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· Discuss how a hypothesis differs from a prediction.

· Describe the different sources of ideas for research, including common sense, observation, theories, past research, and practical problems.

· Identify the two functions of a theory.

· Summarize the fundamentals of conducting library research in psychology, including the use of PsycINFO.

· Summarize the information included in the abstract, introduction, method, results, and discussion sections of research articles.

Page 21THE MOTIVATION TO CONDUCT SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH DERIVES FROM A NATURAL CURIOSITY ABOUT THE WORLD. Most people have their first experience with research when their curiosity leads them to ask, “I wonder what would happen if …” or “I wonder why …,” followed by an attempt to answer the question. What are the sources of inspiration for such questions? How do you find out about other people’s ideas and past research? In this chapter, we will explore some sources of scientific ideas. We will also consider the nature of research reports published in professional journals.


The result of curiosity is a question. Researchers use research questions to identify and describe the broad topic that they are investigating, and then conduct research in order to answer their research questions. A good research question identifies the topic of inquiry specifically enough so that hypotheses and predictions can be made. A hypothesis is also a question; it makes a statement about something that may be true. Hypotheses are more specific versions of research questions; they are directly testable whereas a research question may not be. Thus, a hypothesis is a tentative idea or question that is waiting for evidence to support or refute it. Once a hypothesis is proposed, data must be gathered and evaluated in terms of whether the evidence is consistent or inconsistent with the hypothesis. Researchers also make specific predictions concerning the outcome of research. Where a research question is broad and a hypothesis is more specific, a prediction is a guess at the outcome of a hypothesis. If a prediction is confirmed by the results of the study, the hypothesis is supported. If the prediction is not confirmed, the researcher will either reject the hypothesis or conduct further research using different methods to study the hypothesis. It is important to note that when the results of a study confirm a prediction, the hypothesis is only supported, not proven. Researchers study the same hypothesis using a variety of methods, and each time this hypothesis is supported by a research study, we become more confident that the hypothesis is correct.

Figure 2.1  shows the relationships among research questions, hypotheses, and predictions graphically. As an example, consider Cramer, Mayer, and Ryan (2007). They had general questions about college students’ use of cell phones while driving: “Are there differences among groups in terms of their use of cell phones while driving?” and “What impact do passengers have on cell phone use while driving?” With these research questions in mind, the researchers developed some hypotheses: “Do males and females differ in their use of cell phones while driving?” or “Does having a passenger in the car make a difference in cell phone use?” They also made specific predictions: “Females are more likely to use a cell phone while driving” and “passengers decrease the likelihood that cell phones are used while driving.” Then, they designed a procedure for collecting data to answer the questions.

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Relationships among research questions, hypotheses, and predictions


We have been using the term participants to refer to the individuals who participate in research projects. An equivalent term in psychological research is subjects. The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA, 2010) allows the use of either participants or subjects when describing humans who take part in psychological research. You will see both terms when you read about research; both terms will be used in this book. Other terms that you may encounter include respondents and informants. The individuals who take part in survey research are usually called respondents. Informants are the people who help researchers understand the dynamics of particular cultural and organizational settings—this term originated in anthropological and sociological research, and is now being used by psychologists as well. In many research reports more specific descriptions of the participants will be used, for example: employees in an organization, students in a classroom, or residents of an assisted living facility.


It is not easy to say where good ideas come from. Many people are capable of coming up with worthwhile ideas but find it difficult to verbalize the process by which they are generated. Cartoonists know this—they show a brilliant idea as a lightbulb flashing on over the person’s head. But where does the electricity come from? Let’s consider five sources of ideas: common sense, observation of the world around us, theories, past research, and practical problems.

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Common Sense

One source of ideas that can be tested is the body of knowledge called common sense—the things we all believe to be true. Do “opposites attract” or do “birds of a feather flock together?” If you “spare the rod,” do you “spoil the child?” Is a “picture worth a thousand words?” Asking questions such as these can lead to research programs studying attraction, the effects of punishment, and the role of visual images in learning and memory.

Testing a commonsense idea can be valuable because such notions do not always turn out to be correct, or research may show that the real world is much more complicated than our commonsense ideas would have it. For example, pictures can aid memory under certain circumstances, but sometimes pictures detract from learning (see Levin, 1983). Conducting research to test commonsense ideas often forces us to go beyond a commonsense theory of behavior.

Observation of the World Around Us

Observations of personal and social events can provide many ideas for research. The curiosity sparked by your observations and experiences can lead you to ask questions about all sorts of phenomena. In fact, this type of curiosity is what drives many students to engage in their first research project.

