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Need For Psychological Science

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Category: Psychology

Autor: reviewessays 22 December 2010

Words: 2553 | Pages: 11

The Need For Psychological Science:

The Limits of Intuition & Common Sense:

Some people scorn a scientific approach because of their faith in human intuition. Intuition can lead you astray. We presume that we could have foreseen what we know happened. Finding out something has happened makes it seem inevitable. Psychologists call this 20/20 hindsight vision the hindsight bias (the tendency to believe, after learning an outcome, that one would have foreseen it) also know as the I-knew-it-all-along phenomenon. Our everyday thinking is not limited to out after-the-fact common sense, but also by our human tendency to be overly confident.

The Scientific Attitude:

Underlying all science is a hard-headed curiosity, a passion to explore and understand without misleading or being mislead. When put to the test, can predictions be confirmed? This approach has a long history. For example: As ancient a figure as Moses used such an approach. How do you evaluate a self-proclaimed prophet? His Answer? Put the prophet to the test. If the predicted event "does not take place or prove true," then so much the worse for the prophet. (Deut. 18:22). Putting a scientific attitude into practice requires not only skepticism but also humility, because we may have to reject our own ideas. In the last analysis, what matters is not my opinion or yours, but the truths nature reveals in response to our questioning. Curiosity, skepticism, & humility helped make modern science possible. Scientists check and recheck one another's findings and conclusions. This scientific attitude prepares us to think smarter. Smart thinking, called critical thinking (thinking that does not blindly accept arguments and conclusions. Rather it examines assumptions, discerns hidden values, evaluates evidence, and assesses conclusions). Whether reading a news report or listening to a conversation, critical thinkers always ask questions. Has psychology's critical inquiry been open to surprising findings? The answer is plainly yes. Examples of this are:

1. Massive losses of brain tissue in early life may have minimal long term effects. (pg. 85)

2. Within days, newborns can recognize their mother's voice and odor. (pg. 138)

3. Brain damage can leave a person able to learn new skills, yet be unaware of such. (pgs. 86-88)

4. Diverse groups - men and women, old and young, rich and working class, those with abilities and those without - report roughly comparable levels of personal happiness. (pgs. 523-525)

5. Electroconvulsive ("shock") therapy is often a very effective treatment for severe depression. (pgs. 689-690)

The Scientific Method:

The scientific method is a self-correcting process for asking questions and observing nature's answer. It has 3 parts that work together to form a conclusion. Those parts are:

1. Theory: an explanation using an integrated set of principles that organizes and predicts observations.

2. Hypothesis: a testable prediction, often implied by a theory.

3. Research & Observations: recording what you see, hear, do, smell, etc. and researching to see if anyone else has made discoveries regarding the matter at hand and testing their conclusions.

By organizing isolated facts, a theory simplifies things. There are too many facts about behavior to remember them all. By linking facts and bridging them to deeper principles, a theory offers a useful summary. Yet, no matter how reasonable a theory may sound, we must put it to the test. A good theory doesn't just sound appealing. It must imply testable predictions, or hypothesis. By enabling us to test and reject or revise the theory, such predictions give direction to research. In testing theories, you should be aware that it can bias subjective observations. EX: Having theorized that depression springs from low self-esteem, we may see what we expect. We may perceive depressed people's neutral comments as self-disparaging. As a check on their biases, psychologists report their research precisely enough with clear operational definitions (a statement of the procedures (operations) used to define research variables. For example, intelligence may be operationally defined as what an intelligence test measures.) of concepts to allow others to replicate (repeating the essence of a research study, usually with different participants in different situations, to see whether the basic finding extends to other participants and circumstances.) their observations. If the recreated study with different participants and materials gets similar results, then our confidence in the finding's reliability grows. Our research strategies include descriptive, correlational, and experimental methods. We tests hypotheses and refine our theories by making observations that describe behavior, detecting correlations that help predict behavior, and doing experiments that help explain behavior. To think critically about popular psychology claims, we need to recognize these designs and to know what conclusions they allow.

Review & Reflect:

The Limits of Intuition and Common Sense:

Although in some ways we outsmart the smartest computers, or intuition often goes awry. To err is human. Without scientific inquiry and critical thinking we readily succumb to hindsight bias, also called the I-knew-it-all-along phenomenon. Learning the outcome of a study (or of an everyday happening) can make it seem like obvious common sense. We also are routinely overconfident of out judgments, thanks partly to our bias to seek information that confirms them. Such biases lead us to overestimate our unaided intuition.

