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Scientific Processes

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Scientific Processes

We use science on a daily basis, whether we are aware of it or not. When we encounter an issue, we use the scientific method to solve it (sometimes even unconsciously). The scientific method is a step-by-step procedure for determining answers to scientific inquiries.

The scientific process is an empirical method developed by Sir Francis Bacon, providing a framework for researchers to follow in their research. Empirical research is thus enabled, and biases that affect the interpretation of results are limited. We conduct empirical research by empirically testing falsifiable hypotheses and determining whether these predictions are consistent with previous empirical observations.

The term ‘empirical’ refers to a phenomenon or data that has been observed and measured in a carefully controlled manner (scientifically).

Scientific process steps

The scientific process involves formulating hypotheses using inductive methods (e.g., collecting observations of natural phenomena) to develop a theory or research question. We then make deductions from hypotheses based on the results of the experiment. We adjust or eliminate the hypotheses depending on whether the conclusions drawn are supportive or contradictory. Thus, the scientific process is also called a hypothetico-deductive model. The figure below shows the stages of this model.

Scientific Process Scientific process steps StudySmarter

Scientific process steps, Manreet Thind, StudySmarter Originals

Observations and research questions

The first stage of the scientific process is to observe natural phenomena. We formulate research questions to understand better the research area based on these observations.

Formulating hypotheses

Based on the research questions, we need to formulate hypotheses.

Hypotheses are predictive statements composed of research findings that set expectations of the experiment. We usually deduce hypotheses with background research.

For example, students who study longer will have higher grades.

Keep in mind that hypotheses need to be predictive and falsifiable statements. They can be supported or negated via observations or experimental methods.

Testing Hypothesis

Statistical analysis is crucial for the empirical testing of hypotheses. Researchers must then design and conduct experiments or observations that test the hypothesis. For example, they might design a questionnaire to test that students who study longer have better grades. Study designs of experiments need to be verifiable, which means they should allow other researchers to replicate them. Such experiments guarantee the reliability of the results. Therefore, a detailed description of the procedural techniques is required.

Analysing data

The data analysis stage of the scientific process carries out statistical tests to confirm or refute hypotheses. For quantifiable data, if the analyses yield statistically significant data following the direction of the hypothesis, supportive evidence of the thesis is implied. However, if the data are not statistically significant, experimental problems in data may need investigation. The data does not support the hypothesis if it fails to follow the direction of the hypothesis. Another important factor is that all data must be reported according to APA guidelines, whether they support or reject the hypothesis.

APA is the American Psychological Association, an association of registered psychologists that, among other things, establish guidelines for reporting research.

Reporting conclusions

Whether researchers find supportive or negating hypothesis evidence, they must report the data following APA guidelines. This stage involves drawing conclusions based on the data obtained and comparing it to previous literature. Previous findings that support or contradict the current research evidence summarise the research area. This section should answer the initial research question. If contradictory results appear, the researcher should refine and re-test the hypothesis following the stages of the scientific process. Furthermore, evidence supporting the hypothesis should further refine the idea and follow the subsequent stages of the scientific method to increase knowledge of the phenomena.

Scientific processes Data Report StudySmarterData report, Pixabay

The importance of the scientific process

  • When we conduct research with a scientific background, we must use vigorous, empirical methods through controlled experiments to arrive at results that we can apply to real-life settings, such as the treatment of disease.

  • Reliability – the procedure description should be detailed and easy for other researchers to replicate. Researchers can then examine its reliability and determine the generalisability of results.

  • Validity – the scientific process provides researchers with an empirical technique that limits data bias, thus increasing validity.


Scientific Processes - Key takeaways

  • The scientific process involves the following stages for empirical research: forming hypotheses using inductive methods and deducing supporting or negating evidence using experimental techniques and analysis.
  • Hypotheses should always be predictable, verifiable and falsifiable.
  • Researchers should always report, regardless of whether it supports or negates the proposed hypothesis. They should adjust the supportive data to understand the research area further and revise and re-test the contradictory data, following the stages of the scientific process.
  • This method/framework increases the likelihood of reporting reliable and valid data.

Frequently Asked Questions about Scientific Processes

The scientific process is an empirical method created by Sir Francis Bacon, providing a framework for researchers to follow when creating research.

This explains the scientific process, using an example of students and their grades 

  • Observation and research question - some students performed better than others. The research question would be. Why do some students perform better than others?
  • Formulating hypothesis- based upon previous literature, it can be predicted that students who studied for longer periods attained higher grades
  • Testing hypothesis questionnaire and reports that identify how long students studied and grades received
  • Analysing- correlational analysis between the two variables
  • Conclusions- significant positive correlation between time spent studying and grades supporting the hypothesis, which has also been found in previous studies

The scientific process in psychology is the 'golden standard' framework of how research should be carried out. This is because the process provides an empirical, standardised method for creating research, which increases the reliability and validity of findings.

The scientific process is testing whether empirical data, driven by scientific research supports or rejects the hypotheses proposed in research.

