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Experimental Research
If researchers intend to make causeandeffect statements, they typically use
experimental research, which is usually, but not always, conducted in a laboratory. The
laboratory environment allows the experimenter to make controlled observations using
the steps of the scientific method.
Formulation of the problem. In formulating the problem in a psychological study, the
researcher raises a question about behavior or mental processes. Perhaps the investigator
wonders whether certain environmental conditions improve or adversely affect motor
performance. The investigator might operationally define the environmental condition of
interest as background music and the motor performance as typing speed. Next, the
investigator proposes an answer to the research question (What is the relationship
between typing speed and background noise?), an answer called a hypothesis. A
hypothesis postulates a relationship between two variables, an independent variable
(that which the experimenter manipulatesin this case, the background music) and a
dependent variable (that which changes as a consequence of manipulation of the
independent variablein this case, the typing speed). The experimenter hypothesizes that
an increase in loudness of background music will produce a decrease in typing speed.
Design of the study. Once the problem to be investigated has been selected, the
experimenter must decide how to conduct the study. Much of the information used in
psychology and other sciences has been collected in laboratory situations because they
facilitate the use of many controls during data collection. In the background music/typing
speed study, for example, all subjects would be taken to a laboratory for testing and
would use the same typewriters to take the typing tests. The experimenter would have to
decide whether to use two groups of subjects with comparable typing skills and expose
one group to a music loudness level different from that used with the other (a between
subjects design) or sequentially expose the same subjects to music of two loudness
levels (a withinsubjects design). Each procedure has advantages and disadvantages.
(Decisions concerning the procedure to use depend on many factors, which are studied in
experimental design courses.)
Collection of data. The experimenter collects data (typing speed at different loudness
levels) to test the hypothesis according to the selected experimental design.
Analysis of data. The data are analyzed by appropriate statistical methods. In this case,
mean scores of the two sets of typing speed/loudness level data would be compared to see
if differences are significant or could be due to chance.

Conclusions drawn from the data. Based on analysis of data, conclusions may be
drawn about the hypothesized relationship between the independent and dependent
variables. The hypothesis, that an increase in loudness of background music will
produce a decrease in typing speed, may be supported by the data (the increase in
loudness of background musicmanipulation of the independent variable did produce
a decrease in typing speedthe dependent variable) or may not be supported by the data
(the increase in loudness did not produce a decrease in typing speed).
Reporting results. The process used in and the results obtained from the study are
gathered and written. If the study results are of sufficient significance, they may be
published in a scientific journal (as mentioned above, allowing the study to be replicated
or refuted by another researcher) and may eventually be used quite pragmatically. For
example, if a study determines that background music (or perhaps background music of a
certain loudness level) improves typing performance, certain employers would be likely
to make use of the findings in their businesses. Scientific knowledge in all sciences grows
as a result of information collected through the scientific method.
Basic and applied research. The goal of basic research in psychology is primarily to
describe and understand behavior and mental processes without immediate concern for a
practical use. Such research, usually conducted in university settings, is essential to the
expansion of scientific knowledge and the development of theories. Applied research
uses scientific studies to solve problems of everyday life.
In reality, there is crossover between the two types of research. For example, after
conducting basic science experiments to delineate the neural mechanisms associated with
Parkinson's disease, the same researcher might then undertake an applied project by
continuing the study to find a therapeutic drug that alters the functioning of identified
neural mechanisms of the disorder and thereby relieves the symptoms.