Research Methods in Psychology 2320: Chapter 1: Science and Psychology
Terms in this set (41)
The Three-Door Problem
The three-door problem is loosely based on a popular American TV game show from the 1960s and 1970s called "Lets make a deal". Using the
results in 2/3 probability of winning. The
produces only a 1/3 chance of winning. This problem is completely one of logical and probabilities to show why Sarah is much better off switching. Her odds of winning are twice as great if she switches doors.
Charles Pierce's 4 Methods by which people come to hold belief:
Philosopher and scientist Charles Pierce, in his article titled "The Fixation of Belief", described four methods by which people come to hold beliefs about their world:
tenacity, authority, reason, and science
involves believing something simply because it is what we have long believed;
Knowing by force of habit
. There is no exploration of one's beliefs, no reasoned contemplation of opposing viewpoints. Pierce argued that tenacity involves closing oneself off to information that is inconsistent with, or otherwise threatens, a firmly held belief. Although he clearly viewed tenacity as an unsatisfactory method upon which to base one's knowledge and beliefs, Pierce noted that it possessed "strength, simplicity, and directness". Of course, tenaciously held beliefs may be incorrect.
We can distinguish between the method upon which knowledge is based and the accuracy of that knowledge.
But tenacity, says Pierce, is like the proverbial ostrich putting its head on the ground and then, no longer seeing danger, assuming that everything is all right. Refusing to consider contrary evidence reduces the likelihood of forming accurate beliefs. Ultimately, it is a poor way to establish knowledge.
involves relying on other people as our source of knowledge and beliefs, and its pervasive throughout our life;
Knowledge gained from others
. In childhood we begin to rely on parents, other caregivers, siblings, teachers, members of the clergy, friends, TV, ect... for all sorts of knowledge. As a college student, you rely on authority when you acquire knowledge from professors and textbooks. We're more likely to rely on others for information when we perceive them as
, and, in general, we are most likely to view someone as credible when the following are true:
- We believe the person has expertise on the subject.
- We perceive the person as trustworthy.
Efficiency of Relying on Authority
Relying on authority can be highly efficient. Its how society passes down knowledge from one generation to the next, so that each new generation doesn't have to reinvent the wheel. Authority also has limitations and pitfalls. For one thing, experts may disagree. Second, even if they agree, its still possible that they are wrong. This is what made the controversy over the three-door problem so fascinating.
Authority and Contradictions to our Personal Beliefs
Authority's other pitfalls occur when we attribute expertise to sources that don't merit it or dismiss expert sources as being untrustworthy solely because their message contradicts our personal beliefs. Moreover, in this modern age when you can access the Internet, type in few search terms, and instantly be linked to tons of information, there are additional dangers in uncritically relying on authority. First, people who are not experts can pass themselves off as ones and post inaccurate information or quack advise that readers accept as valid fact. Second, we can be swayed by quackery and nonsense even if a source claims no special expertise. For some people, just seeing information on the web or on TV may lead to assumptions that the information is accurate.
Minimizing the Dangers of Inaccuracy with Authority
Given that we all rely on authority at times, how do we minimize these dangers? One key is to evaluate the source carefully, to try to assess the persons credentials. Another key is to critically think about the information itself. What evidence is provided to support the claim? Are there other explanations that could account for the evidence?
Reason: Relying on Logical and Rationality
. In everyday life the word reason has many meanings. As Pierce employed it,
reason rests on the use of logical and rational (i.e., intellectually sound) arguments to reach a conclusion about how things "must be".
He focused on reason in the sense that many philosophers would try to resolve questions about the nature of reality through systems of logical argument. For example, his contemporaries would use reason to consider the question of whether the mind is an entity separate from the body.
Reason: The Molyneux Problem
The Molyneux problem provides another historical example of reliance on a pure reason. Irish scientist William Molyneux posed this problem to the famous English Philosopher John Locke over 3 centuries ago. Suppose that a man, blind from birth, can use is sense of touch to distinguish between a cube and a sphere of the same size. If the man suddenly regains his eyesight and is shown the cube and the sphere, would he be able to tell by sight alone which object is which? At the time, in the absence of any known cases in which an adult regained vision after being born blind, the philosophical debate based on reason began and yielded opposing viewpoints.
