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Scientific Method

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Scientific Method

If your friend jumps off a bridge, would you do it too? With the scientific method, you can test if that old saying you were told as a kid makes sense.

  • What is the scientific method?
  • What are the steps to the scientific method?
  • Why is the scientific method important?

The Scientific Method Definition

The scientific method is the standardized process by which scientists gather data to test whether their hypothesis aligns with existing scientific knowledge.

The scientist (or experimenter) goes through the steps of the scientific method to prove their new theory, being detailed in their work so that their experiment can be replicated. Although it is impossible to know who originated the scientific method, the first person to document this process was Sir Frances Bacon in the 1500s.

The Scientific Method Steps

The scientific method begins when someone makes an observation. Let’s say your science teacher noticed that students who eat in the morning score better on their tests compared to those who do not. The teacher thinks there might be reasoning behind this but isn’t quite sure. The next step in this method is to question this observation. Why do students who eat in the morning perform better on their tests? After research, this question then develops into a theory.

A theory is a plausible explanation for the question based on observations that the person might have.

Your teacher’s theory could be that students who take the time to eat in the morning are also the type of students to take the time to study more before a test.

Once a theory has been developed, the next step is creating a hypothesis.

The hypothesis is reworking your theory into a statement that can be tested. If the hypothesis cannot be tested, it is not a hypothesis.

Your teacher’s hypothesis might be that if the student does not eat in the morning, they will not score as high on their science test compared to their average.

An important part of the hypothesis is the operational definitions that come along with it.

Operational definitions are aspects of your hypothesis and experiment that are explicitly defined before the experiment begins so as not to produce any bias.

Your science teacher would define that eating in the morning requires a minimum of 300 calories before 8:00 am and that scoring higher on the test means beating their average.

Next, it’s time to test your hypothesis in an experiment. The experimental design is crucial in ensuring that your experiment tests your hypothesis. After collecting data, the scientist will be able to determine whether the experiment agrees or disagrees with their hypothesis. Suppose the experiment is unsuccessful in supporting the hypothesis. In that case, the scientist will take the time to review their theory and make amendments, potentially leading to a new experiment with a different hypothesis. Let’s say that your science teacher found that students who did not eat in the morning performed better on the science test. Your teacher would then revise his hypothesis and conduct the experiment again.

Regardless of the outcome, it is important to analyze the data from the experiment to draw conclusions. However, your science teacher found that the students scored higher than their average when they ate on the morning of a test and told your history teacher. Your history teacher knows that a test is coming up in a week and decides to test the science teacher’s hypothesis.

One of the most important parts of the scientific method is the ability for the experiment to be reproduced. Every detail of the experiment needs to be written down, so someone else can replicate the experiment and get the same results. Your history teacher would solely be relying on what was documented by the scientific method to conduct the experiment.

The more an experiment is replicated, and a hypothesis is supported, the more reliable it becomes.

Scientific Method, A graphic about the scientific method, Scientific Method It starts with an observation, then makes it way through all the steps. The scientific method. wikimedia commons.

The Scientific Method Applications

The scientific method can be used not only across many academic disciplines but also in your daily life. You go through your day using steps of the scientific method without even knowing it. For example, you notice that your stomach starts hurting. Why is it doing that? Is it the beans I ate for lunch? You avoid beans for a week, noticing that it helps, but then eat beans again and realize that yes, it was definitely the beans that made your stomach hurt. You made an observation (my stomach aches), formulated it into a theory (the beans made my stomach hurt), hypothesized (if I eat beans, then my stomach will hurt), and tested it (I ate beans, and my stomach hurt)! Although the scientific method is most commonly used in psychology, physics, chemistry, biology, and other sciences, don’t forget that you use it too!

Importance of the Scientific Method

This methodology is crucial in standardizing the process we use when we approach experiments. Through the scientific method, scientists can replicate other experiments, upping the reliability of those experiments. An experiment that truly follows the scientific method can be reproduced in varying locations worldwide. Thanks to the scientific method, your science teacher’s experiment could be replicated by a professor in England or a teacher in South Korea.

The Scientific Method also removes any biases that the researcher may have through the standardization of the process. Going step by step through the scientific method, an experimenter will document all steps and predictions, avoiding them from trying to unconsciously (or consciously) sway the outcome.

Examples of Scientific Method

There are oodles of examples of the Scientific Method since so many experiments use it, but let’s use an extremely famous psychological experiment as an example, the Milgram experiment.

