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Psychology 242
Research in Psychology
Dr. David J. McKirnan

Week 5.
Basic Experimental Design

Lecture notes

This week we will begin basic experimental design.  We will address: 

Lecture notes are here.

What will be on the exam Wednesday?

Exam material is primarily from the lectures and the Self-Guided modules given on the home page. Use that material the same way you might use a textbook to study for the exam.  During each lecture I announce topics - some general and some very specific - that will show up on the exam.  Examples of exam items are posted here. 


Negative results

Suggested background reading: "Testing hypotheses" or "basic resarch design".

Focus Modules:
Forming a Research Question.
Concrete steps toward your own research topic & design.
Basic Research Design.

For lecture & Discussion Group:

Negative Results: It can be difficult to interpret negative research results. If there is no effect – e.g., cell-phone use does not correlate with a health measure – there are two possibilities: 1) the two variables are “really” unrelated, or 2) the research is flawed, and was unable to detect an effect that is really there.  Science has never really resolved this problem. Click the image to the right for a reading.


Is Pluto a planet?

How much is the way we categorize the natural world a matter or politics, convenience, or sentiment, versus externally valid, "hard" science? Many astronomers and planetary scientists - much less the Disney Corp. - have a sentimental attachment to Pluto as our distant planetary underdog. However, who actually decides whether something is a planet, and on what grounds?

Pluto is in the Kuiper Belt, a region of ice and rock past Neptune. As we have learned more about that region it is clear that if Pluto is a planet, then dozens of other icy / rocky objects in the Kuiper Belt may also be considered planets, using the criteria that they have enough gravity to be round, and orbit the sun. The planets wouldn't seem as special if there were 50 or 60 of them. Perhaps we could exclude all the other balls of rock and ice in the Kuiper zone, and just let in Pluto on sentimental grounds. Does it matter (other than to Pluto lovers)?

Click here and here for interesting discussions from The New York Times.

Discussion group Assignment

Discussion sections meet in the computer labs at ETMSW L278 (the building your groups are in).

Begin your paper: develop your topic and theory, learn how to do computer searches.

Tips: Look over Module 9, Forming a Research Question, and pay particular attention to 9.1., Developing a Study Topic.

Your TA will teach you how to conduct a computer search to flesh out your topic and write your paper. To facilitate that we will meet in computer labs. Your TA will give examples of searching for articles, then you will form dyads and work through your own paper ideas.

Look at the paper assignment to see what your term paper will consist of.  For this week you will decide on a research question, find a theory that addresses it, and develop a hypothesis. Your TA will discuss the paper week, and will help you search for relevant journal articles.  To get comfortable reading journal articles go to Guide to Psychology Articles.

Complete the first three steps of the Research Flow Worksheet.
This page is enough for your assignment, but we encourage you to type a larger discussion so your TA can give your more feedback.

1. Phenomenon: What is the larger question? What are you interested in explaining? Research flow

Think of a general behavioral question, in the form of one Hypothetical Construct relating to another, e.g., “…what creates vulnerability to drug use…” or "how does using computers affect learning...?" The question may be as topical as these, or may be more basic, such as "what brain structures are active during language learning...?" You may also think of a more applied question, such as "What is the most effective way to prevent drug use among youth...?"

2. Theory: How does it work? What causes what? Why or how does it happen?

Describe a psychological theory that helps you understand the “why” or “how” part of the question. So, you may theorize that "…people are tempted to use drugs when they see attractive other people using them…” This simple “how it works” statement points you toward published theories & studies(i.e., on peer pressure...) and, eventually, to a hypothesis.  Your Introductory text is a good place to find descriptions of general psychological theories.

Your theory is not simply a prediction of statement of how variables are related (that is your hypothesis).
Rather, this section explains how it works

3. Hypothesis:  What is your specific prediction?

Turn your general question and theory into a hypothesis: make a prediction about specific variables that can be operationally defined, and that reflect the hypothetical constructs underlying your theory.  Look in your Week 1 Module assigments for each of these terms:

We will return to these questions for your assignment in Week 8, where you will begin a first draft of your term paper.


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