5 Most Popular Research Methods in Psychology

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5 Research Methods Used in Psychology What are the research methods in psychology? The truth is there are many. But the main types of research methods used in psychology are quantitative and qualitative. Quantitative research involves using data to:

  • Make descriptions
  • Predict outcomes
  • Test an independent variable
And qualitative research uses qualitative data collection from:
  • Speech
  • Text
  • Video
You use this quantitative and qualitative data to understand and interpret phenomena. This includes social or individual behaviors and beliefs. It can also mean conducting interviews or surveys. In other words, quantitative research deals with numbers. And qualitative research relies on descriptions. Both have their strengths and limitations. But some groups believe quantitative research is better. In psychology qualitative research is important. Quantitative measures lack nuance. They can’t measure the entire human experience. So, it’s important to note that both psychology research methods are crucial. You shouldn’t have one without the other! But now, let’s get down to specifics. The two main types of research methods used in psychology are distinct research methods. Read on to discover the five most popular types of psychological research.

Case Study

Case study research methodology is a kind of qualitative method. Case studies include deep inquiry into:
  • Communities
  • Events
  • Groups
  • Individuals
They use a multi-method approach. This data collection method combines interviews and observations. Also, psychology case studies tend to focus on specific people. First, they will collect biographical information from participants. Then, they will record important events in the participants’ lives. This research method discovers any maladaptive behaviors or beliefs in the participants. One notable case study practitioner is Sigmund Freud. He used case studies to:
  • Assist patients with psychological ailments
  • Diagnose patients
  • Understand problems
But it’s important to note that Freud didn’t get everything right. Modern psychologists debunked much of his work. For instance, Freud’s theory of psychosexual development has no credibility. But he remains a well-known psychologist who used case studies as a research method.

How to Use Case Study Research Method

You conduct case studies by interviewing patients and observing them. You then describe the patient’s behavior. And you discuss events from the patient’s perspective. The interviews should be casual. You want the person to feel relaxed. Casual relationships yield the best outcomes. And your observations come from watching the person in their everyday life. Casual relationships are not causal relationships. The two have different meanings. A causal relationship exists when one variable has direct influence on another variable. Your future research depends on these variables. But in case study, your data sources include:
  • Journals
  • Notes
  • Photos
They do not include structured observation or data collected from research designs. You then check your data to find common interpretations. 5 Research Methods Used in Psychology

Content Analysis

This psychology methodology includes text-based data. You use this data to identify meanings and themes. It can be both quantitative and qualitative. For example, quantitative researchers can search for specific phrases. Then, they can add them for a final count. In this way, they turn the text into numerical data. Qualitative context analysis searches for the meaning of texts. You do this by identifying themes in the data. This means coding and categorizing the text to understand it. Also, researchers use a technique called close reading.

Close Reading

Through the close reading research method, you turn text into coded units. This requires you to read the text many times. You read it until you reach data saturation. This means all the text must become code. Close reading is inductive analysis. This is because you don’t test theories with close reading. Rather, you code the data to see if a theory emerges. This process is also known as conventional or formative analysis. There is also directed analysis. It’s like formative analysis, but not the same. A directed approach is deductive. From the start, the researcher begins with a hypothesis. Then, they create coding units from there. Next, you search for those types of code in the text. It’s like running the data through a filter. And the research and hypotheses are the filter. This is what we mean by thematic content analysis.

Summative Analysis

Once you finish the thematic analysis, you do a summative analysis. Here, you compare themes across different texts. Summative analysis is both quantitative and qualitative. It depends on how you use it. It’s quantitative if you transform text to numbers. For instance, you might tally the total occurrences of certain phrases. Researchers may also perform qualitative analysis. In this way, they search for meaning in the text. To do this, they might look at specific contexts while analyzing.

Ground Theory

Another methodology in psychology is the ground theory. Ground theory is an inductive style of analysis. In that way, it’s like summative analysis. And it’s popular among the types of research psychology experts use. You use ground theory for theory development. And this method has been around for 50 years. Unlike summative analysis, ground theory is never quantitative. But it is deductive in nature. You use it to establish hypotheses through data collection and analysis. Ground theory research is an involved process. Investigators must analyze literature and existing data. This will shape their current psychological research. Also, during this phase, you might discover interesting things. That includes finding unique perspectives and alternate answers to your questions. Like others in this category, ground theory happens during content analysis. It involves critical reviews of actors’ responses to codes or themes. This might take the form of a survey or interview. But whatever it is, it must follow specific stages.

Stages in Ground Theory

  • Code
  • Categories
  • Concepts
  • Theory
5 Research Methods Used in Psychology


Coding is a tedious process. It places text into categories. It does this through line-by-line analysis. It names concepts and categories, then repeats the process. Experts call this open coding in psychological research. And it allows you to gather the important bits of the quantitative data.


We’ve now established the codes. What next? The answer is organization. Researchers must put similar codes into groups.


Then, you must find meaning in these categories. The groups will help you generate a theory. To do this, you construct the categories around a central idea. This idea ties the concepts together.


Theorizing occurs in every step. But you use it most at the end of your research. The final step includes analyzing your work. This will lead to the development of a theory.