Have you ever had the experience of storing something away in a “special place” where you were sure you could find it later (and where no one else would possibly look for it), only to later discover that you could not recall where you had stored it? Such an experience could lead to systematic research on whether it is a good idea to put things in special places. In fact, Winograd and Soloway (1986) conducted a series of experiments on this very topic. Their research demonstrated that people are likely to forget where something is placed when two conditions are present: (1) The location where the object is placed is judged to be highly memorable and (2) the location is considered a very unlikely place for the object. Thus, although it may seem to be a good idea at the time, storing something in an unusual place is generally not a good idea.

A more recent example demonstrates the diversity of ideas that can be generated by curiosity about things that happen around you. During the past few years, there has been a great deal of controversy about the effects of content of music lyrics that are sexually explicit or deal with drugs and alcohol. Specifically, there are fears that exposure to such lyrics in certain types of rock and hip hop music may lead to sexual promiscuity, drug use, and other undesirable outcomes. These speculations can then spur research. Slater and Henry (2013), as an example, surveyed middle-school students about their access to music-related content in various media sources and discovered that increasing exposure to popular music was a risk factor for starting to use alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana.

Observations of the world around us may even lead to an academic career. When he was an undergraduate, psychologist Michael Lynn worked in restaurants with much of his compensation dependent on tips from customers. That Page 24experience sparked an interest in studying tipping. For many years, Lynn has studied tipping behavior in restaurants and hotels in the United States and in other countries (Tipping Expert, 2013). He has looked at factors that increase tips, such as posture, touching, and phrases written on a check, and his research has had an impact on the hotel and restaurant industry. If you have ever worked in restaurants, you have undoubtedly formed many of your own hypotheses about tipping behavior. Lynn went one step further and took a scientific approach to testing his ideas. His research illustrates that taking a scientific approach to a problem can lead to new discoveries and important applications.

Finally, we should mention the role of serendipity—sometimes the most interesting discoveries are the result of accident or sheer luck. Ivan Pavlov is best known for discovering what is called classical conditioning, wherein a neutral stimulus (such as a tone), if paired repeatedly with an unconditioned stimulus (food) that produces a reflex response (salivation), will eventually produce the response when presented alone. Pavlov did not set out to discover classical conditioning. Instead, he was studying the digestive system in dogs by measuring their salivation when given food. He accidentally discovered that the dogs were salivating prior to the actual feeding and then studied the ways that the stimuli preceding the feeding could produce a salivation response. Of course, such accidental discoveries are made only when viewing the world with an inquisitive eye.


Much research in the behavioral sciences tests theories of behavior. A theory consists of a systematic body of ideas about a particular topic or phenomenon. Psychologists have theories relating to human behavior including learning, memory, and personality, for example. These ideas form a coherent and logically consistent structure that serves two important functions.

First, theories organize and explain a variety of specific facts or descriptions of behavior. Such facts and descriptions are not very meaningful by themselves, and so theories are needed to impose a framework on them. This framework makes the world more comprehensible by providing a few abstract concepts around which we can organize and explain a variety of behaviors. As an example, consider how Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution organized and explained a variety of facts concerning the characteristics of animal species. Similarly, in psychology one classic theory of memory asserts that there are separate systems of short-term memory and long-term memory. This theory accounts for a number of specific observations about learning and memory, including such phenomena as the different types of memory deficits that result from a blow to the head versus damage to the hippocampus area of the brain and the rate at which a person forgets material he or she has just read.

Second, theories generate new knowledge by focusing our thinking so that we notice new aspects of behavior—theories guide our observations of the Page 25world. The theory generates hypotheses about behavior, and the researcher conducts studies to test the hypotheses. If the studies confirm the hypotheses, the theory is supported. As more and more evidence accumulates that is consistent with the theory, we become more confident that the theory is correct.

Sometimes people describe a theory as “just an idea” that may or may not be true. We need to separate this use of the term—which implies that a theory is essentially the same as a hypothesis—from the scientific meaning of theory. In fact, a scientific theory consists of much more than a simple “idea.” A scientific theory is grounded in actual data from prior research as well as numerous hypotheses that are consistent with the theory. These hypotheses can be tested through further research. Such testable hypotheses are falsifiable—the data can either support or refute the hypotheses. As a theory develops with more and more evidence that supports the theory, it is wrong to say that it is “just an idea.” Instead, the theory becomes well established as it enables us to explain a great many observable facts. It is true that research may reveal a weakness in a theory when a hypothesis generated by the theory is not supported. When this happens, the theory can be modified to account for the new data. Sometimes a new theory will emerge that accounts for both new data and the existing body of knowledge. This process defines the way that science continually develops with new data that expand our knowledge of the world around us.

