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Is Psychological Research Useful?

October 14, 2011

There are many different methods to research in psychology: experimental, observational, self report etc. Psychologists use different ones to conduct their research into a particular area/topic. How useful are these methods? Can the research be applied to our everyday lives?

When using the correlational method, relationships can be found between two variables. However, from a correlation you can not state which one caused the other. For example, if a relationship was found between playing violent video games and a child acting violently, you can not assume that it was the playing of the game that caused violent behaviour: it could be that a child with a violent personality (or a child that acts violent) is more likely to enjoy playing violent video games. Or it could even be a completely different variable that causes the two i.e- a child who often see’s older siblings acting violently and playing violent games may then go on to do both. So then, if we cannot make any real findings or conclusions, is this kind of research useful? Despite not being able to find a link, I believe that this is still useful- it could lead to further research and experiments that can draw conclusions and be useful.

Many psychologists use the experimental method to conduct their research- e.g Milgram(1963) Reicher and Haslam(2006) Geer and Maisel(1972). Experiments such as these can lead to interesting findings which can help in society to reduce problems or find reasons for bad behaviour which could possibly lead to a solution to these problems. So surely psychology is useful?

Lets look closer into one of my examples- Geer and Maisel(1972) who found that people who have control in their study showed less signs of stress. However, in real life, people don’t sit in a chair and look at pictures of car crash victims- stress can be caused by many different life experiences and little things that occur everyday. So does this mean that this research cannot be generalised to all causes of stress? That lack of control only makes stress worse when someone is in this position? But, when is anyone ever going to have to sit in a chair and look at car crash victims other than when participating in this research? So does this mean that it isn’t useful?

Also the participants were hooked up to a GSR and heart rate monitors and knew they were being experimented on- would this not effect the findings in a big way? If we cannot say for certain that the results are not affected by the measuring technique then the results cannot be applied to real life meaning the research can again, be seen as useless.

These are some of many flaws within researching psychology and the different methods forces me to question if it can be applied to our everyday lives and also to special cases such as leaning disabilities/depression. This in turn begs the question- Is psychological research really useful?

To me, psychology is important- some studies can be thrown into question and all research methods have their flaws and their good points. Maybe nothing can ever be fully proven in psychology due to these flaws but this shouldn’t make it completely useless- even in science nothing is ever fact: there are only ever theories. But society benefits from science, as it does from psychology.

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5 Comments
  1. A good topic. I agree with the point that you make that although research does have flaws, for example it may not be fully valid or reliable, I still feel it is useful. You can use psychological research to predict how people will react in certain situations, obviously not everyone will react in the same way, but even if you can predict the way that a few people react then it is still useful.

  2. Interesting concept of discussing each research method separately and giving examples of studies which use only one form of measurement. However i feel it is unfair to base the usefulmess of the discipline based upon its method data or result collection. If you look at the example of Geer and Maisel although there experiment looked at participants car crashes and there galvanic skin responce measured. There results demostrated that those with no control or foresight did suffer higher levels of stress or anxiety. Now the arguement made was that due to the method of data collection the results are flawed as they lack ecological validity but the idea that giving people more control in an situation could lower stress or taking it away increases stress is still a useful piece of research.

    • That is a good point and I do still feel psychology is useful but I do question to what extent it is. For me, one main point is the ecological validity and this was why I chose Geer and Maisel’s study on stress to look into. If it is not related to real life it cannot be generalised to real life, therefore it is hard to argue it is useful. There is much research in the discipline- such as Piliavin, Rodin (1969) on Good Samaritanism and many others which I feel are useful and produce research which can lead to good theories.

  3. I think you are correct to question whether psychological research can be applied to our everyday lives. In some cases it can, for example Milgram (1963) taught us a lot about obedience and the situation in which he did his experiment was as close to real life as possible and the best way to test this. Other times research is sometimes pointless and we cannot generalize. I would use this example when using animals E.G – Harlow’s monkey study (1957) when he kept the monkeys in isolated chambers. This is not real life and cannot be generalized to humans as we would never be in that situation.
    I also like how you have discussed the different types of research methods in detail but sometimes this could be irrelevant when trying to judge how valid the research is. You cannot really say that the type of research method used makes the experiment more valid. Until proven incorrect, this is always going to be untrue.

  4. The example you used (Gear and Maisel) although it does have low ecological validity does not necessarily mean that it has no use within psychology. It does come up with a theory of control having an influence on stress. This could then be taken and used as the base of further research of a different method to conclude with a cause of stress. For example they could take the findings and incorporate it into a questionnaire/survey and see if people generally do feel more under pressure and stressed when they have little or no control over a situation. Because of this I have to say that psychological research is useful even in cases such as Geer and Maisel which does lack ecological validity.

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