Research Methods (PSYC 30800)
Fall 2017

Barney Beins

Contacting me

Schedule for the Course

Office Hours

Teaching Assistant

Purpose of the Course

Goals of the Course

Nature of the Course


Tests and Evaluation Policies

Extra Credit

Important Dates

Final Exam Schedule


Homework: Homework assignments are due on the dates listed in the Assignments-At-A-Glance document. If there are changes to the schedule, I will announce them in class the week before the change is relevant.

When you complete assignments, make sure that you save them when I return them to you. If it should happen that there is a discrepancy in your records and mine, it is easier to resolve if you can show me the homework I've returned to you.

Extra Credit: If you want to earn extra credit for participating in research, make sure you read the guidelines.

I have posted learning aids on Sakai for your benefit:

  • POWERPOINT FILES: You have access to PowerPoint files for each chapter via Sakai. They provide chapter outlines of the major points.
  • PRACTICE TESTS: There are practice tests available on Sakai for the three tests.
  • STUDY GUIDES: There are study guides on Sakai for each of the chapters we will be covering in class for the semester.

This is what your research experience can lead to.







"Education is what survives when what has been learned has been forgotten." --B. F. Skinner

Contact Information

Barney Beins
Office: 119-N Williams
Phone: 607-274-3512 or 607-274-3304 (Psych Dept.)


Exception: During the registration period, you will need to sign up for an appointment time because I will need to meet with advisees who sign up for meetings to discuss their schedules.

Teaching Assistant:

Kayla Gromen

Contact Kayla if you would like additional help with course material.


August/September   October/November   November/December
August 28-Sept. 1   October 2-6   November 6-10
September 4-8   October 9-13   November 13-17
September 11-15   October 16-20   November 20-24
September 18-22   October 23-27   November 27-December 1
September 25-29   October 30- November 3   December 4-8
        December 11-15

Purpose of this course

(Go to the top of the syllabus)

In this course, you will learn how to understand, evaluate, and carry out research. This means being able to determine the adequacy of research you encounter as a consumer, setting up the rationale for a research project, creating a competent methodology, collecting data, analyzing the data, interpreting the results, and then communicating the results.

There are many ways to do good research. Some of them are experimental, like much of the work done on our research teams, but there are other ways of collecting data that are useful or even preferred in some situations. Any methodology has its strong and weak points; you are going to learn about them in this class.

Whether or not you continue in psychology after you graduate, you will probably need to organize and explain data that either you or someone else gathered. Consequently, you are going to need the ability to take a set of raw data and to make some sense of it. You will learn about this skill, including computerized data analysis. (For this component of the course, you may want to refer back to your statistics text or to borrow one.)

Goals of this course

Characterize the nature of psychology as a discipline.

Demonstrate knowledge and understanding representing appropriate breadth and depth in selected content areas of psycholog

Use the concepts, language, and major theories of the discipline to account for psychological phenomena.

Explain different research methods used by psychologists.

Evaluate the appropriateness of conclusions derived from psychological research.

Demonstrate reasonable skepticism and intellectual curiosity by asking questions about causes of behavior.

Evaluate scientific evidence for psychological claims.

Tolerate ambiguity and realize that psychological explanations are often complex and tentative.

Exhibit quantitative literacy.

(Go to the top of the syllabus)

After you complete this course

When you finish this methods course, you should have several valuable skills that you have not yet attained. You should remember to include them on your resume when you apply for jobs or for graduate school. These skills include

Remember: these are all marketable skills that will separate you from the rest of the crowd applying for that job or that graduate school spot that you really want.

(Go to the top of the syllabus)

The nature of this course

This course requires consistent work throughout the semester. This is a skills course, which means that you will be exposed to topics that you will need to employ in other courses. The focus is on applying research techniques, so the stress will be twofold: learning about the techniques that psychologists use and actually applying them. You will learn about a wide variety of topics. As such, if you fall behind in the work, you will experience difficulty catching up. The material is not difficult per se, but it is extensive; if you have problems, make sure you see me about them.

You will be developing research and problem-solving skills in this class. As such, it is important for you to abide by the ethical guidelines that researchers have adopted. In particular, all the work you do for this class must be your own. I encourage you to collaborate with others in developing your ideas, but the work you complete for the course must be your own. Passing somebody else's work off as your own is in violation with Ithaca College policies and any infractions will be subject to College regulations.

If you require some type of assistance because of a disability, please contact the Office of Academi Support Services (607-274-l005; TDD: 607-274-1767. You should let me know in advance if you need special accommodations.

In compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act, reasonable accommodation will be provided to students with documented disabilities on a case by case basis. Students must register with the Office of Academic Support Services and provide appropriate documentation to the college before any academic adjustment will be provided.

Take Care of Yourself

Diminished mental health, including significant stress, mood changes, excessive worry, or problems with eating and/or sleeping can interfere with optimal academic performance. The source of symptoms might be related to your course work; if so, please speak with me. However, problems with relationships, family worries, loss, or a personal struggle or crisis can also contribute to decreased academic performance.

Ithaca College provides cost-free mental health services through the Center for Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) to help you manage personal challenges that threaten your personal or academic well-being.

In the event I suspect you need additional support, expect that I will express to you my concerns and the reasons for them. It is not my intent to know the details of what might be troubling you, but simply to let you know I am concerned and that help (e.g., CAPS, Health Center, chaplains, etc.), if needed, is available.

Remember, getting help is a smart and healthy thing to do -- for yourself and for your loved ones.


Beins, B. C. (2013). Research Methods: A Tool for Life, 3rd ed. Boston: Allyn & Bacon. You can get a used copy of this book or you can buy it in three-ring binder format at the bookstore.

(Go to the top of the syllabus)

Schedule for the Course

The schedule below is a tentative time frame for the semester. There will undoubtedly be some changes because it's impossible to predict exactly how fast we will be going at any given period. If schedule changes arise, I will let you know in class.

August 28-September 1
Reading and Topics:Chapter 1: Psychology, Science, and Life

We will begin to deal with the ways that psychologists ask questions and decide what to believe about human behavior. The answers are not always easy or straightforward, so we have to be careful in the way we approach our decision-making.

Discussion: Ways of knowing: how do you know what you know?

Activity: Predicting research results

What do you know?

What has the obesity trend been in the US?

