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Essay on Psychological Research Methods: Analysis of Milgram Experiment

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Today I am going to talk about the different types of psychological research methods.

The three types that I will cover are experiments, Observations, and Survey Methods. I will take two examples for each method and summarise the strengths and limitations of each one.

The first area I will look at is his experiments. There are two types of experiments. These are lab and field. The first type of experiment I am going to discuss is a lab experiment. A laboratory experiment is an experiment that takes place in controlled conditions, which allows the measurements that are found to be accurate. The researcher controls where it takes place, who participates, and when the experiment happened, all whilst following a standardized procedure. (Macleod, 2012). An example of this is the Milgram Experiment. The aim of this experiment was to see if people would follow an instruction if it involved harming another human being. Milgram gathered 40 male participants and got them to ask questions and administer an electric shock for every wrong answer, to who they believed to be another member of the public, but was in fact a paid actor. Increasing the voltage for every mistake made.

The other type of experiment is a field experiment. Field experiments take place in the everyday environment of the participants. Where the experimenter controls the independent variable but struggles to control the extraneous variables. The Hofling Hospital study is an example of this. Hofling again wanted to test how obedient humans are toward authority. He did this by testing the relationship between a doctor and a nurse. The researcher posing as Doctor Smith, rang 22 real nurses asking them to administer 20mg, which is double the maximum dosage, of the drug Astroten. He would say that he was in a hurry and would sign the authorization when he came to see the patient later on. (Macleod, 2020).

The first strength of Lab experiments is that they are easily replicated. This is because all lab experiments follow a standardized procedure. (Macleod, 2012). This is shown by Derren Brown who replicated the procedure of the Milgram experiment, on the TV show the Heist which aired in 2006. The results that came out of that experiment were somewhat similar to the original results found by Milgram in 1963. This shows how easy it is to replicate the experiment by following the same standard procedure.

Another strength is that there is precise control over the extraneous and independent variables. This means that a cause-and-effect relationship can be established. (Macleod, 2012). This is shown in the Milgram Experiment where the researchers are able to control every aspect of the experiment. The participant’s knowledge is also controlled, they know they are involved in an experiment, but they do not know what they are doing. Therefore, they are able to act naturally.

The first strength of a field experiment is that they take place in the natural settings of the participants and therefore their behavior is likely to reflect that of how they act in real life. (Macleod, 2012). This is seen in the Hofling Hospital study, where all the participants are in their place of work, a place that is a natural environment for them. This will therefore create a high ecological validity.

Another strength of a field experiment is that, because the participants do not know that they are taking part in an experiment, there is a smaller chance of the results being affected by any demand characteristics. (Macleod, 2012). This is a strength because it will mean they won’t think anything of what they are asked to do. This is seen in the Hofling Hospital study, where the researcher called up the nurses and all but one nurse didn’t think anything of it and did what the researcher did, posed as a Doctor. Smith, asked them to do.

The first limitation of a lab experiment is that the behavior of the participants may not represent how they act in real life, this limitation would be a result of how artificial the setting of the experiment is. (Macleod, 2012). This also creates a lack of reliability in the experiment. For example, in the Milgram experiment, if the participants are not behaving how they would in a real-life setting then the whole purpose of the study to test the obedience of humans, will not be reliable.

The second limitation of a lab experiment is that there is a high risk of demand characteristics. This means that the participants might change how they act depending on how they interpret the purpose of the study. (tutor2u, 2020). Creating a weakness in the validity of the study.

One limitation of a Field experiment is that the experimenter has a small amount of control over the extraneous variables that cause bias. This, therefore, makes it very hard for another researcher to copy the study in order to see how reliable the results are. (Macleod, 2012).

Another limitation within a field experiment is that it is difficult to get the informed consent of the participants. This is because the experimenter will not want to tell the people taking part what the actual purpose of the study is. Therefore, breaking all responsibility of ensuring all ethical guidelines are followed. This can be seen in the Hofling Hospital study. The nurses involved did not know that they were taking part in an experiment and therefore were not given the opportunity to provide their informed consent, in order to take part in the study.

The next areas I will look at are Observations. The two parts which I will cover are Covert and Overt.

The first area that I will look at is Covert Observations. This is where the observation is carried out 'undercover' (Macleod, 2015). The purpose of the observation is hidden from the group that’s taking part. An example of covert observation is the famous Bandura’s 1961 Bobo doll study. In this study, a woman acted aggressively towards a doll as children watched on, the children were then watched as they played with the toys. The aim of this experiment was to measure the aggression of the children after they watched the woman act aggressively toward the doll.

Next, an Overt observation is where those being observed are aware of the observation. This is therefore the most ethical form of observation (tutor2u, 2020); this is because the researcher ensures all ethical guidelines are followed. An example of an overt observation would be Williams’ 1986 study. In this study children between the ages of 6 and 11, that was from an isolated society were assessed on whether their aggression levels changed after the introduction of television.

One strength of covert observation is that it allows us access to social groups that wouldn’t normally provide consent to be involved in studies. Therefore, allowing us to widen our Psychological understanding of the world. (Psychology Blog, 2011).

Another strength is that the participants will be unaware that the observation is taking place and therefore they are less likely to change their behavior to how they think the researcher wants them to act, and instead act exactly how they would in a real-life situation. This is seen in the Bobo Doll Experiment where the children are unaware that they are being observed and therefore all act in a natural way after experiencing the woman acting aggressively towards the doll. This factor, therefore, increases the validity of the study.

A strength of an overt observation is that the researcher can be honest with the people taking part, therefore meaning that all ethical guidelines can be instilled. It also prevents the researcher from becoming over-familiar with the participants, allowing them to keep the observation free from any bias. (Psychology Blog, 2011).

