Psychological Research Methods: Types and Tips

(Last Updated On: May 2, 2023)

Psychological research methods are the techniques used by scientists and researchers to study human behavior and mental processes. These methods are used to gather empirical evidence. The goal of these methods is to obtain objective and verifiable data collected through scientific experimentation and observation. 

The research methods that are used in psychology are crucial for understanding how and why people behave the way they do, as well as for developing and testing theories about human behavior.

One of the key goals of psychological research is to make sure that the data collected is reliable and valid. Reliability means that the data is consistent and can be replicated, while validity refers to the accuracy of the data collected. Researchers must take great care to ensure that their research methods are reliable and valid, as this is essential for drawing accurate conclusions and making valid claims about human behavior.

High school and college students who are interested in psychology can benefit greatly from learning about research methods. Understanding how psychologists study human behavior and mental processes can help students develop critical thinking skills and a deeper appreciation for the complexity of human behavior. Having an understanding of these research methods can prepare students for future coursework in psychology, as well as for potential careers in the field.

Quantitative vs. Qualitative Psychological Research Methods

Psychological research methods can be broadly divided into two main types: quantitative and qualitative. These two methods differ in their approach to data collection and analysis.

  • Quantitative research methods involve collecting numerical data through controlled experiments, surveys, and other objective measures. The goal of quantitative research is to identify patterns and relationships in the data that can be analyzed statistically. Researchers use statistical methods to test hypotheses, identify significant differences between groups, and make predictions about future behavior.
  • Qualitative research methods, on the other hand, involve collecting non-numerical data through open-ended interviews, observations, and other subjective measures. The goal of qualitative research is to understand the subjective experiences and perspectives of individuals and groups. Researchers use methods such as content analysis and thematic analysis to identify themes and patterns in the data and to develop rich descriptions of the phenomenon under study.

While quantitative and qualitative research methods differ in their approach to data collection and analysis, they are often used together to gain a more complete understanding of complex phenomena. For example, a researcher studying the impact of social media on mental health might use a quantitative survey to gather numerical data on social media use and a qualitative interview to gain insight into participants’ subjective experiences with social media.

Types of Psychological Research Methods

There are several types of research methods used in psychology, including experiments, surveys, case studies, and observational studies. Each method has its strengths and weaknesses, and researchers must choose the most appropriate method based on their research question and the data they hope to collect.

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Case Studies

A case study is a research method used in psychology to investigate an individual, group, or event in great detail. In a case study, the researcher gathers information from a variety of sources, including interviews, observation, and document analysis, to gain an in-depth understanding of the case being studied. Case studies are particularly useful when the phenomenon under investigation is rare or complex, and when it is difficult to replicate in a laboratory setting.

Surveys

Surveys are a commonly used research method in psychology that involve gathering data from a large number of people about their thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and attitudes. Surveys can be conducted in a variety of ways, including in-person interviews, online questionnaires, and paper-and-pencil surveys. Surveys are particularly useful when researchers want to study attitudes or behaviors that are difficult to observe directly or when they want to generalize their findings to a larger population.

Experimental Psychological Research Methods

Experimental studies are a research method commonly used in psychology to investigate cause-and-effect relationships between variables. In an experimental study, the researcher manipulates one or more variables to see how they affect another variable, while controlling for other factors that may influence the outcome. Experimental studies are considered the gold standard for establishing cause-and-effect relationships, as they allow researchers to control for potential confounding variables and to manipulate variables in a systematic way.

Correlational Psychological Research Methods

Correlational research is a research method used in psychology to investigate the relationship between two or more variables without manipulating them. The goal of correlational research is to determine the extent to which changes in one variable are associated with changes in another variable. In other words, correlational research aims to establish the direction and strength of the relationship between two or more variables.

Naturalistic Observation

Naturalistic observation is a research method used in psychology to study behavior in natural settings, without any interference or manipulation from the researcher. The goal of naturalistic observation is to gain insight into how people or animals behave in their natural environment, without the influence of laboratory conditions.

Meta-Analysis

A meta-analysis is a research method commonly used in psychology to combine and analyze the results of multiple studies on a particular topic. The goal of a meta-analysis is to provide a comprehensive and quantitative summary of the existing research on a topic, in order to identify patterns and relationships that may not be apparent in individual studies.

Tips for Using Psychological Research Methods

Here are some tips for high school and college students who are interested in using psychological research methods:

Understand the different types of research methods: 

Before conducting any research, it is important to understand the different types of research methods that are available, such as surveys, case studies, experiments, and naturalistic observation. Each method has its strengths and limitations, and selecting the appropriate method depends on the research question and variables being investigated.