What is your Body Mass Index?

Provide data for Health Survey

Study Material: Ways of knowing

Science, Nonscience, and Nonsense

Characteristics of pseudoscience

Can you tell the difference between a scientific approach and one that is nonscientific? Some questions can be dealt with scientifically, but some cannot (and are not meant to be): Heaven is hotter than hell

Is chocolate good for you? Can you believe the media when it comes to scientific matters?

What do you actually know about subliminal perception? Have you listened to Stairway to Heaven?

DISCUSSION QUESTION: How could you test to see if subliminal perception has an effect on behavior?

Can I get you to drink a cup? Some researchers think they can. (At least some of the time.)

Karremans, J. C., Stroebe, W., & Claus, J. (2006). Beyond Vicary's fantasies: The impact of subliminal priming and brand choice. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 42, 792-798. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2005.12.002




Reaction Paper (3 pts) Due Friday, September 1: Nutritionists believe that sugar consumption is a problem in this country. Too much sugar is associated with obesity, diabetes, and other potential problems. A recent study on mice revealed that increased sugar was associated with problems. In addition, a different study showed reducing sugar intake can help people diagnosed with schizophrenia or with depression.

  • Do you think that the research with mice provides information that is actually relevant to the health of people? (1 pt)
  • Think critically about the article describing the research with schizophrenic and depressed patients. What alternate explanations can you think of to explain why the mental health of people in the study improved when they reduced sugar consumption? (1 pt)
  • One of the readings for this reaction paper came from Natural News. According to the publication’s website, “The key mission of Natural News is to empower consumers with factual information about the synthetic chemicals, heavy metals, hormone disruptors and other chemicals found in foods, medicines, personal care products, children's toys and other items.” Given the orientation of the website, do you think that the articles they publish are likely to be biased toward some perspective? Would this mean that you would evaluate their articles differently than if the information came from a traditional news source (e.g., Washington Post or New York Times)? (1 pt)

Homework #1 Due Monday, September 4: Selecting Statistical Tests (15 pts.)

This assignment is designed to refresh you on the statistics that you learned last semester. You will identify what test is appropriate for each scenario and why.

For the following situations, tell what statistical tests are appropriate. Be specific in the tests you select. If a given test has different versions, specify which version you would use. For example, the t-test has several versions: independent groups, related groups, comparison of sample and population means, etc. You need to tell which one you would use in such a situation.

In addition, say why you chose the test you did.

You must use the homework form on Sakai to complete this assignment.

1. Is there a relationship between whether the temperature and how many accidents there are on construction jobs? You collect data on the temperature for the day and the number of accidents that occurred.

2. Are students who participate in different extracurricular activities going to show different grades in their classes? You get types of students who compete in athletics, debating, science clubs, and no activities to see whether there are differences in academic performance.

3. You want to know how many park workers need to be hired in the summer for a festival. You look at the festival in past years to find if there is a relationship between the temperature on the day of the festival and the number of people in attendance. After finding that there is a relationship, you need to predict the attendance this year based on the temperature that has been forecast for that day.

4. Students who register for a particular class are assigned randomly to classes that are either small discussion classes, small lecture classes, or large lecture classes. You want to know whether their overall performance is any difference. You give them the same final exam and assess whether there are any differences between groups.

5. You want to know whether creative people prefer one type of television program over another. You get 25 people who have scored high on a standard test of creativity. You have them watch a comedy and then a crime drama. They then rate their enjoyment of each on a scale of 1 to 25.

A researcher collected data to investigate the question of whether intelligence has a hereditary component. A lot of data were collected. Tell all statistical applications that are necessary to address the problems below. A given problem might require more than one application.

6. Do IQ scores of children show a significant relation to those of their biological mothers?

7. The IQ scores of adopted children were measured at age 5 and then again at age 10 to see if they had changed. What test would you use to assess whether change had occurred?

8. The children had been given IQ tests at ages 2 and 10 years. The researcher wants to know if the two IQ tests measured related abilities. That is, is there any relationship between a child’s score at the two ages of testing?

9. Suppose there was a large group of adopted children living with adoptive parents; the IQs of those children were measured. Then there was a different group of children living with their biological parents; the IQs of those children were also measured. A third group of children were being raised by family members other than their parents. Do the IQ scores of the three groups of children differ from one another?

10. The correlation between IQ scores of adoptive parents and adopted children is computed from the sample data. There is a potential adoptive parent with an IQ score of 118. You want to predict the IQ score of the child that will be adopted.

A series of studies concerning the nature of memory loss of people with traumatic brain injury (TBI) was conducted. Tell specifically what tests would be appropriate for the following descriptions.

11. Do people with normal memories show better recognition of pictures than people with TBI?

12. Is there a relationship between the ability of a person with TBI to identify previously seen items and his or her ability to recall a list of words.

13. Do people who have experienced TBI produce different levels of recall than people in the early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease?

14. Do TBI victims remember word lists any differently when they are sober compared to when they are intoxicated?

15. Sometimes people feel that they know things when they cannot actually remember what they want. Do people show a relation between their confidence in their memories and their actual levels of memory?


September 4-8

Reading and Topics: We will continue to talk about asking and answering psychological questions (Chapter 1).

The "worst social statistic ever"

Homework Due Monday, September 11: Efficacy of Prayer (8 pts.)

Purpose of the Homework: This assignment will help you learn to distinguish the characteristics of science and pseudoscience. Over a century ago, a British scientist, Francis Galton, conducted a study to see if prayer had an effect in the natural world (contrasted with the religious, or supernatural, domain). That is, does prayer work to give us what we ask for in this world? You will respond to Galton's study on the efficacy of prayer. Based on the information here and on what we discuss in class, tell whether Galton's research should be considered as having a scientific approach. Remember that a study can be useful even if its methodology has problems; in your homework, make sure you do not confuse methodological weaknesses with problems with the characteristics of science.

Also, you need to remember that a replication does not need to be identical in every way to the original research. A replication can address the same issue with a slightly (or maybe dramatically) different methodology.

The Study: Galton defined the Royal Family has being prayed for because, every Sunday, the clergy took a moment to pray for the health and well being of the Royals. He defined the other groups (lawyers, doctors, and clergy) as not being prayed for because large numbers of people were never called on to pray for them. He went to official records that were quite accurate to see how long the people in each group lived, on average.

