Chapter 2.3: Types of Research

Types of Research

What we’ve focused on is called Experimental Methods, the true experiment. It involves randomized assignment of subjects, standardized instructions, and at least one IV and one DV. There are several other types of research that are not as rigorous, but that you need to be aware of.Female doctor examining a brain cat scan

Perhaps the simplest form of research is Naturalistic Observation.

Observing behavior in their natural environment

Often involves counting behaviors, such as number of aggressive acts, number of smiles, etc.

Advantages: Behavior is naturally occurring and is not manipulated by a researcher and it can provide more qualitative data as opposed to merely quantitative information.

Limitations: Even the presence of someone observing can cause those being observed to alter their behavior. Researcher’s beliefs can also alter their observations. And, it is very difficult to coordinate multiple observers since observed behaviors must be operationally defined (e.g. what constitutes an aggressive act)

Case Study

Following a single case, typically over an extended period of time

Can involve naturalistic observations, also can include psychological testing, interviews, interviews with others, and the application of a treatment or observation

Advantages: Can gather extensive information, both qualitative and quantitative and it can be helpful in better understanding rare cases or very specific interventions

Limitations: Only one case is involved, severely limiting the generalization to the rest of the population. Can be very time consuming and can involve other problems specific to the techniques used, including researcher bias.


Everyone has probably heard of this and many of you have been involved in research involving surveys. They are often used in the news, especially to gather viewer opinions such as during a race for president

Advantages: Can gather large amounts of information in a relatively short time, especially now with many surveys being conducted on the internet.

Limitations: Survey data is based solely on subjects’ responses which can be inaccurate due to outright lying, misunderstanding of the question, placebo effect, and even the manner in which the question is asked

Correlational Studies

Correlation means relationship, so the purpose of a correlational study is to determine if a relationship exists, what direction the relationship is, and how strong it is.

Advantages: Can assess the strength of a relationship. Is popular with lay population because it is relatively easy to explain and understand.

Limitations: Can not make any assumptions of cause and effect (explain how third a variable can be involved, or how the variables can influence each other).

Psychological Testing

Utilizing testing to gather information about a group or an individual

Advantages: Most tests are normed and standardized, which means they have very reliable and valid results. Popular with businesses looking for data on employees and with difficult or specific therapy cases

Limitations: Tests which are not rigorously normed and standardized can easily result in inaccurate results.