There are many types of experiments in psychology. This is a broad kind of research. And it can be part of many other research methods in psychology. We use the term “experiment” to describe a specific procedure. In science, experiments are a popular method of research. There are many components of an experimental design:
  • Consistency
  • Control group
  • Control of variables
  • Showing cause and effect
Consistency of measurements is crucial. If you use different standards, replication becomes impossible. And the results are unreliable. The control group is a person or group of people who researchers don’t manipulate. They serve as the base of the experiment. You compare all other groups to the control group. Next, you must control your variables. The experiment should not have any unnecessary data. This allows psychologists to repeat the experiment. Like consistency, control makes your experiment reliable. The fourth principle is cause and effect. You must prove your experiment caused your results. In other words, nothing else led to your results. Your manipulations alone should be the cause of the effect. You can apply these principles to all experiments.

3 Main Types of Experiments

  • Field experiments
  • Lab experiments
  • Natural experiments
Lab experiments occur in controlled settings. They can take place in a scientific lab. But this is not a strict rule. Examples of lab experiments include:
  • Human behavior studies
  • Human development
  • Sleep studies
Lab experiments have many strengths. They are easy to control and replicate. This makes them reliable. But they are not perfect. Lab experiments lack natural settings. And the artificial setting can cause unnatural reactions. It might also cause psychological research bias. 5 Research Methods Used in Psychology

Observational Study

There are many types of studies in psychology. Observational studies are one type, and they’re qualitative. You can perform them in many ways. And this includes non-experimental means, too. The main part of observational studies is (you guessed it) observing! In psychology, you observe behavior. The goal is to discover variables that affect behaviors in:
  • Groups
  • Individuals
  • Social constructs
The psychological research is non-experimental because it happens in natural settings. This means there are no controls in the experimental research. Observational research involves mixed methods. Mixed methods include qualitative data and quantitative techniques. Naturalistic observation happens in the participant’s natural environment. For example, psychologists study mental health in the penal system. They observe people in jails and prisons for their research method. In some cases, the observation might happen in secret. This means the participant is unaware of the research. We call this disguised naturalistic observation. But be careful and remain ethical! To perform disguised research using research ethics, you follow the guidance below.

Guidelines to Follow for Observational Study

  • Individuals must remain anonymous
  • Observations must happen in public contexts
  • You must not expect private observations
But sometimes disguised observations aren’t possible. In this case, stick to undisguised research methods in psychology. They are effective, too. But undisguised studies do have their drawbacks. Undisguised naturalistic observation can cause reactivity. Psychologists say reactivity occurs when patients are aware of the study. This causes their behavior to change and obscures the data. So, you might ask, how do you avoid this? You can cut reactivity by conducting longer studies. Think of reality TV shows. The participants start on their best behaviors. Then, they grow accustomed to the cameras. And their behavior becomes more natural. Participant observation is different for naturalistic studies. The goals are the same. But the researcher will engage with the participants. This is because you can’t collect some data without the researcher’s influence. Participant observation also includes a disguised method. For example, psychologists have infiltrated extremist groups before. They do this to study extremist people and collect data. And to succeed, they must go undercover. One of the main benefits of disguise is the researcher’s position. Undercover researchers are in the perfect place for experimenting. They can further understand the people by living amongst them. But there are criticisms of this method. One is that active researchers might impact group dynamics. Also, the researcher could develop relationships with participants. This would lead to biases in the study. An image of a psychology graphic for our article on 5 Most Popular Research Methods in Psychology

Survey Method

Now for the last of the types of research methods in psychology. The survey research method. This research method can be qualitative research or quantitative research. And scientists of all types use it, not only psychologists. In this study, researchers send participants surveys. This is a series of questions that ask for participants’ self-reported:
  • Actions
  • Feelings
  • Thoughts
Surveys measure how certain variables impact them. The most important aspect of surveys is the sampling method. Most researchers prefer large and random samples. They randomly assign participants. This can assure a more accurate representation of their population. Surveys can vary. They can be long or short. And you can conduct them over many communication channels.

Communication Channels for Survey Data Collection Studies

  • In person
  • Mail
  • Telephone
  • The internet
  • Video chat
You can use this data for quantitative or qualitative reasons. Your scientific method depends on the purpose and design of your research. Surveys of all types are popular in social science. They are one of the top research methods in psychology. In general, they document the prevalence of social problems like:
  • Gender inequality
  • Poverty
  • Racism
Healthcare providers also use surveys as a research study. Sure, they seek professional medical advice from experts, but they also use different research designs. As do mental health experts, psychologists, public health professionals, and academics. In healthcare, they measure the prevalence of mental health issues, and they research processes and causes of:
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Substance abuse
Like some qualitative and quantitative methods, survey research study has pros and cons. Its strengths are large data collection and low cost. But it also has the potential for researcher bias and poor sampling.

Other Types of Research Methods Used in Psychology

  • Correlational research
  • Dependent variable
  • Independent variable
  • Experimental task design
  • Positive correlation (also correlational research)
  • Structured observation
  • Random sampling in experimental design
  • Statistical estimation

Final Thoughts

The above five research methods provide a glance at different psychology research methods. In reality, they are more complicated. They contain more detail in size and scope than presented here. But our overview highlights how different and rigorous research can be. There are many other methods not listed here. But most fall into the above five categories. Research occurs at all levels of academia and other settings. Master’s and Ph.D. students learn research skills while preparing for careers. And the subjects they study vary. They may research biology, data science, visual media, or literature. Their future research and sampling methods are broad. And you can apply them to all forms of study. In general, research methods aren’t flawless. But they proved rigorous and robust over time. And they’ve produced great findings in psychology. All methods attempt to understand the human mind. We wish to know how it functions and impacts behavior. And we have yet to do so. But the above methods will push us closer to that goal.

By BDP Staff

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This concludes our article on the various research methods in psychology.

Brenda Rufener

Julie McCaulley

Carrie Sealey-Morris