He reasoned that because members of the Church of England prayed for the health and well-being of the royal family every Sunday, if prayer is effective, it would mean that the Royals would live longer than other people. He discovered that, of 94 male members of the royal family, the mean age at death for males was 64.04. He compared it with other men: the clergy, whose mean age at death was 69.49 years; with lawyers, 68.14 years; and with doctors, 67.31 years. His research was published in a popular magazine that regularly published the results of research, Fortnightly Review, in 1872. He concluded that prayer is not effective in the natural world because the Royals lived shorter lives than the members of the other groups.

Objectives for the Efficacy of Prayer Homework:

  • List and describe the four characteristics of science (NOT the four goals of science; make sure you know the difference)
  • Apply your knowledge of the characteristics of science to Galton's research to draw a conclusion about whether Galton's research can be considered scientific based on the extent to which his study met the criteria of scientific research.
  • Identify weaknesses in Galton's research methodology and possible remedies for them

What you need to do to complete the Efficacy of Prayer homework successfully: You will identify and describe the four characteristics of scientific research as provided in the textbook and in class, then you will assess Galton's research to see how well the research meets the criteria for scientific research. In your responses, keep in mind that there are not always dichotomous (i.e., yes/no) answers. Sometimes, things are more complex and require a more sophisticated assessment.

  • List and describe the four characteristics of scientific research (NOT the four goals of science) and describe what each one means. (2 pts)
  • Apply each of the four characteristics to Galton's research and say specifically whether his research satisfies each criterion and why it does or doesn't. You need to make a statement for each of the four separately as each one relates to Galton's study. (2 pts.)
  • Identify the weaknesses of Galton's methodology. That is, say what it is about his methodology that limits your confidence in his results. (1 pt.)
  • Tell how you would remedy the weaknesses in his methodology. Your remedies need to be realistic; that is, they have to be practical. You should not develop a methodology that would be exceedingly difficult or impossible. (1 pt.)
  • What is your conclusion regarding how scientific Galton’s study was? Your response should be based on the extent to Galton’s study met the four criteria for determining scientific research. (2 pts)

Reaction Paper (3 pts.) Due Friday, September 15: Do you believe in any of the various forms of ESP (e.g., clairvoyance, mental telepathy, telekinesis, etc.) or other controversial phenomena, like astrology? What does the research suggest? The early research was pretty naive and methodologically suspect; it was easily debunked. More recent research by psychologist Darryl Bem of Cornell University raised the hopes of ESP adherents, although subsequent scrutiny of the research called Bem's research into question. This research has received a lot of popular attention, including on The Colbert Report. Quite recently, some psychologists have used brain scanning to see what the brain does in situations calling for ESP.

  • Based on the readings and on what you know, who do you think has the strongest evidence in support of their beliefs, those who think ESP is real or those who don't? Briefly explain why you think that the evidence is stronger. (1 pt.)
  • How persuasive is James Alcock's rebuttal (from the "subsequent scrutiny" link above)? (1 pt.)
  • Do you think that research results on the brain (from the "what the brain does" link above) are likely to persuade people to reject the idea of ESP? Briefly explain your answer. (1 pt.)


September 11-15

Reading: Chapter 2: Ethics in Research

In the past, researchers have engaged in egregious conduct, sometimes harming the people they are studying. In response, guidelines have been developed to protect the people and animals we study and to insure the integrity of the research process. The American Psychological Association was in the forefront of developing ethical guidelines; state and federal laws often rely on proposals first made by APA. The ethical principles espoused by the APA appear in your text in Chapter 2 on pages 34-36 (Tables 2.1 and 2.2)

There are federal and state laws regarding ethics in research; in addition, the American Psychological Association has developed ethical guidelines. We also have the Nuremburg Code, which is an international standard for ethics in research.

Information on the research review guidelines from the federal government.

There have been instances in which the U.S. government engaged in ethically problematic research, such as World War 2 research in which Black and Hispanic men were exposed to mustard gas.

A picture of me and the Milgram Shock Generator at a recent APA convention.

Homework (8 pts) Due Monday, September 18: Deciding on the ethics of a research project.

Objectives for the Ethics Homework:

  • Identifying ethical issues in research with people
  • Recognizing arguments and counterarguments in debates about ethics
  • Finding possible alternatives to ethically troublesome research
  • Deciding whether research that is potentially questionable is really troublesome when examined logically in light of ethical principles.


How ethical is this study?

A researcher was interested in the men who participated in sexual activity in a public place, that is, their personal characteristics and the nature of the sexual activity. His first step was to engage in observation of such activity in a public restroom in a park within a large city; these places were known as "tearooms." The general pattern was for the men to drive to the park, enter the public restroom, and engage in the desired behavior.
The researcher often served as what was called the "watch queen," that is, a lookout to prevent individuals who might cause trouble from interrupting the sexual activity. In general, interruptions of the activity occurred due to the presence of local teenagers or police. This activity was technically illegal when the study was done (in the 1960s), so it would have been troublesome if the police arrived on the scene.

He gathered his information on 50 sex acts (mostly oral sex) involving over 100 men. Then he obtained personal information about these individuals. He copied down their license plate numbers, went to the police and, giving a false cover story, obtained names and addresses based on the license plates, and subsequently interviewed the men. He informed them that it was part of a marketing research project.

Analysis of responses to the interview revealed that "when the characteristics of the participants were compared with those of typical males from the same urban area, no striking differences in terms of occupations, marital status, socioeconomic characteristics, and the like were found. Aside from their participation in clandestine homosexual activity, there was little to distinguish these men from typical adult males" (Reynolds, 1982, p. 68).



1. Identify and describe three potential ethical problems with this research and say why they are problematic. (3 pts)

2. Are there realistic alternatives were there to the methodology used by the researcher? The research was conducted in the 1960s, a time when homosexual behavior was illegal, society was very restrictive, and very few people would be willing to admit to such behaviors. Explain your thoughts and describe a potential alternate methodology that would actually work in that era. (1 pt)

3. What were the potential benefits to this study? (1 pt)

4. Should this study have been done? Explain your response in terms of ethical issues you mentioned above. Do not just argue that you do or don't like it. Instead, make your arguments and pose a counterargument for each criticism (if there is a counterargument; if there isn't, say that). (3 pts)


Humphreys, L. (1970). Tearoom Trade: Impersonal Sex in Public Places. Chicago: Aldine.