Logic and rational argument are integral to science, in the form of
reasoning, the process of forming judgements (i.e., inferences, conclusions) based on facts or premises
. Scientists use reasoning when they construct theories to account for known facts and when they derive hypotheses from theories in order to test those theories. But scientific knowledge is not based on the method of reason.
Limitations in the Method of Reason
The primary limitation in the method of reason is that different logical conclusions can be drawn depending on the premises one begins with. Although opposite conclusions are reached, both conclusions are logically valid, given the starting assumption that their respective premises are true. But in reality, of course, both conclusions can't be true.
Pure Reason and Understanding Behaviour
Pure reason is a poor basis for understanding behaviour: It cannot establish the age at which children understand object permanence, nor the variability in their age of understanding. Nor can reason alone establish the function of different brain structures, or countless other answers about how we think, feel, and behave.
A great deal of what we know comes directly from our senses: what we see, feel, hear, touch, and so forth.
Empirical knowledge is knowledge based on the senses and on experiences with the world
Empiricism is the process of acquiring knowledge directly through observation and experience. Empiricism also has another common meaning: It is the philosophical viewpoint that all knowledge is derived from experience.
Empiricism and Science
As a method of acquiring knowledge, empiricism is a central building block of science. But especially in its raw personal form, as you and I learn about the world and form beliefs based on our direct experiences, empiricism has limitations and risks.
Empiricism Limitations and Risks #1
First, no matter how full and varied our lives are, none of us experience everything. It's not likely that in my lifetime I will experience prolonged weightlessness from months spent in outer space or implement an educational anti-bullying program in an elementary school. Yet, I can acquire knowledge about the bodily and psychological effects of prolonged weightlessness, and about the effectiveness of an anti-bullying program, by relying on authority in the form of accounts provided by credible experts (astronauts, researchers) who have had those experiences.
Empiricism Limitations and Risks #2
Second, our experiences may not be representative of other peoples experiences or, more broadly, of the general state of affairs of the world. Based on differing interpretations with a job supervisor, you and another employee may believe that she is a mean-spirited, poor leader, while the other 10 employees in your department may believe she is a kind, helpful, effective leader. Perhaps the supervisor has something against both of you or favours the other workers. No matter; if you assume that all your fellow employees feel the way you do, you'll be sorely mistaken. Their knowledge is different because they've had different experiences.
Empiricism Limitations and Risks #3
Third, even if our experiences are representative, we may interpret or remember them in a biased manner. Your supervisor may act fairly and consistently to all employees, but you and your colleague may be hypersensitive to criticism. Therefore, you may interpret as criticism remarks made by the supervisor that most employees may interpret at constructive feedback. Moreover, in the months since you have arrived, perhaps there were times when your supervisor was genuinely helpful. But now, in thinking about the past month, you only make the effort to recall the instances of perceived criticism. Or you only talk with the supervisor with one of your colleagues who shares your opinion.
Psychologists use the term
) to refer to our tendency to selectively seek information that supports our views and avoid disconfirming information.
Empirical Approach to the Three-Door Problem
In the three-door game, an empirical approach would be to play the game, or observe others playing it, and see what happens. So you observe Sarah playing: She stays with her original choice, and she wins the car. You observe three more contestants: One stays but doesn't win, another switches and wins, and the last switches and loses. Though empirically based, this conclusion (50-50 chance of wining) is flawed because it is based on only four observations, too few t establish a reliable pattern of results.
Look in a good dictionary and you will see science defined as a field of study, a body of knowledge, and a process of acquiring knowledge. In this present discussion we are interested in the process of science. Broadly speaking,
Science is a process of systematically gathering and evaluating empirical evidence to answer questions and to test ideas
. The phrase "systemically gathering and evaluating empirical evidence" or
for short, reveals three important aspects of science.
