. There are two types, participant and non-participant observations.

In a non-participant observation the researcher sits outside of the situation and watches. It can either be disclosed where the people being observed know they're being watched or undisclosed. The advantages of this method are that it looks at behaviour in a natural setting so people act more realistically. On the downside though there is no control, how people act may not actually reflect how they feel, and informed consent is difficult to get.

Now we come to particpant observation this is where the researcher is involved in the situation they are observing; for example, going 'under cover'. The advantages of this method are that normal behaviour is seen, and is often the only way of finding out about certain things (like criminal activity for example). Disadvantages are that the researcher may influence what happens, it is only a one off situation and not completely representative, and it costs alot of resources.


We are all familiar with questionnaires; but it is alot more difficult than you think. Again, there are two types of question: closed where a question is asked and several option given which are good because it makes questionnaires easier to analyse but doesn't give detail. And there are open questions that ask a question then leave you a space to write a response.

Designing questions for a questionnaire is more difficult than it first seems, and there are several things that you have to be careful to avoid. Some of these are outlined in the table below.

Leading QuestionsThis means wording the question so that the answerer is encouraged to respond in a particular way. For example: Most people believe global warming is caused by carbon emissions; do you agree?
AmbiguityQuestions that could be interpreted in different ways, like: What is your mood?
ComplicatedThis could be giving alot of information before the question, phrasing it in a difficult way; or including jargon like scientific terminology that alot of people don't understand.
Lots of QuestionsYou may want to learn alot from the questionnaire, but if you have lots of questions, the answerer will get fed up and won't respond properly, usually by giving neutral responses.