Evolutionary theory has influenced our understanding of sexual attraction and mating patterns (Buss, 2011). For example, Buss describes a well-established finding that males experience more intense feelings of jealousy when a partner has a sexual relationship with someone else (sexual infidelity) than when the partner has developed an emotional bond only (emotional infidelity); females in contrast are more jealous when the partner has engaged in emotional infidelity than sexual infidelity. This finding is consistent with evolutionary theory, which asserts that males and females have evolved different strategies for mate selection. All individuals have an evolutionary interest in passing their genes on to future generations. However, females have relatively few opportunities to reproduce, have a limited age range during which to reproduce, and traditionally have had to assume major child caring responsibilities. Males, in contrast, can reproduce at any time and have a reproductive advantage by their ability to produce more offspring than a given female can. Because of these differences, the theory predicts that females and males will have different perspectives of infidelity. Females will be more threatened if the partner might no longer provide support and resources for childrearing by developing an emotional bond with another partner. Males are more distressed if it is possible that they will be caring for a child who does not share their genes. Although research supports evolutionary theory, alternative theories can be developed that may better explain the same findings.

Levy and Kelly (2010) suggest that attachment theory may provide a better explanation. They point out that both males and females differ in their level of attachment in relationships. Also, females in general show greater attachment than do males. From the perspective of attachment theory, the amount Page 26of attachment will be related to the distress experienced by an instance of emotional infidelity. Research by Levy and Kelly found that high attachment individuals were most upset by emotional infidelity; individuals with low attachment to the relationship were more distressed by sexual infidelity. These findings will lead to more research to test the two theoretical perspectives.

Theories are usually modified as new research defines the scope of the theory. The necessity of modifying theories is illustrated by the theory of short-term versus long-term memory mentioned previously. The original conception of the long-term memory system described long-term memory as a storehouse of permanent, fixed memories. However, now-classic research by cognitive psychologists, including Loftus (1979), has shown that memories are easily reconstructed and reinterpreted. In one study, participants watched a film of an automobile accident and later were asked to tell what they saw in the film. Loftus found that participants’ memories were influenced by the way they were questioned. For example, participants who were asked whether they saw “the” broken headlight were more likely to answer yes than were participants who were asked whether they saw “a” broken headlight. Results such as these have required a more complex theory of how long-term memory operates.

Past Research

A fourth source of ideas is past research. Becoming familiar with a body of research on a topic is perhaps the best way to generate ideas for new research. Because the results of research are published, researchers can use the body of past literature on a topic to continually refine and expand our knowledge. Virtually every study raises questions that can be addressed in subsequent research. The research may lead to an attempt to apply the findings in a different setting, to study the topic with a different age group, or to use a different methodology to replicate the results. In the Cramer et al. (2007) study on cell phone use while driving, trained observers noted cell phone use of 3,650 students leaving campus parking structures during a 3-hour period on two different days. They reported that 11% of all drivers were using cell phones. Females were more likely than males to be using a cell phone, and drivers with passengers were less likely to be talking than solitary drivers. Knowledge of this study might lead to research on ways to reduce students’ cell phone use while driving.

In addition, as you become familiar with the research literature on a topic, you may see inconsistencies in research results that need to be investigated, or you may want to study alternative explanations for the results. Also, what you know about one research area often can be successfully applied to another research area.

Let’s look at a concrete example of a study that was designed to address methodological flaws in previous research. In  Chapter 1 , we discussed research on a method—called facilitated communication—intended to help children who are diagnosed with autism. Childhood autism is characterized by a number of symptoms including severe impairments in language and communication Page 27ability. Parents and care providers were greatly encouraged by facilitated communication, which allowed an autistic child to communicate with others by pressing keys on a keyboard showing letters and other symbols. A facilitator held the child’s hand to facilitate the child’s ability to determine which key to press. With this technique, many autistic children began communicating their thoughts and feelings and answered questions posed to them. Most people who saw facilitated communication in action regarded the technique as a miraculous breakthrough.