The First Important Aspect of Science
First, science relies on empirical evidence. Reason alone doesn't constitute sufficient evidence, nor do claims made by authorities without good empirical evidence to back up those assertions.
The Second Important Aspect of Science
Second, empirical evidence isn't gathered and interpreted haphazardly. Although informal observations often play a key role in triggering scientists curiosity and lead to important questions and ideas, the evidence to answer those questions or test those ideas is gathered according to some system or plan.
The Third Important Aspect of Science
Third, collecting evidence without evaluating it and drawing conclusions won't get us far; we need to use
. Reasoning plays a key role in science, both in evaluating evidence and in forming questions and ideas.
Systemic Empiricism and The Three-Door Problem
Our grand finale to the three-door problem nicely illustrates the value of systemic empiricism. Vos Savant (2006) reported that after publishing her initial answer to the three-door problem, she received thousands of letters from the general public. Of these 92% stated that her evidence to switch doors was wrong. Among letters from people at universities and colleges, 65% stated that she was wrong. Clearly most people thought that on this issue, she was nuts. After a 1991 article in which Vos Savant provided readers with a more detailed explanation of the logic behind her answer, there were still many doubters: 44% of the letters from the general public and 29% from people at academic institutions still contended she was wrong. After performing an experiment with 200 participants in person or on computer simulations, she reported that among the letters she received from people who conducted the simulation "by hand," virtually 100% now believed that she was correct and that switching increased the odds of winning. Among people who simulated the game on a computer, 97% of them now believed she was correct.
Concept Check #1: Trevor wants to buy a new smartphone, so he reads phone reviews by experts on cnet.com and end gadget.com. What best illustrates his reliance?
Concept Check #2: Four-year-old Shonda has a watercolour paint kit. She's curious about what colour she will get if she mixes red and green paint, so she does it a few time to find out. What does her reliance illustrate?
Systemic Empiricism: Because Shonda intentionally manipulates (i.e., mixes) the colours and repeats her "paint-mixing test" several times, systemic empiricism would be a better answer than empiricism.
Concept Check #3: Claire takes her first multiple-choice test in junior high. When she gets it back, she pays attentions only to the items she got wrong. She notices 3 questions for which she had initially chosen the correct answer but, after reconsidering, switched to a wrong answer. She fails to notice even more items for which she initially picked the wrong answer but switched to the correct answer. She concludes that "on multiple-choice tests, you should always stick with your first instinct". What does her reliance illustrate?
Empiricism: Claire's judgement is based on personal experience, but she did not systemically evaluate the result of all her changed answers.
Concept Check #4: In college, Claire learns that research consistently suggests the advice to "always stick with your first instinct on multiple-choice exams" is wrong. On average, when switching answers, students are more likely to change a wrong answer to a correct answer and vice versa. Claire rejects this and sticks with her "first-instinct" belief. What does her reliance illustrate?
Goals of Science
Scientists seek to describe, explain, predict, and control events. Of these goals,
description, explanation, and control
are often considered to be the three fundamental objectives of science, with
prediction serving the goal of explanation
. But prediction also has an applied purpose and is frequently viewed as an independent goal.
The event that psychologists study are often analyzed in terms of variables. A
variable is any factor or attribute that can assume two or more values
. In essence, variables are characteristics that can differ or change. People differ from one another in height, weight, cognitive abilities, and numerous other ways. Many characteristics, such as daily temperature and a persons hormone levels, change over time. Thus, variables are factors that differ across people or situations, change within a person or situation, or do both. In psychology, research typically involves describing variables and associations between variables, explaining what causes something to vary, and predicting and controlling variables.
One of scientists most fundamental tasks is to describe phenomena. This goal is sometimes stated as "describing or uncovering the laws of nature," but description assumes many forms. For most psychologists, description involves identifying how people behave, feel, and think in various settings. Other psychologists describe the behaviour of nonhuman species. Description often involves developing coding systems that identify different types of behaviour that could occur in a given situation. For example, psychologists use coding systems to record types of mental disorders, facial expressions, and parenting behaviours. Psychologists often describe many aspects of behaviour within a single study. The researchers could also describe whether relations exist among variables to answer questions.