Reynolds, P. D. (1982). Ethics and Social Science Research. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Discussion: Francis Galton studied the efficacy of prayer in 1872. Does anybody study the efficacy of prayer now?

Reaction Paper (3 pts) Due Friday, September 22: Sometimes erroneous research appears in journals. In some cases, the problems arise due to poor research methodology. Sometimes, the problem can be with data analysis. Sometimes, it is due to outright fraud.

Do you think that Devavrat Harshe (alcohol research) and Laurie Santos (primate research) should be faulted for the problems with their research? Should there be any penalties associated with the errors? Explain your answer. (1 pt)

The Dutch government was going to set up a criminal trial against Diederik Stapel. Would criminal prosecution be appropriate? Explain your answer. (1 pt)

Why do you think that the early suspicion about Stapel’s research (as mentioned in the article on the APA website) was not acted on? (1 pt)



September 18-22

Reading: Chapter 3--Planning Research: Generating a Question

Researchers ask questions that come from a diversity of sources. Sometimes an investigator will observe some behavior and wonder why it happens. Sometimes an investigator has a specific problem to solve and wants to figure out the best solution. sometimes, researchers have theories they want to test. Regardless of the origin of the question, it is important for researchers to know what others have done before them so they don't simply do studies that others have already carried out. In this chapter, you will see how ideas develop.


Data Collection: Give your recommendation

What is research?

Homework Due Monday, Septembeer 25: (5 pts): Francis Galton measured just about everything you could think of. At one point, he decided to measure people's attraction to another person. So he created a device that went on the bottom of a chair that indicated the degree to which a person leaned toward or away from another individual; the more a person leaned, the greater the force exerted on the measurement devices. Galton reasoned that if you were attracted to a person, you would lean your body toward that person, even if only slightly.

Purpose: This assignment will give you practice in understanding the nature of scientific measurement and in assessing the strength and weakness of a particular measurement approach.

Goals of this assignment:

  • Understanding of operational definitions
  • Being able to assess characteristics of science
  • Identifying strengths and weaknesses of approaches to research


  • What is the operational definition of "attraction" in Galton's research? (1 pt)
  • Explain why the characteristics of science, objectivity and verifiability, are fulfilled in this approach. (2 pts)
  • Discuss the strengths and weaknesses of this approach to studying attraction and indicate whether you think that this is a good way to measure attraction. (2 pts)

Reaction Paper (3 pts) Due Friday, September 29: Various problems have been identified with respect to the effect of a mother’s level of stress on the developing fetus. One effect that has been suggested is that a mother’s prenatal stress can cause obesity in her child.

(1 pt) Refer to the research described in the link below and tell me whether you think that the results have applicability to people in real life. Explain why you think as you do. Go to this link to read about the research.

(1 pt) How could you increase your confidence in drawing a conclusion about cause and effect with respect to maternal stress and obesity in children? Discuss issues of research in your response.

(1 pt) If maternal stress really is a causal factor for a child's obesity, why do you think that women don't more actively avoid stress?



September 25-29

Reading and Topics: Chapter 4--Practical Issues in Planning your Research

Research involves making a lot of practical decisions in creating a sound study. You have to make decisions about your participants and subjects, how you will sample, making measurements that are meaningful, and deciding on an overall approach.


October 2-6

TEST #1 (Chapters 1-3) is on Tuesday, October 3.

Sampling and Measurement

Reading and Topics: Chapter 5--Measurement and Sampling

When you conduct any research, you have to figure out what you are going to measure and how you will be measuring it. In psychology, we regularly make use of operational definitions, which stand in for variables that we aren't able to measure directly. The issues that we have to deal with include exactly what we intend to measure (and how), along with the question of validity of our measurements.

Homework: (7 pts) Due Monday, October 9: Sampling and methodology (based on materials from both chapter 4 and chapter 5)

Activity: Understanding how researchers use research variables to help them answer questions: Fear of Success

For this homework, refer to the Schmitt et al. (2003) article on the desirability for sexual variety and the second article on mate poaching.

Goals of this assignment:

  • Being able to identify research design
  • Identifying sampling technique
  • Assessing the validity of research results

Homework questions:

  • What research methodology did Schmitt use in the studies? (1 pt)
  • Did his sample constitute a random sample? (If not, say what kind of sampling technique it involves.) Explain why you do or don't think it was a random sample. (2 pts)
  • How does Schmitt's sample size compare to those of typical articles published in psychology journals (Tables 4.1 and 4.4 in your textbook)? (1 pt)
  • Do you think that Schmitt's results for the two studies are generalizable? If so, to whom? If not, why not? Explain your reasoning (2 pts)
  • Why do the results of these two articles imply that a single explanation for behavior based on a dichotomy (e.g., "the behavior is culturally determined" versus "the behavior is evolutionarily based") is not a useful way to try and understand the behaviors they studied? (1 pt)

Reaction paper (3 pts) Due Friday, October 13: What causes men and women to approach mate selection as they do? Do men really want more sexual partners than women do? Do women select men using different criteria when they are fertile? Based on the readings on evolutionary psychology, what do you think? (Read the short selections on the Evolutionary Psychology page on Selecting a Partner, Short Term Relationships, Long Term Relationships.)

  • Research has shown that fertile women find "macho" men attractive and that the women are more likely to wear red when they are fertile. Based on the readings, do the research studies described seem well designed, and do these findings make sense? Can you think of any explanations for the results than those the researchers offered? (1 pt)
  • David Schmitt and a host of other researchers surveyed over 16,000 people about their desires regarding sexual partners. Men claimed to desire more partners than women did overall. The research appeared in a respected psychology journal; the citation is below. Read the abstract that shows the countries and types of samples, along with the data they measured. Do the conclusions appear justified based on the research? Are the comments by one non-scientist writer about the research valid? Explain your thoughts. (1 pt)
  • Do you think the data that people choose sexual partners based on our evolutionary heritageare believable? That is, do people choose sexual partners based, in part, on factors that may not be conscious? Explain your response based on the reading cited above and any other knowledge you have. (1 pt)

Schmitt, D. P., et al. (2003). Universal sex differences in the desire for sexual variety: Tests from 52 nations, 6 continents, and 13 islands. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85, 85-104. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.85.1.85



October 9-13

Reading and Topics: Chapter 6--Conducting an Experiment: General Principles

Experimental approaches in research dominate psychology. We use experiments because they let us investigate and understand the causes of behavior. in order to have confidence in our assessment of causation, we have to consider a lot of detail in setting up our research so that we can draw unambiguous conclusions.