The conclusion that facilitated communication was effective was based on a comparison of the autistic child’s ability to communicate with and without the facilitator. The difference is impressive to most observers. Recall, however, that scientists are by nature skeptical. They examine all evidence carefully and ask whether claims are justified. In the case of facilitated communication, Montee, Miltenberger, and Wittrock (1995) noted that the facilitator might have been unintentionally guiding the child’s fingers to type meaningful sentences. In other words, the facilitator, and not the autistic individual, might be controlling the communication. Montee et al. conducted a study to test this idea. In one condition, both the facilitator and the autistic child were shown a picture, and the child was asked to indicate what was shown in the picture by typing a response with the facilitator. This was done on a number of trials. In another condition, only the child saw the pictures. In a third condition, the child and facilitator were shown different pictures (but the facilitator was unaware of this fact). Consistent with the hypothesis that the facilitator is controlling the child’s responses, the pictures were correctly identified only in the condition in which both saw the same pictures. Moreover, when the child and facilitator viewed different pictures, the child never made the correct response, and usually the picture the facilitator had seen was the one identified.

Practical Problems

Research is also stimulated by practical problems that can have immediate applications. Groups of city planners and citizens might survey bicycle riders to determine the most desirable route for a city bike path, for example. On a larger scale, researchers have guided public policy by conducting research on obesity and eating disorders, as well as other social and health issues. Much of the applied and evaluation research described in  Chapter 1  addresses issues such as these.


Before conducting any research project, an investigator must have a thorough knowledge of previous research findings. Even if the researcher formulates the basic idea, a review of past studies will help the researcher clarify the idea and Page 28design of the study. Thus, it is important to know how to search the literature on a topic and how to read research reports in professional journals. In this section, we will discuss only the fundamentals of conducting library research; for further information, you should go to your college library and talk with a librarian (large libraries may have a librarian devoted to providing assistance in psychology and other behavioral sciences). Librarians have specialized training and a lot of practical experience in conducting library research. You may also refer to a more detailed guide to library research in psychology, such as Reed and Baxter (2003), or to the numerous library guides available on the Internet. You may also find guides to help you prepare a paper that reviews research; Rosnow and Rosnow (2009) is an example.

The Nature of Journals

If you have looked through your library’s collection of periodicals, you have noticed the enormous number of professional journals. In these journals, researchers publish the results of their investigations. After a research project has been completed, the study is written as a report, which then may be submitted to the editor of an appropriate journal. The editor solicits reviews from other scientists in the same field and then decides whether the report is to be accepted for publication. (This is the process of peer review described in  Chapter 1 .) Because each journal has a limited amount of space and receives many more papers than it has room to publish, most papers are rejected. Those that are accepted are published about a year later, although sometimes online editions are published more quickly.

Most psychology journals specialize in one or two areas of human or animal behavior. Even so, the number of journals in many areas is so large that it is almost impossible for anyone to read them all.  Table 2.1  lists some of the major journals in several areas of psychology; the table does not list any journals that are published only on the Internet, and it does not include many journals that publish in areas closely related to psychology as well as highly specialized areas within psychology. Clearly, it would be difficult to read all of the journals listed, even if you restricted your reading to a single research area in psychology such as learning and memory. If you were seeking research on a single specific topic, it would be impractical to look at every issue of every journal in which relevant research might be published. Fortunately, you do not have to.

Online Scholarly Research Databases:  PsycINFO

The American Psychological Association began the monthly publication of Psychological Abstracts, or Psych Abstracts, in 1927. The abstracts are brief summaries of articles in psychology and related disciplines indexed by topic area. Today, the abstracts are maintained in a computer database called  PsycINFO , which is accessed via the Internet and is updated weekly. The exact procedures you will use to search PsycINFO will depend on how your library has arranged to obtain access to the database. In all cases, you will obtain a list of abstracts that are related to your particular topic of interest. You can then find and read the articles in your library or, in many cases, link to full text that your library subscribes to. If an important article is not available in your library, ask a librarian about services to obtain articles from other libraries.

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TABLE 2.1 Some major journals in psychology


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Conducting a  PsycINFO  Search

The exact look and feel of the system you will use to search PsycINFO will depend on your library website. Your most important task is to specify the search terms that you want the database to use. These are typed into a search box. How do you know what words to type in the search box? Most commonly, you will want to use standard psychological terms. The “Thesaurus of Psychological Index Terms” lists all the standard terms that are used to index the abstracts, and it can be accessed directly with most PsycINFO systems. Suppose you are interested in the topic of distraction while driving. It turns out that distraction and driving behavior are both terms in the thesaurus. While using the thesaurus, you can check any term and then request a search of that term. Of course, you can search using any term or phrase that is relevant to your topic. When you give the command to start the search, the results of the search will be displayed.

