Psychological researchers try to understand how the mind works. That is, they describe observable phenomena, try to induce explanatory theories, and use those theories to deduce predictions. The explanatory value of a theory is then assessed by comparing theoretical predictions to new observations. Continue reading
Many psychology students find themselves in a situation where their research did not yield any significant results. This can be immensely frustrating since they have put a lot of time and effort into designing the study, as well as in collecting and analyzing the data. In some cases, be it out of desperation or pressure to publish interesting findings, certain students will effectively “hunt” for results by conducting statistical tests on all possible variable combinations. For instance, after noticing that a hypothesized correlation between two variables proved to be non-significant, a student might create a correlation matrix of all continuous variables of her study and hope for at least one pair to be significantly related to each other. Other students might include one, two, or even more covariates in their analysis of variance (turning it into an ANCOVA), thereby hoping that the interaction they initially hypothesized between their key factors will become significant.
Having started my PhD in Psychology just recently, I have been a psychology student for a long time now. Doing a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree has surely given me the chance to observe my own progression as a researcher as well as others. In my experience, a large number of students choose a very specific population of focus when it comes to their major projects. For example, a researcher might be interested to understand how international university students’ anxiety affects their concentration. Generally you might think that such a correlational research project would result in interesting findings – but what if it didn’t?
One of the best advice I have ever received from my lecturer is that the main purpose of major projects is not to publish significant results or to deliver a groundbreaking piece of research (although this is the ideal case scenario); it is to prepare us for the future and to make us good researchers when it counts (i.e. in the ‘real world’). While this is very realistic and somewhat reassuring, I firmly believe that there is one route that a lot of student researchers can take in order to ensure that they come out of the research process with rich, useful and satisfying data (because after all, we all have egos): by using mixed methods! Continue reading
Although qualitative research methods have grown increasingly popular,confusion exists over how their quality can be assessed and the idea persists that qualitative research is of lesser value when compared to quantitative research. Quantitative and qualitative research have different historical roots and are based on very different concepts, yet the dominance of positivist ideas about what constitutes good quality, valid research in psychology has often led qualitative research to be evaluated according to criteria, that are designed to fit a very different paradigm. Inevitably, the diverse perspectives which use qualitative methods and their differing views on how people should be studied mean there is disagreement and controversy over how quality should be evaluated. Despite this, it is seen as important to develop common criteria which allow the quality of qualitative research to be evaluated on its own terms.
It sometimes seems that the entire area of psychology is characterised by the friction between words and numbers. When I first considered a career in psychology, as a UK student, I was faced with the confusing choice of psychology as either a Bachelor of Arts or a Bachelor of Science. The former spoke to me of enticing social science research, such as interpersonal attraction, whilst the latter screamed scary statistics – avoid, avoid, avoid! However, in the years that have passed since I had this decision to make, psychology has increasingly come to be defined as a science and the presiding impression is that the discipline takes a distinct pride in its commitment to numbers. This is perhaps the natural outcome of living in a world which dictates that evidence counts for everything, a trend which is keenly reflected in the media’s thirst for statistics-based research stories. However, I hear you ask, what has happened to the fate of “words” during this numerical domination of psychology?
This is where the field of qualitative research enters into the equation, with a number of researchers having elected to favour data gathering in the form of words, pictures or objects rather than through the standard route of numbers and statistics. However, there has long been a sense of qualitative research as the “poor relation” of quantitative efforts. The question is whether qualitative research is still somehow perceived as being of lesser value than quantitative research, and how this affects publication possibilities?