Homework (6 pts) Due Monday, October 16: Deciding about internal validity

Purpose: In this assignment, you will learn to spot design flaws in research projects. These studies are variations on actual research. Changes were made to build in flaws for you to identify. Most of the time, the problems with research are hard to spot. No study is perfect. The best you can do is to maximize the likelihood that your results and conclusions will be valid by eliminating, as much as possible, the sources of the flaws.

Goals of this assignment:

  • Identifying limitations in research designs that would limit your confidence in generalizing from them.
  • Figuring out practical ways to overcome research flaws.

When assessing internal validity in determining your level of confidence in the results, you need to address several important aspects to the research:

  • Is there something about the participants in the different groups that might make it look like the independent variable has had an effect when it actually hasn't?
  • Is the experimental task likely to have different effects on participants in the different groups that is not related to the independent variable specifically?
  • Is there an extraneous variable that could be affecting the results rather than the independent variable?

For the following research scenarios, determine the threats to internal validity. No research design is ever perfect. For the examples below, there are some issues that the investigators would have to deal with in order to have confidence in drawing conclusions about the research. Then describe how you might realistically overcome these threats to internal validity.

Humor (3 pts)
Researchers wanted to know whether people find jokes funnier when somebody of their own sex told the jokes. They created a tape with a female joke teller presenting 16 jokes, followed by a male narrator telling 16 different jokes. Some of the jokes featured female victims, some featured male victims; the male and the female joke tellers told the same number of jokes with each kind of victim. Subjects listened to the jokes and rated them on the funniness. The results indicated that, in general, both women and men enjoyed jokes with female victims when the joke teller was a female and did not like them when the joke teller was a male.

Homeopathic Medicine (3 pts)
A group of researchers studied the incidence and the severity of migraine headaches in children. The investigators recruited a group of physicians from around the world to participate. Each physician was responsible for diagnosis of migraines in children and physicians created their own treatment plans individually and independently. In 38% of cases, only homeopathic medicines were used; in 62%, physicians prescribed standard medicines. There were no control groups. The results showed that frequency, severity, and duration of migraine headaches were all significantly lower after the treatment than before.
Homeopathic Medicine:


October 16-20

Reading and Topics: Chapter 6 (continued)
Chapter 7--Experiments with One Independent Variable

Behavior is complex. As a result, the studies we plan need to be complex. However, it sometimes makes sense to start with simple designs. In this chapter, you will learn about experimental designs that involve one independent variable. The simplest experiment involves two groups, but we seldom use such a simple design. More often, we investigate multiple groups and/or multiple independent and dependent variables.

Reaction Paper (3 pts) Due Friday, October 27:

Researchers wanted to know if parents would be more likely to give girls or boys more resources. Participants read a passage either on an improving economy, a neutral state, or a deteriorating economy. Then the participants drew up a will in which they would leave money to their children. In the condition representing hard economic times, the participants allocated significantly more to girls, but in the conditions of neutral or prosperous times, the money was equally split. Answer the following question based on the information linked above.

1. Can you conclude a causal relation that economic conditions lead to differences in what girls and boys get? Explain your reasoning. (1 pt)

2. Do you think that these laboratory results generalize to actual parental behavior? Explain your answer. (1 pt)

3. Read the comments by readers at the end of the article. What do the comments say about the level of scientific literacy among the readers? (1 pt)


October 23-27

TEST #2 (Chapters 4-6) is on Thursday, November 2.

Reading and Topics: Chapter 7--Experiments with One Independent Variable (continued)

Homework (9 pts) Due Monday, October 30: Identifying variables in research projects.

Purpose of the Homework: This exercise gives you practice in understanding what research projects are all about and identifying variables by reading brief abstracts.

Objectives for this homework assignment:

  • Identifying independent and dependent variables
  • Specifying how the dependent variable is measured
  • Recognizing the difference between manipulated and measured (i.e., participant/subject) independent variables

Directions: For the following research projects, (a) identify the independent and dependent variables. For the independent variables, (b) identify whether they are manipulated or measured variables (i.e., subject variables). Finally, (c) tell how the dependent variable is actually measured. In order to get maximum credit, you need to describe the actual measurement of the dependent variable. (16 pts)

1. A research team investigated the effect of music and of trying to be happy on subsequent levels of happiness. The researchers brought participants into a lab five times over a two-week period to listen to music that was deemed to be either positive or not positive in nature. Half of the participants received instructions to try to be happier; half received no instructions regarding being happy. At the end of the study, participants who had listened to happy music and who actively tried to be happier showed the highest subjective ratings on their happiness levels. (4 pts)

Ferguson, Y. L., & Sheldon, K. M. (2013). Trying to be happier really can work: Two experimental studies. Journal of Positive Psychology, 8, 23-33. doi:10.1080/17439760.2012.747000

2. Researchers tested 284 high school students regarding their attitudes toward the so-called Mediterranean diet that is high in consumption of vegetables, fruits, nuts, and cereals, with olive oil being the primary source of fat. The participants were randomly assigned to a condition in which the individual wrote down either positive or negative aspects of this diet. After the participants had written down their positive or negative thoughts, the investigators randomly assigned the participants in the positive and the negative conditions either to (a) the thought-disposal condition in which they threw away the paper on which they had written their positive or negative statements, (b) a control condition in which they simply folded the paper on which they had written, or (c) to the thought-protection condition in which they put the paper safely in their pocket, purse, or wallet. Then the researchers computed participants’ rating of the Mediterranean diet by averaging each person’s ratings of the diet with respect to these variables: how healthy-unhealthy, desirable-undesirable, positive-negative, foolish-wise, harmful-beneficial, and recommended–not recommended they viewed the diet. The results showed that participants in the positive thought condition rated the diet more positively. In addition, when the participants had "protected" their thoughts by putting them in their pocket, purse, or wallet (rather than throwing their thoughts away), they were more influenced by the negative or positive thoughts they had generated. (3 pts)

