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The Science of
Reality TV and Reality: What Are People Really Like?
re you suspicious that reality TV is pretty, well, un realistic? Consider shows like The Bachelor , The Bachelorette , and
Keeping Up with the Kardashians. Viewers are treated to romances and (sometimes) lavish weddings. Those marriages,
however, last months at best. In 2011, for example, over 4 million people tuned in to Kim Kardashian’s wedding
(Ng,2011), a union that lasted all of 72 days. In fact, the average couple is engaged for 17 months before tying the
knot (Fairchild Bridal Group, 2005), and the average marriage lasts 7 years (OECD Family Database, 2010).
On shows like Real Housewives , interpersonal con ict is standard fare. One study found that on The Apprentice , acts of
interpersonal aggression (insults, arguments, an occasional punch) occurred nearly 85 times per hour (Coyne, Robinson,
& Nelson, 2010). That study also determined that just over half of all aggressive encounters on reality TV programs were
engineered by the producers. So, what’s the truth? According to research that tracks confl ict among friends using daily
diary reports, friends generally report less than one con ict interaction per week (Burk & others, 2009).
Reality TV viewing might be a guilty pleasure or voyeurism (Baruh, 2010), and many of us hesitate to admit that
we watch (Nabi & others, 2006). But a lot of us are tuning in, eager for a taste of others’ “real behavior.” We get an
opportunity to compare their lives to our own, to learn about how people interact, and to see what they do in
unlikely situations. To borrow Bravo ’s catchphrase, we “watch what happens” out of an undeniable curiosity: the need
to know what other people are like.
We have many other ways to feed this curiosity. Twitter claims more than 175 million users. Tracking someone
else’s life, even in 140-character bites, is just plain interesting to many of us. Through Facebook , blogs, and YouTube
clips, we get a chance to see and try to understand what is arguably the most fascinating aspect of our lives: our
interactions with others. Understanding people is also a key goal of the science of psychology.
Psychologists are scientists who are interested in “watching what happens,” but in very different ways from what
we see on reality TV. Psychologists bring a disciplined curiosity to explaining human behavior, relying on the methods
of science. Like a fan following a celebrity’s Twitter feed, psychologists are passionate about what they study—and
what they study is people of all kinds. There is not a single thing about people that is not fascinating to some
psychologist somewhere.
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2 // CHAPTER 1 // The Science of Psychology
This chapter begins by defi ning psychology and reviewing the history of the eld. Next
we survey seven broad approaches that characterize psychological science today. Then, in
sequence, we examine the elements of the scientifi c method, review the different kinds
of research psychologists do, and consider the importance of conducting psychological
research according to ethical guidelines. We conclude with a look at applications of
psychology to daily life—a central focus of this book.
Formally de ned, psychology is the scienti c study of behavior and mental processes.
Let’s consider the three key terms in this de nition: science, behavior , and mental
pro c esses .
A s a science , psychology uses systematic methods to observe human
behavior and draw conclusions. The goals of psychological science are to
describe, predict, and explain behavior. In addition, psychologists are often
interested in controlling or changing behavior, and they use scienti c methods
to examine interventions that might help, for example, reduce violence or promote
Researchers might be interested in knowing whether individuals will help a stranger
who has fallen down. The researchers could devise a study in which they observe people
walking past a person who needs help. Through many observations, the researchers could
come to d e scribe helping behavior by counting how many times it occurs in particular
circumstances. They might also try to predict who will help, and when, by examining
characteristics of the individuals studied. Are happy people more likely to help? Are women
or men more likely to help? After the psychologists have analyzed their data, they also will
want to explain w h y h e l p i n g b e h a v i o r o c c u r r e d w h e n i t d i d . F i n a l l y , t h e y m i g h t b e i n t e r -
ested in changing helping behavior, such as by devising strategies to increase helping.
Behavior is everything we do that can be directly observed—two people kissing, a
baby crying, a college student riding a motorcycle to campus. Mental processes are the
thoughts, feelings, and motives that each of us experiences privately but that cannot be
observed directly. Although we cannot directly see thoughts and feelings, they are none-
theless real. They include thinking about kissing someone, a baby’s feelings when its
mother leaves the room, and a student’s memory of a motorcycle trip.
The scientifi c
study of behavior
and mental
The use of
systematic meth-
ods to observe
the natural world,
including human
behavior, and to
draw conclusions.
Everything we do that can
be directly observed.
mental processes
The thoughts,
feelings, and mo-
tives that people
experience pri-
vately but that
cannot be ob-
served directly.
Defi ning Psychology and
Exploring Its Roots
Wh a t i s y o u r d e f i n i t i o n
of psychol ogy? When you t hi nk of
the word
first comes to mind?
Behavior includes the
observable act of two
people kissing; mental
processes include their
unobservable thoughts
about kissing.
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Defining Psychology and Exploring Its Roots // 3
The Psychological Frame of Mind
What makes for a good job, a good marriage, or a good life? Psychologists approach these
big life questions as scientists. Psychology is a rigorous discipline that tests assumptions,
bringing scienti c data to bear on the questions of central interest to human beings
(Gravetter & Forzano, 2012; Stanovich, 2010). Psychologists conduct research and rely on
that research to provide evidence for their conclusions. They examine the available evidence
about some aspect of mind and behavior, evaluate how strongly the data (information)
support their hunches, analyze discon rming evidence, and carefully consider whether they
have explored all possible factors and explanations (Leary, 2012). At the core of this sci-
enti c approach are four attitudes : critical thinking, curiosity, skepticism, a n d objectiv i ty.
L i k e a l l s c i e n t i s t s , p s y c h o l o g i s t s a r e critical thinkers. Critical thinking is the process of
thinking deeply and actively, asking questions, and evaluating the evidence (Bonney &
Sternberg, 2011). Critical thinkers question and test what some people say are facts. They
examine research to see how soundly it supports an idea (Jackson, 2012). Critical thinking
reduces the likelihood that conclusions will be based on unreliable personal beliefs, opinions,
and emotions. Critical thinking also comes into play when scientists consider the conclusions
they draw from research. As critical thinkers who are open to new information, scientists
must tolerate uncertainty, knowing that even long-held views are subject to revision.
Critical thinking is very important as you are reading this book. Some of what you
read might t with your existing beliefs, and some might challenge you to reconsider
your assumptions. Actively engaging in critical thinking is vital to making the most of
psychology. As you study the eld, think about how what you are learning relates to
your life experiences and your assumptions about people.
S c i e n t i s t s a r e a l s o curious . The scientist notices things in the world (a star in the sky,
an insect, a happy person) and wants to know what it is and why it is that way. Science
involves asking questions, even very big questions such as where did the earth come from,
and how does love between two people endure for 50 years? Thinking like a psychologist
means opening your mind and imagination to wondering why things are the way they are.
I n a d d i t i o n , s c i e n t i s t s a r e skeptical (Stanovich, 2010). Skeptical people challenge whether
a supposed fact is really true. Being skeptical can mean questioning what “everybody
knows.There was a time when “everybody knew” that women were morally inferior to
men, that race could in uence a persons IQ, and that the earth was at. Psychologists,
like all scientists, look at assumptions in new and questioning ways. Psychology is differ-
ent from common sense because psychologists are skeptical of commonsensical answers.
Psychological research often turns up the unexpected in human behavior. Such results
are called counterintuitive because they contradict our intuitive impressions of how the
world works. Consider the following study, which demonstrates how a little dose of nega-
tive information can actually make consumers feel more positive about a product (Ein-Gar,
Shiv, & Tormala, 2012). Students who were on their way to an exam were approached by
an experimenter offering to sell them chocolate bars. All of the participants were
told that the chocolate bars were a favorite among consumers, that they were
nicely chilled (the study was conducted on a hot day in California), and that
they were being offered at a special discount of only 50 cents. However, half
of the participants received one more piece of information: The chocolate
bars were just a little broken. The experimenter showed them an example
of a bar with minor breakage. Participants who were given this mild nega-
tive information ended up purchasing more chocolate bars than those who
heard only the positive information. Why?
The experimenters reasoned that when we have encountered positive
information about something, a little bit of negative information causes
us to stop and reconsider that positive information. We think about it more
and eventually come to evaluate a mildly “blemished” product as actually
really good. Note that these results were limited to students who were pre-
occupied by a test. Other students who were not thinking about a test bought
critical thinking
The process of thinking
deeply and actively, asking
questions, and evaluating
the evidence.
You mi ght be wonder i ng about
the names and dates in parentheses.
They ar e
research citations
that ident i f y t he aut hor s of
par t i cul a r s t udi e s a nd t he ye a r ea ch
st udy was publ i shed. I f you see an
es peci al l y i nt er est i ng s t udy, you
mi g h t l o o k i t u p i n t h e R e f e r e n c e s
at t he back of t hi s book and c
heck i t ou t onl i n e or i n your
school s l i br ar y.
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4 // CHAPTER 1 // The Science of Psychology
less chocolate when it was presented as broken. The researchers’ explanation is that when
we do not have time or energy to think things through, a minor blemish can enhance
evaluations of a product.
Last, practicing science also means being objective . Being objective involves trying
to see things as they really are, not just as the observer would like them to be. Scienti c
knowledge ultimately is based on objective evidence.
T o g a t h e r o b j e c t i v e e v i d e n c e , s c i e n t i s t s r e l y o n e m p i r i c a l m e t h o d s . A n empirical method
involves gaining knowledge through the observation of events, the collection of data, and
logical reasoning. For scientists, objectivity means waiting to see what the evidence tells
them rather than going with their hunches. Does the latest herbal dietary supplement really
help relieve depression? A scientist would say, “Thats an empirical question,meaning that
hard evidence is required to answer it. An objective thinker insists on sound evidence
before drawing conclusions. Like critical thinking, relying on evidence to provide
the foundation for conclusions means being open to uncertainty. Empirical
evidence provides the best answers to questions at any given moment.
Once you start to think like a psychologist, you might notice that the world
starts to look like a different place. Easy answers and simple assumptions will not
do. As you can probably imagine, psychologists, as a group, are people with many
different opinions about many different things. If a number of these critical thinkers
were to gather around a table, it is a safe bet that they would have a lively conversation.
I n d e e d , a s y o u w i l l s e e t h r o u g h o u t t h i s b o o k , t h e r e a r e m a n y t h i n g s a b o u t w h i c h p s y -
chologists disagree, and psychology (like any science) is lled with debate and controversy.
For example, one controversy in psychology concerns the emergence of so-called Generation
Me (Twenge, 2006). Jean Twenge and her colleagues (Twenge, 2006; Twenge & Campbell,
2010) argue that Americans born since the 1980s are different from previous generations in
that they are unusually self-con dent, self-assertive, and self-centered. Based on her research
examining scores on questionnaires concerning narcissism (a condition of intense, unhealthy
self-love) over many years, Twenge (2006) refers to these individuals as Generation Me.
