This chapter isn’t really meant to provide a comprehensive discussion of psychological research methods: it would require another volume just as long as this one to do justice to the topic. However, in real life statistics and study design are tightly intertwined, so it’s very handy to discuss some of the key topics. In this chapter, I’ve briefly discussed the following topics:
- Introduction to psychological measurement. What does it mean to operationalise a theoretical construct? What does it mean to have variables and take measurements?
- Scales of measurement and types of variables. Remember that there are two different distinctions here: there’s the difference between discrete and continuous data, and there’s the difference between the four different scale types (nominal, ordinal, interval and ratio).
- Reliability of a measurement. If I measure the “same” thing twice, should I expect to see the same result? Only if my measure is reliable. But what does it mean to talk about doing the “same” thing? Well, that’s why we have different types of reliability. Make sure you remember what they are.
- Terminology: predictors and outcomes. What roles do variables play in an analysis? Can you remember the difference between predictors and outcomes? Dependent and independent variables? Etc.
- Experimental and non-experimental research designs. What makes an experiment an experiment? Is it a nice white lab coat, or does it have something to do with researcher control over variables?
- Validity and its threats. Does your study measure what you want it to? How might things go wrong? And is it my imagination, or was that a very long list of possible ways in which things can go wrong?
All this should make clear to you that study design is a critical part of research methodology. I built this chapter from the classic little book by Campbell and Stanley (1963), but there are of course a large number of textbooks out there on research design. Spend a few minutes with your favourite search engine and you’ll find dozens.
Campbell, D. T., and J. C. Stanley. 1963. Experimental and Quasi-Experimental Designs for Research. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.
Stevens, S. S. 1946. “On the Theory of Scales of Measurement.” Science 103: 677–80.
Kahneman, D., and A. Tversky. 1973. “On the Psychology of Prediction.” Psychological Review 80: 237–51.
Pfungst, O. 1911. Clever Hans (the Horse of Mr. von Osten): A Contribution to Experimental Animal and Human Psychology. Translated by C. L. Rahn. New York: Henry Holt.
Hothersall, D. 2004. History of Psychology. McGraw-Hill.
Rosenthal, R. 1966. Experimenter Effects in Behavioral Research. New York: Appleton.
Adair, G. 1984. “The Hawthorne Effect: A Reconsideration of the Methodological Artifact.” Journal of Applied Psychology 69: 334–45.
Ioannidis, John P. A. 2005. “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False.” PLoS Med 2 (8). Public Library of Science: 697–701.
Kühberger, A, A Fritz, and T. Scherndl. 2014. “Publication Bias in Psychology: A Diagnosis Based on the Correlation Between Effect Size and Sample Size.” Public Library of Science One 9: 1–8.
Presidential Address to the First Indian Statistical Congress, 1938. Source: http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Ronald_Fisher
Well… now this is awkward, isn’t it? This section is one of the oldest parts of the book, and it’s outdated in a rather embarrassing way. I wrote this in 2010, at which point all of those facts were true. Revisiting this in 2018… well I’m not 33 any more, but that’s not surprising I suppose. I can’t imagine my chromosomes have changed, so I’m going to guess my karyotype was then and is now XY. The self-identified gender, on the other hand… ah. I suppose the fact that the title page now refers to me as Danielle rather than Daniel might possibly be a giveaway, but I don’t typically identify as “male” on a gender questionnaire these days, and I prefer “she/her” pronouns as a default (it’s a long story)! I did think a little about how I was going to handle this in the book, actually. The book has a somewhat distinct authorial voice to it, and I feel like it would be a rather different work if I went back and wrote everything as Danielle and updated all the pronouns in the work. Besides, it would be a lot of work, so I’ve left my name as “Dan” throughout the book, and in ant case “Dan” is a perfectly good nickname for “Danielle”, don’t you think? In any case, it’s not a big deal. I only wanted to mention it to make life a little easier for readers who aren’t sure how to refer to me. I still don’t like anchovies though :-)
Actually, I’ve been informed by readers with greater physics knowledge than I that temperature isn’t strictly an interval scale, in the sense that the amount of energy required to heat something up by 3∘ depends on it’s current temperature. So in the sense that physicists care about, temperature isn’t actually interval scale. But it still makes a cute example, so I’m going to ignore this little inconvenient truth.
Annoyingly, though, there’s a lot of different names used out there. I won’t list all of them – there would be no point in doing that – other than to note that R often uses “response variable” where I’ve used “outcome”, and a traditionalist would use “dependent variable”. Sigh. This sort of terminological confusion is very common, I’m afraid.
The reason why I say that it’s unmeasured is that if you have measured it, then you can use some fancy statistical tricks to deal with the confound. Because of the existence of these statistical solutions to the problem of confounds, we often refer to a confound that we have measured and dealt with as a covariate. Dealing with covariates is a topic for a more advanced course, but I thought I’d mention it in passing, since it’s kind of comforting to at least know that this stuff exists.
Some people might argue that if you’re not honest then you’re not a real scientist. Which does have some truth to it I guess, but that’s disingenuous (google the “No true Scotsman” fallacy). The fact is that there are lots of people who are employed ostensibly as scientists, and whose work has all of the trappings of science, but who are outright fraudulent. Pretending that they don’t exist by saying that they’re not scientists is just childish.
Clearly, the real effect is that only insane people would even try to read Finnegans Wake.