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PSYCH 301: Basic Research Methods in Psychology

This course guide is for the students in the PSYCH 301 course at Behrend.

Introduction: What is Empirical Research?

Empirical research is based on observed and measured phenomena and derives knowledge from actual experience rather than from theory or belief. 

How do you know if a study is empirical? Read the subheadings within the article, book, or report and look for a description of the research "methodology." Ask yourself: Could I recreate this study and test these results?

Key characteristics to look for:

  • Specific research questions to be answered
  • Definition of the population, behavior, or phenomena being studied
  • Description of the process used to study this population or phenomena, including selection criteria, controls, and testing instruments (such as surveys)

Another hint: some scholarly journals use a specific layout, called the "IMRaD" format, to communicate empirical research findings. Such articles typically have 4 components:

  • Introduction: sometimes called "literature review" -- what is currently known about the topic -- usually includes a theoretical framework and/or discussion of previous studies
  • Methodology: sometimes called "research design" -- how to recreate the study -- usually describes the population, research process, and analytical tools used in the present study
  • Results: sometimes called "findings" -- what was learned through the study -- usually appears as statistical data or as substantial quotations from research participants
  • Discussion: sometimes called "conclusion" or "implications" -- why the study is important -- usually describes how the research results influence professional practices or future studies

Finding Empirical Research in PsycINFO (ProQuest version, for Psychology topics)

To find empirical articles in PsycINFO (ProQuest version):

  • Use the "Advanced Search"
  • Type your keywords into the search boxes
  • Scroll down the page to "Methodology," and choose "Empirical Study"
  • Choose other limits, such as publication date, if needed
  • Click on the "Search" button

Empirical vs. Nonempirical Research

This video compares purely empirical research with purely theoretical research to help you better understand the concepts.

Correlational Research

This video defines correlational research, identifies key characteristics of correlational design, and includes criteria for evaluating this kind of study.

Finding a Correlational Study

You will have to skim or read an article to determine whether or not it is a correlational study. Some authors will describe the study using that terminology. A strategy you might want to try is to use the CTRL-F keyboard shortcut to search webpages, most PDFs, and other documents.

If you press CTRL-F on your keyboard, a window will open. Try searching through the article to identify the following words that authors likely would use to describe a correlation between two or more variables.

  • associat [would find "association" and "associated" in the text]
  • relationship
  • correlat [would find "correlation" and "correlated" in the text]
  • predict [would find "prediction" and "predictor" in the text]

You can try a similar strategy in a database like PsycINFO. When searching for keywords, add an asterisk * to the end of one of the incomplete words listed above.