What is an experiment?

By far the most common research method used in psychology is the experimental method, so we’ll start here for our introduction into research methods unit. You are also going to research, plan, design, conduct and report about your own experiment idea.

A study is an experiment when the relationship between two variables is investigated. A variable means a “factor”. This is something that effects something else.

Like in other disciplines many theories in psychology begin with the researcher asking a question. Quite often this happens after witnessing something first hand. A famous example of this happening was after the Kitty Genovese murder. You’ll learn more about this later when you learn about “Crime and Violence”, but basically what happened was a woman was murdered and no-one helped. John Darley and Bibb Latane read about this phenomenon occurring and labelled it Bystander Apathy (it’s also known as bystander ism).

They devised numerous hypotheses as to why this might have happened. But how can they test these hypotheses and gather data to see if they’re “right”? This is where research studies in psychology become important. More specifically, experiments can be designed to test cause and effect relationships. That is to say, experiments see how one variable can affect another.

In the example above about the bystander effect, in one experiment the researchers wanted to see if people would raise an alarm if a room suddenly started filling with smoke. They had half the participants fill out a questionnaire in a room alone and the other half fill out a questionnaire in a room with two confederates. They wanted to see if the presence of other people (the cause) would effect their raising an alarm (the effect).

 The quality and strength of any explanation of human behaviour is evaluated through the research that was conducted to devise that explanation.