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Another strength of an overt observation is that the researcher is able to control the variables that make up the experiment. This is because the participants know that they are being observed and therefore the observation doesn’t need to change in order for it to fit in with the ‘native life’ of the participants.

One limitation of covert observation is ethical problems. The participants are unable to provide their informed consent. This is because their privacy is being violated and they are being deceived. Some researchers even have to partake in criminal acts in order to not reveal their true identity, an example of this is Pearson’s research with football hooligans. The lack of informed consent is visible in the Bobo Doll experiment. The children who partook in the observation were unaware of what was really going on. This also takes away the area of responsibility and integrity within the observation.

Another limitation of covert observation is that only one method can be used. The researcher has to act in a way that is natural for the participants in order to not reveal their identity. For example, the Bobo Doll experiment needed to be carried out ‘undercover’, this is because if anything happened that was unusual for the participants then they may clock what is happening. Which would make the validity of the results of the observation weak and unreliable.

A limitation of an Overt Observation is that the participants have the ability to change the way they act in a way that they think the researcher wants them to. (Psychology Blog, 2011). This is because they are aware of the purpose of the study. This is can be seen in the 1986 study carried out by Williams. The children knew they were being studied, so they may have changed how they behaved and therefore affected the outcome of the observation.

Another limitation of an overt observation is that it lacks validity. This is because the aim of an overt observation is to experience the viewpoint from the group that is being studied, in this case, children between the ages of 6 and 11, in an isolated society. (Psychology Blog, 2011). If the researchers do not become involved sufficiently with the group, then the relevant data that is needed may not be collected. The behavior of the children is likely to be impacted by the involvement of the researcher, therefore a lack of involvement will mean a lack of validity.

The next area I’ll look at is survey methods. This is split into two parts. These two parts are; Questionnaire and Interview.

The first that I will look at is Questionnaires. A questionnaire is a research instrument consisting of a series of questions for the purpose of gathering information. They take place; face to face, by phone, computer, or post, and are a cheap, quick, and efficient way of obtaining large amounts of information from a large sample of people. (Macleod, 2018). Questionnaires collect both quantitative and qualitative data by using both open and closed questions to collect data. An example of a questionnaire is Beck’s Depression Inventory, a twenty-one multiple-choice self-report inventory. Which is one of the most widely used tests for measuring the severity of depression. (Wikipedia, 2020)

The next area I will discuss is Interviews. Interviews are similar to questionnaires with the difference being that interviews require social interaction. (Macleod, 2014). This means that the researchers need to be trained in order to interview someone successfully. Again, similar to questionnaires interviews use both open and closed questions.

Open questions let the respondents answer in their own words providing as much detail as they want. On the other hand, closed questions structure the answer. Only allowing a simple answer that has been provided. E.g. Yes or No. (Macleod, 2018).

One strength of a questionnaire is that they are economical. (Macleod, 2018) Meaning that a large volume of research can be collected at a low cost.

Another strength of a questionnaire is the fact that it can easily be replicated. This is because all of the participants are asked the same questions. This, therefore, means that another researcher can use the same questionnaire to test if the results are valid. (Macleod, 2018).

Interviews can be both structured and unstructured. One strength of a structured interview is that they don’t take long, therefore many interviews can take place over a short space of time. Meaning that a large sample size can be obtained. (Macleod, 2018).

For an unstructured interview, a strength is that the interviewer will be able to gather a better understanding. This is because the interviewer can change the questions depending on the responses. By using open questions, participants can use their own words, increasing the validity of the interview. (Macleod, 2018).

The first limitation of a questionnaire is that if it consists mainly of open questions then it will be very time-consuming to collect the data. This is because it takes the respondent longer to answer open questions. This is therefore a limitation because a smaller sample size may be obtained (Macleod, 2018), as the respondents may be put off from writing in more detail than simply answering with a fixed option.

A second limitation is that if a questionnaire consists of mainly closed questions then the responses will lack detail. This is because the answers are fixed, meaning there is less chance for the respondents to answer the questions with what their true feelings are on the topic in question. This, therefore, reduces the validity of the questionnaire. (Macleod, 2018). This can be seen in Beck’s Questionnaire where the questions all have answers that the respondents can select. This is a limitation because the answer that the respondents want to use may not be there and they cannot express what they want to say in their own words.

Next, the first limitation of an interview is that in order for an interview to take place the researcher or whoever is taking the lead role in the interview needs to be trained, and this training can be very expensive. This is because certain skills may be needed by the interviewer in order to carry out a successful interview. (Macleod, 2018).

The second limitation is seen in a structured interview. Only quantitative data is collected, this is because a structured interview only uses closed questions. This means that the researcher will not know why a person behaves in a certain way (Macleod, 2018), due to the lack of information that the respondent has answered with.

Research methods are a vital component of studying psychology. Psychology is often defined as the ‘science of mind and behavior’ In order for psychology to be considered a science it has to follow the rules of science. This means that psychologists can’t just come up with ideas that they believe are true, or essentially opinions. Psychologists aim to gather evidence about behavior whilst trying to remain objective and free from bias. Different types of research methods have their own different strengths and limitations. The best choice for each study depends on the situation and the purpose of the study is for. A study isn’t always specific to one research method, this is seen with the Milgram Experiment, which can be classed as either an experiment or an observation. The aim is that each research method develops theories and draws conclusions about behavior.

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Essay on Psychological Research Methods: Analysis of Milgram Experiment. (2023, April 21). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 10, 2023, from
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