Scientific Approach in Psychology for Objective study

Sometimes people’s guesses reveal the biases they may have about certain physical appearances, for example, men with long hairs are musicians, a person in the suit is executive and so on. In contrary, psychology is all about trying to determine facts and reduce the uncertainty and biases. The scientific approach helps to achieve what researchers want to see as what is really there, not their biases might lead them to see.

Psychology’s Goals for Scientific Approach

The psychology’s goals are uncovering the mysteries of human’s and animal’s behavior as well. This goal includes:

  • Description
  • Explanation
  • Prediction
  • Control

These goals are objectively uncovered by Scientific approach only.

Case: Why so many computer scientists seem to be male?

Observation: A person from outside observes that a person who surrounds himself around computers, who lives and breathes on the computer, their favorite pass time is computer games, gadgets and science fiction.

Let’s study this with the above goals.

Description (What is happening?)

It involves observing the behavior and taking note of it. Describing is always the first step in understanding the event. Some of the quick questions that we ask about the description are- What is happening, when it happened, what are the circumstances of this happening, to which it happened, etc.

In the above case, an observer feels that why do female seem to avoid going into this environment?

Explanation (Why is it happening?)

Finding an explanation for behavior is a very important step in the process of forming theories of behavior. So the goal of the description provides the observation, and the goal of explanation helps build the theory.

Theory: It is a general explanation of a set of observation or facts.

The explanation of the above case is, women feel they do not belong in such stereotypically masculine surrounding.

Prediction (When will it happen again?)

Determining what will happen in future is a prediction.

If we want to have more females in computer science then we need to work on changing the environment and the perception of the environment which is typically associated with this.

Control (How can it be changed?)

The focus of control, or the modification of some behavior, is to change the behavior from an undesirable one to a desirable one.

From the above case, the Undesirable behavior is women avoiding a certain academic major, and the Desirable behavior should be more equality in career choices.

Scientific approach psychology

Steps in Scientific Approach

1. Perceiving the Question

You have noticed something interesting happening in your surrounding and for which you would like to have an explanation.

For example, You see your children seem to get a little more aggressive after watching a violent cartoon program. You wonder if the violence in the cartoon could be creating the aggressive behavior in your children. So this step is derived from the goal for description seeking the answer to the question what is happening here?

Next step would be forming a tentative answer or explanation of the behavior you have seen. This tentative answer/explanation is known to be Hypothesis.

2. Forming a Hypothesis

Based on your initial observation of what’s happening in your surroundings, you form an educated guess about the explanation for your observation, putting it into the form of a statement that can be tested in some way is what we call as forming a hypothesis.

The scientific approach of scientific investigation endorses the testing of hypothesis; hence, this is the primary way to the formation of the theories.

Sometimes a good theory leads to the formation of a hypothesis. The formation of the hypothesis becomes easier if we organize our thinking in “If-then” statement.

There must be a way to not prove any hypothesis is true, but also to prove a hypothesis is false. This is what “testable” means. You should look upon both the true and false scenario of your hypothesis.

The goal of description and explanation is to form a hypothesis based on observation.

People mainly follow Confirmation Bias. It basically makes people notice only those things which agree with their views of the world. Simply it is like selective bias.

The scientific approach is designed to overcome the tendency to look at only the information that confirms people’s biases by forcing them to actively seek out information that might contradict their biases (or hypothesis).

3. Testing the Hypothesis

The approach you use to test your hypothesis will depend on exactly what kind of answer you think, you might get. Here you proceed to test the hypothesis by making the more detailed observation. Even you could do a survey in which you ask questions to a large number of people. It will be good if you design an experiment wherein you would deliberately change the thing (variable) to see if it causes changes in behavior you are observing.

Testing a hypothesis is all about the goal of getting an explanation for the behavior, which leads to the next step.

4. Drawing conclusions

Drawing conclusions can be related to the goal of prediction. If your hypothesis is supported, you can make educated (learned) guesses about similar scenarios in the future.

5. Report your results

Your hypothesis could either get succeed or failed. It is your responsibility to even report the failed results. If you failed, it does not mean your hypothesis is incorrect.  There could be the many reasons for the failure of your hypothesis. It could be poorly designed, or some things would be in your control which interfered with the hypothesis. Your failed report will help other researchers to modify their questions if they are asking the same. They may further add more knowledge to the answers to those questions. Your failed research will set the standard of do’s and don’ts for the similar investigation or hypothesis. So, the final step in the scientific investigation is to report the result.

