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Chapter 2

Psychological Research

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Chapter 2 Psychological Research Figure 2.1 How does television content impact children’s behavior? (credit: modification of work by “antisocialtory”/Flickr)
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Figure 2.1 How does television content impact children’s behavior? (credit: modification of work by “antisocialtory”/Flickr)

Chapter Outline

2.1 Why Is Research Important?

2.2 Approaches to Research

2.3 Analyzing Findings

2.4 Ethics

Introduction

Have you ever wondered whether the violence you see on television affects your behavior? Are you more likely to behave aggressively in real life after watching people behave violently in dramatic situations on the screen? Or, could seeing fictional violence actually get aggression out of your system, causing you to be more peaceful? How are children influenced by the media they are exposed to? A psychologist interested in the relationship between behavior and exposure to violent images might ask these very questions.

Since ancient times, humans have been concerned about the effects of new technologies on our behaviors and thinking processes. The Greek philosopher Socrates, for example, worried that writing—a new technology at that time—would diminish people’s ability to remember because they could rely on written records rather than committing information to memory. In our world of rapidly changing technologies, questions about their effects on our daily lives and their resulting long-term impacts continue to emerge. In addition to the impact of screen time (on smartphones, tablets, computers, and gaming), technology is emerging in our vehicles (such as GPS and smart cars) and residences (with devices like Alexa or Google Home and doorbell cameras). As these technologies become integrated into our lives, we are faced with questions about their positive and negative impacts. Many of us find ourselves with a strong opinion on these issues, only to find the person next to us bristling with the opposite view.

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How can we go about finding answers that are supported not by mere opinion, but by evidence that we can all agree on? The findings of psychological research can help us navigate issues like this.

2.1 Why Is Research Important?

Learning Objectives

By the end of this section, you will be able to: • Explain how scientific research addresses questions about behavior • Discuss how scientific research guides public policy • Appreciate how scientific research can be important in making personal decisions

Scientific research is a critical tool for successfully navigating our complex world. Without it, we would be forced to rely solely on intuition, other people’s authority, and blind luck. While many of us feel confident in our abilities to decipher and interact with the world around us, history is filled with examples of how very wrong we can be when we fail to recognize the need for evidence in supporting claims. At various times in history, we would have been certain that the sun revolved around a flat earth, that the earth’s continents did not move, and that mental illness was caused by possession (Figure 2.2). It is through systematic scientific research that we divest ourselves of our preconceived notions and superstitions and gain an objective understanding of ourselves and our world.

Figure 2.2 Some of our ancestors, across the world and over the centuries, believed that trephination—the practice of making a hole in the skull, as shown here—allowed evil spirits to leave the body, thus curing mental illness and other disorders. (credit: “taiproject”/Flickr)

The goal of all scientists is to better understand the world around them. Psychologists focus their attention on understanding behavior, as well as the cognitive (mental) and physiological (body) processes that underlie behavior. In contrast to other methods that people use to understand the behavior of others, such as intuition and personal experience, the hallmark of scientific research is that there is evidence to support a claim. Scientific knowledge is empirical: It is grounded in objective, tangible evidence that can be observed time and time again, regardless of who is observing.

While behavior is observable, the mind is not. If someone is crying, we can see behavior. However, the reason for the behavior is more difficult to determine. Is the person crying due to being sad, in pain, or happy? Sometimes we can learn the reason for someone’s behavior by simply asking a question, like “Why are you crying?” However, there are situations in which an individual is either uncomfortable or unwilling to answer the question honestly, or is incapable of answering. For example, infants would not be able to explain why they are crying. In such circumstances, the psychologist must be creative in finding ways to better understand behavior. This chapter explores how scientific knowledge is generated, and how

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important that knowledge is in forming decisions in our personal lives and in the public domain

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