Enter psychological science. Science with its procedures for gathering and sifting evidence, restrains error. Although limited by the testable questions it can address, a scientific approach helps us to sift reality from illusion, taking us beyond the limits of our intuition and common sense.

The Scientific Attitude:

Scientific inquiry begins with an attitude - a curious eagerness to skeptically scrutinize competing ideas and open-minded humility before nature. Putting ideas, even crazy-sounding ideas, to the test helps us winnow sense form non sense. The curiosity that drives us to test ideas and to expose their underlying assumptions carries into everyday life as critical thinking.

The Scientific Method:

Research stimulates the construction of theories, which organize observations and imply predictive hypotheses. These hypotheses (predictions) are then tested to validate and refine the theory and to suggest practical applications.

*Check Yourself: What is the scientific attitude and why is it important for critical thinking?

*Ask Yourself: How might the scientific method help us understand the roots of terrorism?


The Case Study:

Among the oldest research methods is the case study (an observation technique in which one person is studied in depth in the hope of revealing universal principles.). Most of our early knowledge about the brain came from case studies of individuals who suffered a particular impairment after damage to a certain brain region. Although case studies can also suggest hypotheses for further study, they sometimes mislead us: An individual may be atypical. Unrepresentative information can lead to mistaken judgments and false conclusions. Individual cases can suggest fruitful ideas. What's true of all of us can be glimpsed in any one of us. But to discern the general truths that cover individual cases, we much answer questions with other methods.

The Survey:

The survey (a technique for ascertaining the self-reported attitudes or behaviors of people, usually by questioning a representative, random sample of them.) method, commonly used in both descriptive and correlation studies looks at many cases in less depth. A survey asks people to report their behavior or opinion.


Asking questions is tricky. Even subtle changes in the order or wording of questions can have major effects. Some studies show that people approve of "aid to the needy" than "welfare", of "affirmative action" than "preferential treatment," and of "revenue enhancers" than of "taxes." Because wording a question is such a delicate matter, critical thinkers will reflect on how the phrasing of a question might have affected the opinions respondents expressed.


In our everyday experience we spend most of our time with a biased sample of people - mostly those who share our attitudes and habits. Therefore we wonder how many people hold a particular belief, those who think as we do come to mind most readily. This tendency to overestimate others' agreement with us is the false consensus effect (the tendency to overestimate the extent to which others share our beliefs and behaviors.). To restrain bias, researchers aim to gather a representative sample of people. Most surveys sample a target group, or a representative sample of the total population (all the cases in a group, from which samples may be drawn for a study. Note: except for national studies, this does not refer to a country's whole population.). How could you make your sample representative of this population? Typically by making it a random sample (a sample that fairly represents a population because each member has an equal chance of inclusion.). The point to remember: before believing survey findings, think critically: consider the sample. You cannot compensate for an unrepresentative sample by simply adding more people. Overgeneralizing from select samples is tempting, especially when they are vivid cases. The point to remember: The best basis for generalizing is from a representative sample of cases.

Naturalistic Observation:

The third descriptive research method, naturalistic observation (observing and recording behavior in naturally occurring situations without trying to manipulate and control the situation.) These observations range from watching chimpanzee societies in the jungle, to using unobtrusive measures of parent-child interactions in different cultures, to recording students' self-seating patterns in the lunchrooms of multiracial schools. Like the case study and survey methods, naturalistic observation does not explain behavior. It describes it.

Review & Reflect:

The Case Study, the Survey, and Naturalistic Observation:

Through individual cases, surveys among random samples of a population, and naturalistic observations, psychologists observe and describe behavior and mental processes. In generalizing from observations, remember: Representative samples are a better guide than vivid examples.

*Check Yourself: What are the strengths and weaknesses of the three different methods psychologists use to describe behavior - case studies, surveys, and naturalistic observation?

*Ask Yourself: can you recall examples of misleading surveys you have experienced or read about? What principles for a good survey did they violate?


Describing behavior is a first step toward predicting it. When surveys and naturalistic observation reveal that one trait or behavior accompanies another, we say the two correlate. The correlation coefficient (a statistical measure of the extent to which two factors vary together, and thus of how well either factor predicts the other.)

*scatterplot: a graphed cluster of dots, each of which represents the values of two variables. The slope of the points suggests the direction of the relationship between the two variables. The amount of scatter suggests the strength of the correlation.

The point to remember: although the correlation coefficient tells us nothing about cause and effect, it can help us see the world more clearly by revealing the actual extent to which two things relate.

