Methods and Ethics of Psychology

by Tabetha Cooper
What is research?  That is a good question.  The standard definition given on 
Research Bar
Research Bar (Photo credit: Rice-Aron Library)
http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/research is, “diligent and systematic inquiry or investigation into a subject in order to discover or revise facts, theories, applications, etc.”  I would say research is what you do when you are gathering data for or through an experiment that will help to either confirm or dismiss your hypothesis.  So what is a hypothesis?   As defined by Schacter, Gilbert, Wegner (2009), a hypothesis is “a specific and testable prediction that is usually derived from a theory.”  The way I would define it would be as an educated guess about the outcome of an experiment.
Once someone has come up with a theory, they form a hypothesis.  After there is a suitable hypothesis that can be tested, an experiment would be set up.  When setting up an experiment to test a theory research needs to be done to find the best way to do this safely and accurately.  Then what you are actually doing in your experiment is researching information on your specific topic of interest.  Once the research is collected and all data is in the next step would be to evaluate the data.  Upon completion of the evaluation of data a psychologist should be able to tell if their theory is going to be confirmed, dismissed, or if additional research is going to be needed.
            There are different methods of research.  One such method is the case method which is defined as collecting knowledge by studying an individual.  Another is naturalistic observation, a method that gains information by secretly observing a person.  The next method is the experimentation which is the method of assembling knowledge in a controlled environment. The last method I am going to mention is the survey method which is compiling information in the form of surveys or questionnaires. 
Research Team
Research Team (Photo credit: shareski)
If I were asked which method of research I would choose to conduct a study, what would I answer?  After some time spent pondering, I have to say that out of all the different methods I have been introduced to I favor case method the most.  The case method is a case study on an individual person, which is very appealing to me.  Just to clarify I think that either a controlled or naturalistic observation would be the best for big studies but based on my interests, case method is the best choice for me.
            The reason I would choose the case method is because it is more up and personal.  Results can be altered by lies but I believe that if enough time is spent with a participant that the truth would come out.  I am more interested in the thought process, as in the chain of thought and ways of thinking with individual people.  For me this method of research would be the most idealistic.  I believe that the more one on one time spent with a person, the more you will be able to connect their train of thoughts and even be able to learn to tell when they are lying.
English: AMA (American Medical Association)'s ...
English: AMA (American Medical Association)'s Code of Medical Ethics. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
            Whenever you do any method of research dealing with human beings you have to make sure that the code of ethic that was put forth by the American Psychological Association in 1958 is followed extensively.  One of the more important rules listed within the code of ethics is informed consent, a form that participants of an study must sign that states that they are willing to take part in the study and have been informed of any dangers that may be involved.  Another important rule is the freedom from coercion which states that participants have to volunteer for a study and that they cannot be persuaded to do so.  Protection from harm is another wonderful rule, this rule state that every precaution necessary must be taken to protect participants from psychological as well as physical harm during a study.  Another rule worth mentioning is the risk-benefit analysis rule which says that participants may be subject to small risks but are not permitted to be asked to partake in studies involving large risks.  But I would have to say that my favorite rule is the debriefing, a rule that makes it clear that a psychologist may keep information about a study from the participants prior to the study but must tell the participants everything about the study upon completion.  The reason this rule is my favorite is because it would be fun to see a person’s face after they are told what they were really being studied for.
            In a case study I think that each rule in the code of ethics would apply to some extent.  Although I feel that certain important rules would not be as vital in this form of study, such as the protection from harm.  But I guess it would depend on what the nature of the study was.  In the form that I want to utilize the case method, it would not really apply.  Another rule that I don’t think would apply so much would be the risk-benefit analysis, but again this would depend on the exact nature of the study intended.
American Psychological Association
American Psychological Association (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
            Something that I would like to mention while we are on the topic of ethics is that a psychologist (or any other scientist performing an experiment) needs to be sure that their planned study is ethical.  When I say the study itself needs to be ethical I mean the nature of the study, the intent for the study, and the goals that the study is meant to achieve.  The definition of ethics varies from person to person but I think that by using the American Psychological Association’s code of ethics as a guideline when determining any part of a study that a researcher will be safe.  We need to remember that the code of ethics was not put in play to limit the amount of studies that can be completed, but rather to protect the integrity of the psychologist performing the study, and more importantly to protect a participant from becoming injured severely in one form or another.
            When a psychologist comes to the point of their study where they must make a conclusion, they do so in a variety of ways.  One way would be to use a frequency distribution, which is a graph that shows the how many times something was observed during a study.  Using a correlation coefficient which is a measure of statistics that shows the strength of a correlation between two or more variables of a study is another way to come to a conclusion.  A great way to make a conclusion is studying the internal validity, the characteristics of an experiment that show a causal relationship between both the independent and dependent variables.
English: A set-theoretic illustration of hypot...
English: A set-theoretic illustration of hypothesis testing in the case where the true rule (T) overlaps the working hypothesis (H). Adapted from Figure 2 of Joshua Klayman, Young-Won Ha (1987). "Confirmation, Disconfirmation and Information in Hypothesis Testing". Psychological Review (American Psychological Association) 94 (2): 211–228. ISSN 0033-295X (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
            If I had an option to do research on any topic that I choose I would have to say, using the case method, I would want to research and learn more about the workings of a serial killers mind.  I am fascinated by how someone can take the lives of so many people in such horrendous ways and find nothing wrong with it, even crave to do so.  I want to study their family lives from birth through incarceration. I would also like to study their eating, drinking, social, and work habits.  I would like to spend an extensive amount of time with each participant I studied.  I would want all their medical histories and arrest records. Through my studies I would like to see if there is are thought patterns in the way serial killers think.   My ultimate goal with the studies I would like to perform is to see if there would be absolute way to identify a serial killer before any killings have a chance to occur.
            I want to have a job eventually working with the FBI as a criminal profiler, so the information I gather from these studies would definitely help me in this line of work.  A person will be better off not only in their professional life but their personal life as well with the more they know about the human psyche. Everyone in this world thinks differently but I am a firm believer that people that are similar have a similar thought process.  They may not have the same line of thinking but they have the same process to get to their conclusion.  I already listed a major plus that this research project would have for my future career, so now let me tell you where it will help me in my personal life.  When people are in a bad situation they make rash decisions that may not be the best ones, but they seemed to be the best at the moment.  Some people find themselves in trouble because of these decisions.  Upon having a firm grasp on different thought processes and the reasoning that someone selected to do something a particular way, I would love to advocate for the people that find themselves in trouble, on my own time.  Help them to justify their reasoning in why they selected to react in a certain situation.  The only example I can offer for this is a poor one but let me explain it to you anyhow.  A single mother comes home from work with her two small children.  She finds that an armed intruder is in her home.  She carries a small hand gun in her purse.  When the intruder finds that she has came home he pulls out his weapon with intentions of harming her.  She pulls out her gun and shoots the intruder before he has time to reach her and her children, killing him.  She was still in the doorway and could have simply turned and ran out the door, retreating back to her car.  She could have then drove to the neighbors and called the police.  But at that particular point in time that 
research (Photo credit: suttonhoo)
thought had never crossed her mind and now she is standing trial for murder.  I would like to be able to help her to explain, scientifically, why she chose to shoot instead of run.
            There are different kinds of methods that can be used to help a psychologist do research, and there are many more codes of ethics that need to be followed when doing so.  When a researcher puts the time and energy into conducting a completely ethical study, society as a whole stands to benefit from what is learned.  As a student, learning how these processes work, I hope to one day be able to perform a study that will help better this world!

, Gilbert, Wegner (2009), Psychology

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