What is Experimental Research? How can it be conducted in the field of Psychology?
The field of psychology is a very broad area with many smaller subfields. Each psychologist can specialise in any of these subdivisions through conducting research and through additional training. One of the most prominent and influential areas in psychology is experimental psychology. Experimental psychologists are interested in exploring theoretical questions, often by creating a hypothesis and then setting out to prove or disprove it through experimentation. They study a wide range of behavioral topics among humans and animals, including sensation, perception, attention, memory, cognition and emotion. Experimental psychologists use scientific methods to collect data and perform research. Certainly, all psychologists can be considered researchers, since research is at the very core of psychology.
The experimental method involves the manipulation of variables to establish cause and effect relationships. An experiment is an investigation in which a hypothesis is scientifically tested. In an experiment, an independent variable (the cause) is manipulated, and the dependent variable (the effect) is measured; any extraneous variables are controlled.
Experimental research can be very appealing, since it allows you to investigate most of the theoretical areas of psychology (some experiments cannot be performed for ethical or practical reasons). However, experimental methods need a great deal of time, dedication and professionalism.
Below you will find some important considerations about how to conduct effective psychology experiments:
Be explicit in your research proposal about the approach you will follow. It is highly important, prior to the actual experiment, to design all the processes you will need to follow and to assess whether you as a researcher are able to undertake this research. Start by investigating all the literature you are interested in and focus on learning how other researchers did their work, their conceptualizations and their overall outcomes.
Make sure you have all the appropriate materials and support from staff to run the experiment. Running an experiment is a very demanding job, so you will need to be prepared by having all the appropriate equipment and facilities. The creation of a very organized research laboratory with the support of a Psychology Technician - such as the New York College "Psych Lab” - allows you to enjoy the research process and make the overall experience as professional as possible.
Finding participants is demanding work! So make sure you have all the appropriate resources to recruit participants. Most researchers experience some frustration regarding the number of final participants, as they often wish to find and include as many participants as possible. Thus, it is highly important to make your work look appealing and interesting to the public, not too demanding of their time or energy, and to use a variety of resources to advertise your experiment regularly over a period of at least a couple of months.
Choose your research colleagues wisely. If your experiment is part of a collaborative research project, make sure all the researchers involved have similar goals and commitment to the project. When we are working collaboratively, we need to make sure that all the parties involved are equally committed and have similar goals and expectations from this work. It is also very important that each member of the research team understands their role clearly. It is not necessary to always collaborate with a research team. Some experiments are conducted by a sole researcher.
Experimental studies take time. Even though experiments are an interesting experience, they need devotion and quite a lot of time. If, as a researcher, you are in a place in your life where devoting yourself to research is more demanding than you can handle (due to many other demands on your time for example), it is better to choose a different type of research project such as an online survey. Research is always part of a psychologist's professional life, thus there is no need for disappointment if this particular time in your life is not the best period to focus on experimental research. If someone is interested in research, they can find a suitable period to focus on and thrive in this area later, as part of a postgraduate programme for example.
Create mutual respect with many different colleagues and faculty members of your institution in order to have the ability to ask for help and support during the experimental process. Researchers need as much help as they can find, thus it is crucial to create and nurture strong relationships with colleagues to have support with your work.
To conclude, as a researcher it is important to consult the work of pioneers in the field and learn from them. If you choose to work as a researcher, you will need to thoroughly investigate the work of others, to fully understand the experimental method and how it has evolved, before making your own unique contribution to knowledge. It is extremely important to have access to appropriate experimental research facilities, experienced supervisors, and to have guidance from a supportive and knowledgeable Psychology Technician. If you have all these things then experimental research in Psychology can be a lot of fun and generate very interesting and important findings, often leading to joint publications with your research supervisor.