Correlation & Causation:

Correlations, however imperfect, do help us to predict and restrain the illusions of our flawed intuition. Watching violence correlates with aggression, but does that mean it causes aggression? Does low self-esteem cause depression?


The point to remember: Correlation indicates the possibility of a cause-effect relationship, but it does not prove causation. Knowing that two events are correlated need not tell us anything about causation.

Illusory Correlations:

Correlations make visible the relationships we might otherwise miss. They also restrain our "seeing" relationships that actually do not exist. A perceived nonexistent correlation is an illusory correlation (perception of a relationship where none exists) Illusory thinking helps explain why for so many years people believed that sugar made children hyperactive, that getting cold and wet caused one to catch a cold, and that weather changes trigger arthritis pain. The point to remember: when we notice random coincidences, we may forget that they are random and instead see them as correlated. Thus, we can easily deceive ourselves by seeing what is not there.

Review & Reflect:

Correlation & Causation:

The strength of the relationship between one factor and another is expressed as a number in their correlation coefficient. Scatterplots and the correlations they reveal help us to see relationships that the naked eye might miss. Knowing how closely two things are positively or negatively correlated tells us how much one predicts the other. But it is crucial to remember that correlation is a measure of relationship; it does not reveal cause and effect.

Illusory Correlations and Perceiving Order in Random Events:

Correlations also help us to discount relationships that do not exist. Illusory correlations - random events we notice and assume are related - arise from our search for patterns.

*Check Yourself: Here are some recently reported correlations, with interpretations drawn by journalists. Further research, often including experiments, has clarified cause and effect in each case. Knowing just these correlations, can you come up with other possible explanations for each of these?

a. Alcohol use is associated with violence. (One interpretation: Drinking triggers or unleashes aggressive behavior.)

b. Educated people live longer, on average, than less-educated people. (One interpretation: Education lengthens life and enhances health.)

c. Teens engaged in team sports are less likely than other teens to use drugs, smoke, have sex, carry weapons, and eat junk food less often than teens who do not engage in team sports. (One interpretation: Team sports encourage healthy living.)

d. Adolescents who frequently see smoking in movies are more likely to smoke. (One interpretation: Movie stars' behavior influences impressionable teens.)

*Ask Yourself: Can you think of an example of correlational research that you recently heard about from a friend or on the news? Was an unwarranted conclusion drawn?


The clearest and cleanest way to isolate cause and effect is to experiment (a research method in which and investigator manipulates one or more factors, or independent variables, to observe the effect on some behavior or mental process, or dependent variables. By random assignment of participants, the experiment controls other relevant factors.) The important point to remember: unlike correlational studies, which uncover naturally occurring relationships, and experiment manipulates a factor to determine its effect.

Evaluating Therapies:

Our tendencies to seek new remedies when we are ill or emotionally down can produce misleading testimonies. For example, if, after nearly failing the first exam, we listen to a "peak learning" subliminal tape and then improve on the next exam, we may credit the tape rather than conclude that our performance has returned to our average. To find out if something is actually effective, we must experiment. That is precisely how new drug treatments and new methods of psychological therapy are evaluated. In many studies the participants are blind (uninformed) about what treatment, if any, they are receiving. One group receives the treatment. Others receive a pseudotreatment - an inert placebo (perhaps a pill with no drug in it). Often neither the participant nor the research assistant collecting the data knows whether the participant's group is receiving the treatment. This double-blind procedure (an experimental procedure in which both the research participants and the research staff are ignorant (blind) about whether the research participants have received the treatment or the placebo. Commonly used in drug evaluation studies.) enables researchers to check a treatment's actual effects apart from the research participants' (and their own) enthusiasm for it and the healing power of belief. The placebo effect (experimental results cause by expectations alone; any effect on behavior caused by the administration of an inert substance or condition, which is assumed to be an active agent.)

Works Cited

• Scott, Shirley Lynn. “What Makes Serial Killers Tick?” 2003.

• Court TV’s Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods. Court TV’s Online Library of crime.

• Http://www.crimelibrary.com/serials/what/whatmain.htm

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• Scott, Jan. “Serial Killers: An Overview” Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center.

• From Contemporary Issues Companion: Serial Killers.


• Belea, Keeney & Heide, Kathleen. “Defining Serial Murder” Opposing Viewpoints

• Resource Center. From Contemporary Issues Companion: Serial Killers.


• Bell, Rachel. “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.” Court TV’s Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods.