Graziano and Raulin (8th ed)Graziano & Raulin
Research Methods (8th edition)

Chapter 3 Summary
The Starting Point: Asking Questions

Asking and Refining Questions

Asking a question is the usual starting point for research. A question is a statement or problem in need of an answer or solution.

Pursuing One's Own Personal Interests

Our own interests not only point to directions for research but may also be important in sustaining our work. Most of us can readily identify interesting psychological questions that can serve as starting points for research.

Following Up on the Work of Others

It is important to have a thorough knowledge of the literature in an area. Libraries have excellent systems to reference journals and books, and every researcher must learn how to use them. The work of others has both systematic and heuristic effects in leading researchers to new research questions. Systematic effects occur when previous research highlights a specific question that is answered with a follow-up study. Heuristic effects occur when a body of work stimulates others to do research--not necessarily in a systematic follow-up of specific questions, but rather because the earlier work stimulated interest in the area.

Applied and Basic Research

Much research in psychology is applied research in which the major goal is to provide solutions to practical problems. Basic research--also known as fundamental or pure research--is carried out to add to our understanding of nature, but without any particular practical goals. Both applied and basic research are important in science.

Refining Questions for Research

The ideas or questions with which we begin a research investigation should be examined and refined until they become specific enough to provide the researcher with a clear direction for answering the question. Once developed, the initial question is more than just a point from which to begin research; the very nature of the question determines much of how we carry out the rest of the research process (i.e., at what level of constraint to proceed, what observations to make and how to make them, and so on). The initial question actually begins to specify the behavior that we are going to observe and the conditions under which we are to make the observations. These behaviors and conditions are called variable--that is, any set of events that can vary.

The process of refining original ideas does not stop when we arrive at an initial question; rather, the question is further refined into a statement of the problem, and that statement is still further refined into a research hypothesis. (See Chapter 8 for more discussion of this development.)

Types of Variables in Research

There are several important ways of classifying variables in psychology. One can classify the variables on the basis of their nature or on the basis of how they are used in research.

Classifying Variables Based on Their Nature

We make the distinction between behavioral, stimulus, and organismic variables.

  • Behavioral Variables. Any overt response of an organism is a behavioral variable. The variables most often observed in psychological research are behavioral variables.
  • Stimulus Variables. Events that have an actual or potential effect on the behavior of an organism are stimulus variables. In psychological research, it is the stimulus variables over which we exert various degrees of control, and it is the response variables that we observe. In general, as we move from lower to higher levels of constraint, we apply greater degrees of control over stimulus variables.
  • Organismic or Subject Variables. Organismic or subject variables are the characteristics of the participants, such as age, height, intelligence, neuroticism, diagnosis, musical ability, and so on. Organismic variables that can be directly observed, such as weight and height, are called observed organismic variables. Organismic variables that cannot be directly observed, such as intelligence and attitudes, are called response-inferred organismic variables. Organismic variables are used to classify participants.

Classifying Variables Based on Their Use in Research

We distinguish among independent variables, dependent variables, and constants.

  • Independent and Dependent Variables. The independent/dependent variable distinction is important in research. The dependent variable is observed and measured by the researcher in order to see what relationship it might have with the independent variable. The independent variable may be manipulated by the researcher (a manipulated independent variable as used in experimental research) or simply measured by the researcher (a nonmanipulated independent variable as used in differential research). The largest category of nonmanipulated independent variables in psychology are organismic variables.
  • Extraneous Variables. These are unplanned and uncontrolled factors that can arise in an experiment and affect its outcome. Consequently they must be controlled.
  • Variables as Constants. A constant is a potential variable that is prevented from varying. By holding a variable constant we prevent it from affecting the dependent variable.

Validity and the Control of Extraneous Variables

Extraneous variables can reduce the validity of research. It is thus important to reduce the influence of extraneous variables. Procedures used to reduce extraneous influences are called controls. Control increases as we move from lower to higher constraint research.

Ethical Principles

One important set of decisions to be made in any research project involves the ethics of psychological research. Researchers make decisions about how they will use living organisms for research purposes, and this demands that ethical concerns be included in the research process.

Ethical Principles for Human Research

It is the responsibility of the researcher to ensure that the research is carried out in an ethical manner. The researcher must judge the research in terms of its value and the risks it poses to participants, whether the potential benefits outweigh the risks, and whether adequate safeguards have been built into the procedures. Should the risks to participants outweigh the potential benefits of the research, the ethical researcher will redesign or discontinue the project. 

Institutional Review Boards (IRBs), consisting of researchers' peers and members of the community at large, assist researchers and protect participants by carry out ethical reviews of research projects, recommending changes when necessary to meet ethical guidelines. They have been established at nearly all research institutions. Although IRBs are important and helpful, the major ethical responsibility still remains with the researcher.

The researcher must ask several important questions as ethical checks in each proposed study:

  1. Is the proposed research sufficiently well-designed to be of informational value?
  2. Does the research pose any risks to the participants?
  3. If the participants are placed at risk, does the research design adequately control those risks?
  4. Have provisions been included for obtaining informed consent from every participant or, if participants, such as children, cannot give it, from responsible adults?
  5. Has adequate feedback information been included?
  6. Does the researcher accept full responsibility for ethical and safe treatment of all participants
  7. Has the proposal been reviewed and approved by the IRB?

Ethics and Diversity Issues in Research

The issue of diversity of participants in research is related to both good research design and to ethical issues. Traditionally in medical and psychological research, women, children, and many ethnic groups have been underrepresented. As a result, research may not apply to all members of society. Researchers need to adequately represent our diverse society. 

Ethical Principles for Animal Research

In our view, concern for the ethical and humane treatment of animal participants in research is as important as the concern for human participants. The major ethical concerns in this area revolve around two issues: (1) Animals are captive participants and are not able to provide informed consent; (2) the nature of the research carried out on animals is generally more invasive than that carried out on humans. Therefore, considerable responsibility is placed on the researcher to ensure that animal participants are treated humanely. Guidelines for ethical treatment of animals in research have been published by the American Psychological Association and by the National Institute of Health. Laboratory Animal Care Committees serve similar functions as the IRBs do for research with humans, and are required in any animal research setting that receives federal funds.