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Four Approaches to Psychological Research

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

Biological explanations are based on knowledge of living cells and organic systems. Brain scanning technologies are now commonly used in psychological research. Scientists also have increasingly detailed knowledge of cell interactions, chemical influences on the nervous system, and brain/behavior relationships.

Behavioral research empha­sizes actions (behaviors). Behaviorists typically relate actions to the organism's environment and history of learning. The environment, to a behaviorist, is any situation or stimulation that can be measured.

Field research on animals is an example of behavioral research. So is intensive behavior therapy with autistic children, one of the most effective treatments for autism.

Cognitive approaches stress information processing. Cognitive psychologists study the interactions of thoughts, images, knowledge, and emotions.

The brain is often compared to a computer. If the brain is analogous to hardware (a physical system), cognitive psychology studies the operation of the software: patterns of information processing in the brain.

Subjective approaches describe unique thoughts, feelings, and experiences of individuals. This can also be called phenomenology (phe-NOM-in-OL-o-gy).

What are four basic approaches used by psychologists?

Our ability to report our experience is taken for granted and often plays a pivotal role in psychology research. Not only are participants in research asked to report experiences such as memories during many experiments; they are also debriefed after an experiment.

Debriefing occurs after research is finished. The experiment is explained to participants. They are typically asked for their comments and how they experienced the research setting.

An example of phenomenology occurs in Chapter Two when discussing brain injury. Professor Scott Moss wrote Recovery With Aphasia after suffering a stroke.

Some of his language abilities came back, and his wife helped him write a book about the experience. His descriptions of thinking without speech could be interesting to any psychologist studying the thought process.

All four perspectives are relevant to almost all areas of psychology. Anxiety, for example, can be studied as a biological response, a set of behaviors, a thought process, or an experience. Psychology is by nature an integrative science, employing a variety of perspectives on the same events.

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