Below is the output of one of the articles found with a search on distraction and driving behavior. The exact appearance of the output that you receive will depend on the your library’s search system. The default output includes citation information that you will need along with the abstract itself. Notice that the output is organized into “fields” of information. The full name of each field is included here; many systems allow abbreviations. You will almost always want to see the titleauthorsource/publication title, and abstract. Note that you also have fields such as publication type, keywords to briefly describe the article, and age group. When you do the search, some fields will appear as hyperlinks to lead you to other information in your library database or to other websites. Systems are continually being upgraded to enable users to more easily obtain full-text access to the articles and find other articles on similar topics. The digital object identifier (DOI) is particularly helpful in finding full-text sources of the article and is now provided with other publication information when journal articles are referenced.

The reference for the article is:

Weller, J. A., Shackleford, C., Dieckmann, N., & Slovic, P. (2013). Possession attachment predicts cell phone use while driving. Health Psychology, 32(4), 379–387. doi:10.1037/a0029265

Page 32PsycINFO output appears as follows:

Title: Possession attachment predicts cell phone use while driving.
Authors: Weller, Joshua A., Decision Research, Eugene, OR, US,  jweller@decisionresearch.org

Shackleford, Crystal, Department of Psychology, University of Oregon, Eugene, OR, US

Dieckmann, Nathan, Decision Research, Eugene, OR, US

Slovic, Paul, Decision Research, Eugene, OR, US

Address: Weller, Joshua A., Decision Research 1201 Oak Street, Suite 200, Eugene, OR, US, 97401,  jweller@decisionresearch.org
Source: Health Psychology, Vol 32(4), Apr, 2013. pp. 379–387.
Page Count: 9
Publisher: US: American Psychological Association
Other Publishers: US: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
ISSN: 1930-7810 (Electronic)

0278-6133 (Print)

Language: English
Keywords: cell phone use while driving, distracted driving, individual differences, possession attachment, risk perception
Abstract: Objective: Distracted driving has become an important public health concern. However, little is known about the predictors of this health-risking behavior. One overlooked risk factor for distracted driving is the perceived attachment that one feels toward his or her phone. Prior research has suggested that individuals develop bonds toward objects, and qualitative research suggests that the bond between young drivers and their phones can be strong. It follows that individuals who perceive a strong attachment to their phone would be more likely to use it, even when driving. Method: In a nationally representative sample of young drivers (17–28 years), participants (n = 1,006) completed a survey about driving behaviors and phone use. Risk perception surrounding cell phone use while driving and perceived attachment to one’s phone were assessed by administering factor-analytically derived scales that were created as part of a larger project. Results: Attachment toward one’s phone predicted the proportion of trips in which a participant reported using their cell phone while driving, beyond that accounted for by risk perception and overall phone use. Further, attachment predicted self-reported distracted driving behaviors, such as the Page 33use of social media while driving. Conclusions: Attachment to one’s phone may be an important but overlooked risk factor for the engagement of potentially health-risking driving behaviors. Understanding that phone attachment may adversely affect driving behaviors has the potential to inform prevention and intervention efforts designed to reduce distracted driving behaviors, especially in young drivers. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2013 APA, all rights reserved)
Subjects: *Attachment Behavior; *Distraction; *Driving Behavior; *Risk Perception; *Cellular Phones; Individual Differences; Public Health; Risk Factors; Transportation Safety
Classification: Transportation (4090)
Population: Human (10)

Male (30)

Female (40)

Location: US
Age Group: Adolescence (13-17 yrs) (200)

Adulthood (18 yrs & older) (300)

Young Adulthood (18-29 yrs) (320)

Tests & Measures: CPUWD Risk-Perception Scale [Appended]
Grant Sponsorship: Sponsor: American Automobile Association Foundation for Traffic Safety

Grant: AAAFTS 51028

Methodology: Empirical Study; Quantitative Study
Format Covered: Electronic
Publication Type: Journal; Peer Reviewed Journal
Document Type: Journal Article
Publication History: First Posted Date: Aug 27, 2012; Accepted Date: Feb 3, 2012;

Revised Date: Feb 2, 2012; First Submitted Date: Apr 29, 2011

Release Date: 20120827
Correction Date: 20130401
Copyright: American Psychological Association. 2012.
Digital Object Identifier: 10.1037/a0029265
Accession Number: 2012-23147-001
Number of Citations 48
in Source:  
Database: PsycINFO

Page 34When you do a simple search with a single word or a phrase such as distraction, the default search yields articles that have that word or phrase anywhere in any of the fields listed. Often you will find that this produces too many articles, including articles that are not directly relevant to your interests. One way to narrow the search is to limit it to certain fields. Your PsycINFO search screen will allow you to limit the search to one field, such as the title of the article. You can also learn how to type a search that includes the field you want. For example, you could specify distraction in TITLE to limit your search to articles that have the term in the title of the article. Your search screen will also allow you to set limits on your search to specify, for instance, that the search should find only journal articles (not books or dissertations) or include participants from certain age groups.