Briñol, P., Gascó, M., Petty, R. E., & Horcajo, J. (2013). Treating thoughts as material objects can increase or decrease their impact on evaluation. Psychological Science, 24, 41-47. doi:10.1177/0956797612449176

3. A psychologist wondered how people would respond to people with tattoos, so he studied how long people helped a tattooed stranger who was dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt or in a shirt, tie, and dress slacks. In each dress condition, half of the time the tattoo was not visible, and half of the time the tattoo was visible. The confederate asked for help in reading a map, claiming that he had forgotten his glasses. The results showed that people spent the same amount of time with the person when the tattoo was not visible, regardless of attire. When the tattoo was visible, however, people spent more time with the person in sweatshirt and jeans than with the person with shirt, tie, and dress slacks. (3 pts)

Strohmetz, D. B., & Moore, M. P. (2003, March). Impact of a tattoo on a helping request. Poster presented at the annual convention of the Eastern Psychological Association, Baltimore, MD.

4. Researchers were interested in whether the difficulty of a memory task would affect the taste of a drink. So they recruited 18 students who drank a highly sweet solution, a weakly sweet solution, and a neutral (unsweetened) solution. They had a sip of plain water between trials to get the previous taste out of their mouths. All participants drank each type of solution while engaged in a task of remembering a list of seven consonants on one trial and while remembering just one consonant on a different trial. So each participant drank all three solutions paired with both memory tasks. The investigators measured how sweet the participants rated the sweetness of each solution they drank on a scale of 1 (not at all) to 7 (very much). The results revealed that when the memory task was more difficult, participants found the sweet solution less sweet than when the task was easy. (3 pts)
van der Wal, R. C., & van Dillen, L. F. (2013). Leaving a flat taste in your mouth: Task load reduces taste perception. Psychological Science, 24, 1277-1284. doi:10.1177/0956707612471953


Reaction Paper (3 pts) Due Friday, November 3: The popular media often report on factors that relate to intelligence and creativity. For instance, one such report asserted that “People who exercise regularly are better at creative thinking.” The research in question involved athletes and non-athletes who either simply sat on a stationary bike, rode the bike at a moderate pace, or rode the bike at an intense pace. Before and after they engaged in the exercise (or the control task), participants engaged in tests of convergent and divergent thinking.

            Compare the message given at the link above with the results of the study depicted below. Do the results match the message presented in the linked article? Explain your response. (1 pt)

            Australian Iron Man Bodybuilding and Fitness Magazine reported on research that revealed that young adults who regularly exercise have higher IQ scores and are more likely to go on to university than are those who don’t regularly exercise. The author of the Iron Man article suggests that exercise is a causal factor, but why should you be skeptical about that claim, based on the research methodology? (1 pt)

How could you design a research project that would allow you to claim with confidence that exercise is a causal factor in enhancing creativity and intelligence? (1 pt)

Activity: Identifying IVs and DVs

Data Collection: Research with one IV

Report Memory Data

Report Age Perception Data


October 30-November 3

Reading and Topics: Chapter 8--Experiments with Multiple Independent Variables

Because behavior is complex, our research designs end up being complex, too. There are many different ways to design studies so that we can assess the effects of more than one variable on behavior. This approach is important because, in life, more than one variable is going to influence what we do and how we think.

Homework (12 pts) Due Monday, November 6: In this homework assignment, you will work on understanding interactions and what they mean. Interactions occur in factorial experiments (i.e., those with more than one IV) when behaviors change differently in the presence of more than one IV in ways that would not be predictable from using only one IV.

NOTE: There are two parts to this assignment. Make sure you respond to the questions for both graphs.

Purpose of the Homework: This homework gives you practice in interpreting and understanding the results of more complex research designs.

Objectives of this homework assignment:

  • Recognizing if an interaction is present in research results
  • Identifying independent and dependent variables and their levels
  • Differentiating measured and manipulated variables
  • Learning to separate the effects of different independent variables


1. Identify the design (e.g., 3x4 factorial). (1 pt)
2. Identify which variables (if any) are manipulated variables, which (if any) are measured variables (i.e., subject variables), and which (if any) are repeated measures variables. (4 pts)
3. Identify the dependent variable. (1 pt)
4. For each IV separately, give the approximate value of the means of each level of that IV based on the graph. That is, give the means associated with the main effects for each IV separately. (2 pts)
5. Does there seem to be an interaction? Interpret the data. What do the results tell you? (2 pts)

The Research:

Researchers wanted to know if women and men would rate jokes differently depending on whether the victim of the joke was female or male. They presented a set of jokes that participants rated on a scale of 1 (not funny) to 7 (very funny). The joke could have either a male or a female victim. The participants rated jokes with both kinds of victims. The results appear in the figure below.

This research was presented at the annual convention of the Eastern Psychological Association by students on the Humor Research Team:

Sherry, S., LeFebvre, J., Johnson, B., Albowicz, C., & Beins, B. C. (2012, March). Taking offense: Personality and gender-based jokes. Poster session at the annual convention of the Eastern Psychological Association, Pittsburgh, PA.

A set of researchers wanted to know if one person's sweat could affect the emotion of another person. So the researchers had participants watch different types of videos, which a different group of people responded to later. As part of the study, theresearchers measured the amount of sweat that participants produced as a function of whether the participant watched a video designed to induce happiness, fear, or no particular emotion. The figure below indicates the amount of sweat produced in each condition.

5. Does it look like there is an interaction? Explain your response--why do you think that the figure below does or does not show an interaction? (2 pts)

Source: de Groot, J. B., Smeets, M. M., Rowson, M. J., Bulsing, P. J., Blonk, C. G., Wilkinson, J. E., & Semin, G. R. (2015). A sniff of happiness. Psychological Science, 26, 684-700. doi:10.1177/0956797614566318

Reaction Paper (3 pts) Due Friday, November 10:

About 35 percent of men and 37 percent of women are obese. Another 40 percent of men and 30 percent of women are overweight. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention categorize people as overweight if they have a body mass index (BMI) between 25 and 29.9. For example, a 5-foot-9 man who weighs 169 pounds or a 5-foot-4 woman who weighs 146 pounds both have a BMI of 25, and would be considered overweight, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health. Obesity is defined by the CDC as any body mass index 30 or higher. A 5-foot-9 man who weighs 203 pounds or more is considered obese, as is a 5-foot-4 woman who weighs 175 pounds or more.

