Chapter 2. Psychological Science
Psychologists study the behavior of both humans and animals, and the main purpose of this research is to help us understand people and to improve the quality of human lives. The results of psychological research are relevant to problems such as learning and memory, homelessness, psychological disorders, family instability, and aggressive behavior and violence. Psychological research is used in a range of important areas, from public policy to driver safety. It guides court rulings with respect to racism and sexism (Brown v. Board of Education, 1954; Fiske, Bersoff, Borgida, Deaux, & Heilman, 1991), as well as court procedure, in the use of lie detectors during criminal trials, for example (Saxe, Dougherty, & Cross, 1985). Psychological research helps us understand how driver behavior affects safety (Fajen & Warren, 2003), which methods of educating children are most effective (Alexander & Winne, 2006; Woolfolk-Hoy, 2005), how to best detect deception (DePaulo et al., 2003), and the causes of terrorism (Borum, 2004).
Some psychological research is basic research. Basic research is research that answers fundamental questions about behavior. For instance, biopsychologists study how nerves conduct impulses from the receptors in the skin to the brain, and cognitive psychologists investigate how different types of studying influence memory for pictures and words. There is no particular reason to examine such things except to acquire a better knowledge of how these processes occur. Applied research is research that investigates issues that have implications for everyday life and provides solutions to everyday problems. Applied research has been conducted to study, among many other things, the most effective methods for reducing depression, the types of advertising campaigns that serve to reduce drug and alcohol abuse, the key predictors of managerial success in business, and the indicators of effective government programs, such as Head Start.
Basic research and applied research inform each other, and advances in science occur more rapidly when each type of research is conducted (Lewin, 1999). For instance, although research concerning the role of practice on memory for lists of words is basic in orientation, the results could potentially be applied to help children learn to read. Correspondingly, psychologist-practitioners who wish to reduce the spread of AIDS or to promote volunteering frequently base their programs on the results of basic research. This basic AIDS or volunteering research is then applied to help change people’s attitudes and behaviors.
The results of psychological research are reported primarily in research articles published in scientific journals, and your instructor may require you to read some of these. The research reported in scientific journals has been evaluated, critiqued, and improved by scientists in the field through the process of peer review. In this book there are many citations to original research articles, and I encourage you to read those reports when you find a topic interesting. Most of these papers are readily available online through your college or university library. It is only by reading the original reports that you will really see how the research process works. Some of the most important journals in psychology are provided here for your information.
The following is a list of some of the most important journals in various subdisciplines of psychology. The research articles in these journals are likely to be available in your college library. You should try to read the primary source material in these journals when you can.
- American Journal of Psychology
- American Psychologist
- Behavioral and Brain Sciences
- Psychological Bulletin
- Psychological Methods
- Psychological Review
- Psychological Science
Biopsychology and Neuroscience
- Behavioral Neuroscience
- Journal of Comparative Psychology
Clinical and Counseling Psychology
- Journal of Abnormal Psychology
- Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology
- Journal of Counseling Psychology
- Cognitive Psychology
- Journal of Experimental Psychology
- Journal of Memory and Language
- Perception & Psychophysics
Cross-Cultural, Personality, and Social Psychology
- Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology
- Journal of Experimental Social Psychology
- Journal of Personality
- Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
- Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin
- Child Development
- Developmental Psychology
Educational and School Psychology
- Educational Psychologist
- Journal of Educational Psychology
- Review of Educational Research
Environmental, Industrial, and Organizational Psychology
- Journal of Applied Psychology
- Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes
- Organizational Psychology
- Organizational Research Methods
- Personnel Psychology
In this chapter you will learn how psychologists develop and test their research ideas; how they measure the thoughts, feelings, and behavior of individuals; and how they analyze and interpret the data they collect. To really understand psychology, you must also understand how and why the research you are reading about was conducted and what the collected data mean. Learning about the principles and practices of psychological research will allow you to critically read, interpret, and evaluate research.
In addition to helping you learn the material in this course, the ability to interpret and conduct research is also useful in many of the careers that you might choose. For instance, advertising and marketing researchers study how to make advertising more effective, health and medical researchers study the impact of behaviors such as drug use and smoking on illness, and computer scientists study how people interact with computers. Furthermore, even if you are not planning a career as a researcher, jobs in almost any area of social, medical, or mental health science require that a worker be informed about psychological research.
Alexander, P. A., & Winne, P. H. (Eds.). (2006). Handbook of educational psychology (2nd ed.). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates; Woolfolk-Hoy, A. E. (2005). Educational psychology (9th ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
Borum, R. (2004). Psychology of terrorism. Tampa: University of South Florida.
Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954); Fiske, S. T., Bersoff, D. N., Borgida, E., Deaux, K., & Heilman, M. E. (1991). Social science research on trial: Use of sex stereotyping research in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins. American Psychologist, 46(10), 1049–1060.
DePaulo, B. M., Lindsay, J. J., Malone, B. E., Muhlenbruck, L., Charlton, K., & Cooper, H. (2003). Cues to deception. Psychological Bulletin, 129(1), 74–118.
Fajen, B. R., & Warren, W. H. (2003). Behavioral dynamics of steering, obstacle avoidance, and route selection. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 29(2), 343–362.
Lewin, K. (1999). The complete social scientist: A Kurt Lewin reader (M. Gold, Ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Saxe, L., Dougherty, D., & Cross, T. (1985). The validity of polygraph testing: Scientific analysis and public controversy. American Psychologist, 40, 355–366.