Most PsycINFO systems have advanced search screens that enable you to use the Boolean operators AND, OR, and NOT. These can be typed as discussed below, but the advanced search screen uses prompts to help you design the search. Suppose you want to restrict the distraction in TITLE search to studies that also examined cell phones. You can do this by asking for (distraction in TITLE) AND (cell phone). The AND forces both conditions to be true for an article to be included. The parentheses are used to separate different parts of your search specification and are useful when your searches become increasingly complicated.

The OR operation is used to expand a search that is too narrow. Suppose you want to find articles that discuss romantic relationships on the Internet. A PsycINFO search for Internet AND romance in any field produces 59 articles; changing the specification to Internet AND (romance OR dating OR love) yields 330 articles. Articles that have the term Internet and any of the other three terms specified were included in the second search.

The NOT operation will exclude sources based on a criterion you specify. The NOT operation is used when you anticipate that the search criteria will be met by some irrelevant abstracts. In the Internet example, it is possible that the search will include articles on child predators. To exclude the term child from the results of the search, the following adjustment can be made: Internet AND (romance OR dating OR love) NOT child. When this search was conducted, 303 abstracts were found instead of the 330 obtained previously.

Another helpful search tool is the “wildcard” asterisk (*). The asterisk stands for any set of letters in a word and so it can expand your search. Consider the word romance in the search above—by using roman*, the search will expand to include both romance and romantic. The wildcard can be very useful with the term child* to find child, children, childhood,and so on. You have to be careful when doing this, however; the roman* search would also find Romania and romanticism. In this case, it might be more efficient to simply add OR romantic to the search. These and other search strategies are summarized in  Figure 2.2 .

It is a good idea to give careful thought to your search terms. Consider the case of a student who decided to do a paper on the topic of road rage. She wanted to know what might cause drivers to become so angry at other drivers that they become physically aggressive. A search on the term road rage led to a number of interesting articles. However, when looking at the output from the search, she noticed that the major keywords included driving behavior and anger but not road rage. When she asked about this, we realized that she had only found articles that included the term road rage in the title or abstract. This term has become popular, but it may not be used in many academic studies of the topic. She then expanded the search to include driving AND anger. The new search yielded many articles not found in the original search.

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Some strategies for searching research databases

Page 36As you review the results of your search, you can print, save, or send information to your email address. Other options such as printing a citation in APA style may also be available.

Science Citation Index and Social Sciences Citation Index

Two related search resources are the  Science Citation Index  (SCI) and the  Social Sciences Citation Index  (SSCI). These are usually accessed together using the  Web of Science computer database. Both allow you to search through citation information such as the name of the author or article title. The SCI includes disciplines such as biology, chemistry, biomedicine, and pharmacology, whereas the SSCI includes social and behavioral sciences such as sociology and criminal justice. The most important feature of both resources is the ability to use the “key article” method. Here you need to first identify a key article on your topic that is particularly relevant to your interests. Choose an article that was published sufficiently long ago to allow time for subsequent related research to be conducted and reported. You can then search for the subsequent articles that cited the key article. This search will give you a bibliography of articles relevant to your topic. To provide an example of this process, we chose the following article:

Fleming, M., & Rickwood, D. (2001). Effects of violent versus nonviolent video games on children’s arousal, aggressive mood, and positive mood. Journal of Applied Social Psychology31(10), 2047–2071. doi:10.1111/j.1559-1816.2001.tb00163.x

When we did an article search using the SSCI, we found 17 articles that had cited the Fleming and Rickwood paper since it was published in 2001. Here is one of them:

Lim, S., & Reeves, B. (2009). Being in the game: Effects of avatar choice and point of view on psychophysiological responses during play. Media Psychology, 12(4), 348–370. doi:10.1080/15213260903287242

This article as well as the others on the list might then be retrieved. It may then turn out that one or more of the articles might become new key articles for further searches. It is also possible to specify a “key person” in order to find all articles written by or citing a particular person after a given date.

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Other Electronic Search Resources

The American Psychological Association maintains several databases in addition to PsycINFO. These include PsycARTICLES, consisting of full-text scholarly articles, and PsycBOOKS, a database of full-text books and book chapters. Other major databases include Sociological AbstractsPubMed, and ERIC (Educational Resources Information Center).In addition, services such as LexisNexis Academic and Factiva allow you to search general media resources such as newspapers. A reference librarian can help you use these and other resources available to you.