Once you complete your research (in Scientific Approach), you mention, why you did this experiment? How you did this? What you did this? And What you found out of this experiment? If others can replicate your finding, then it gives much more support to your findings.

Others predict behavior based on your finding, to use the results of those findings to modify or control behavior. This is the last goal is psychology.

In psychology, researchers try to find the answers to empirical questions. They use a variety of research methods depending on scientific questions to be answered.

Scientific approach in Psychology

This was all about steps in the scientific approach.

Observer Effect- It is the tendency of the people or animals to behave differently from their normal behavior when they know they are being observed.

Observer Bias- It is defined as the tendency of observers to see what they expect to see.

Descriptive Methods

There are several ways to investigate the answer to research questions. If any researcher is only interested to gather answers of what is happening? Or what has happened? Then they would select a method that gives them a detailed description.

Naturalistic Observation

If any researcher wants to take records of the exact behavior then he must leave the animals or humans in their natural environment. Otherwise, observer effect may hinder the experiment.


In Naturalistic observation, researchers get a realistic picture of the occurrences of the behavior of the subjects. In this, the behavior of the subject is (actually) being watched by them in all the natural settings.

In a more controlled arranged environment, like a laboratory, they might get the behavior that is artificial rather than genuine.

Precautions must be taken as an observer should have a checklist of well-defined and specific behavior to record, perhaps using their phone, tablet, computer or special handheld computer to log each piece of data.

Observer effect occurs, In many cases, When animals or humans know they are being watched, hence, they do not behave normally.

Sometimes researchers might use one-way mirrors. They might become a participant in a group, a technique called participant observation.


Observer bias is one of the major disadvantages. It could be minimized using blind observers. People who do not know what the research question is and, therefore, have no preconceived notions about what they “should” see. It’s also a good idea to have more than one observer so that the various observations can be compared.

These experiments are done in naturalistic settings; hence, these settings are unique, unlike any other. Observation held at one time in one setting may not hold true for another time, even if the setting is similar because conditions are not going to be identical time after time. Thus, researchers don’t have that kind of control over the natural world.

Laboratory Observation

Sometimes observing the behavior of both animals and people is not possible in natural settings. It is difficult to place the equipment in the natural settings so in such case laboratory observation is feasible.


It gives the degree of control to the observer.


It is basically an artificial situation that might result in an artificial result. Hence, both animal and people may react differently in laboratory observation than they would react in real life scenario.

Both Natural and Laboratory observation leads to the formation of the hypothesis that can later be tested.

Case Studies

In the case studies descriptive method, one individual is studied in great details. Such in-depth study is possible when researchers try to learn everything to its possibility.


It gives the mechanism to get tremendous details about the object. Hence, it is the only way to get a certain amount of information.

Naturalistic observation does not provide such details.

Case studies are a good way to study things that are rare.


Researchers can’t apply the results to other similar people. Another disadvantage, case studies are a detailed observation about the object hence there are chances that the observer’s bias may act as the vulnerable to the study.


Asking question is one the best way to find out the private (covert) behavior of the person.

In this technique, researchers ask a series of questions about the topic they are studying. There are different methods to perform the survey, like through interview, telephone, internet or questionnaire.

The questions used in an interview or on the telephone may vary, but usually, the questions in the survey are all the same for everyone answering the survey.


Researchers can get a tremendous amount of data from the large group. It also gives the flexibility to ask private questions.


Researchers can’t select all of them for the survey; rather, they choose representative people randomly as a sample.

Another disadvantage of this method, People don’t give accurate answers to the researcher’s questions. This is due to the fact that people tend to misremember things, distort the truth and may lie outright, even if the survey is the anonymous questionnaire. Remembering is not a very accurate process sometimes, especially when people think that they might not come off sounding very desirable or socially appropriate. Sometimes courtesy bias occurs.

Courtesy Bias- When people try to give a socially correct answer, instead of being glued to the true opinion.

Correlations: Finding Relationships

Correlation is as statistical technique, it gives a set of way to organize numerical information so that it is easier to look for patterns in the information.

Data collected from above discussed descriptive methods are often analyzed using the correlational techniques.

Technically, a correlation is a measure of the relationship between two or more variable.

Researchers find out the two facts or two variables for the study that will go into a mathematical formula. This will produce a number called the correlation coefficient. Therefore, the correlation coefficient represents two things, the direction of the relationship and its strength.

