Psychological Research Design

“Substance Abuse Recovery among Homeless Adults in Atlanta, Georgia, and a Multilevel Drug Abuse Resiliency Tool”

“A Pilot Randomized Control Trial of Autovideography Intervention to Enhance Recovery for People with Severe Mental Illness”

“Evaluation of the Better Todays/Better Tomorrows Youth Suicide Prevention Program: Increasing Mental Health Literacy in Rural Communities”

The above are just three titles of thousands of studies in 300-plus journals printed in 2015 that were devoted to the field of psychology. To conduct these studies – and to truly understand such studies when reading them – psychologists must have a working knowledge of what makes up a good and accurate research project. They must have at least some understanding of how to collect and analyze data, both quantitative and qualitative. The more in depth research they do, the more psychologists must know about research methods.

What Do They Need to Know?

An expectation of a psychology student is to complete a statistics and research methods class as part of the curriculum, as well as read and possibly complete their own research project. Kendra Cherry writes on the VeryWell psychology website:

A lot of psychology students are surprised (and sometimes dismayed) to realize that statistics courses are required for graduation in their chosen major. Statistics courses are a major part of virtually all psychology programs. Not only will [students] need to take one or two courses of statistics, [they] will probably also encounter the subject in many…other classes, particularly those that involve experimental design or research methods.

In addition to basic statistics, psychology students will learn how to compute measures of central tendency, measures of variation, and how to construct a variety of graphs and charts. All of these skills contribute to presenting data properly, as well as the method for designing a research project. Further in depth, students of psychology will also learn about inferential statistics, which decides whether or not something occurred randomly or through intervention, such as therapy.

Research Design

Research design is a vital topic for any psychology student. As a student, instructor, or practicing psychologist, in order to conduct research it is important to know how to design the project correctly. There are many different research designs that can be used, and it is important that the proper design is chosen to produce useful data.

While describing, presenting, analyzing, and even reporting data and results is somewhat of a science, designing a proper research study is more of an art. This is especially true in psychology because the goal of many research psychological studies is to determine how people react to some stimulus without being aware of the stimulus. In other types of psychological research, the goal is to determine if an intervention of some kind produces a desired effect. In this type of study, the researcher must be able to control as many other variables that could produce (or inhibit) the effect being studied. This is often difficult and takes creative thinking on the part of the researcher. The more knowledge the researcher has about research methodology, the more he can create the proper piece of research.

One way that students of psychology can learn about research designs is to learn from psychology students before them. By reading published research reports, they can learn and implement designs that have worked before. It is a good idea to use a design that proved to be effective for others if that design will lead to the desired data in one’s own study. Replicating a study that was conducted is not only a good way to learn about how to implement a research method, but also a good way to strengthen (or perhaps refute) the findings of previous studies.

Many psychology students, especially those who plan on doing their own research in the future, often work as research assistants to professors at universities. As assistants, students are often involved in the collection of data, which is generally the most labor-intensive aspect of a research project. Interviewing subjects or conducting experiments with subjects often falls to the assistants in a research study.

Students may also help the primary researcher flesh out the procedures and protocols for the study (sometimes by conducting pilot studies), and work on the final manuscript, including assisting with the literature review, writing certain parts of the paper, and proofreading the product or parts of it. This is not only an invaluable learning experience for students, but also a chance to have their names on published works. This can be very important to students who wish to further their work in psychological research, and can play a part in getting into doctoral programs.

If you are interested in learning more about programs that offer courses focused on data science and research methods, click here.