Internet Searches

The most widely available information resource is the wealth of material that is available on the Internet and located using search services such as Google. The Internet is a wonderful source of information; any given search may help you find websites devoted to your topic, articles that people have made available to others, book reviews, and even online discussions. Although it is incredibly easy to search (just type something in a dialog box and press the Enter key), you can improve the quality of your searches by learning (1) the differences in the way each service finds and stores information; (2) advanced search rules, including how to make searches more narrow and how to find exact phrases; and (3) ways to critically evaluate the quality of the information that you find. You also need to make sure that you carefully record the search service and search terms you used, the dates of your search, and the exact location of any websites that you will be using in your research; this information will be useful as you provide documentation in the papers that you prepare.

Google Scholar Google Scholar is a specialized scholarly search engine that can be accessed at  http://scholar.google.com . When you do a search using Google Scholar, you find articles, theses, books, abstracts, and court opinions from a wide range of sources, including academic publishers, professional societies, online repositories, universities, and other websites. Just like Google ranks the output of a standard search, Google Scholar ranks the output of a Google Scholar search. In the case of Google Scholar, search output is ranked by the contents of the article (i.e., did the article contain the keywords that were used in the search?) along with an article’s overall prominence based on author, journal, and how often it is cited in other articles.

Google Scholar operates like any other Google search. Access Google Scholar at  http://scholar.google.com  and type in a keyword as you would in a basic PsycINFO search. The key difference is that whereas the universe of content for PsycINFO comes from the published works in the psychology and related sciences, the universe for Google Scholar includes the entire Internet. This can be both a strength and a weakness. If your topic is Page 38broad—for example, if you were interested in doing a search for depression or ADHD or color perception—Google Scholar would generate many more hits than would PsycINFO. Indeed, many of those hits would not be from the scientific literature. On the other hand, if you have a narrow search (e.g., adult ADHD treatmentcolor perception and reading speed), then Google Scholar would generate a set of results more closely aligned with your intentions.

Evaluating Web information Your own library and a variety of websites have information on evaluating the quality of information found on the Internet. Some of the most important things to look for are listed here:

· Is the site associated with a major educational institution or research organization? A site sponsored by a single individual or an organization with a clear bias should be viewed with skepticism.

· Is information provided on the people who are responsible for the site? Can you check on the credentials of these individuals?

· Is the information current?

· Do links from the site lead to legitimate organizations?


Finally, literature reviews are another good way to explore past research. Articles that summarize the research in a particular area are also useful; these are known as literature reviews. The journal Psychological Bulletin publishes reviews of the literature in various topic areas in psychology. Each year, the Annual Review of Psychology publishes articles that summarize recent developments in various areas of psychology. Other disciplines have similar annual reviews.

The following article is an example of a literature review:

Gatchel, R. J., Peng, Y. B., Peters, M. L., Fuchs, P. N., & Turk, D. C. (2007). The biopsychosocial approach to chronic pain: Scientific advances and future directions. Psychological Bulletin, 133, 581–624. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.133.4.581

The authors of this article reviewed the past literature relating the biopsychosocial approach to understanding chronic pain. They described a very large number of studies on the biological aspects of pain along with research on psychological and social influences. They also point to new methods and directions for the field.

When conducting a search, you might want to focus on finding review articles. Adding review as a search term in the title of the article will generate review articles in your results.

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Your literature search has helped you find research articles to read. What can you expect to find in these articles? Research articles usually have five sections: (1) an abstract, such as the ones found in PsycINFO; (2) an Introduction that explains the problem under investigation and the specific hypotheses being tested; (3) a Method section that describes in detail the exact procedures used in the study; (4) a Results section in which the findings are presented; and (5) a Discussion section in which the researcher may speculate on the broader implications of the results, propose alternative explanations for the results, discuss reasons that a particular hypothesis may not have been supported by the data, and/or make suggestions for further research on the problem. In addition to the five major sections, you will find a list of all the references that were cited. Review the summary of the sections in  Figure 2.3  as you read about each section in greater detail.


The abstract is a summary of the research report and typically runs no more than 120 words in length. It includes information about the hypothesis, the procedure, and the broad pattern of results. Generally, little information is abstracted from the Discussion section of the paper.



Major sections of a research article

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In the Introduction section, the researcher outlines the problem that has been investigated. Past research and theories relevant to the problem are described in detail. The specific expectations of the researcher are noted, often as formal hypotheses. In other words, the investigator introduces the research in a logical format that shows how past research and theory are connected to the current research problem and the expected results.