She suggests that we are in the midst of an epidemic of narcissism. Other psychologists,
however, sharply challenge this claim. In doing so, they present data showing no changes
in narcissism over the last three decades (Trzesniewski & Donnellan, 2010).
So, debate and controversy are a natural part of thinking like a psychologist. Psychol-
ogy has advanced as a eld because psychologists do not always agree with one another
about why mind and behavior work the way they do. Psychologists have reached a more
accurate understanding of human behavior because psychology fosters controversies and
because psychologists think deeply and re ectively and examine the evidence on all
sides. A good place to try out your critical thinking skills is by revisiting
the de nition of psychology.
Psychology as the Science
of All Human Behavior
As you consider the general de nition of psychology as the science of
human behavior, you might be thinking, okay, where’s the couch?
Where’s the mental illness? Psychology certainly includes the study of
therapy and psychological disorders. Clinical psychologists in particular
are psychologists who specialize in studying and treating psychological
disorders. By de nition, though, psychology is a much more general
science (Shiraev, 2011), practiced in several environments in addition to
clinical settings (Figure 1.1). How did we end up with the idea that
psychology is only about mental illness? Surely, psychological disorders
are very interesting, and the media often portray psychologists as thera-
pists. Yet the view of psychology as the science of what is wrong with
people started long before TV was even invented.
empirical method
Gaining knowledge through
the observation of events,
the collection of data, and
logical reasoning.
Thi s i s why r esear cher s
of t e n say t hat a s t udy s uppor t s
a par t i cul ar pr edi ct i on, but r ar el y
if ever say t hat it proves
anyt hi ng.
Indust rial
Privat e p ract ice
Sch o o l s
FIGURE 1.1 Settings in Which
Psychologists Work More psychologists
work in academic settings (34 percent), such
as colleges and universities, than any other
setting. However, clinical (24 percent) and
private practice (22 percent) settings—both of
which are contexts in which many psychologists
in the mental health professions work—together
make up almost half of the total settings.
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Defining Psychology and Exploring Its Roots // 5
When they think of psychology, many people think of Sigmund Freud (1856–1939).
Freud believed that most of human behavior is caused by dark, unpleasant, uncon-
scious impulses pressing for expression. For Freud, even the average person
on the street is a mysterious well of unconscious desires. Certainly, Freud
has had a lasting impact on psychology and on society. Consider, though,
that Freud based his ideas about human nature on the patients that he
saw in his clinical practice—individuals who were struggling with psy-
chological problems. His experiences with these patients, as well as his
analysis of himself, colored his outlook on all of humanity. Freud once wrote,
“I have found little that is ‘good’ about human beings on the whole. In my experience
most of them are trash” (1918/1996).
Freud’s view of human nature has crept into general perceptions of what psychology
is all about. Imagine, for example, that you are seated on a plane, having a pleasant
conversation with the woman (a stranger) sitting next to you. At some point you ask your
seatmate what she does for a living, and she informs you she is a psychologist. You
might think to yourself, “Uh oh. What have I already told this person? What secrets does
she know about me that I don’t know about myself? Has she been analyzing me this
whole time?” Would you be surprised to discover that this psychologist studies happi-
ness? Or intelligence? Or the processes related to the experience of vision? The study
of psychological disorders is a very important aspect of psychology, but it represents
only one part of the science of psychology.
P s y c h o l o g y s e e k s t o u n d e r s t a n d t h e t r u t h s o f h u m a n l i f e i n all i t s d i m e n s i o n s , i n c l u d -
ing people’s best and worst experiences. Psychologists acknowledge the existence of long,
satisfying marital unions, as well as unmitigated disasters like Kim Kardashian’s short-lived
marriage. Research on the human capacity for forgiveness demonstrates this point (Balliet,
Li, & Joireman, 2011; McCullough, Kurzban, & Tabak, 2011; McCullough & others,
2010). Forgiveness is the act of letting go of anger and resentment toward someone who
has done something harmful to us. Through forgiveness we cease seeking revenge or
avoiding the person who did us harm, and we might even wish that person well.
In October 2006, after Charles Carl Roberts took 10 young Amish girls hostage in a
one-room schoolhouse in Pennsylvania, eventually killing 5 of them and wounding
5 others before killing himself, the grief-stricken Amish community focused not on
hatred and revenge but on forgiveness. As funds were being set up for the victims’
families, the Amish insisted on establishing one for the murderer’s family. They prepared
simple funerals for the dead girls, and the community invited the killer’s wife to attend.
The science of psychology has much to offer to our understanding not only of the violent
acts of the perpetrator but also of the forgiveness of the victims.
T h e w i l l i n g n e s s o f t h e s e A m i s h p e o p l e t o f o r g i v e t h i s h o r r i b l e
crime is both remarkable and puzzling. Can we scienti cally under-
stand the human ability to forgive even what might seem to be unfor-
givable? A number of psychologists have taken up the topic of
forgiveness in research and clinical practice (Jacinto & Edwards,
2011; Worthington & others, 2011). Michael McCullough and his
colleagues (McCullough & others, 2010) have shown that the capac-
ity to forgive is an unfolding process that often takes time. For the
Amish, their deep religious faith led them to embrace forgiveness,
while many others might have been motivated to seek revenge and
retribution. Researchers also have explored the relationship between
religious commitment and forgiveness (McCullough, Bono, & Root,
2007), the cognitive skills required for forgiveness (Pronk & others,
2010), and even the potential dark side of forgiveness, which might
emerge, for example, when forgiveness leads an abusive spouse to
feel free to continue a harmful behavior (McNulty, 2011).
Some psychologists argue that the eld has focused too much on
the negative aspects of humanity and neglected topics that re ect
the best of human life (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000; Snyder,
You have pr obabl y hear d
of a Fr eudi an s l i p. Fr eud s name
has become par t of our ever yday
The murder in 2006 of fi ve Amish schoolgirls
evoked feelings in the community not of hatred
and revenge but of forgiveness.
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6 // CHAPTER 1 // The Science of Psychology
Lopez, & Pedrotti, 2010). Others insist that human weaknesses are the most important
aspects of life to study (Lazarus, 2003). The fact is that to be a truly general science of
human behavior, psychology must address all sides of human experience. Surely, con-
troversy is a part of any science. Healthy debate characterizes the eld of psychology,
and a new psychological perspective sometimes arises when one scientist questions the
views of another. Such ongoing debate is a sign of a lively discipline. Indeed, the very
birth of the eld was marked by debate. Great minds do not always think alike, especially
when they are thinking about psychology.
Psychology in Historical Perspective
Psychology seeks to answer questions that people have been asking for thousands of
years—for example:
How do we learn?
What is memory?
Why does one person grow and ourish while another struggles?
T h e n o t i o n t h a t s u c h q u e s t i o n s m i g h t b e a n s w e r e d t h r o u g h s c i e n t i c inquiry is rela-
tively new. From the time human language included the word why and became rich
enough to let people talk about the past, we have been creating myths to explain why
things are the way they are. Ancient myths attributed most important events to the
pleasure or displeasure of the gods: When a volcano erupted, the gods were angry; if
two people fell in love, they had been struck by Cupid’s arrows. Gradually, myths gave
way to philosophy t h e r a t i o n a l i n v e s t i g a t i o n o f t h e u n d e r l y i n g p r i n c i p l e s o f b e i n g a n d
knowledge. People attempted to explain events in terms of natural rather than super-
natural causes.
W e s t e r n p h i l o s o p h y c a m e o f a g e i n a n c i e n t G r e e c e i n t h e f o u r t h a n d fth centuries
b . c . e . S o c r a t e s , P l a t o , A r i s t o t l e , a n d o t h e r s d e b a t e d t h e n a t u r e o f t h o u g h t a n d b e h a v i o r ,
including the possible link between the mind and the body. Later philosophers, especially
René Descartes, argued that the mind and body were completely separate, and they
focused their attention on the mind. Psychology grew out of this tradition of thinking
about the mind and body. The in uence of philosophy on contemporary psychology per-
sists today, as researchers who study emotion still talk about Descartes, and scientists who
study happiness often refer to Aristotle (McMahan & Estes, 2011).
In addition to philosophy, psychology also has roots in the natural sciences
of biology and physiology (Schultz & Schultz, 2012). Indeed, it was Wilhelm
Wundt (18321920), a German philosopher-physician, who put the pieces of
the philosophy–natural science puzzle together to create the academic disci-
pline of psychology. Some historians like to say that modern psychology was
born in December 1879 at the University of Leipzig, when Wundt and his
students (most notably E. B. Titchener) performed an experiment to measure
the time lag between the instant a person heard a sound and when that per-
son pressed a telegraph key to signal that he had heard it.
What was so special about this experiment? Wundt’s study was about the
workings of the brain: He was trying to measure the time it took the human
brain and nervous system to translate information into action. At the heart of
this experiment was the idea that mental processes could be measured. This
focus ushered in the new science of psychology.
W u n d t a n d h i s c o l l a b o r a t o r s c o n c e n t r a t e d o n d i s c o v e r i n g t h e b a s i c e l e -
ments, or “structures,” of mental processes. Their approach was called struc-
turalism b e c a u s e o f i t s f o c u s o n i d e n t i f y i n g t h e s t r u c t u r e s o f t h e h u m a n
mind. The method they used in the study of mental structures was introspec-
tion (literally, “looking inside”). For this type of research, a person was
placed in a laboratory setting and was asked to think (to introspect) about
what was going on mentally as various events took place. For example, the
Wundt’s approach
to discovering the
basic elements,
or structures, of
mental processes.
Wilhelm Wundt (1832–1920)
Wundt founded the fi rst psychology
laboratory (with his two co-workers) in
1879 at the University of Leipzig in
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Defining Psychology and Exploring Its Roots // 7
individual might be subjected to a sharp, repetitive clicking sound and then
might be asked to report whatever conscious feelings the clicking produced.
What made this method scienti c was the systematic, detailed self-reports
required of the person in the controlled laboratory setting.
Although Wundt is most often regarded as the founding father of
modern psychology, it was psychologist and philosopher William James
(1842–1910), perhaps more than anyone else, who gave the eld an
American stamp. From James’s perspective, the key question for
psychology is not so much what the mind is (that is, its structures) as
what it is for (its purpose or function). James’s view was eventually
named functionalism .
In contrast to structuralism, which emphasized the components of the
mind, functionalism p r o b e d t h e f u n c t i o n s a n d p u r p o s e s o f t h e m i n d a n d b e h a v -
ior in the individual’s adaptation to the environment. Whereas structuralists were look-
ing inside the mind and searching for its structures, functionalists focused on what was
going on in human interactions with the outside world and trying to understand the
purpose of thoughts. If structuralism is about the “whatof the mind, functionalism is
about the “why.