The correct order of the scientific process is, as follows: observing a natural occurring phenomena and formulating research questions and hypotheses, testing the hypotheses empirically, analysing data and then drawing conclusions from the data found. The stages repeat in a cycle.

Final Scientific Processes Quiz

Question

What is an experimental design?

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Answer

Experimental design is a method used to allocate participants to different groups/ conditions of an experiment.

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What are four examples of experimental designs?

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The four experimental designs are independent measures, repeated measures, matched-pairs, and quasi-experimental designs.

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What is an independent measures design?

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The independent measures design is an experimental design in which different participants are used to test each condition of the independent variable. 

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What is a repeated measures design?

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A repeated measures design is when participants are assessed in all of the independent variable levels. Therefore, data obtained for each condition of the independent variable are taken from the same participants.

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What is a matched-pairs design? 

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Matched pairs design is when participants are paired in terms of specific characteristics such as age, ethnicity, or education level. Each individual of the matched pair is randomly assigned to the experimental or control group.

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What is a quasi-experimental design?

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This method involves different participants being tested on each independent variable level. This is usually used in psychology research to determine the effectiveness of pre-existing treatment/interventions. As a result, participants allocation into experimental and control groups is fixed. 

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Question

For the following research scenario, ‘an investigation to identify if Clozapine (medication) is an effective drug to minimise symptoms of schizophrenia’, which experimental design would be appropriate to use and why?

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A quasi-experimental design would be appropriate because it can compare schizophrenia patients taking Clozapine (experimental group) and patients with schizophrenia using a different drug. This allows the researcher to identify if Clozapine or another drug is better at minimising symptoms of schizophrenia in the recruited sample. This design is required, as ethically, researchers cannot change patients medication because it may cause physical and/or psychological harm to participants.

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How do independent group designs and quasi-experimental designs differ?

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Independent measures design and quasi-experimental designs are similar experimental designs. However, they differ in terms of sampling methods. For instance, independent group designs use random sampling, whereas group allocation is fixed in quasi-experimental designs. 

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Question

What is an advantage of using a repeated measure design over using independent measures experimental design?

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An advantage of using a repeated measures design instead of an independent design is that it is a more statistically robust design, accounting for individual differences. This can increase the reliability and validity of findings.

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Question

What are the advantages and disadvantages of using a matched-pairs experimental design?

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The advantage of using a matched-pairs design is that it accounts for individual differences as participants are matched according to key characteristics such as age, ethnicity. This limits confounding variables, and this design is not affected by order effects. This design also uses random sampling techniques, increasing the reliability and validity of results. However, the disadvantages are that it is challenging to match participants, and the recruitment of participants can be time-consuming.

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What is counterbalancing and its purpose? 

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Counterbalancing is when the researcher changes the order that measures are presented to participants to reduce order effects. Order effects are when the order of measures presented influences participants performance. There are different order effects, such as the fatigue effect and practice effect. These can lower the validity of findings if they have not been combated with counterbalancing techniques.

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Which research designs have random sampling implications?

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Answer

Independent measures and quasi-experimental designs cannot use random sampling techniques.

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According to the scientific process, what should a hypothesis be?

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Hypotheses need to be predictive, falsifiable, and verifiable statements.


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Why is the scientific process also called the hypothetico-deductive model?

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The scientific process involves the following stages for empirical research: forming a hypothesis, using inductive methods and deducing supporting or negating evidence using experimental techniques.

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Question

What inductive method do we use to form research questions?

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Accumulation of observations of natural phenomena to comprise a theory/principle.

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Question

Write a directional hypothesis based upon the research question 'Does sleep affect memory performance?'.


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The 'sleep-deprived' individuals will have lower memory scores than those with 'normal sleep'.

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Describe a method that will provide empirical data that tests whether sleep affects performance in memory tasks.

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The study could randomly assign participants to two groups: the 'sleep-deprived' and the 'regular sleep' group. The two groups could then carry out a memory task and the study would then analyse and compare the scores. 

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What should be done if data negates the hypothesis proposed?

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The researcher should report the data following APA guidelines, revise the hypothesis, and repeat the scientific method.

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Why do we need the scientific process?

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The process provides an empirical, standardised method for producing research that increases the reliability and validity of the results.

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What are independent variables?

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The IV is a factor that the experimenter manipulates to identify if it affects the DV.

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What are dependent variables?


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The DV is a variable/factor measured or being tested in the experiment and allows for inferences to be made of whether it has a causal relationship with the hypothesised IV.

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Question

How can the experimental research method be used to identify causal relationships between variables? 


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Answer

Causal relationships are identified if changes in the IV have an effect on the DV. 

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What information does operationalisation give about variables?

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How the variable is defined and measured.

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Of the following examples, which one is operationalised?

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IV- amount of water (ml) given to a plant & DV- height plant grown (cm).

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How do confounding variables affect the validity of results?

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Confounding variables can cause findings to under or overestimate the independent variable's impact on the DV, reducing the validity of conclusions.