When the researcher talks about two variables, they know the value of one variable which triggers the change in the value of the second variable.

Direction of the relationship: This could be either positive or negative. If this is a positive number, the two variables change in the same direction. As one increase, other will also increase; similarly, as one decrease, other will also decrease.

In contrary, if this is a negative number, the two variables have the inverse relationship. As one increase, another number will decrease and vice versa.

Strength of the relationship: The strength between two variables are determined by the value of the actual number itself. The number range between +1.00 to -1.00.

If the relationship is very strong then the number will be near to +1.00 or to -1.00. In contrary, if the number is closer to zero then the strength will be so weak.

People always have a confusion regarding correlation is that one variable is the cause of the other variable. But this is not true indeed, thus, correlation never proves any kind of causation effect. It means if two variables are related to each other, researchers can’t assume one of them causes another one to occur. They could be related to some other variable that is the cause of both the variable.

In a nutshell, correlation is all about the relationship between the two variables, how strong the relationship is, and in what directions relationship goes. It helps to predict the value of another variable if researchers know the value of one variable. It, however, makes the base to judge the causal relationship for the experiment.

The Experiment

The experiment is the best method to find the cause of the behavior. An experimental method provides flexibility to researchers to deliberately manipulate one of the variables in a purposeful manner. This helps them to see the change in behavior due to manipulation of one set of variables.

In a simple manner, an experiment is a deliberate manipulation of a variable to see if corresponding changes in behavior result, allowing the determination of cause and effect relationship.

Let’s discuss some of the methodologies included in the experiment method:


This is the first step in which the researcher selects the random sample from the population determined by the researchers. It is just as the sample selected for the survey method.

The Variables

Defining variables are another important step. The researcher first identifies a variable that they want to manipulate by keeping in mind that this variable act as a cause to see the change in the behavior. Further, they look for another variable where effect could be seen as per the manipulation is done in the causal variable. Variables often decided before the selections of the sampled.

Operationalization- It is defined as the specific description of a variable of interest that allows it to be measured.

Independent Variable- Those variables which are manipulated by the experimenter in an experiment.

Dependent Variable- Those variables which represent measurable response or behavior of the subject in the experiment.

The Groups

Compounding Variable- These are the variables which interfere with each other and their possible effects on some other variable of interest.

Case: There is a group of children. It is noticed that their aggression level increases due to watching violent cartoon program. Some children had an aggressive background, so it was quite confusing to understand whether their aggressiveness increased due to watching a violent cartoon or due to their past background?

So the best way to control for compounding variables is to have two groups of participants. Hence, the division would be on the basis that one group will have participants those who watch violent program and another group would carry participants who do not watch a violent program of the same length of time. On observation, if the aggressive behavior is significantly greater in the group which watched the violent program, then it could be said that watching the violent cartoon program caused the increase in aggressive behavior.

Experimental Group- Those subjects which are exposed to the independent variable. In the above experiment, the experimental group is that group of children who are exposed to watch violent cartoon program. This group received experimental manipulation.

Control Group- Those subjects (in an experiment) which are not subjected to the independent variable and who may receive the placebo treatment. In the above experiment, that group who watched non-violent cartoon program was the control group. They are used to control for the possibility that the other factors might be causing the effect that is being examined.

Random group scientific approach

Random Assignment- The process of introducing subjects to their group (experimental or control group) at random, so that each subject has an equal chance of being in either group.

Experimental Hazards and Controlling for Effects

Experimental hazards are the problems especially occur when studying people instead of animals because people are often influenced by their own thoughts or biases about what’s going on in an experiment.

Placebo effect- When the expectations of the participants in a study influence the behavior then such phenomenon is called Placebo effect. If there is a placebo effect, the control group will show changes in the dependent variable even though the participants in that group received only a placebo.

Experimenter effect- When the result of the study unintentionally influences the experimenter’s expectations for the study. This tendency is called the Experimenter effect.

Single-blind Study- This is the study technique in which the subjects do not know whether they are part of the experiment group or control group. This is done to avoid the placebo effect.

Double-blind Study- A technique in which neither the experimenter nor the subjects know if the subjects are in which group (A experimental group or the control group).

This was all about Scientific Approach in the Psychology, if you have any questions related to the discussed Scientific Approach then feel free to post your queries in a comment below.

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