A c e n t r a l q u e s t i o n i n f u n c t i o n a l i s m i s , w h y i s h u m a n t h o u g h t adaptive ? W h e n w e t a l k
about whether a characteristic is adaptive, we are concerned with how it makes an organ-
ism better able to survive. So, the functionalist asks, why are people better off because
they can think than they would be otherwise? Unlike Wundt, James did not believe in the
existence of rigid structures of the mind. Instead, James saw the mind as exible and
uid, characterized by constant change in response to a continuous ow of information
from the world. Not surprisingly, James called the natural ow of thought a “stream of
Functionalism t well with the theory of evolution through natural selection proposed
by British naturalist Charles Darwin (1809–1882). In 1859, Darwin published his ideas
in On the Origin of Species . He proposed the principle of natural selection , an evolu-
tionary process in which organisms that are best adapted to their environment will survive
and, importantly, produce offspring. Darwin noted that members of any species are often
locked in competition for scarce resources such as food and shelter. Natural selection is
the process by which the environment determines who wins that competition. Darwin
asserted that organisms with biological features that led to survival and reproduction
would be better represented in subsequent generations. Over many generations, organ-
isms with these characteristics would constitute a larger percentage of the population.
Eventually this process could change an entire species. If environmental conditions
changed, however, other characteristics might become favored by natural selection,
moving the process in a different direction.
If you are unfamiliar with Darwin’s theory of evolution, it might be help-
ful to consider the simple question, why do giraffes have long necks? An
early explanation might have been that giraffes live in places where the trees
are very tall, and so the creatures must stretch their necks to get their food—
leaves. Lots of stretching might lead to adult giraffes that have longer necks.
This explanation does not tell us, though, why giraffes are born with long
necks. A characteristic cannot be passed from one generation to the next
unless it is recorded in the genes, t h o s e c o l l e c t i o n s o f m o l e c u l e s t h a t a r e
responsible for heredity.
According to evolutionary theory, species change through random genetic
mutation. That means that essentially by accident, some members of a species
are born with genetic characteristics that make them different from other
members (for instance, some lucky giraffes being born with unusually long
necks). If these changes are adaptive (for example, if they help those giraffes
compete for food, survive, and reproduce), they become more common in
members of the species. So, presumably long, long ago, some giraffes were
genetically predisposed to have longer necks, and some giraffes were genet-
ically predisposed to have shorter necks. Only those with the long necks
James’s approach
to mental pro-
cesses, emphasiz-
ing the functions
and purposes
of the mind and
behavior in the
adaptation to
the environment.
natural selection
Darwin’s principle
of an evolutionary
process in which
organisms that
are best adapted
to their environ-
ment will survive
and produce
Introspection has
it s limit s. Many behaviors are
har d t o expl ai n usi n g i nt r ospec t i on.
Thi nk abou t t al ki ng, f or exampl e. You
somehow know wher e you ar e headi ng
even as t he wor ds ar e t umbl i ng out
of your mout h, but you cannot
say wher e t hose wor ds ar e
comi ng f r om.
William James (1842–1910)
James’s approach became known as
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8 // CHAPTER 1 // The Science of Psychology
survived to reproduce, giving us the giraffes we see today. The survival of the
giraffes with long necks is a product of natural selection. Evolutionary theory
implies that the way we are, at least partially, is the way that is best suited to
survival in our environment (Buss, 2012).
D a r w i n s t h e o r y c o n t i n u e s t o i n uence psychologists today because it is
strongly supported by observation. We can make such observations every day. Right
now, for example, in your kitchen sink, various bacteria are locked in competition
for scarce resources in the form of those tempting food particles from your last meal.
When you use an antibacterial cleaner, you are playing a role in natural selection, because
you are effectively killing off the bacteria that cannot survive the cleaning agents. However,
you are also letting the bacteria that are genetically adapted to survive that cleaner to take
over the sink. The same principle applies to taking an antibiotic medication at the rst sign
of a sore throat or an earache. By killing off the bacteria that may be causing the illness, you
are creating an environment where their competitors (so-called antibiotic-resistant bacteria)
may ourish. These observations powerfully demonstrate Darwinian selection in action.
If structuralism won the battle to be the birthplace of psychology, functionalism
won the war. To this day, psychologists continue to talk about the adaptive nature of
human characteristics. Indeed, from these beginnings, psychologists have branched out
to study more aspects of human behavior than Wundt or James might have imagined.
We now examine various contemporary approaches to the science of psychology.
It turns out that
gi r af f es don t eat f ood f r om t al l
trees. They use their long necks
to fight!
1. The one correct statement among the
following is
A. there are many controversies in the
eld of psychology.
B. psychologists on the whole agree
among themselves on most aspects
of the fi eld.
C. psychologists do not engage in
critical thinking.
D. there are few controversies in the
eld of psychology.
2. Of the following, the characteristic that
is not at the heart of the scientific
approach is
A. skepticism.
B. critical thinking.
C. prejudging.
D. curiosity.
3. Charles Darwin’s work is relevant to psy-
chology because
A. Darwin’s research demonstrated that
there are few differences between
humans and animals.
B. Darwin’s principle of natural selec-
tion suggests that human behavior is
partially a result of efforts to survive.
C. Darwin stated that humans de-
scended from apes, a principle that
allows psychologists to understand
human behavior.
D. Darwin created functionalism.
A P P L Y I T ! 4. Two psychologists, Clayton
and Sam, are interested in studying emo-
tional expressions. Clayton wants to deter-
mine whether emotional expression is
healthy and if it has an influence on well-
being. Sam is interested in describing the
types of emotions people express and build-
ing a catalog of all the emotions and
emotional expressions that exist. In this
example, Clayton is most like _________
and Sam is most like _________.
A. Wilhelm Wundt; William James
B. William James; Wilhelm Wundt
C. Wilhelm Wundt; Sigmund Freud
D. Sigmund Freud; Wilhelm Wundt
In this section we survey seven different approaches—biological, behavioral, psychody-
namic, humanistic, cognitive, evolutionary, and sociocultural—that represent the intel-
lectual backdrop of psychological science.
The Biological Approach
S o m e p s y c h o l o g i s t s e x a m i n e b e h a v i o r a n d m e n t a l p r o c e s s e s t h r o u g h t h e biological approach ,
which is a focus on the body, especially the brain and nervous system. For example, research-
ers might investigate the way your heart races when you are afraid or how your hands sweat
when you tell a lie. Although a number of physiological systems may be involved in thoughts
biological approach
An approach to psychology
focusing on the body, espe-
cially the brain and nervous
Contemporary Approaches
to Psychology
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Contemporary Approaches to Psychology // 9
Richard J. Davidson of the University of Wisconsin, Madison,
shown with the Dalai Lama, is a leading researcher in behavioral
and feelings, perhaps the largest contribution to physi-
ological psychology has come through the emergence
of neuroscience (Bavelier & others, 2012; Koch, 2011).
Neuroscience is the scienti c study of the struc-
ture, function, development, genetics, and biochem-
istry of the nervous system. Neuroscience emphasizes
that the brain and nervous system are central to
understanding behavior, thought, and emotion.
Neuroscientists believe that thoughts and emotions
have a physical basis in the brain. Electrical impulses
zoom throughout the brain’s cells, releasing chemi-
cal substances that enable us to think, feel, and
behave. Our remarkable human capabilities would
not be possible without the brain and nervous sys-
tem, which constitute the most complex, intricate,
and elegant system imaginable. Although biological
approaches might sometimes seem to reduce com-
plex human experience to simple physical structures,
developments in neuroscience have allowed psychol-
ogists to understand the brain as an amazingly
c o m p l e x o r g a n , p e r h a p s j u s t a s c o m p l e x a s t h e p s y -
chological processes linked to its functioning.
The Behavioral Approach
T h e behavioral approach e m p h a s i z e s t h e s c i e n t i c study of observable behavioral
responses and their environmental determinants. It focuses on an organism’s visible inter-
actions with the environment—that is, behaviors, not thoughts or feelings. The principles
of the behavioral approach have been widely applied to help people change their behav-
ior for the better (Miltenberger, 2012). The psychologists who adopt this approach are
called behaviorists . Under the intellectual leadership of John B. Watson (1878–1958) and
B. F. Skinner (1904–1990), behaviorism dominated psychological research during the
rst half of the twentieth century.
S k i n n e r ( 1 9 3 8 ) e m p h a s i z e d t h a t p s y c h o l o g y s h o u l d b e a b o u t w h a t p e o p l e d o t h e i r
actions and behaviors—and should not concern itself with things that cannot be seen, such
as thoughts, feelings, and goals. He believed that rewards and punishments determine our
behavior. For example, a child might behave in a well-mannered fashion because her
parents have rewarded this behavior. We do the things we do, say behaviorists, because
of the environmental conditions we have experienced and continue to experience.
Contemporary behaviorists still emphasize the importance of observing behavior to
understand an individual, and they use rigorous methods advocated by Watson and
Skinner (Rehfeldt, 2011). They also continue to stress the importance of environmental
determinants of behavior (Martin & Pear, 2011). However, not every behaviorist today
accepts the earlier behaviorists’ rejection of thought processes, which are often called
cogn i tion (Bandura, 2011).
The Psychodynamic Approach
The psychodynamic approach emphasizes unconscious thought, the con ict between
biological drives (such as the drive for sex) and society’s demands, and early childhood
family experiences. Practitioners of this approach believe that sexual and aggressive
impulses buried deep within the unconscious mind in uence the way people think, feel,
and behave.
The scientifi c
study of the
structure, func-
tion, develop-
ment, genetics,
and biochemistry
of the nervous
system, empha-
sizing that the
brain and ner-
vous system
are central to
thought, and
behavioral approach
An approach to psychology
emphasizing the scientifi c
study of observable
behavioral responses
and their environmental
psychodynamic approach
An approach to psychology
emphasizing unconscious
thought, the confl ict be-
tween biological drives
(such as the drive for sex)
and society’s demands,
and early childhood family
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10 // CHAPTER 1 // The Science of Psychology
S i g m u n d F r e u d , t h e f o u n d i n g f a t h e r o f t h e p s y c h o d y n a m i c a p p r o a c h , t h e o -
rized that early relationships with parents shape an individual’s personality.
Freud’s theory (1917) was the basis for the therapeutic technique that he called
psychoanalysis, which involves an analyst’s unlocking a persons unconscious
con icts by talking with the individual about his or her childhood memories,
dreams, thoughts, and feelings. Certainly, Freud’s views have been controver-
sial, but they remain a part of contemporary psychology. Today’s psychody-
namic theories tend to place less emphasis on sexual drives and more on
cultural or social experiences as determinants of behavior (Borden & Clark,
The Humanistic Approach
T h e humanistic approach emphasizes a person’s positive qualities, the
capacity for positive growth, and the freedom to choose one’s destiny.
Humanistic psychologists stress that people have the ability to control their
lives and are not simply controlled by the environment (Maslow, 1971;
Rogers, 1961). They theorize that rather than being driven by unconscious
impulses (as the psychodynamic approach dictates) or by external rewards
(as the behavioral approach emphasizes), people can choose to live by higher human
values such as altruism —unsel sh concern for other people’s well-being—and free will.
Many aspects of this optimistic approach appear in research on motivation, emotion, and
personality psychology (Sheldon, Cheng, & Hilpert, 2011; Sheldon & Schüler, 2011).
The Cognitive Approach
A c c o r d i n g t o c o g n i t i v e p s y c h o l o g i s t s , y o u r b r a i n h o u s e s a m i n d w h o s e m e n t a l p r o c e s s e s
allow you to remember, make decisions, plan, set goals, and be creative (Friedenberg &
Silverman, 2012; Sternberg, 2012a, 2012b). The cognitive approach , t h e n , e m p h a s i z e s
the mental processes involved in knowing: how we direct our attention,
perceive, remember, think, and solve problems. For example, cognitive
psychologists want to know how we solve math problems, why we
remember some things for only a short time but others for a lifetime,
and how we can use our imaginations to plan for the future.
Cognitive psychologists view the mind as an active and aware
problem-solving system. This view contrasts with the behavioral out-
look, which portrays behavior as controlled by external environmental
forces. In the cognitive perspective, an individual’s mental processes
are in control of behavior through memories, perceptions, images, and
The Evolutionary Approach
Although arguably all of psychology emerges out of evolutionary
theory, some psychologists emphasize an evolutionary approach that
uses evolutionary ideas such as adaptation, reproduction, and natural
selection as the basis for explaining speci c human behaviors. David
Buss (2012) argues that just as evolution molds our physical features,
such as body shape, it also in uences our decision making, level of
aggressiveness, fears, and mating patterns. Thus, evolutionary psy-
chologists say, the way we are is traceable to problems early humans
faced in adapting to their environments (Cosmides, 2011).
An approach to
emphasizing a
person’s positive
qualities, the
capacity for
positive growth,
and the freedom
to choose one’s
cognitive approach
An approach to
emphasizing the
mental processes
involved in
knowing: how
we direct our
attention, per-
ceive, remember,
think, and solve
An approach to
centered on
ideas such as
reproduction, and
natural selection
as the basis for
specifi c human
According to humanistic psychologists, warm,
supportive behavior toward others helps
us to realize our tremendous capacity for
Sigmund Freud (1856–1939)
Freud was the founding father of the
psychodynamic approach.
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Contemporary Approaches to Psychology // 11
Evolutionary psychologists believe that their approach provides an umbrella that
uni es the diverse elds of psychology (Bjorklund, 2012). Not all psychologists
agree with this conclusion, however. For example, some critics stress that the
evolutionary approach provides an inaccurate explanation of why men and
women have different social roles, and it does not adequately account for
cultural diversity and experiences (Matlin, 2012; Wood & Eagly, 2010). Yet
keep in mind that even psychologists who disagree with the application of
the evolutionary approach to psychological characteristics still agree with
the general principles of evolutionary theory.
The Sociocultural Approach
The sociocultural approach examines the in uences of social and cultural
environments on behavior. Socioculturalists argue that understanding a per-
son’s behavior requires knowing about the cultural context in which the behav-
ior occurs (Matsumoto & Juang, 2013; Matthews & Gallo, 2011). ( Culture refers
to the shared knowledge, practices, and attitudes of groups of people and can
include language, customs, and beliefs about what behavior is appropriate and inap-
propriate.) The sociocultural approach often includes cross-cultural research, meaning
research that compares individuals in various cultures to see how they differ on important
psychological attributes. Cross-cultural research is important for testing the assumption
that ndings for one culture also generalize to other cultural contexts, and as such it
allows psychologists to test for the possibility that some characteristics are universal (Cai
& others, 2011).
T h e s o c i o c u l t u r a l a p p r o a c h f o c u s e s n o t o n l y o n c o m p a r i s o n s o f b e h a v i o r a c r o s s c o u n -
tries but also on the behavior of individuals from different ethnic and cultural groups within
a country (Cheah & Leung, 2011). In light of rising cultural diversity in the United States
in recent years, there has been increasing interest in the behavior of African Americans,
Latinos, and Asian Americans, especially in terms of the factors that have restricted or
enhanced their ability to adapt and cope with living in a predominantly non-Latino White
society (Aguayo & others, 2011; B a n k s , 2 0 1 0 ) . T h e i n uence of culture on behavior has
led to important ndings about psychological processes and especially about the role of
culture in the psychological experience of our own sense of self (Wan & others, 2011).
Summing up the Seven
Contemporary Approaches
These seven approaches to studying psychology provide different views of behavior, and
therefore each may contribute uniquely valuable insights. Think about the simple experi-
ence of seeing a cute puppy. Looking at that puppy involves physical processes in the eyes,
nervous system, and brain—the focus of the biological approach to psychology. The
moment you spot that puppy, though, you might smile without thinking and reach down
to pet the little guy. That reaction might be a learned response based on your past learning
with your own dog (behavioral perspective), or unconscious memories of a childhood dog
(psychodynamic perspective), or conscious memories that you especially like this breed of
dogs (cognitive perspective), or even evolutionary processes that promoted cuteness to help
offspring survive (evolutionary approach). You might nd yourself striking up a conversa-
tion with the puppy’s owner, based on your shared love of dogs (humanistic perspective).
Further, sociocultural factors might play a role in your decision about whether to ask the
owner if holding the puppy would be okay, whether to share those warm feelings about
the puppy with others, and even whether (as in some cultures) to view that puppy as food.
These broad approaches are re ected in the variety of specialties within which psy-
chologists work (Figure 1.2). Many of these specialties are represented by chapters in
An approach to
psychology that
examines the
infl uences of so-
cial and cultural
environments on
Human bei ngs or i gi nal l y
evol ved l ong ago i n a ver y
di f f er ent envi r onment t han we
occupy t oday. The sur vi vor s wer e
those who were most able to endure
ex t r emel y di f f i cul t ci r cums t ances ,
st r uggl ing t o f ind f ood, avoid
pr edat or s, and cr ea t e soci a l g r oups.
Wh a t d o y o u t h i n k w e r e t h e m o s t
adapt i ve t r ai t s f or t hese ear l y
peopl e? To what spe ci f i c
envi r onment s ar e humans
adapt i ng even now?
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12 // CHAPTER 1 // The Science of Psychology
Focus of Specialists
Specializat ion and Re levant
Chapters in This Book
Behavioral neuroscience focuses on biological processes, especially the brain’s role in behavior.
Learning specialists study the complex process by which behavior changes to adapt to shifting
Developmental psychology examines how people become who they are, from conception to death,
concentrating on biological and environmental factors.
Sensation and perception researchers focus on the physical systems and psychological processes of
vision, hearing, touch, and smell that allow us to experience the world.
Cognitive psychology examines attention, consciousness, information processing, and memory. Cognitive
psychologists are also interested in cognitive skills and abilities such as problem solving, decision making,
expertise, and intelligence.
Researchers from a variety of specializations are interested in these two aspects of experience. Motivation
researchers examine questions such as how individuals attain difcult goals. Emotion researchers study
the physiological and brain processes that underlie emotional experience, the role of emotional
expression in health, and the possibility that emotions are universal.
Social psychology studies how social contexts influence perceptions, social cognition, and attitudes.
Social psychologists study how groups influence attitudes and behavior.
Clinical and counseling psychology, the most widely practiced specialization, involves diagnosing and
treating people with psychological problems.
Personality psychology focuses on the relatively enduring characteristics of individuals, including traits,
goals, motives, genetics, and personality development.
I/O psychology appliesndings in all areas of psychology to the workplace.
Health psychology emphasizes psychological factors, lifestyle, and behavior that influence physical health.
School and educational psychology centrally concerns children’s learning and adjustment in school.
School psychologists in elementary and secondary school systems test children and make
recommendations about educational placement, and work on educational planning teams.
Psychology of women stresses the importance of integrating information about women with current
psychological knowledge and applying that information to society and its institutions.
Community psychology is concerned with providing accessible care for people with psychological
problems. Community-based mental health centers are one means of delivering such services as outreach
Environmental psychologists explore the effects of physical settings in most major areas of psychology,
including perception, cognition, learning, and others. An environmental psychologist might study how
different room arrangements influence behavior or what strategies might be used to reduce human
behavior that harms the environment.
Forensic psychology applies psychology to the legal system. Forensic psychologists might help with jury
selection or provide expert testimony in trials.
Cross-cultural psychology studies culture’s role in understanding behavior, thought, and emotion, with a
special interest in whether psychological phenomena are universal or culture-specific.
Sport psychology applies psychology to improving sport performance and enjoyment of sport
Behavioral Neuroscience
(Chapter 2)
Lear ning
(Chapter 5)
(Chapter 8)
Sensat ion and Pe rcept ion
(Chapter 3)
(Chapters 4, 6, & 7)
Motivation and Emotion
(Chapter 9)
(Chapter 11)
Clinical and Counseling
(Chapters 12 & 13)
(Chapter 10)
Industrial and Organizational (I/O)
(Chapter 14)
School and Ed ucat ional
Psychology of Women
Environment al
FIGURE 1.2 Areas of Specialization in Psychology Psychology has many overlapping sub elds.
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Psychology’s Scientific Method // 13
this book. As you read the text, keep in mind that psychology is a science in which
psychologists work together collaboratively to examine a wide range of research ques-
tions. Indeed, many times scholars from different specialties within psychology join
forces to understand some aspect of human behavior. It is the purpose of this book’s
Intersection feature to review research that represents a collaboration among scientists
from different specialties to answer the same question.
1. The approach to psychology that is most
interested in early childhood relation-
ships is
A. evolutionary psychology.
B. cognitive psychology.
C. psychodynamic psychology.
D. behavioral psychology.
2. The approach to psychology that views
psychological distress as a result of
persistent negative thoughts is
A. the humanistic approach.
B. the behavioral approach.
C. the sociocultural approach.
D. the cognitive approach.
3. The approach to psychology that
focuses on self-fulfillment, altruism,
and personal growth is
A. the cognitive approach.
B. the behavioral approach.
C. the psychodynamic approach.
D. the humanistic approach.
A P P L Y I T ! 4. In 2007 a father posted a
video clip of his young sons on YouTube.
Widely known as “Charlie Bit My Finger,” the
clip, which quickly went viral, shows a British
baby laughing hysterically as he bites his
crying brother’s finger. The clip is the most
viewed nonprofessional music video on
YouTube. If you havent seen it, take a look: !
he5fpsmH_2g. What explains the clip’s endur-
ing appeal? Each of the contemporary ap-
proaches we have reviewed might offer an
explanation. Which of the following is most
like what a psychodynamic thinker might say?
A. Human beings have been rewarded for
watching children bite each other.
B. Adorable children are universally loved.
C. Human beings have an unconscious
desire to harm their siblings, which
is disguised by the humor of the clip.
D. This clip demonstrates that cuteness is an
important adaptation . Cute kids are more
likely to survive and reproduce.