The Method section is divided into subsections, with the number of subsections determined by the author and dependent on the complexity of the research design. Sometimes, the first subsection presents an overview of the design to prepare the reader for the material that follows. The next subsection describes the characteristics of the participants. Were they male or female, or were both sexes used? What was the average age? How many participants were included? If the study used human participants, some mention of how participants were recruited for the study would be needed. The next subsection details the procedure used in the study. In describing any stimulus materials presented to the participants, the way the behavior of the participants was recorded, and so on, it is important that no potentially crucial detail be omitted. Such detail allows the reader to know exactly how the study was conducted, and it provides other researchers with the information necessary to replicate the study. Other subsections may be necessary to describe in detail any equipment or testing materials that were used.


In the Results section, the researcher presents the findings, usually in three ways. First, there is a description in narrative form—for example, “The location of items was most likely to be forgotten when the location was both highly memorable and an unusual place for the item to be stored.” Second, the results are described in statistical language. Third, the material is often depicted in tables and graphs.

The statistical terminology of the Results section may appear formidable. However, lack of knowledge about the calculations is not really a deterrent to understanding the article or the logic behind the statistics. Statistics are only a tool the researcher uses in evaluating the outcomes of the study.


In the Discussion section, the researcher reviews the research from various perspectives. Do the results support the hypothesis? If they do, the author should give all possible explanations for the results and discuss why one Page 41explanation is superior to another. If the hypothesis has not been supported, the author should suggest potential reasons. What might have been wrong with the methodology, the hypothesis, or both? The researcher may also discuss how the results compare with past research results on the topic. This section may also include suggestions for possible practical applications of the research and for future research on the topic.

You should familiarize yourself with some actual research articles.  Appendix A  includes an entire article in manuscript form. An easy way to find more articles in areas that interest you is to visit the website of the American Psychological Association (APA) at  www.apa.org . All the APA journals listed in  Table 2.1  have links that you can find by going to  www.apa.org/journals . When you select a journal that interests you, you will go to a page that allows you to read recent articles published in the journal. Read articles to become familiar with the way information is presented in reports. As you read, you will develop ways of efficiently processing the information in the articles. It is usually best to read the abstract first, then skim the article to decide whether you can use the information provided. If you can, go back and read the article carefully. Note the hypotheses and theories presented in the introduction, write down anything that seems unclear or problematic in the method, and read the results in view of the material in the introduction. Be critical when you read the article; students often generate the best criticism. Most important, as you read more research on a topic, you will become more familiar with the variables being studied, the methods used to study the variables, the important theoretical issues being considered, and the problems that need to be addressed by future research. In short, you will find yourself generating your own research ideas and planning your own studies.

Study Terms

Abstract ( p. 39 )

Discussion section ( p. 40 )

Hypothesis ( p. 21 )

Introduction section ( p. 40 )

Literature review ( p. 38 )

Method section ( p. 40 )

Prediction ( p. 21 )

PsycINFO ( p. 31 )

Research questions ( p. 21 )

Results section ( p. 40 )

Science Citation Index (SCI) ( p. 36 )

Social Sciences Citation Index (SSCI) ( p. 36 )

Theory ( p. 24 )

Web of Science ( p. 36 )

Review Questions

1. What is a hypothesis? What is the distinction between a hypothesis and a prediction?

2. What are the two functions of a theory?Page 42

3. Describe the difference in the way that past research is found when you use PsycINFO versus the “key article” method of the Science Citation Index/Social Sciences Citation Index (Web of Science).

4. What information does the researcher communicate in each of the sections of a research article?


1. Think of at least five “commonsense” sayings about behavior (e.g., “Spare the rod, spoil the child”; “Like father, like son”; “Absence makes the heart grow fonder”). For each, develop a hypothesis that is suggested by the saying and a prediction that follows from the hypothesis. (Based on Gardner, 1988.)

2. Choose one of the hypotheses formulated in Activity 1 and develop a strategy for finding research on the topic using the computer database in your library.

3. Theories serve two purposes: (1) to organize and explain observable events and (2) to generate new knowledge by guiding our way of looking at these events. Identify a consistent behavior pattern in yourself or somebody close to you (e.g., you consistently get into an argument with your sister on Friday nights). Generate two possible theories (explanations) for this occurrence (e.g., because you work long hours on Friday, you are usually stressed and exhausted when you get home; because your sister has a chemistry quiz every Friday afternoon and she’s not doing well in the course, she is very irritable on Fridays). How would you gather evidence to determine which explanation might be correct? How might each explanation lead to different approaches to changing the behavior pattern, either to decrease or increase its occurrence?

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