Researchers have discovered that food is more highly visible in the homes of people who are obese (with a BMI of 30 or higher) than in homes of those who are not obese. ,Answer the questions below based on the reading linked above.

1. In terms of assessing causation, which of the three rules for establishing causation might be problematic. That is, explain which of the criteria for establishing causation might not be met here? (1 pt)

2. Based on the research, could you logically argue that keeping food out of eyesight will lead to weight loss and to increases in self-esteem? (1 pt)

3. Does it make sense to classify people with a BMI of 25 as overweight? (See the comment and pictures below.) (1 pt)

Here are two celebrities who have BMIs above 25, Ethan Hawke and Britney Spears. At least that is what it said on the internet. So it must be true, right? Do they look overweight to you? (I couldn't find a full-body image of Britney Spears more demurely dressed or of Ethan Hawke more alluringly dressed.)


Activity: Identifying research designs

Multigroup experiment


November 6-10

Reading and Topics: Chapter 9--Expanding on Experimental Designs: Repeated Measures and Quasi-experiments

Sometimes it makes sense to get information from the same person in multiple conditions or across time. Such an approach can reduce noticeably the amount of time it takes to collect data from a limited number of people. This approach involves repeated measures designs. In other situations, we can't manipulate our independent variable directly, so we assign participants to conditions according to some characteristic of the participant (e.g., gender, age, political affiliation, etc.). In these instances, we do not have a true experimental study because there is no random assignment to conditions. This approach is called quasi-experimental because it looks like an experimental design, but it really isn't. Quasi-experiments are really correlational in nature, so determining causal relations among variables is questionable.

Sources of threats to internal validity

Does antisocial behavior in the media lead to antisocial behavior among people?

Activity: Identifying threats to internal validity.

Repeated measures designs: The Stroop Effect

Homework: None

Reaction Paper: None

Color naming data


November 13-17

TEST #3 (Chapters 7-9) is on Thursday, November 30.

Reading and Topics: Chapter 10--Principles of Survey Research

One of the most ubiquitous forms of research is the survey. Although it is common and we tend to take them for granted, survey research is very difficult to carry out well. Identifying your population, then your sample, can be hard. Developing well worded questions is always problematic. In addition, respondents bring their own idiosyncrasies to the situation. Surveys can be very useful, but they must be done well if they are to provide good information.

The wording of the questions is important and poses the greatest challenge in creating a survey. How you word your questions shapes the answers you get. If you want to get the most useful information, you need to pay attention to how your construct your questions. Researchers have identified important issues in creating survey questions. Another critical aspect of conducting survey research involves the question of how you will administer the survey. There are advantages and disadvantages to any approach you take.

NEW DATE: Homework Due Monday, December 4: Assessing Survey Questions

Directions: The survey questions below were intended for regular people (i.e., nonspecialists) to answer. As such, evaluate the survey questions below and indicate if there are any problems with each item that would keep a serious researcher from having confidence in the utility of the items in answering research questions. Indicate whether you think the problem is likely to be minor or to be serious and explain why you think as you do. (9 pts)

The Survey Questions:

1. (3 pts) From a survey by the Friends of the Earth:

Many corporate leaders claim environmental regulations hamper their ability to make profits. Even huge multi-national corporations with millions of dollars in income say clean water and air is “too expensive.” Do you think current anti-pollution laws are:

Too tough
About right
Not strong enough
Don’t know

2. (3 pts) From a Breast Cancer Fund survey (with the item following others related to mammograms):

Unfortunately, mammography fails to detect up to detect up to 40% of existing tumors of women under the age of 50. There are alternative diagnostic options, but most are prohibitively expensive.

Do you think scientists should step up the search for new, more effective, affordable detection methods?

3. (3 pts) In your opinion, should schools have the right to expel students who have compiled long recoreds of discipline problems, and who pose a threat to student and teacher safety, and show no interest in taking part in the educational process?


Activity: Assessing the goals of education


November 20-24



November 27-December 1

Homework: See above

Reading and Topics: Survey Research (continued)

Reaction Paper ( 3 pts) Due Friday, December 8: Good Penmanship

Students in elementary school no longer spend a lot of time practicing their handwriting. But researcher Laura Dinehart has found that students who showed good fine motor coordination in pre-kindergarten had higher grades in in math and reading when in the second grade.

Use good critical thinking and your knowledge of research methods to discuss whether it would make sense, based on the research, to implement writing programs in kindergarten and the early elementary school years in order to raise student achievement levels.

  • What are the strengths of the research? (1 pt)
  • What are the limitations of the research? (1 pt)
  • Knowing what you do about drawing conclusions from research, do you think that this study gives evidence that implementation of writing skills practice would bolster student achievement? (1 pt)
Activity: Personality Data


December 4-8

Reading and Topics: Chapter 11--Correlational Research

Sometimes research questions are too complex to be handled easily by experimental research. At other times, it may not be feasible or ethical to do experimental research to address a question. In these instances, correlational research can be very useful. Correlations don't let us assess causation, but they let us see patterns of behavior and predict them, even if we don't know the causes of the behavior.

Activity: How would you explain these data?

Factor Analysis: How we transform a complex data set involving many variables into a more easily understood set of data.

Discussion: A high Body Mass Index is associated with risk for disease. It may also be associated with lower cognitive functioning.


December 11-15

Reading and Topics: Chapter 11--Correlational Research

Sometimes research questions are too complex to be handled easily by experimental research. At other times, it may not be feasible or ethical to do experimental research to address a question. In these instances, correlational research can be very useful. Correlations don't let us assess causation, but they let us see patterns of behavior and predict them, even if we don't know the causes of the behavior.

Homework: None


Predicting attendance


Food issues in schools

Monday, December 18 - Friday, December 22--FINAL EXAM WEEK


Tuesday, December 19 from 4:30 to 7:00


(Go to the top of the syllabus)

Tests and Evaluation of Your Performance

There will be different components to my evaluation of your performance. First, we will have quizzes every three chapters; they will not be surprise tests--I will give you at least one class notice. They will be short answer and multiple choice in format. (40% of your grade)

Note: There will be no makeup tests. On the final exam, you will be able to substitute your score on final exam questions relating to one test. If you have missed a test, you will have to substitute the score on those final exam questions for that test. If you have taken all of the tests, you have the option of replacing any single test score you want to. It is optional; you do not need to make such a substitution.

