5 Research Methods Used in Psychology

Five Methods of Psychological Research

  • Case Study
  • Experiment
  • Observational Study
  • Survey
  • Content Analysis

There are several different research methods used in psychology. These fall into two areas: quantitative, which depends upon the use of mathematical or statistical data, and qualitative. Within these two divisions are several kinds of research including correlational, descriptive and experimental. Which type of research is utilized depends upon the goals of the research.

See our ranking of the 30 Best Bachelor’s in Psychology Degrees Online: Small Colleges.

1. Case Study

A case study is a qualitative research method. It involves an observation of one individual or a group of individuals over a length of time. The researcher interviews the subject or observes behavior and records the information. Generally, this type of psychological research is used to show how psychology principles or theories are used in actual practice. The case study method is widely used in professional training.

2. Experiment

Although this is introduced as a broad kind of research that can be a component of many methods, the term here is used to denote a specific procedure. In science, experiments are the most often-used method of research, and there are principles involved in its employment. One is the presence of a control group. This is an individual, or a group of individuals, that is not manipulated.

Another principle is the control of variables. That is, the experiment should be as free of extraneous data as possible. That factor enables psychologists to repeat the experiment, and that is one requirement of reliable research.

A third principle is the consistency of measurements. Allowing differing standards makes replication impossible and the results unreliable. The fourth principle involved is showing cause and effect. That is, the manipulations performed in the experiment led to the results and nothing else was involved. Experiments can be laboratory-controlled such as sleep studies, field experiments which allow the psychologist to manipulate the subject but not his environment, or natural experiments which allow no control and are largely observational.

3. Observational Study

This type of qualitative research can be naturalistic or controlled. It is systematic and carefully recording. The goal of observational research is to identify and describe a variable or even a set of variables. This type of research can be used as a precursor to other types that focus on a single issue.

4. Survey

The survey is a “shotgun” approach to research. It depends upon self-reported data, and so can be highly subjective. Because of that, surveys generally involve many subjects. It is a quantitative method using a random sampling of subjects and is probably the only method in psychological research where randomness is used. It is not an experimental method, but the samples are “carefully selected.”

5. Content Analysis

This method of research involves looking at media such as print, television, radio, and others for the repetition of specific words or phrases, or even ideas. It is a quantitative method, employing mathematical data about the words or concepts to study things like stereotyping or certain aspects of culture such as sexuality. This type of research is especially valuable in advertising but can also be used to predict behavior in specific populations.

There are many other ways of collecting information; some are general scientific methods, and some are particular to psychology. The research methods used in psychology depend on the kinds of data that are being studied and the goal and breadth of the studies.

Find Your Degree
BestDegreePrograms.org is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.