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Chapter: Psychology: Research Methods

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Psychology: Making Observations

In many regards, the science of psychology works the same way as any other science.

MAKING OBSERVATIONS

In many regards, the science of psychology works the same way as any other science. Like physicists, chemists, or biologists, psychologists make careful measurements, using well-chosen instruments. Like scientists in any domain, we look for patterns within our observations—variables that seem linked to each other and (often just as interesting) variables that turn out to be independent of each other. When we find those patterns, we run carefully controlled experiments to investigate the patterns— that is, to learn what’s causing the patterns we’ve detected.

But how exactly does psychology proceed? After all, many of the events we hope to understand cannot be observed directly (because they involve thoughts or feelings “hidden” in each person’s mind). And many of the phenomena we hope to study are difficult to measure. (How does one measure an attitude, for example, or a preference?) Let’s look at how the scientific method unfolds in psychology, beginning with the broad question of how psychologists describe the phenomena they observe

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