Scientists see not only to describe phenomena but also to understand why those phenomena occur. Once we know how people behave, the question arises: "Why do they behave that way?"/ "What causes people to respond as they do?"
Scientists initial explanations often take the form of a
hypothesis, which is a tentative proposition about the causes or outcome of an event or, more generally, about how variables are related
. Hypotheses are tentative statements about how the world operates and they are subject to empirical testing. Scientific hypotheses are more than mere hunches. Scientists form hypotheses by reasoning about events, taking into account relevant existing scientific knowledge and other background information.
Ultimately, as empirical evidence on a particular phenomena accumulates, scientists build theories. A
theory is a set of formal statements that specifies how and why variables or events are related
. Theories are broader than hypotheses. For example, a theory can be used to derive many new, more specific hypotheses. But theories themselves differ in scope. Some theories cast a wide net. Sigmund Freud's psychoanalytic theory sought to explain the structure, development, and workings of human personality. In contrast, many theories have a relatively narrow scope: One theory may explain how we perceive and another how we perceive sound.
Reason #1 of Complexity in Explaining Behaviour
Explaining behaviour is a complex task for several reasons. First, psychologists view causes of behaviour from different perspectives. Biopsychological explanations focus on the role of genes, hormones, and brain functioning. Environmental explanations focus on the causal effects of physical stimuli and social experiences. From what is broadly called a "psychological" perspective, explanations focus on the role of factors such conscious and unconscious motivational and cognitive processes.
Reason #2 of Complexity in Explaining Behaviour
Second, even within a perspective, multiple causes may affect behaviour simultaneously. Research can capture some of this complexity and examine the joint influence of several variables, but even so, an individual study can isolate only a few of many potential causes.
Reason #3 of Complexity in Explaining Behaviour
A third complexity involves the distinction between distal and proximal causes. If we view causality as a chain of unrelated events, then
distal causes are the remote causes
Proximate) causes are the immediate causes
. In sum, in trying to explain behaviour, scientists must take multiple distal and proximal causes into account.
Example: The biological causal chain proposed to help explain the development of schizophrenia
Genetic inheritance, genetic mutations, and prenatal insults represent the most distal causes in the chain. They create a biological vulnerability to schizophrenia that is present at birth but typically is not activated until after puberty begins.
Next, maturational changes in hormonal activity during puberty represent an immediate causal position. For biologically vulnerable people, there is an increased risk that these hormonal changes will eventually help trigger neuropathological processes because it can worsen the extent of abnormal brain functioning.
Reason #4 of Complexity in Explaining Behaviour: Causal Inference
A fourth complexity in explaining behaviour is the fact that the conditions needed to make a
causal inference, to conclude that variable X had a causal effect on variable Y
, are more stringent than merely demonstrating that X and Y are associated with one another. In practice, researchers infer that X has caused an effect on Y when three conditions are met:
: As X changes, Y changes.
: The change in X occurs before the change in Y.
The absence of plausible alternative explanations
: The presence of other factors that might plausibly have caused a result (in this case, the change in Y) must be ruled out.
- It is this third criterion that often proves the most challenging in research. In everyday life, failure to consider plausible alternative explanations will be a frequent theme.
Prediction plays two major roles in scientific research: hypothesis and theory testing, and applied prediction. First, prediction is the strongest means by which scientists determine whether their explanations for an event are correct. If we truly understand why an event occurs, what causes it, then we should be able to predict the circumstances under which that event will occur. For example, suppose we hypothesize that frustration is one factor that explains why people act aggressively. This hypothesis can be phrased in the form of an
people become frustrated,
they will be more likely to act aggressively. Next, we can use this if-then statement to generate a specific prediction about an expected outcome in a research study. Evidence gathered by conducting a study might support our prediction, which would tentatively strengthen our belief that our hypothesized explanation is correct. It is always possible that additional evidence from other studies will not support our hypothesis.
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