Science is not de ned by what i t i n v e s t i g a t e s b u t b y how i t i n v e s t i g a t e s . W h e t h e r y o u
study photosynthesis, butter ies, Saturn’s moons, or happiness, the way you study your
question of interest determines whether your approach is scienti c. The scienti c method
is how psychologists gain knowledge about mind and behavior. A key theme in the
scienti c method is that knowledge comes from empirical research.
I t i s t h e u s e o f t h e s c i e n t i c method that makes psychology a science
(Ray, 2012). Indeed, most of the studies psychologists publish in research journals
follow the scienti c method, which may be summarized in these ve steps
(Figure 1.3):
1. Observing some phenomenon
2. Formulating hypotheses and predictions
3. Testing through empirical research
4. Drawing conclusions
5. Evaluating conclusions
1 . O B S E R V I N G S O M E P H E N O M E N O N The rst step in conducting a
scienti c inquiry involves observing some phenomenon in the world. The critical-
thinking, curious psychologist sees something and wants to know why or how it
is the way it is. Inspiration for scienti c inquiry can come from contemporary
social problems, current events, personal experiences, and more. The phenomena
that scientists study are called variables, a word related to the verb to vary. A
variable is anything that can change.
For example, one variable that interests psychologists is happiness. Some
people seem to be happier than others. What might account for these
Anything that can
Psychologys Scientifi c
Science is defi ned not by what it
studies but by how it investigates.
Photosynthesis, butterfl ies, and
relationships among people all can
be studied in a scientifi c manner.
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14 // CHAPTER 1 // The Science of Psychology
spend on yourself
spend on someone else
Observing Some
We feel good when we
give someone a gift.
However, do we genuinely
feel better giving some-
thing away than we might
feel if we could keep it?
Elizabeth Dunn, Lara
Aknin, and Michael Norton
(2008) decided to test this
Formulating Hypoth-
eses and Predictions
These researchers
hypothesized that
spending money on
other people would lead
to greater happiness
than spending money on
Testing Through Empirical
In an experiment designed to
examine this prediction, the
researchers randomly assigned
undergraduate participants
to receive money ($5 or $20)
that they had to spend
either on themselves or on
someone else by 5 P.M. that
day. Those who spent the
money on someone else
reported greater happiness
that night.
Drawing Conclusions
The experiment supported
the hypothesis that spend-
ing money on others can
be a strong predictor of
happiness. Money might
not buy happiness, the
researchers concluded, but
spending money in a
particular way, that is, on
other people, may
enhance happiness.
Evaluating Conclusions
The experimental results
were published in the
prestigious journal Science.
Now that the findings are
public, other researchers
might investigate related
topics and questions
inspired by this work, and
their experiments might
shed further light on the
original conclusions.
d i f f e r e n c e s ? A s s c i e n t i s t s c o n s i d e r a n s w e r s t o s u c h q u e s t i o n s , t h e y o f t e n d e v e l o p t h e o -
ries. A theory is a broad idea or set of closely related ideas that attempts to explain
observations. Theories seek to explain why certain things are as they are or why
they have happened, and they can be used to make predictions about future
observations. For instance, some psychologists theorize that the most impor-
tant human need is the need to belong to a social group (Leary & Guadagno,
2011). This theory would seek to explain human behaviors through the need
to belong.
A key characteristic of a scienti c theory is that it must be falsi able, meaning
that even a scientist who believes that a theory is true must be able to generate ideas
about research that would prove the theory wrong and test those ideas. This is what
separates scienti c theories from beliefs and opinions.
2 . F O R M U L A T I N G H Y P O T H E S E S A N D P R E D I C T I O N S The second step
in the scienti c method is stating a hypothesis. A hypothesis is a testable prediction that
derives logically from a theory. A theory can generate many hypotheses. If more and
more hypotheses related to a theory turn out to be true, the theory gains in credibility.
So, a researcher who believes that social belonging is the most important aspect of human
A broad idea
or set of closely
related ideas
that attempts to
explain observa-
tions and to
make predictions
about future
A testable
prediction that
derives logically
from a theory.
FIGURE 1.3 Steps in the Scientific Method: Is It Better to Give Than to Receive? This gure shows how the steps in the
scienti c method were applied in a research experiment examining how spending money on ourselves or others can in uence happiness (Dunn, Aknin,
& Norton, 2008). The researchers theorized that although money does not typically buy happiness, the way we spend it might well predict happy
feelings. > For each step in the process, what decisions did the researchers make, and how did those decisions in uence the research? > Are the
ndings counterintuitive or not? > This study was inspired by the saying “It is better to give than to receive. Does the study do a good job of
evaluating that cliché? How else might a researcher have addressed this question?
A scient ist must be
abl e t o ant i ci pat e bei ng wr ong
and r emai n open t o t hat
possi bi l i t y.
Scientifi c Method
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Psychology’s Scientific Method // 15
functioning might predict that people who belong to social groups will be happier than
others, or might hypothesize that individuals who are excluded by a social group will be
more aggressive. Each of these hypotheses would lead to speci c predictions within a
particular empirical study.
3 . T E S T I N G T H R O U G H E M P I R I C A L R E S E A R C H The next step in the
scienti c method is to test the hypotheses by conducting empirical research—thatis, by
collecting and analyzing data. At this point, it is time for the researcher to design a study
that will test his or her predictions. We will review the speci cs of various research
methods for testing predictions later in this chapter. Whatever the method used to
test a prediction, the rst thing a researcher needs in order to conduct a study
is a concrete way to measure the variables of interest.
A n operational definition provides an objective description of how
a variable is going to be measured and observed in a particular study.
Such a definition eliminates the fuzziness that might creep into
t h i n k i n g a b o u t a p r o b l e m . I m a g i n e , f o r e x a m p l e , t h a t y o u r p s y c h o l -
ogy class is asked to observe a group of children and to keep track
of kind behaviors. Do you think that everyone will define “kind
behaviors” in the same way? An operational definition allows the
class to be sure that everyone agrees on what a variable means. To
measure personal happiness, for example, prominent psychologist Ed
Diener and his students (Diener & others, 1985) devised a self-report
questionnaire that measures how satisfied a person is with his or her life,
called the Satisfaction with Life Scale. You will get a chance to complete the
questionnaire later in this chapter. Scores on this scale are then used as measures
of happiness. Research using this scale and others like it has shown that certain
specific factors are strongly related to being happy: marriage, religious faith, pur-
pose in life, and good health (Diener, 1999; Diener & Chan, 2011; Pavot &
Diener, 2008).
Importantly, there is not just one operational definition for any variable.
For example, in a study that examined happiness as a predictor of impor-
tant life outcomes, Lee Anne Harker and Dacher Keltner (2001) looked
at the yearbook pictures of college women who had graduated three
decades earlier. They coded the pictures for the appearance of
Duchenne smiling— t h a t i s , g e n u i n e s m i l i n g , t h e k i n d t h a t c r e a t e s
little wrinkles around the outer corner of the eyes. Duchenne smiling
has been shown to be a sign of genuine happiness. (If you want to
see whether someone in a photograph is smiling genuinely,
cover the bottom ofthe person’s face. Can you still tell
that he or she is smiling?A genuine smile can be seen
in the eyes, not just the mouth.) So, while Diener and
colleagues operationally defined happiness as a score
on a questionnaire, Harker and Keltner operationally
defined happiness as Duchenne smiling. Harker and
Keltner found that happiness, as displayed in these
yearbook pictures, predicted positive life outcomes,
such as successful marriages and satisfying lives,
some 30 years later.
C o m i n g u p w i t h o p e r a t i o n a l d e nitions for the vari-
ables in a study is a crucial step in designing psycho-
logical research. To study anything, we must have a
way to see it or measure it. Clearly, to devise an oper-
ational de nition for any variable, we rst must agree
on what it is that we are trying to measure. If we think
defi nition
A defi nition that
provides an ob-
jective description
of how a variable
is going to be
measured and
observed in a
particular study.
Tr y o p e r a t i o n a l l y
def i ni ng t he f ol l owi ng var i abl es:
gener os i t y, l ove, aggr es s i on,
liberal, conservat ive, exhaust ion,
st r ess, at t r act i veness. What
ar e s ome t hi ngs t hat
f ind
int erest ing t hat you t hink a
psychol ogi st shoul d st udy?
How mi ght y ou oper at i on al l y
def i ne t hese var i abl es?
are t
en use
as measures
as s
own t
at certa
age, re
, pur
an, 2011; Pavot &
n for any variable.
redictor of impor
raduated three
ppearance of
that creates
nne smiling
you want to
Researchers have identifi ed Duchenne smiling (notice the
wrinkles) as a sign of genuine happiness.
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16 // CHAPTER 1 // The Science of Psychology
of happiness as something that people know about themselves, then a questionnaire
score might be a good operational de nition of the variable. If we think that people
might not be aware of how happy they are (or are not), then facial expression might
be a better operational de nition. In other words, our de nition of a variable must be
set out clearly before we operationally de ne it.
B e c a u s e o p e r a t i o n a l d e nitions allow researchers to measure variables, they have a
lot of numbers to deal with once they have conducted a study. A key aspect of the
process of testing hypotheses is data analysis . Data r e f e r s t o a l l t h e i n f o r m a t i o n ( a l l
those numbers) researchers collect in a study—say, the questionnaire scores or the
behaviors observed. Data analysis means “crunching” those numbers mathematically to
see if they support predictions. In other words, data analysis involves applying mathe-
matical procedures to understand what the numerical information means (Howell, 2013).
Many psychology students are surprised to learn that much of psychologists’ work relies
heavily on sophisticated statistics, n u m b e r s t h a t h e l p t h e m d e s c r i b e w h a t t h e d a t a h a v e
to tell them.
L e t s p a u s e a n d e x a m i n e a n e x a m p l e t h a t d e m o n s t r a t e s t h e rst three steps in
the scienti c method. One theory of well-being is self-determination theory
(Ryan, Huta, & Deci, 2008; Ryan & Deci, 2011). This theory states that people are
likely to feel ful lled when their lives meet three important needs: relatedness (warm
relations with others), autonomy (independence), and competence (mastering new
O n e h y p o t h e s i s t h a t f o l l o w s l o g i c a l l y f r o m t h i s t h e o r y i s t h a t p e o p l e w h o v a l u e m o n e y ,
material possessions, prestige, and physical appearance (that is, extrinsic rewards) over
the needs of relatedness, autonomy, and competence (intrinsic rewards) should be less
ful lled, less happy, and less well adjusted. In a series of studies entitled “The Dark Side
of the American Dream, researchers Timothy Kasser and Richard Ryan asked partici-
pants to complete self-report measures of values and of psychological and physical func-
tioning (Kasser & Ryan, 1993, 1996; Kasser & others, 2004). Thus, the operational
de nitions of values and psychological functioning were questionnaire scores. The
researchers found that individuals who value material rewards over intrinsic rewards do
indeed tend to suffer as predicted, and similar ndings have emerged in nations through-
out the world (Kasser, 2011).