The final exam will be an applied test. You will integrate the information you learned during the semester by using the concepts that you learned. Any extra credit you have earned will be added to your final exam. (25% of your grade)

You will also have writing assignments and some statistics homework. Some of it will involve taking data sets and writing verbal interpretations of them. Some of this work will be computerized. (35% of your grade)

Note: Late homework is subject to a penalty of 10% deduction per day. (This means that if you hand in your paper one day late, your grade will be your earned score x .90; two days later means your grade will be your earned score x .80, etc.) If an assignment is due on Tuesday but you do not have it to hand in, you need to give it to me by Tuesday morning of the next week. If the assignment is due on Thursday, you have until the following Tuesday morning. After those times, you will receive a grade of zero for that homework assignment unless you have made other arrangements with me.

In addition, if you turn in handwritten homework assignments, there will be a 20% penalty in your maximum grade.


(Go to the top of the syllabus)


You can get extra credit for this class in four different ways.

1. You can participate in an approved experiment within the Psychology Department. After participating, you need to write a summary of what you did in the study, what methodology they used, and what statistical analysis they will perform after collecting the data. You also need to indicate what, if anything, you got out of this research participation. (Please note: You do not have to say that you learned a lot, or even a little, from participating in a study. I seriously want to know what you got out of the experience.) If you do not hand in your responses to the points below, you will get one point for participation in the study and will not earn the maximum of three points.

These are the elements you must include in your summary of the study.

(a) You need to describe the research question for the study in which you participated

(b) You must outline of the methodology; that is, what you did during the study

You also need to describe your reaction to the study:

(d) Why did you think about the way the study was conducted? What was it like to participate?

2. You can read and summarizing an approved journal article from a psychological journal. There are a few elements you must present. (a) You need to explain why the researchers did their work, (b) how they did it, (b) what statistical analysis they performed, and (d) what they concluded. You also need to indicate (e) how easy or difficult it was to understand the article and explain yourself.

3. You can bring a summary of a report in the popular media (e.g., magazine or newspaper article) that relates to the kind of research we deal with in class. Your written report should include what the research was about, what methodology they seem to have used, what the researchers concluded, and what additional information you would like to have seen in their report.

When you are ready to submit your information, put your summary in the dropbox in Sakai.

Each activity (#1-3) will be worth a maximum of two percent on your final exam grade, with a maximum of ten points allowed. This means that you can participate in five studies for extra credit. Before doing any extra credit work involving summarizing a journal article, please check with me in advance so that I can assess its suitability. The credit you earn for each one will depend on the quality of your write-up. Please note that you are not guaranteed two points per attempt; part of your score depends on the quality of your answers. If you do not write up a description of your participation, you will receive one point for participating.

You may earn these points in addition to the extra points from extra credit work assigned in class.

All extra credit must be turned in by the end of the day on the final day of classes (Friday, December 11)

(Go to the top of the syllabus)

Fall 2017 Academic Calendar

Days indicated in bold are potentially relevant for this class.

Monday August 28 Convocation
Tuesday August 29 No Classes
Wednesday August 30 Classes Begin 8:00 a.m.
Please note: Monday classes will meet on this day at their scheduled times (not Wednesday classes) for this first day of classes only.
Monday September 4 Labor Day - No Classes
Wednesday September 6 Last Day to ADD/DROP Block I Courses
Wednesday September 6 Last Day to ADD/DROP Semester Courses
Wednesday September 6 Last Day to Audit Semester & Block I Courses
Friday September 8 Last Day to Request S/D/F Option in Block I Courses
Wednesday September 13 Dec 2017 Application for Graduation Due (Online)
Wednesday September 13 Last Day to Request S/D/F Option in Semester Courses
Wednesday October 4 Last Day to Withdraw with "W" in Block I Courses
Wednesday October 4 Last Day to Revoke S/D/F Option in Block I Courses
Wednesday October 18 Block I Ends; Fall Break Begins at 10:00 p.m.
Thurs-Fri Oct. 19-20 Fall Break - No Classes
Monday October 23 Classes Resume 8:00 a.m.; Block II Begins
Wednesday October 25 Mid-Term Grades Due (Online) 10:00 p.m.
Wednesday October 25 Block I Final Grades Due (Online) 10:00 p.m.
Sunday October 29 Last Day to ADD/DROP Block II Courses
Sunday October 29 Last Day to Audit Block II Courses
Wednesday November 1 Last Day to Request S/D/F Option in Block II Courses
Tue-Thu Nov 7 - 16 Online Registration for Spring 2018
Wednesday November 8 Last Day to Withdraw with "W" in Semester Courses
Wednesday November 8 Last Day to Revoke S/D/F Option in Semester Courses
Friday November 10 May 2018 Application for Graduation Due (Online)
Friday November 17 Last Day to Withdraw with "W" in Block II Courses
Friday November 17 Last Day to Revoke S/D/F Option in Block II Courses
Friday November 17 Last Day to Withdraw with "W" in Graduate Courses
Sat-Sun Nov. 18-26 Thanksgiving Break - No Classes
Monday November 27 Classes Resume 8:00 a.m.
Friday December 15 Last Day of Classes
Monday December 18 Final Examinations Begin 7:30 a.m.
Friday December 22 Final Examinations End 10:00 p.m.
Saturday December 30 Final Grades Due (Online) 12:00 noon.

Excerpt from the College's Attendance Policy: In accordance with New York State law, students who miss class due to their religious beliefs shall be excused from class or examinations on that day. The faculty member is responsible for providing the student with an equivalent opportunity to make up any examination, study, or work requirement that the student may have missed. It is suggested that students notify their course instructors at least one week before any anticipated absence so that proper arrangements may be made to make up any missed work or examination. Any such work is be be completed within a reasonable time frame, as determined by the faculty member.


Final Exams by Time


Final Exam by Day

Predicting Results--2

This page is maintained by Barney Beins, Ithaca College Department of Psychology
Last modified: August, 2017

Copyright: Barney Beins 2002-2017