Research methods in Psychology

There are quite a number of research methods in psychology. The most popular at face value are lab and field experiments that have played a big role in the development of the discipline. Notable examples are Bandura’s Bobo Doll experiments and the Stanford Prison experiment. From both an insider and outsider perspective, experiments may be easily mistaken for the most applicable research methods in the discipline. However, it is worthy to note that these experiments are often noticeable due to the controversy they come with- such as the emotional breakdowns in the Stanford example. The fact that the use of human subjects in experiments has ethical limitations points to their partial applicability (Myers, 2013). Other common methods include survey, observation, interviews and complex computer based simulations and modeling.

The most applicable research method to the greatest number of situations is however the case study approach. This refers to an in depth investigation on an individual, group of people or community. An example of case study approaches is the work of Sigmund Freud, one of the most acclaimed psychologists. He carried out detailed investigations on patients to understand their behavior and various aspects of their psychology (Myers, 2013). Case studies are highly applicable due to their richness in detail, focused nature on topics and subjects as well as high ecological validity. The latter implies that the findings are readily applicable to real life situations, which makes psychological research practical and actionable. The use of the method is aided by the presence of volumes of previous work on different psychological topics, making it easy to design case studies through review of past literature (Myers, 2013). With the discipline over 100 years old, there are plenty of materials for researchers to use in selecting their cases.

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The greatest weakness of case studies is lack of generalizabilty. This is because they utilize small samples that are studied in detail but are not representative of the whole. For instance, much of Freud’s work is criticized on the premise that it was too specific to the subjects involved (Myers, 2013). However, the method has an advantage in that it is highly rich in detail. Such approaches require a researcher to focus on a subject for lengthy periods and collect a wide range of data on the topic. As such, they collect comprehensive data that addresses the topic conclusively.


Myers, D. (2013). Psychology. 10th ed. Worth Publishers.

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