In the 1960s, Stanley Milgram wondered about authority's effects on the individual. This study is often tied to the Holocaust, with the question being – did Nazis act of their own accord, or did they commit the atrocities they did because there was someone superior to them telling the Nazis to do so? Milgram hypothesized that the participants in the study would obey the orders of those superior to them, especially within close proximity.

The experimenter took the study subjects and told them that they were teachers, testing the learner’s knowledge in a study of memory. If the learner answered a question wrong, they would get an electric shock in increasing amounts. Unbeknownst to the subject, the learner was an actor, and the shocks were fake. Milgram determined how impactful the experimenter’s authority was on the participants, for when they verbalized discomfort at giving others shocks, the experimenter would tell them to continue. Milgram found that 65 percent of the participants would administer the final, “fatal,” 450-volt shock.

After the experiment, Milgram analyzed his data and published his findings, resulting in this experiment being replicated again and again. He concluded that there is an incredible social influence from an authority figure and found that it was even more prevalent when the experimenter was physically closer to the participant. Milgram followed all the steps of the scientific method to produce one of the most notable psychological experiments.

Scientific Method, an image showing the Milgram experiment setup. The experimenter and participant are in one room with the confederate who was getting "shocked" in a separate room, StudySmarter The setup of the Milgram experiment, commons.wikimedia.org

Of course, the scientific method can be used in a less stressful way – figuring out why the dishwasher isn’t working (is it plugged in? Is the electricity out?), determining if sleeping a lot the night before a test helps, or why, in a group, no one calls 911 during an emergency.

The Scientific Method - Key takeaways

  • The scientific method is important in making a researcher’s study unbiased.

    • It is also crucial in allowing other researchers to replicate the original experiment.

  • There must be a testable hypothesis, your theory reworked into a statement that can be tested.

  • Operational definitions are necessary to define certain aspects or variables of the experiment so there are no biases or confusion.

  • This way of research can be applied not only to psychology but also to daily life.

  • An observation turns into a question, which leads to a theory, from which a hypothesis is formed, resulting in an experiment and then a conclusion.

Frequently Asked Questions about Scientific Method

The scientific method is a process scientists or researchers use to test their hypotheses. It acts as a guide of steps for people to follow to produce an unbiased, replicable study. 

The steps of the scientific method are: 

  1. Make an observation and ask a question.

  2. Conduct background research and form a hypothesis.

  3. Conduct experiment.

  4. Collect data.

  5. Draw conclusions.

The importance of the scientific method is in standardizing the process in which scientists and researchers conduct experiments. Through this, other experimenters can replicate these studies. 

Examples of the scientific method in psychology involve any psychological experiment able to be replicated. One example is the Stanford Prison Experiment. In this experiment, researchers had questions about people conforming to assigned societal roles. They reformed this question into a hypothesis and tested their theory. 

The inventor of the scientific method is unknown, but Sir Frances Bacon is credited with the first documentation of the steps that are now known as the scientific method. 

Final Scientific Method Quiz

Question

What is the definition of Reliability?

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Answer

Reliability is the presence of a stable and constant outcome after repeated measurement or test

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What is the definition of Validity?

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Validity is an indicator that a test or tool of measurement is true and accurate.

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What is the importance of Validity and Reliability in terms of research?

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 They indicate whether a measurement is consistent, accurate, and trustworthy. All of which, add value to the research.

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What are two errors of Reliability?

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Method error and trait error.

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What is the issue of Maturation?

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The passage of time in an experiment interferes with the Validity of the measurement.

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What is the bias issue in validity?

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Bias in the selection of participants made by the researcher may affect the validity of an outcome.

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What is an interaction effect in validity?

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multiple tests before one another can negatively impact the outcome of a test that follows.

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Method error is: 

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An issue of reliability stemming from the experimenter or tool of measurement

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Trait error is:

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an issue of reliability that stems from the actions or behavior of a participant/subject

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Can something be Reliable but not Valid?

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yes

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Question

Anne is playing a game of darts. She throws all of her darts on the lowest scoring area of the board every single turn and loses the game. Were the shots taken by Anne reliable or valid? Explain.

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Reliable but not valid. Because Anne consistently hits the same area each turn, it is reliable. Anne failed to achieve the goal of the game by hitting the center of the board, therefore it was not valid.

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You step on a new weight scale and see an accurate number on the scale of how much you weigh. You step on the scale 4 more times and get a completely different weight every time. Valid or Reliable? Why?

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The scale was Valid once for reading a correct weight; however, because the result was not consistent it is not a reliable measurement.

