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“Why do we use the scientific method – and are there other ways to go about the process of research?”
October 10, 2011, 9:28 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

The scientific method is “a method of procedure that has characterized natural science since the 17th century, consisting in systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses.” (OxfordEnglish Dictionary.)

We use the scientific method with all its rigours of control to enable research to be systematic, objective, valid and reliable.  The scientific method is a set of principles and procedures that are used by researchers to develop questions collect data and reach conclusions.  The strict controls on possible variables allows for their elimination to ensure the effects seen, if any are the result of the effect of the independent variable on the dependent variable being measured and not due to other factors.

The goals of psychological studies are to identify, describe, explain and predict.  Psychologists may also strive to create research that can be used to predict and perhaps influence or change mental processes or behaviours.

Researchers must conduct a thorough review of the existing literature on the subject of interest. This background material will help with the first step in conducting research, formulating a hypothesis.  The research then devises a study, collect data, examine the data and reach a conclusion.  The process is universally understood and easily replicated.

The scientific method is the only method that is able to identify cause and effect relationships, but it has the disadvantage of lacking ecological validity and it may be difficult to generalise the results.

Other research methods used such as case studies, surveys, clinical interviews and observation, are examples of non-experimental methods.  These are examples of descriptive or correlation research methods.

Using these methods, researchers can describe different events, experiences, or behaviours and look for links between them, but do not identify the cause, the reasons for the behaviour.  Although they don’t answer the question of why behaviour occurs they still provide solid, scientific data when correctly executed and interpreted.  Non-experimental does not mean non-scientific.  These methods are useful in situations when you can’t conduct an experiment because you can’t manipulate the predictor variable, i.e. you can’t manipulate participants’ gender or age, or you can’t ethically conduct an experiment because you can’t ethically manipulate the predictor variable, i.e. illness or poverty, or if you want to describe or predict behaviour.   Although these methods do tell us whether two variables are related, they do not tell you which variable influences which.  They may suggest that one variable influences another, but they are never proof of causality, that changes in variable A cause changes in variable B.  Two factors may be related without one causing the other to occur.   A correlation is not the same as causation, but do tell you look for links between them.

These non-experimental methods have some limitations, as they may rely on self report methods, i.e. such as they honesty.  A participant may alter their genuine response in terms of social acceptance.  They could misinterpret the question and the information given not relevant to the test.   But they are an easy and inexpensive way to gather large quantities of data.  They gives information about characteristics such as personality traits, emotional states, aptitudes, interests, abilities, values, behaviours and important things such as what people think.  They may even lead us onto a hypothesis for an experiment.

Qualitative methods and quantitative methods of research can be used in conjunction with each other. Both have their advantages and disadvantages.  Neither is the better option.  It depends on the type of data required by the research study.  They are complimentary not contradictory.

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