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How do extraneous variables affect the validity of results?

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Extraneous variables reduce the internal validity of research, as these factors mean that the causal relationship may not be due to the manipulation of the IV.

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What is a manipulated variable and give an example?

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Variables that are manipulated are called the IV. The purpose of manipulating variables in research is to observe how manipulation of variables affects the DV.

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What is a control variable?

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Other factors/variables excluding the IV that affect the DV (potential confounding/ extraneous variables).

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Question

What are potential control variables that researchers should consider for the following research scenario, ‘research investigating whether caffeine influences participants ability to recall memories’?

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Answer

  • Ensuring participants did not drink caffeinated beverages before the study.
  • Age.
  • Level of education.
  • Noise levels.

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How do confounding and extraneous variables differ?

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Extraneous variables compete alongside the IV to explain the results observed in research, whereas confounding variables cause issues in research as it is related to both the IV and DV.

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Question

What is the definition of demand characteristics and how is this issue combatted in research?

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Answer

Demand characteristics are defined as when participants respond in a biased manner based on ‘cues’ causing them to act in an ‘artificial’ manner. For example, being hyper-alert during listening exercises

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Question

What are randomised samples and how do they increase the validity of research? 

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Randomised sampling is when participants are randomly allocated to experimental groups. This increases the likelihood that the confounding variables present are equal between experimental groups.

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What is an operationalised variable? 


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Operationalisation of variables means that the variables under study are clearly defined with information about how the study will measure them.

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Question

For the following research scenario, ‘an investigation to uncover whether problem-solving skills are affected by emotion’ state how the researchers could operationalise the variables being investigated?

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Answer

The researchers would identify emotion as the IV and problem-solving skills as the DV. The researcher would then identify the operationalised definition of the IV as ‘emotional intelligence measured and scored by the Emotional Intelligence Test’. Furthermore, the operationalised definition of the DV would be ‘time required to solve a problem-solving test, for instance, a Sudoku puzzle’.

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Question

Why is it good practice to operationalise variables in psychology research? 

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  • Clearly defining variables and how they are measured in research makes it easier for researchers to replicate the research and determine the reliability of the results.
  • It is easier to ensure that the variables being studied have high internal validity (they measure what they are supposed to measure).
  • Reduces the likelihood that subjectivity will influence the research.
  • Ensures that the variables being studied are observable. This is an essential prerequisite for the research to be called empirical.

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Question

What theory did Kuhn propose?

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Answer

Theory of paradigms

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What are paradigms?


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Paradigms are a group of theories or perspectives used to explain a specific subject. Essentially, paradigms are a way of looking at something.

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What are the four predominant paradigms of psychology used in the current zeitgeist? 


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Cognitive psychology, biological approach to psychology, behavioural approach to psychology, and the psychodynamic approach to psychology.

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What constitutes the cognitive psychology paradigm?

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Cognitive psychologists believe that behaviour and psychological illnesses are a consequence of internal cognitive processes.

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What constitutes the behavioural psychology paradigm? 

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Behavioural psychologists agree that the environment and experience are what shapes human behaviour and what causes psychological illnesses.

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What constitutes the biological psychology paradigm? 

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The consensus of this paradigm is to measure biological, physiological and genetic factors/variables and establish a cause and effect relationship between these and behaviour.

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What constitutes the psychodynamic paradigm?

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Psychodynamic psychologists argue that the role of the inner battle between aspects of the human personality is what causes human behaviour.

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Question

What theory did Karl Popper propose?

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Answer

Theory of falsifiability

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What is the theory of falsifiability? 

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Answer

The theory of falsifiability is a theory that proposes theories/hypotheses should be testable and able to be proven wrong. For instance, they should be observable and able to be tested via observational methods.

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Question

What are the principles of falsifiability? 


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  • For research to be regarded a scientific it needs to be observable and hypothesesmust be able to be proven wrong. 
  • The world is ‘theory-laden’ and we use these theories to understand and explain our observations.
  • Research should take a deductive approach: using deductive logic researchers’ role is to provide support or reject theories. 
  • If a falsifiable theory is tested and it yields significant results, then it is accepted as scientific evidence. The current paradigm can largely impact if a theory is accepted as scientific evidence. 

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Question

Of the following example statements, which would be regarded as non-falsifiable?  

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Answer

Unicorns are magical creatures

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Question

Of the following example statements, which would be regarded as falsifiable?  

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Answer

The relationship between caffeine intake prior to a test and memory recall

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Question

State the example Popper gave of why scientific research should take a deductive approach to research. 

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Answer

Based on their observations and using inductive reasoning, Europeans thought that there were only white swans. However, after exploring Australia, Europeans observed black swans and so deduced that not all swans are white.

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What is a strength of the theory of falsifiability?


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The theory is realistic as it proposes that hypotheses cannot be 100% proven.

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What is a weakness of the theory of falsifiability? 

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It is difficult to know when to draw the line. For instance, how many observations are required to disprove a theory?  

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