PSYC270: Psychology Research Methods

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Since all models are wrong, the scientist cannot obtain a “correct” one by excessive elaboration. On the contrary, following William of Occam, he should seek an economical description of natural phenomena.
— George Box (1976), important 20th century statistician
“A map is not the territory it represents, but, if correct, it has a similar structure to the territory, which accounts for its usefulness.
— Alfred Korzybski, Science and Sanity (1933), p. 58


About This Course

This is a 3 credit, hands-on psychology course designed to introduce undergraduate students to the primary methods and best practices that underpin excellent psychological scientific research. By the end of this course, you should be able to demonstrate the following:

  • Identify the major approaches to conducting research in psychology as well as the advantages and disadvantages of these different approaches
  • Develop your skills in reading & evaluating empirical research
  • Assess the validity of research claims made in academic articles as well as the mainstream media
  • Research, prepare, conduct, and report on the findings of your own experimental study!
  • Improved scientific writing and presentation, including the preparation of formal APA style research articles, research posters, and laboratory presentations
  • Understand basic principles behind graphic displays and data visualization, especially as is relevant to statistics you conduct for projects in this class
  • Envision what life is like as a research scientist in psychology
  • Clarify if research is a good career path for you vs. not - identify areas in psychology where you have a strong interest
  • Become both a better producer and consumer of psychological science (and science more generally) 


Lecture & Laboratory. This course includes both lecture and laboratory components, with one day a week dedicated to lecture on the key principles behind psychology research methods and ethics and two days a week dedicated to laboratory, hands-on experience. Laboratory days may also include a small amount of lecture at the beginning to introduce tasks and appropriate procedures or methods.

Course topics include the following:

  • Philosophy of science
  • Understanding, testing, and critiquing scientific claims
  • Human ethics considerations, informed consent, & debriefing
  • How to identify research questions and hypotheses
  • Correlational vs. experimental approaches
  • Issues around reliability, validity, and confounds (e.g., order effects, counterbalancing)
  • Issues around statistical power, sample size, and estimating effect sizes
  • Overview of common research methods in psychology (e.g., survey designs, reaction times, behavioral manipulations, mood inductions, etc.)
  • Data management, transparency, falsification issues, and reproducability
  • Null hypothesis testing, confidence intervals, & statistical inference
  • Statistical approaches: How to use descriptives effectively
  • Statistical approaches: Correlations, t-tests, and ANOVAs
  • Principles of data visualization and presentation
  • Principles of scientific writing, including issues with plagiarism
  • Introduction to the peer review and publishing process
  • Public science communication & science journalism

As part of the course, we will also tour two laboratories in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience to show you what a real laboratory looks like. Towards the end of the semester, we will also have a "career panel" composed of doctoral students and faculty who can tell you more about their fields and what career options you have using psychology and neuroscience.

Course skills include the following:

  • Microsoft Word and Excel skills
  • SPSS and R introductory skills
  • Conduct a literature search
  • Read, critique, and discuss prior psychological research
  • Critically analyze scientific claims made in popular media
  • Generate a novel, testable hypothesis
  • Design, collect data for, and analyze your own between-subjects experimental study
  • Create an informed consent, debriefing form, & other study materials
  • Review of descriptives, correlations, t-test, and ANOVAs
  • Interpret basic statistics in the context of your study
  • Create effective visualizations of your data findings
  • Write an APA-style empirical manuscript based on your study
  • Create a research poster

Office Hours. Every week, I hold a "coffee hour" where students are welcome to stop by my office and have tea or coffee and discuss course material or career development. 

Attendance. Given the highly hands-on nature of this course and its fast pace, 100% attendance is expected of all students. Attendance will be taken every class period and will count as your participation grade. Additionally, many assignments like the research proposal, experimental design, data analyses, and final research paper will be primarily completed, revised, and critiqued in the laboratory portion of this course, so attendance for laboratory periods are critical to your success in the course.   

All course activities, exams, and assignments are designed to achieve the overarching course goals described above.  Course grade is computed from the exams, in-class quizzes, writing assignments, and a participation score based on attendance. 

Exams. You will take a midterm exam and cumulative final exam. Exams are a mixture of multiple-choice, short answer or diagram labeling, and short essay. Exams cover all materials, with a heavy emphasis on concepts and findings covered in lecture, laboratory activities, and discussions.  Exams are used to assess students' mastery of the concepts and theory behind psychological research methods.

Research Project.  Based on your research interests, you will be placed into a group of 3-4 students to complete a semester-long research project where you will design, collect data for, analyze, write up, and present your study. This is composed of several smaller deadlines throughout the semester to support a timely completion of this large semester-long project. All drafts will undergo peer review feedback and instructor feedback.

  1. Research Proposal. You will independently conduct a literature search on a psychology topic of interest to you and generate a possible testable hypothesis that is built on prior literature. You will then write a minimum 3-page literature review summarizing prior literature and proposing your hypothesis. This will be written in the first half of the semester. The research proposal includes a clear statement of the research problem or question, a review of prior literature and integration of research findings, plus a presentation of your hypothesis, which should be an important next step in solving the research problem or question. You will complete a draft version in advance of the deadline to allow plenty of time for feedback and improvement before final submission. 
  2. Study Design, Data Collection, & Analysis. With your group, you will design your own between-subjects experiment, including choosing what materials you will use, and then collect and analyze your data. As part of this, there will be smaller deadlines when you individually submit the Methods and Results drafts of your final paper. Although study design, data collection, and statistical analyses are group-based, all writing must be your own. 
  3. Final Paper. This final research paper will be the result of your semester’s lab work and a
    demonstration of your ability to apply research methods to real psychological data production. The final paper will include a finalized form of your Introduction (i.e., Research Proposal), Methods (Participants, Procedure, Measures or Materials), Results (including Analysis Approach and appropriate tables and figures), Discussion (including Limitations, Implications, Future Directions), and appropriate APA title page, abstract, in-text citations, reference list, etc. 
  4. Group Research Poster. As a group, you will design and present a scientific poster based on your research project as are commonly presented at psychology research conferences. Poster presentations will occur the last week of classes. 

Laboratory Assignments. Throughout the semester, there will be several laboratory assignments completed either in-laboratory or outside of class as homework. All assignments are designed to ensure that you acquire, at the minimum, a working knowledge of the different types of methods psychologists use. You will also learn or relearn statistical software and basic R scripting, how to read statistics output, and how to use APA format in your papers. Other laboratory assignments will include things like critiquing and discussing empirical papers, creating statistical tables and figures, and other skills discussed above.


Career Resources

  • The Portable Mentor. This is an online book you can access through the university website, designed for undergraduate and graduate students seeking careers in psychology, neuroscience, counseling, and beyond. 

Philosophy of Science

Study Design Resources

Statistical Resources

  • Introduction to R. Good overview of why you should learn to program in R (it's free, it's more flexible!) and how to get started using it on your computer.
  • Spurious Correlations. A fun website demonstrating why correlation does not equal causation.
  • The Power Dialogues. A great conversation on statistical power, with lots of resources and explanations.

Data Visualization Resources

Writing Resources

  • APA Formatting & Citations. Your writing assignments MUST be in APA format. If you cite peer-reviewed research or literature review articles, you must be sure to cite them correctly in APA format. The best resource (that I also use) is the Purdue OWL APA Guide here.