4 . D R A W I N G C O N C L U S I O N S Based on the results of the data analyses, scien-
tists then draw conclusions from their research. If the results of a study (or a series of
studies) support predictions, then a theory may gain credibility. A theory, however, is
always open to revision. Before a theory is accepted or changed, the scienti c community
must establish that the research can be replicated, or repeated, by other scientists using
different methods. If a particular research nding is demonstrated again and again across
different researchers and different methods, it is considered reliable —in other words, it
is a dependable result.
5 . E V A L U A T I N G C O N C L U S I O N S The nal step in the scienti c method, eval-
uating conclusions, is one that never ends. Researchers submit their work for publication,
and it undergoes rigorous review. Afterward, the published studies are there for all to
see, read, and evaluate continually.
A l t h o u g h t h e p u b l i s h e d r e s e a r c h l i t e r a t u r e r e p r e s e n t s t h e c u r r e n t s t a t e
of scienti c knowledge about various topics and areas, the research com-
munity maintains an active conversation about this knowledge and con-
stantly questions conclusions. Inspired by published studies, a scientist
might come up with a new idea to be tested, one that will eventually change
the thinking on some topic. Steps 3, 4, and 5 in the scienti c method are
thus part of an ongoing process. That is, researchers go back and do more
research, revise their theories, hone their methods, and draw and evaluate their new
Because sci ent i st s ar e
skept i cal and cr i t i cal t hi nker s,
publ i shed st udi es of t en l ead t o
al t er nat i ve t heor i es and
hypot heses t hat ar e
themselves tested.
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Types of Psychological Research // 17
1. Any changeable phenomenon that a sci-
entist studies is called a
A. differential.
B. predictor.
C. variation.
D. variable.
2. The statement “I believe this research
will demonstrate that students who
study in groups will get better grades
than those who study alone” is an ex-
ample of
A. a theory.
B. an observation.
C. a conclusion.
D. a hypothesis.
3. The last step in the scientific method,
and one that never ends, is
A. drawing conclusions.
B. evaluating conclusions.
C. testing through empirical research.
D. running a statistical analysis.
APPLY IT! 4. Paul believes that physi-
cally attractive people are selfish. He con-
ducts a study to see if he is right. He goes
up to five people he thinks are good-looking
and asks them for spare change. They all
turn him down. Paul concludes, “Aha! I
knew it all along.” The operational defini-
tion of selfish in Paul’s study is
A. physical attractiveness.
B. whether people gave Paul spare change.
C. whether Paul thought the person was
D. asking for spare change.
B O N U S : As you practice thinking like a
scientist and learn about research design,
give further thought to Paul’s study. Can
you spot at least four big problems with it?
The ve steps of the scienti c method are re ected differently in three types of research
commonly used in psychology. Descriptive research involves nding out about the basic
dimensions of some variable (for example, what is the average level of happiness of men
in the United States?). Correlational research is interested in discovering relationships
between variables (for instance, are married men happier than single men?). Exper i men-
tal research concerns establishing causal relationships between variables (if we make
men smile, do women perceive them as more attractive?). Let’s examine each of these
types of research.
Descriptive Research
Just as its name suggests, descriptive research is about describing some
phenomenon—determining its basic dimensions and de ning what this thing
is, how often it occurs, and so on. By itself, descriptive research cannot prove
what causes some phenomenon, but it can reveal important information about
peoples behaviors and attitudes (Salkind, 2012). Descriptive research methods
include observation, surveys and interviews, and case studies.
O B S E R V A T I O N Imagine that you are going to conduct a study on how
children who are playing a game resolve con icts that arise during the game.
The data that are of interest to you concern con ict resolution. As a rst step,
you might go to a playground and simply observe what the children do—how
often you see con ict resolution occur and how it unfolds. You would likely
keep careful notes of what you observe.
T h i s t y p e o f s c i e n t i c observation requires an important set of skills (Smith
& Davis, 2010). Unless you are a trained observer and practice your skills
regularly, you might not know what to look for, you might not remember what
you saw, you might not realize that what you are looking for is changing from
one moment to the next, and you might not communicate your observations
effectively. Furthermore, it might be important to have one or more others do
the observations as well, to develop a sense of how accurate your observations
are. For observations to be effective, they must be systematic. You must know
Types of Psychological Research
Publ i c opi ni on pol l s ar e a
type of descriptive research.
Used by permission of CartoonStock, www.
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18 // CHAPTER 1 // The Science of Psychology
whom you are observing, when and where you will observe, and how you will make the
observations. Also, you need to know in advance in what form you will document them:
in writing, by sound recording, or by video.
S U R V E Y S A N D I N T E R V I E W S Sometimes the best and quickest way to get
information about people is to ask them for it. One technique is to interview them
directly. A related method that is especially useful when information from many peo-
ple is needed is the survey, o r q u e s t i o n n a i r e . A s u r v e y p r e s e n t s a s t a n d a r d s e t o f q u e s -
tions, or items, to obtain people’s self-reported attitudes or beliefs about a particular
Although surveys can be a straightforward way to measure psychological variables,
constructing them requires care (Stangor, 2011). For example, surveys can measure only
what people think about themselves. Thus, if we are interested in studying a variable
that we think is unconscious, like a psychodynamic drive, we cannot use a survey. Fur-
thermore, people do not always know the truth about themselves. If you were answering
a survey that asked, Are you a generous person?” how might your answer compare to
that of a friend who is asked to make that same rating about you? One particular prob-
lem with surveys and interviews is the tendency of participants to answer questions in a
way that will make them look good rather than in a way that communicates what they
truly think or feel (Peterson & others, 2011). Another challenge in survey construction
is that when questionnaires are used to operationally de ne variables, it is crucial that
the items precisely probe the speci c topic of interest and not some other characteristic.
The language used in surveys therefore must be clear and understandable if the responses
are to re ect the participants’ actual feelings.
Surveys and interviews can cover a wide range of topics, from religious beliefs to
sexual habits to attitudes about gun control. Some survey and interview questions are
unstructured and open-ended, such as “How ful lling would you say your marriage
is?” Such questions allow for unique responses from each person surveyed. Other
survey and interview questions are more structured and ask about quite speci c things.
For example, a structured question might ask, “How many times have you talked with
your partner about a personal problem in the past month: 0, 1–2, 3–5, 6–10, 11–30,
every day?
C A S E S T U D I E S A case study , o r case history , is an in-
depth look at a single individual. Case studies are performed
mainly by clinical psychologists when, for either practical or
ethical reasons, the unique aspects of an individual’s life cannot
be duplicated and tested in other individuals. A case study pro-
vides information about one person’s goals, hopes, fantasies,
fears, traumatic experiences, family relationships, health, or any-
thing else that helps the psychologist understand the person’s
mind and behavior. Case studies can also involve in-depth explo-
rations of particular families or social groups.
An example of a case study is the analysis of India’s spiritual
leader Mahatma Gandhi (1869–1948) by psychodynamic theorist
Erik Erikson (1969). Erikson studied Gandhi’s life in great depth
to discover insights into how his positive spiritual identity devel-
oped, especially during his youth. In piecing together Gandhi’s
identity development, Erikson described the contributions of cul-
ture, history, family, and various other factors that might affect
the way other people form an identity.
Case histories provide dramatic, detailed portrayals of peo-
ples lives, but researchers must be cautious about applying
what they learn from one person’s life to other people. The
subject of a case study has a unique genetic makeup and per-
sonal history that no one else shares. Case studies nevertheless
case study
Also called a
case history, an
in-depth look at a
single individual.
Mahatma Gandhi was the spiritual leader of India in
the middle of the twentieth century. Erik Erikson
conducted an extensive case study of his life to
determine what contributed to his identity
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Types of Psychological Research // 19
can be very valuable at the rst step of the scienti c method, in that they often pro-
vide vivid observations that can then be tested in a variety of ways in psychological
T H E V A L U E O F D E S C R I P T I V E R E S E A R C H Descriptive research allows
researchers to get a sense of something but cannot answer questions about how and why
things are the way they are. Such research can nonetheless be intriguing, such as descrip-
tive research on the experience of happiness in different cultures. Before reading about
that research, complete the measure below. Using the 7-point scale below, indicate your
agreement with each item that follows.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Strongly Disagree Slightly Neither Agree Slightly Agree Strongly
Disagree Disagree Nor Disagree Agree Agree
1. In most ways my life is close to my ideal.
2. The conditions of my life are excellent.
3. I am satis ed with my life.
4. So far I have gotten the important things I want in life.
5. If I could live my life over, I would change almost nothing.
You have just completed the Satisfaction with Life Scale (or SWLS; Diener & others,
1985), one operational de nition of happiness. To nd out your score, add up your rat-
ings and divide by 5. This average rating could be considered your level of general
happiness. A broad range of studies in many different countries have used this scale and
others like it to measure happiness levels. Based on such research, Ed and Carol Diener
(1996) concluded that most people are quite happy because they score above the mid-
point, 3.5, on the scale you just completed. However, research on happiness in various
cultures has generally centered on relatively industrialized countries. What about nonin-
dustrialized cultures?
One study examined levels of happiness in groups of people who have not generally
been included in psychological studies (Biswas-Diener, Vitterso, & Diener, 2005). The
research included three groups: the Inuits of Greenland, the Masai of southern Kenya,
and American Old Order Amish. All three groups completed measures essentially the
same as the one you just did.
T h e I n u i t t r i b e s t u d i e d t h e Inughuits —live at 79 degrees latitude (very far north),
in the harshest climate inhabited by a traditional human society. The landscape consists
of rocks, glaciers, and the sea. Farming is impossible. The Inughuits have some mod-
ern conveniences, but they generally adhere to a traditional hunting culture. It is not
uncommon to nd an Inughuit hunter carving a seal or caribou on the kitchen oor
while children watch TV in the next room. Most of us might feel a little blue in the
winter months when gloomy weather stretches on day after day. For the Inughuits,
however, the sun never rises throughout the winter months, and in the summer, it never
sets. How happy could an individual be in such a dif cult setting? Pretty happy, it
turns out, as the Inughuits averaged a 5.0 on the Satisfaction with Life Scale.
The Masai are an indigenous (native) African nomadic group who live in vil-
lages of about 20 people, with little exposure to the West. The Masai are erce
warriors, and their culture has many traditional ceremonies built around a
boy’s passage from childhood to manhood. Boys are circumcised between
the ages of 15 and 22, and they are forbidden from moving or making a
sound during the procedure. Girls also experience circumcision as they
enter puberty, a controversial rite that involves the removal of the clitoris
and that makes childbirth extremely dif cult. The Masai practice child
marriage and polygamy. Masai women have very little power and are gener-
ally expected to do most of the work. How happy could an individual be in this
context? Masai men and women who completed the measure orally in their native tongue,
Not i ce t h at t hese f i r st
two studies involve examining two
di f f er ent cul t ur es, whi l e t he l ast
one f ocuses on a cul t ur e wi t hi n a
cul t ur e. These st udi es exempl i f y
the sociocultural approach.
