This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 01 table of contents.

Four Approaches to Psychological Research

Modern psychologists use several distinct approaches to the scientific study of behavior and mental processes:

What are four basic approaches used by psychologists?

Biological explanations are based on knowledge of living cells and organic systems. Brain scanning technologies have revolutionized research of this type. Scientists have increasingly detailed knowledge of cell interactions, chemical influences on the nervous system, and brain/behavior relationships.

Behavioral explanations emphasize relationships between the organism and its environment plus the organism's history of learning. The "environment" is conceived as stimulation that can be measured. The organism responds with behaviors that also can be measured. Behaviorists once confined their attention to exterior, observable behavior. Now most consider thoughts and emotions as "hidden behavior" which can be measured and manipulated almost like observable behavior.

Cognitive approaches stress information processing. Cognitive psychologists study the mental representation of thoughts, images, knowledge, and emotions. The word "representation" refers to the brain's storage of memories, images, perceptions, thoughts, and other mental contents.

What is phenomenology?

Subjective approaches to psychology describe unique thoughts, feelings, and experiences of individuals. Subjective approaches include phenomenology (phe-NOM-in-OL-o-gy), which takes the individual's experience as a starting point. If we ask you to report how it feels to be reading this text, for example, that is an investigation of phenomenology.

How is psychology "by nature an integrative science"?

One might argue that all four perspectives are relevant to almost all areas of psychology. Anxiety, for example, can be studied as a biological response, a behavior, a thought process, or an experience. Psychology is by nature a very integrative science, employing a variety of perspectives on the same phenomena.

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