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Develop a clear research question: 

A good research question is essential for guiding the research process. It should be specific, clear, and relevant to the field of psychology. It is also important to consider ethical considerations when developing a research question.

Use proper sampling techniques: 

Sampling is the process of selecting participants for a study. It is important to use proper sampling techniques to ensure that the sample is representative of the population being studied. Random sampling is considered the gold standard for sampling, but other techniques, such as convenience sampling, may also be used depending on the research question.

Use reliable and valid measures:

It is important to use reliable and valid measures to ensure that the data collected is accurate and meaningful. This may involve using established measures or developing new measures and testing their reliability and validity.

Consider ethical issues:

It is important to consider ethical considerations when conducting psychological research, such as obtaining informed consent from participants, maintaining confidentiality, and minimizing any potential harm to participants.

In many cases, you will need to submit your study proposal to your school’s institutional review board for approval.

Analyze and interpret the data appropriately

After collecting the data, it is important to analyze and interpret the data appropriately. This may involve using statistical techniques to identify patterns and relationships between variables, and using appropriate software tools for analysis.

Communicate findings clearly: 

Finally, it is important to communicate the findings clearly in a way that is understandable to others. This may involve writing a research report, giving a presentation, or publishing a paper in a scholarly journal. Clear communication is essential for advancing the field of psychology and informing future research.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the 5 methods of psychological research?

The five main methods of psychological research are:

  1. Experimental research: This method involves manipulating one or more independent variables to observe their effect on one or more dependent variables while controlling for other variables. The goal is to establish cause-and-effect relationships between variables.
  2. Correlational research: This method involves examining the relationship between two or more variables, without manipulating them. The goal is to determine whether there is a relationship between the variables and the strength and direction of that relationship.
  3. Survey research: This method involves gathering information from a sample of participants using questionnaires or interviews. The goal is to collect data on attitudes, opinions, behaviors, or other variables of interest.
  4. Case study research: This method involves an in-depth analysis of a single individual, group, or event. The goal is to gain insight into specific behaviors, attitudes, or phenomena.
  5. Naturalistic observation research: This method involves observing and recording behavior in natural settings without any manipulation or interference from the researcher. The goal is to gain insight into how people or animals behave in their natural environment.
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What is the most commonly used psychological research method?

The most common research method used in psychology varies depending on the research question and the variables being investigated. However, correlational research is one of the most frequently used methods in psychology. This is likely because correlational research is useful in studying a wide range of psychological phenomena, and it can be used to examine the relationships between variables that cannot be manipulated or controlled, such as age, gender, and personality traits. 

Experimental research is also a widely used method in psychology, particularly in the areas of cognitive psychology, social psychology, and developmental psychology. Other methods, such as survey research, case study research, and naturalistic observation, are also commonly used in psychology research, depending on the research question and the variables being studied.

How do you know which research method to use?

Deciding which type of research method to use depends on the research question, the variables being studied, and the practical considerations involved. Here are some general guidelines to help students decide which research method to use:

  • Identify the research question: The first step is to clearly define the research question. What are you trying to study? What is the hypothesis you want to test? Answering these questions will help you determine which research method is best suited for your study.
  • Choose your variables: Identify the independent and dependent variables involved in your research question. This will help you determine whether an experimental or correlational research method is most appropriate.
  • Consider your resources: Think about the time, resources, and ethical considerations involved in conducting the research. For example, if you are working on a tight budget, a survey or correlational research method may be more feasible than an experimental study.
  • Review existing literature: Conducting a literature review of previous studies on the topic can help you identify the most appropriate research method. This can also help you identify gaps in the literature that your study can fill.
  • Consult with a mentor or advisor: If you are still unsure which research method to use, consult with a mentor or advisor who has experience in conducting research in your area of interest. They can provide guidance and help you make an informed decision.

References:

Scholtz SE, de Klerk W, de Beer LT. The Use of Research Methods in Psychological Research: A Systematised Review. Front Res Metr Anal. 2020;5:1. Published 2020 Mar 20. doi:10.3389/frma.2020.00001

Palinkas LA. Qualitative and mixed methods in mental health services and implementation research. J Clin Child Adolesc Psychol. 2014;43(6):851-861. doi:10.1080/15374416.2014.910791

Crowe S, Cresswell K, Robertson A, Huby G, Avery A, Sheikh A. The case study approach. BMC Med Res Methodol. 2011;11(1):100. doi:10.1186/1471-2288-11-100