Why Do Social Psychologists Do Research (and Why Should You Want to Read about It)?
- Social psychological research teaches people how to interpret and predict the outcomes of various social experiences and helps them understand their own behavior and that of others.
How Do Social Psychologists Test Ideas?
- Social psychologists often use participant observation, in which they place themselves in real situations to understand a social phenomenon better and to help them plan research that will test the hypotheses developed in observational settings.
- Social psychologists go to archives of various kinds to find information that helps them understand social phenomena. Such records include census reports, police reports, newspaper accounts, and historical and ethnographic records.
- Surveys ask people questions. Random sampling is essential for describing accurately the attitudes or behavior of people of a particular population: students at X university, the people of town Y, or the population of a country as a whole.
- Correlational research describes relationships between variables—for example, between age and support for welfare reform. Correlations can vary in strength from −1 to +1.
- Self-selection is a particular problem in correlational research, where the investigator is unable to choose the level of any variable for participants. Consequently, it’s impossible to know if something associated with one of the measured variables is causing the correlation between two variables or if one of the variables is causing the other.
- In experimental research, the investigator manipulates different levels of the independent variable (the variable about which a prediction is made) and measures the effect of different levels on the dependent variable.
Some Other Useful Concepts for Understanding Research
- External validity refers to how closely the experimental setup resembles real-life situations. The greater the external validity, the more it is possible to generalize from the results obtained to real-life settings.
- Field experiments test hypotheses experimentally in real-life situations as opposed to the laboratory. Field experiments automatically have external validity.
- Internal validity refers to whether the experimenter can be confident that it is the manipulated variable only that accounts for the results, rather than some extraneous factor such as participants’ failure to understand instructions.
- Participants in studies are normally debriefed; that is, investigators explain to them the purpose of the experiment and the likely knowledge gain.
- Reliability refers to the extent to which participants receive the same score when tested with a conceptually similar instrument or when tested at different times.
- Measurement validity refers to the degree to which some measure predicts what it is supposed to, such as the degree to which an IQ test predicts school grades.
Basic and Applied Research
- Basic research is intended to test theory. Applied research is intended to solve some real-world problem.
Ethical Concerns in Social Psychology
- Institutional review boards are committees set up to review research procedures to make sure that participants’ privacy and safety are protected.
- Informed consent refers to the willingness of participants to take part in a study based on information presented to them before the study begins, informing them of the procedures they will undergo and any possible risks. Informed consent is not always possible, as when an experiment involves deception, where participants are misled about the purposes of a study.