Langston, Research Methods, Notes 1 -- Introduction

I.  Goals.
A.  Describe the course.

II.  Describe the course.
A.  Go over the syllabus.
B.  What is this course about?  Answering questions about psychology.  I will present some examples, if you want to know how the baby smothering rebirthers case came out, click here (a cool drink of water, while it lasts).  We're not focusing on the answers themselves, but rather on the ways the answers are discovered.  The basic tool is the experiment.  This course will mirror the steps you would take to carry out an experiment.  They are:
1.  Ask a question.  You have to know what you're interested in and what sorts of things you want to know about the world.  This course will help you to ask manageable questions, but you're going to have to find your own interests.  What if you're stuck:
a.  Get out your intro notes.  List all of the things that you particularly liked.  Brainstorm additional terms/ideas that go with those topics.  Then, try some of them in PsycInfo (a computer database of research articles).  If some of the article topics interest you, explore them further.
b.  If you read anything (psych related) that you find interesting, ask yourself what more you would like to know.  For example, I read that left-handed people tend to die younger than right-handed people, possibly due to some brain abnormality.  If you happen to be left-handed, I'm sure you have lots of questions about how this study was carried out, and what exactly is happening in left-handed brains.
c.  Don't try to invent something exciting out of the air.  Almost all ideas are the product of careful thinking about related topics.  Beginning researchers probably won't know enough about the big picture to figure out what the big questions are.
2.  Make a hypothesis.  This is your best guess about the situation.  You can hypothesize about the phenomenon of interest (maybe left-handers have thinner veins and arteries, so they have more strokes).  Or, you can hypothesize about other people's methodology.  For example, maybe the authors of the study couldn't find elderly left-handers because in the past people were forced to be right-handed by their teachers.
This can be the most important step in the entire process.  A good hypothesis tells you exactly what to do and how to do it.  A bad hypothesis leaves you with a lousy experiment and an unanswered question.  We will spend a lot of time thinking about hypotheses.
3.  Collect observations.  Do the experiment.  There are a lot of ways to do this.  After we get the basics out of the way, we're going to go through each technique and see how it works.
4.  Analyze statistically.  Stop thinking of statistics as math, and start thinking of them as a bag of tricks.  Say “If I want to know this piece of information, what do I have in my bag of tricks that can help me find it?”  We'll rehearse your statistics as they become relevant.
5.  Conclude.  What does it all mean?  This is the hardest part.  If you've done the ground-work when you asked the question, you know what your results mean.  Unfortunately, experiments rarely come out as expected, but they can still have important implications.  Seeing those is the tricky part.
 


Research Methods Notes 1
Will Langston

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