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20 // CHAPTER 1 // The Science of Psychology
Maa, averaged a 5.4 on the life satisfaction scale (Biswas-Diener, Vitterso, & Diener,
Finally, the Old Order Amish of the midwestern and northeastern United States belong
to a strict religious sect that explicitly rejects modern aspects of life.
The Amish separate
themselves from mainstream society and travel by horse and buggy. The women wear
bonnets, and the men sport beards, dark clothes, and dark brimmed hats. The Amish
farm without modern machinery and dedicate their lives to simplicity—without
radios, TVs, CDs, DVDs, iPods, smartphones, washing machines, and cars. Still,
the Amish are relatively happy, averaging 4.4 on the 7-point happiness scale
(Biswas-Diener, Vitterso, & Diener, 2005).
Like a host of other studies in industrialized nations, these results indicate
that most individuals are pretty happy. Such descriptive ndings provide
researchers on well-being a foundation for further examining the processes that
lead to feelings of happiness in different cultural settings. If a researcher wanted
to examine, for example, what predicts happiness within these different groups,
he or she would use a correlational design.
Correlational Research
We have seen that descriptive research tells us about the basic dimensions of a vari-
able. In contrast, correlational research t e l l s u s a b o u t t h e r e l a t i o n s h i p s b e t w e e n v a r i -
ables, and its purpose is to examine whether and how two variables change together .
That is, correlational research looks at a co-relationship. For instance, if one of
the variables increases, what happens to the other one? When two variables
change together, we can predict one from the other, and we say that the variables are
Correlational research is so named because of the statistical technique, correlation,
that is typically used to analyze this type of data. The key feature of a correlational study
is that the variables of interest are measured or observed to see how they relate. If we
wanted to know whether shy people are happy, we might give the same people two
questionnaires, one that measures shyness and another that measures happiness. For each
person we would have two scores, and we would then see whether shyness and happiness
relate to each other in a systematic way.
The degree of relationship between two variables is expressed as a numerical value
called a correlational coef cient, which is most commonly represented by the letter r .
The correlation coef cient is a statistic that tells us two things about the relationship
between two variables—its strength and its direction. The value of a correlation always
falls between " 1.00 and # 1.00. The number or magnitude of the correlation tells us
about the strength of the relationship. The closer the number is to $ 1.00, the stronger
the relationship. The sign ( # o r " ) tells us about the direction of the relationship between
the variables. A positive sign means that as one variable increases, the other also increases.
A negative sign means that as one variable increases, the other decreases. A zero cor-
relation means that there is no systematic relationship between the variables. Examples
of scatter plots (a type of graph that plots scores on the two variables) showing positive
and negative correlations appear in Figure 1.4. Note that every dot in this gure repre-
sents both scores for one person.
C O R R E L A T I O N I S NOT C A U S A T I O N Look at the terms in bold type in the
following news headlines:
Researchers Link Coffee Consumption to Happiness in Women
Scientists Find Connection Between Ear Hair and Heart Attacks
Psychologists Discover Relationship Between Marital Status and Health
correlational research
Research that examines
the relationships between
variables, whose purpose
is to examine whether and
how two variables change
How d oes y our
scor e compar e wi t h t he scor e
of t he I nughui t s , t he Masai ,
and t he Ol d Or der Ami s h? I s
the Satisfaction with
Lif e Scale a good measur e
of happi ness? Why or
why n ot ?
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Types of Psychological Research // 21
From these headlines a reader might conclude that coffee causes pancreatic cancer, ear
hair causes heart attacks, and so on. The words in bold type are synonymous only with
correlation, however, not with causality. Correl a tion does not equal causation. Remem-
ber, correlation means only that two variables change together. Being able to predict one
event based on the occurrence of another event does not necessarily tell us anything
about the cause of either event (Heiman, 2011; Pagano, 2013). Sometimes some other
variable that has not been measured accounts for the relationship between two others.
Researchers refer to this circumstance as the third variable problem . Third variables
are also known as confounds.
To understand the third variable problem, consider the following example. A researcher
measures two variables: the number of ice cream cones sold in a town and the
number of violent crimes that occur in that town throughout the year. The
researcher nds that ice cream cone sales and violent crimes are positively
correlated, to the magnitude of # .50. This high positive correlation
would indicate that as ice cream sales increase, so does violent crime.
Would it be reasonable for the local paper to run the headline “Ice Cream
Consumption Leads to Violence”? Should concerned citizens gather outside
the local Frosty Freeze to stop the madness? Probably not. Perhaps you have
already thought of the third variable that might explain this correlation—heat. Research
third variable
The circumstance
where a variable
that has not
been measured
accounts for the
between two
other variables.
Third variables
are also known as
FIGURE 1.4 Scatter Plots
Showing Positive and Negative
Correlations A positive correlation is a
relationship in which two factors vary in the
same direction, as shown in the two scatter
plots on the left. A negative correlation is a
relationship in which two factors vary in
opposite directions, as shown in the two
scatter plots on the right. Note that each dot
on these graphs represents one person’s (or
one class’s) score on the two variables of
interest. For each graph, consider these
questions. > How might one of these
variables cause the other? Can you imagine
a way that the causal direction could be
reversed? > What is a possible third variable
that might account for these relationships?
> Identify two variables that you think are
positively correlated and two that are
negatively correlated. > What would the
graphs look like if the two variables were
not systematically related?
Hours of studying
Few Many
The more you study,
the higher your
test grade.
Low High
Length of lecture
Short Long
The longer the
lecture, the more
you yawn.
Few Many
Number of yawns
Test grade
Number of parties
Few Many
The more you
party, the lower
your test grade.
Low High
Test grade
Length of lecture
Short Long
The longer the
lecture, the
lower your
Level of attentiveness
Positive Correlations Negative Correlations
Cr i m e, t hen , i s pr obabl y
al so l i nked t o ai r condi t i oni ng
sal es and r epair pr of i t s, as
wel l as swi msui t sal es.
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22 // CHAPTER 1 // The Science of Psychology
has shown that crime goes up when the temperature rises (Anderson & others, 2000;
Bushman, Wang, & Anderson, 2005), and, as any ice cream shop manager will tell
you, ice cream sales are higher when it is warm outside. Third variables are also
called confounds.
G i v e n t h e p o t e n t i a l p r o b l e m s w i t h t h i r d v a r i a b l e s , w h y d o r e s e a r c h e r s
conduct correlational studies? There are several very good reasons. One is
that some important questions can be investigated only by using a correla-
tional design. Such questions may involve variables that can only be mea-
sured or observed, such as biological sex, personality traits, genetic factors,
and ethnic background. Another reason researchers conduct correlational studies is
that sometimes the variables of interest are real-world events that in uence people’s
lives, such as the effects of a natural disaster like the earthquake that caused a tsunami
in Japan in 2011. Correlational research is also valuable in cases where it would not
be ethical to do the research in any other way. For example, it would be unethical for
an experimenter to direct expectant mothers to smoke varying numbers of cigarettes in
order to see how cigarette smoke affects birth weight and fetal activity. Such studies
are called quasi-experimental (see p. 25).
Although we have focused on relationships between just two variables, researchers
often measure many variables in their studies. This way, they can examine whether a
relationship between two variables is explained by a third variable (or a fourth or fth
variable). An interesting research question that has been addressed in this fashion is, do
happy people live longer? In one study, 2000 Mexican Americans aged 65 and older
were interviewed twice over the course of two years (Ostir & others, 2000). In the rst
assessment, participants completed measures of happiness but also reported about poten-
tial third variables such as diet, physical health, smoking, marital status, and distress.
Two years later, the researchers contacted the participants again to see who was still
alive. Even with these many potential third variables taken into account, happiness pre-
dicted who was still living two years later.
Correlational studies are useful, too, when researchers are interested in everyday expe-
rience. For example, some correlational researchers use the experience sampling method
(ESM) to study people in their natural settings. This approach involves having people
report on their daily experiences in a diary a few times a day or to complete measures
of their mood and behavior whenever they are beeped by an electronic organizer or
L O N G I T U D I N A L D E S I G N S One way that correlational researchers can deal with
the issue of causation is to employ a special kind of systematic observation called a
longitudinal design . Longitudinal research involves observing and measuring the same
variables periodically over time. Longitudinal research can suggest potential causal rela-
tionships because if one variable is thought to cause changes in another, it should at least
come before that variable in time.
One intriguing longitudinal study is the Nun Study, conducted by David Snowdon and
his colleagues (Mortimer, Snowdon, & Markesbery, 2009; S a n t a c r u z & o t h e r s , 2 0 1 1 ;
Snowdon, 2003; Tyas & others, 2007). The study began in 1986 and has followed a
sample of 678 School Sisters of Notre Dame ever since. The nuns ranged in age from
75 to 103 when the study began. These women complete a variety of psychological and
physical measures annually. This sample is unique in many respects. However, some
characteristics render the participants an excellent group for correlational research. For
one thing, many potential extraneous third variables are relatively identical for all the
women in the group. Their gender, living conditions, diet, activity levels, marital status,
and religious participation are essentially held constant, providing little chance that dif-
ferences in these variables can explain results.
Researchers recently examined the relationship between happiness and longevity using
this rich dataset. All of the nuns had been asked to write a spiritual autobiography when
they entered the convent (for some, as many as 80 years before). Deborah Danner and
her colleagues (2001) were given access to these documents and used them as indicators
longitudinal design
A special kind of systematic
observation, used by corre-
lational researchers, that
involves obtaining measures
of the variables of interest in
multiple waves over time.
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Types of Psychological Research // 23
of happiness earlier in life by counting the number of positive emotions expressed in the
autobiographies (note that here we have yet another operational de nition of happiness).
Higher levels of positive emotion expressed in autobiographies written at an average age
of 22 were associated with a 2.5-fold difference in risk of mortality when the nuns
were in their 80s and 90s. That is, women who included positive emotion in
their autobiographies when they were in their early 20s were two-and-a-half
times more likely to survive some 60 years later.
L o n g i t u d i n a l d e s i g n s p r o v i d e w a y s b y w h i c h c o r r e l a t i o n a l r e s e a r c h e r s m a y
attempt to demonstrate causal relations among variables. Still, it is important
to be aware that even in longitudinal studies, causal relationships are not
completely clear. For example, the nuns who wrote happier autobiographies
may have had happier childhood experiences that might be in uencing their
longevity, or a particular genetic factor might explain both their happiness and
their survival. As you read about numerous correlational research studies
throughout this book, do so critically, and with some skepticism, and consider
that even the brightest scientist may not have thought of all of the potential
third variables that might have explained his or her results. Keep in mind how
easy it is to assume causality when two events or characteristics are merely
correlated. Think about those innocent ice cream cones and critically evaluate
conclusions that may be drawn from simple observation.
