What is experimental psychology?
Psychology is about equally divided into clinical and experimental activities. The clinical side is the practical application of psychological theory to real life problems. In contrast, the experimental side tries to discover principles and processes, whether they are applicable in a clinical setting or not.
Although its name suggests a specific technique (experiments), experimental psych uses a wide variety of designs and approaches. It is best thought of as being any and all kinds of research.
What is research?
At its core, research is the search for causality. It is applying the rules of systematic observation to people watching. We want to know if A causes B. Sometimes we can manipulate or change the value of A and see what happens to B. But it is not always that simple.
The process of research is often described as a circle with four parts: theory, model, variable and definition. The premise is that research is a linear process, You start with a group of ideas (theory) and convert them into a cluster of observable variable (model). The model specifies the variables (what to manipulate and what to measure). The data from the study helps define the problem better, which leads back to the theory.
This cyclic definition of the research process can turn the other way. And you can begin anywhere on the wheel you want. Variables can lead to models and also to more questions to define. And defining the problem can lead to theory development and to the selection of variables.
The round model is a good explanation of how research works in theory. In practice, psychology is much more theory-driven. The process is more like a funnel than a ball. Theories drive everything. Your theory determines your model components, which variables to measure, and what you are trying to prove. Theory also determines which statistics to use and how to interpret them.
Your theory is the basis of all your deductive reasoning. But you can ignore theory completely if you want restrict yourself to inductive reasoning. If you don’t have a theory, or don’t like them, you can simply collect data until a pattern emerges. Skinner took this atheoretical approach to research because he wanted to find universal principles that weren’t limited to a particular theory.
Experimental psychology uses many approaches to research. Although it is primarily deductive, it also uses inductive reasoning too. The methodology includes laboratory experiments, naturalistic observation, and correlational studies. The topics include attention, memory, perception, personality, therapy, education, development, and neurological processes.
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