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List the 4 types of Reliability

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Answer

  1. Test/retest
  2. Alternate-forms
  3. Split-half
  4. Interrater

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List the 3 types of Validity

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Answer

  1. Content
  2. Criterion
  3. Construct

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What Scientific process is used in all research?

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The Scientific Method

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What is a theory?

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A plausible explanation for the question based on observations that the person might have

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What is a hypothesis?

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Stating what you are going to test in your experiment

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What is an operational definition?

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An aspect of your hypothesis and experiment that is explicitly defined before the experiment begins in order to not produce any bias

Show question

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What are the steps of the scientific method?

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Answer

  1. Make an observation and ask a question

  2. Background research and make a hypothesis

  3. Conduct experiment

  4. Collect data

  5. Draw conclusions

Show question

Question

What is the scientific method?

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Answer

A process for scientists or researchers to test their hypotheses. It acts as a guide of steps for people to follow in order to produce an unbiased, replicable study. 

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When is the scientific method used?

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All the time! Anytime you are unsure of a problem and want to figure it out, you use the scientific method. 

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Who invented the scientific method?

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No one is 100% sure, but it is thought that Frances Bacon first documented the steps that are now the scientific method. 

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Do you have to have a hypothesis for your experiment to use the scientific method?

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Yes!

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What is one of the main reasons why the scientific method is used today?

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The ability to replicate the experiment after completion

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What is the difference between operational definitions and variables?

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Operational definitions are extra information about certain aspects of the study as to not lead to confusion or bias (for example, giving an exact temperature instead of just writing "hot." 

Variables are the aspects of the experiments that are manipulated by the researchers. 

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What is the difference between a theory and hypothesis?

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A theory is an explanation for something that a researcher observed, while a hypothesis is that theory reworked into a statement that can either be proven true or false. 

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Why is it important for experiments to be replicated?

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Replicating experiments leads to more reliability of the original experiment. If an experiment cannot be replicated, does that experiment actually show anything?

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Did Stanley Milgram follow the scientific method?

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Yes, however the ethics behind his experiment are now questionable. 

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What is reliability?

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Reliability is a way to measure something and get consistent results.

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What is validity?

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Validity is how accurate something that measures, can actually measure what it means to measure.

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How many different reliability/validity types of measurements can there be from a research study?


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There can be four different result types from a research study.

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What are the four different reliability/validity types of measurements that can come from a research study?


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Reliable and valid, reliable and not valid, not reliable and valid, not reliable and not valid.

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What does it mean for test results to be reliable and valid?


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In this, the results are considered reliable, giving consistent results, and they are considered to be valid, meaning that something is accurately measuring something else.

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What does it mean for test results to be reliable, but not valid?


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In this, the results are considered reliable, giving consistent results, but they are not considered to be valid, meaning that something is not accurately measuring something else.

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What does it mean for test results to be not reliable, but valid?


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In this, the results are considered not to be reliable, giving inconsistent consistent results, but they are considered to be valid, meaning that something accurately measures something else.

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What does it mean for test results to be not reliable and not valid?


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In this, the results are not considered reliable, giving inconsistent results, and they are not considered to be valid, meaning that something is not accurately measuring something else.

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What are the two types of errors in reliability?


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The two types of errors in reliability are random errors and nonrandom errors.

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What is the one type of error in validity?


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The one type of error in validity is a systematic error.

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What happens when a random error occurs?


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Random Errors occur when something by chance (randomly) affects the ability to get an accurate measurement. When more random errors are present, it results in a less reliable result.

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What is a nonrandom error?

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Nonrandom errors are more of a systematic error, and can also affect the validity of a test.

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When do systematic errors occur?


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Systematic errors occur due to different factors that systematically influence the measurement process.

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True or False: It is important to have reliable and valid test results.

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True

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True or False: A thermometer that gives faulty readings over and over would be considered a systematic error.

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True

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Fill in the blank: 

The scientific method is important in making a researcher’s study ________.

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"unbiased"

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Who was the first person to document the process of the scientific method? 

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Sir Frances Bacon 

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In what decade was the first documentation of the scientific method? 

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The 1500s 

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True or False: A theory is a plausible explanation for the question based on observations that the person might have.

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True 

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Fill in the blank: 

Once a theory has been developed, the next step is ___________ __ ________. 

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"creating a hypothesis" 

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When does the scientific method begin? 

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When someone makes an observation.

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True or False: One of the most important parts of the scientific method is the ability for the experiment to be reproduced. 

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

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