A Guide to 10 Research Methods in Psychology (With Tips)

By Indeed Editorial Team

March 28, 2022

Psychology is the study of human behavior and mental processes. It's a social science that examines people's thoughts, feelings and behaviors using various approaches to evaluation. Experimental and clinical psychologists use various research methods in psychology to develop therapy treatment plans, set outcome goals and apply behavioral strategies. In this article, we explore who uses research in psychology and 10 research methods in psychology you can use to better evaluate your mental health patients.

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Who does research in psychology?

Experimental and clinical psychologists conduct research in psychology to better understand human thought and behavior. These professionals often use various scientific methods to study mental processes to better develop treatment plans and strategies for behavioral therapy. Research methods in psychology can have a quantitative or qualitative context, and they can focus on how people perceive the world, process information, make decisions and react to stimuli.

Many psychology research methods also use statistical techniques to make conclusions about a population. Qualitative-based research methods in psychology use nonstatistical techniques to learn about the experiences of the individuals and communities they study. While psychologists, psychiatrists and other mental health professionals rely on psychological research, there are applications in other industries where this type of research can support positive outcomes. For instance, psychological research in sales and marketing can be effective for analyzing consumer populations, promoting products and services and motivating customers to make purchases.

Related: Learn About Being a Psychologist

10 research methods in psychology

If your profession focuses on psychological treatment and therapy, consider the following research methods to develop treatment plans more effectively:

1. Surveys

Psychologists often use surveys to study the prevalence and causes of mental health disorders. Survey research can be quantitative or qualitative, and researchers often use random selection techniques when choosing and surveying sample groups of patients. Random selection helps you select a sample that's representative of the population and can produce more reliable results for analysis. Survey data can also help you understand human behavior, which can help you implement treatment strategies.

2. Case studies

Case studies are in-depth investigations of a single person, group, event or community. Psychologists can conduct case study research on patients to better understand their behavior and mental health. Having a detailed understanding of a patient's mental illness can help you treat the patient more effectively, and case study research allows psychologists to interview patients and observe their behavior extensively over a specific period. Professionals in other industries like finance, sales and advertising may also use case studies to better understand consumers' investing and purchasing behavior to identify the financial services or advertising techniques to apply to engage potential customers.

Related: What Is a Case Study? Plus 15 Case Study Ideas You Can Use To Get Started

3. Experimental studies

Experimental studies can help psychologists determine whether a causal relationship exists between two variables, such as a patient's behavior and mental health. Psychologists may use experimental studies to test whether a change in one independent variable affects a dependent variable. This can allow the psychologist to measure how altering one condition affects human behavior or performance. For instance, psychologists may perform experimental studies to determine the external causes of a community's patterns of behavior. These studies can also be useful in other applications, such as sales psychology, in order to better understand collective human behavior as it applies to various causes and effects.

4. Content analysis

Content analysis involves analyzing text-based data to identify patterns, meanings and themes within a patients' written communication styles. Clinical psychologists can conduct a content analysis on any form of text, including full transcripts of patient interviews or monologues, business emails and hand-written letters. This research method can help you develop optimal psychological treatments by closely analyzing the patient's word usage and speech patterns. Additionally, content analysis is an effective tool for many forensic psychologists working to solve behavioral problems, criminal cases and severe mental health issues.

5. Meta-analysis

Meta-analysis is a quantitative research method that reviews the results from published studies on the same question and combines multiple research findings into an overall collection of data. Psychologists can conduct a meta-analysis by searching library databases for all published studies on a single topic and gather the research into a collective summary. By synthesizing multiple related inquiries into a single research document, psychologists can create an accessible resource that provides a collective analysis of past and current research. Therefore, meta-analysis can lead to recommendations for future research to help advance areas of psychology.

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6. Correlational research

Correlational research is a nonexperimental research method that measures two variables and assesses the relationship (correlation) between them. This research method involves observing two variables that don't change and analyzing whether there is a correlation between the variables, such as scores on two different personality tests. In this case, the score on the first personality test may relate to the score on the second test, since both assessments evaluate personality type.

While correlational research can help you identify relationships between two events, traits or behaviors, this method doesn't account for any causal relationships between the variables you study. Therefore, many researchers may also use causal research along with correlational studies to better form conclusions about their work.

7. Quasi-experiment

A quasi-experiment is similar to a traditional experiment, however, the researchers do not randomly assign participants to experimental groups. This supports research where psychologists may be interested more in an independent variable that can't be random, such as an innate quality that participants have. For example, you might use a quasi-experiment to study participants who have identifiable mental health traits, since these traits are not random and therefore cannot assign participants to study groups randomly.

8. Naturalistic observation

Naturalistic observation is a research method psychologists apply to study patients' behavior when patients are in their natural environments. Naturalistic observation is an effective method for studying how people interact and behave while they are in their habitual surroundings, such as shopping in a retail store, traveling on public transportation or taking care of errands for their households. This research method is also useful for making conclusions about populations that can lead to future research to support innovation in psychology, healthcare and even in technology, sales and business.

9. Structured observation

Structured observation is an observational research method that evaluates human behavior in a more structured environment, such as observing people in a laboratory setting during voluntary psychological studies. Psychologists might observe participants in structured settings in order to better understand specific behaviors. Many clinical and medical research studies use structured observation methods to better control variables in experiments and ensure higher accuracy when analyzing results. For instance, psychologists might use structured observation to understand how a new behavioral therapy or medication affects patients' behaviors and use the results to modify or improve treatment methods.

10. Neuroimaging

Neuroimaging is a technology that scans the human brain. Neuroimaging tools like computerized tomography (CT) scans or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can allow research psychologists to map the complex functions in the brain and characterize these functions according to specific neural processes, such as the process of tasting foods or feeling emotions. Because of the ability to observe the activity of the brain, neuroimaging can help you better understand how this activity may affect thoughts, emotions and behavior.

Related: 7 Careers in Neuropsychology

Tips for conducting effective research

When conducting psychological research, consider the following helpful tips:

  • Maintain research ethics: When performing research in psychology, it's important to ensure teams and participants in studies are knowledgeable of and understand procedures, policies and any confidentiality agreements regarding the research.

  • Apply the scientific method: Following the scientific method each time you perform your research can help you better organize your data collection and analysis processes, which can ensure the accuracy of your results.

  • Report your findings: Sharing your research, theories and analysis results with the scientific community can encourage collaboration and networking and also help you establish a reputation and authority in your field.

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