Experimental Research
To determine whether a causal relationship exists between variables, researchers must
use experimental methods (Myers & Hansen, 2012). An experiment is a carefully regu-
lated procedure in which the researcher manipulates one or more variables that are
believed to in uence some other variable. Imagine that a researcher notices that people
who listen to classical music seem to be of above-average intelligence. A correlational
study on this question would not tell us if listening to classical music causes increases
in intelligence. In order to demonstrate causation, the researcher would manipulate
whether or not people listen to classical music. He or she might create two groups: one
that listens to classical music and one that listens to pop music. To test for differences
in intelligence, the researcher would then measure intelligence.
If that manipulation led to differences between the two groups on intelligence, we
could say that the manipulated variable caused those differences. In other words, the
experiment has demonstrated cause and effect. This notion that experiments can dem-
onstrate causation is based on the idea that if participants are randomly assigned to
groups, the only systematic difference between them must be the manipulated vari-
able. Random assignment means that researchers assign participants to groups by
chance. This technique reduces the likelihood that the experiment’s results will be
due to any preexisting differences between groups (Eimes, Kantowitz, & Roediger,
To get a sense of what experimental studies, as compared to correlational studies, can
tell us, consider the following example. Psychologists have long assumed that experienc-
ing one’s life as meaningful is an important aspect of psychological well-being (Frankl,
1963/1984; Steger & Frazier, 2005). Because surveys that measure meaning in life and
well-being correlate positively (that is, the more meaningful your life, the happier you
are), the assumption has been that experiencing meaning in life causes greater happiness.
Because the studies involved in exploring this relationship have been correlational, how-
ever, the causal pathway is unknown. Meaning in life may lead people to be happier, but
the reverse might also be true: Happiness might make people feel that their lives are
more meaningful.
To address this issue, Laura King and her colleagues (2006; King & Hicks, 2012)
conducted a series of laboratory experiments. The researchers had some people listen to
A carefully regulated proce-
dure in which the researcher
manipulates one or more
variables that are believed
to infl uence some other
assignment of
participants to
groups by chance,
to reduce the
likelihood that an
experiment’s re-
sults will be due
to preexisting dif-
ferences between
Pull out some old “sent messages”
in your e-mail from as far back as
you can fi nd. Count up your positive
emotion words and negative emotion
words. How do the themes in those
messages refl ect your life at that
time and today? Does looking at your
old e-mails change the way you
might think about the results of the
Nun Study? Explain.
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24 // CHAPTER 1 // The Science of Psychology
happy music and other participants listen to neutral music. Participants who
listened to happy music rated their lives as more meaningful than did indi-
viduals who listened to neutral music. Note that participants were ran-
domly assigned to one of two conditions, happy music or neutral music,
and then rated their meaning in life using a questionnaire. In this case
happiness was operationally de ned by the type of music participants
listened to, and meaning in life was operationally de ned by ratings on a
questionnaire. Because participants were randomly assigned to conditions,
we can assume that the only systematic difference between the two groups
was the type of music they heard. As a result, we can say that the
happy music caused people to rate their lives as more meaningful.
Experiments have two types of variables: independent and depen-
dent. An independent variable is a manipulated experimental factor. The independent
variable is the variable that the experimenter changes to see what its effects are; it is
a potential cause. Any experiment may include several independent variables or
factors that are manipulated to determine their effect on some outcome. In the
study of positive mood and meaning in life, the independent variable is mood
(positive versus neutral), operationally de ned by the type of music partici-
pants listened to.
Sometimes the independent variable is the social context in which a person
nds himself or herself. Social psychologists often manipulate the social con-
text with the help of a confederate, a person who is given a role to play in a
study so that the social context can be manipulated. For example, if a researcher
is interested in reactions to being treated rudely, he or she might have a confed-
erate treat participants rudely (or not).
A dependent variable is the outcome—the factor that can change in an exper-
iment in response to changes in the independent variable. As researchers manipulate
the independent variable, they measure the dependent variable for any resulting effect.
In the study of mood and meaning in life, meaning in life was the dependent variable.
E X P E R I M E N T A L A N D C O N T R O L G R O U P S Experiments can involve one or
more experimental groups and one or more control groups. In an experiment, the
researcher manipulates the independent variable to create these groups. An experimental
group consists of the participants in an experiment who receive the treatment that is of
interest to the researcher, or a particular drug under study that is, the participants who
are exposed to the change that the independent variable represents. A control group in
an experiment is as much like the experimental group as possible and is treated in every
way like the experimental group except for that change. The control group provides a
comparison against which the researcher can test the effects of the independent variable.
In the study of meaning in life above, participants who listened to happy music were
the experimental group, and those who heard neutral music were the control group.
Within-Participant Designs One way to ensure that a control group and
an experimental group are as similar as possible is to use a within-participant
design, in which the participants serve as their own control group. In such a
design, rather than relying on random assignment to produce equivalent
groups, a researcher has the same group of participants experience the various
conditions in the study. Let’s say that a researcher predicts that the presence
of other people (the independent variable) decreases math performance (the
dependent variable). She might have participants complete math problems rst
while alone and then with others, and compare performance in the two condi-
tions to test her prediction. The advantages to a within-participant design include
requiring only half the number of participants and knowing that the groups are the
very same people in each condition. The disadvantages include concerns about
A manipulated
factor, the
variable that the
changes to see
what its effects
A person who is
given a role to
play in a study so
that the social
context can be
The outcome—
the factor that
can change in
an experiment
in response to
changes in the
The participants
in an experiment
who receive the
drug or other
treatment under
study—that is,
those who are
exposed to the
change that the
independent vari-
able represents.
control group
The participants
in an experiment
who are as much
like the experi-
mental group as
possible and who
are treated in
every way like
the experimental
group except for
a manipulated
factor, the inde-
pendent variable.
Independent variable
and dependent var i abl e ar e t wo
of t he
mo s t i mp o r t a n t
concept s
in psychological
research. You should
me mo r i z e
their meanings now
Remember t hat t he
independent variable is t he
cause, and t he d epen den t
var i abl e is t he ef f ect .
Comi ng up wi t h a good
con t r ol gr oup can be a chal l enge.
Say you want t o do a st udy on
the influence of smiling on social
behavi or s. Your exper i ment al
gr oup wi l l i nt er act wi t h a
con f ed er at e who smi l es a l ot
dur i ng t he ex per i ment . What wi l l
you have happen i n your cont r ol
gr oup? Wi l l t he conf eder at e keep
a bl ank ex pr es s i on? Fr own?
Smi l e j ust a l i t t l e?
Independent and
Dependent Variables
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Types of Psychological Research // 25
whether the two math tests are really equivalent and how the order of the con-
ditions might in uence their effects on performance.
Quasi-Experimental Designs Another approach to experimental
research is to use a quasi-experimental design . As the pre x quasi- (“as
if”) suggests, this type of design is similar to an experiment, but it is not
quite the same thing. The key difference is that a quasi-experimental design
does not include random assignment of participants to a condition, because
such assignment is either impossible or unethical (Reichardt, 2009).
Quasi-experimental designs might be used for studies that examine the differences
between groups of people who have had different experiences say, soldiers who have
seen combat versus those who have not, or children whose school was destroyed by a
tornado versus those in a neighboring town whose school was not affected. In a quasi-
experimental design, a researcher examines participants in varying groups, but their
assignment to groups is not determined by random assignment.
For example, a researcher interested in the in uence of using online learn-
ing tools on performance in introductory psychology classes might compare
students from two different sections of a class—one that uses online tools
and one that does not. Of course, students typically choose what section
of a course they take, so the experimenter cannot randomly assign them
to sections. Examining differences between the groups might provide
information about the merits of online learning tools. However, there
might be confounds (for instance, whether students are morning people or not)
that account for differences between the groups. Although quasi-experimental
designs are common, it is important to keep in mind that they do not allow for
the strong causal conclusions that can be drawn from experiments.
S O M E C A U T I O N S A B O U T E X P E R I M E N T A L R E S E A R C H Validity r e f e r s
to the soundness of the conclusions that a researcher draws from an experiment. Two
broad types of validity matter to experimental designs. The rst is external validity , w h i c h
refers to the degree to which an experimental design really re ects the real-world issues
it is supposed to address. That is, external validity is concerned with the question, do the
experimental methods and the results generalize d o t h e y a p p l y t o t h e r e a l w o r l d ?
I m a g i n e , f o r e x a m p l e , t h a t a r e s e a r c h e r i s i n t e r e s t e d i n t h e i n uence of stress (the
independent variable) on creative problem solving (the dependent variable). He or she
randomly assigns individuals to be blasted with loud noises at random times during the
session (the high-stress or experimental group) or to complete the task in relative quiet
(the control group). As the task, the researcher gives all participants a chance to be
creative by asking them to list all of the uses they can think of for a cardboard box.
Counting up the number of uses that people list, the researcher discovers
that those in the high-stress group generated fewer uses of the box. This
nding might indicate that stress reduces creativity. In considering the
external validity of this study, however, we might ask some questions:
How similar are the blasts of loud, random noises to the stresses indi-
viduals experience every day? Is listing uses for a cardboard box really an
indicator of creativity? We are asking, in other words, if these operational de nitions
do a good job of re ecting the real-world processes they are supposed to represent.
The second type of validity is internal validity , which refers to the degree to which
changes in the dependent variable are due to the manipulation of the independent vari-
able. In the case of internal validity, we want to know whether the experimental methods
are free from biases and logical errors that may render the results suspect. Although
experimental research is a powerful tool, it requires safeguards (Leary, 2012). Expecta-
tions and biases can, and sometimes do, tarnish results (Ray, 2012; Rosnow & Rosenthal,
2008), as we next consider.
E x p e r i m e n t e r B i a s E x p e r i m e n t e r s m a y s u b t l y ( a n d o f t e n u n k n o w i n g l y ) i n uence their
research participants. Experimenter bias occurs when the experimenter’s expectations
The soundness of the con-
clusions that a researcher
draws from an experiment.
external validity
The degree to
which an experi-
mental design
actually refl ects
the real-world
issues it is
supposed to
internal validity
The degree to
which changes in
the dependent
variable are due
to the manipula-
tion of the inde-
pendent variable.
experimenter bias
The infl uence of the experi-
menter’s expectations on
the outcome of research.
When t he par t i ci pant s who
ar e i n t he exper i ment al and cont r ol
gr oups ar e di f f er ent peopl e, t he
des i gn i s cal l ed a
bet we en-
par t i ci pant desi gn.
The l at e Donal d Campbel l , an
emi nent ps ychol ogi st , r ef er r ed
to quasi-experimental designs as
“queasy experiment al designs
be cau se of t he way t he y of t e n make
har d- c or e exper i men t al i st s f eel .
Quasi - exper i ment al desi gns
tend to be high on external
val i di t y.
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26 // CHAPTER 1 // The Science of Psychology
i n uence the outcome of the research. No one
designs an experiment without wanting meaning-
ful results. Consequently, experimenters can some-
times subtly communicate to participants what
they want the participants to do. Demand char-
acteristics a r e a n y a s p e c t s o f a s t u d y t h a t c o m -
municate to the participants how the experimenter
wants them to behave. The in uence of experi-
menter expectations can be very dif cult