How Does Experimental Psychology Study Behavior? (2023)

What factors influence people's behaviors and thoughts? Experimental psychology utilizes scientific methods to answer these questions by researching the mind and behavior. Experimental psychologists conduct experiments to learn more about why people do certain things.

Overview of Experimental Psychology

Why do people do the things they do? What factors influence how personality develops? And how do our behaviors and experiences shape our character?

These are just a few of the questions that psychologists explore, and experimental methods allow researchers to create and empirically test hypotheses. By studying such questions, researchers can also develop theories that enable them to describe, explain, predict, and even change human behaviors.

For example, researchers might utilize experimental methods to investigate why people engage in unhealthy behaviors. By learning more about the underlying reasons why these behaviors occur, researchers can then search for effective ways to help people avoid such actions or replace unhealthy choices with more beneficial ones.

Why Experimental Psychology Matters

While students are often required to take experimental psychology courses during undergraduate and graduate school, think about this subject as a methodology rather than a singular area within psychology. People in many subfields of psychology use these techniques to conduct research on everything from childhood development to social issues.

Experimental psychology is important because the findings play a vital role in our understanding of the human mind and behavior.

By better understanding exactly what makes people tick, psychologists and other mental health professionals can explore new approaches to treating psychological distress and mental illness. These are often topics of experimental psychology research.

Experimental Psychology Methods

So how exactly do researchers investigate the human mind and behavior? Because the mind is so complex, it seems like a challenging task to explore the many factors that contribute to how we think, act, and feel.

Experimental psychologists use a variety of different research methods and tools to investigate human behavior. Methods in the experimental psychology category include experiments, case studies, correlational research, and naturalistic observations.

Major Branches of Psychology

Experiments

Experimentation remains the primary standard in psychological research. In some cases, psychologists can perform experiments to determine if there is a cause-and-effect relationship between different variables.

The basics of conducting a psychology experiment involve:

(Video) Experimental Psychology in 60 seconds

  • Randomly assigning participants to groups
  • Operationally defining variables
  • Developing a hypothesis
  • Manipulating independent variables
  • Measuring dependent variables

One experimental psychology research example would be to perform a study to look at whether sleep deprivation impairs performance on a driving test. The experimenter could control other variables that might influence the outcome, varying the amount of sleep participants get the night before.

All of the participants would then take the same driving test via a simulator or on a controlled course. By analyzing the results, researchers can determine if changes in the independent variable (amount of sleep) led to differences in the dependent variable (performance on a driving test).

Case Studies

Case studies allow researchers to study an individual or group of people in great depth. When performing a case study, the researcher collects every single piece of data possible, often observing the person or group over a period of time and in a variety of situations. They also collect detailed information about their subject's background—including family history, education, work, and social life—is also collected.

Such studies are often performed in instances where experimentation is not possible. For example, a scientist might conduct a case study when the person of interest has had a unique or rare experience that could not be replicated in a lab.

Correlational Research

Correlational studies are an experimental psychology method that makes it possible for researchers to look at relationships between different variables. For example, a psychologist might note that as one variable increases, another tends to decrease.

While such studies can look at relationships, they cannot be used to imply causal relationships. The golden rule is that correlation does not equal causation.

Naturalistic Observations

Naturalistic observation gives researchers the opportunity to watch people in their natural environments. This experimental psychology method can be particularly useful in cases where the investigators believe that a lab setting might have an undue influence on participant behaviors.

What Experimental Psychologists Do

Experimental psychologists work in a wide variety of settings, including colleges, universities, research centers, government, and private businesses. Some of these professionals teach experimental methods to students while others conduct research on cognitive processes, animal behavior, neuroscience, personality, and other subject areas.

Those who work in academic settings often teach psychology courses in addition to performing research and publishing their findings in professional journals. Other experimental psychologists work with businesses to discover ways to make employees more productive or to create a safer workplace—a specialty area known as human factors psychology.

Experimental Psychology Research Examples

Some topics that might be explored in experimental psychology research include how music affects motivation, the impact social media has on mental health, and whether a certain color changes one's thoughts or perceptions.

A to Z List of Psychology Careers

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History of Experimental Psychology

To understand how experimental psychology got where it is today, it can be helpful to look at how it originated. Psychology is a relatively young discipline, emerging in the late 1800s. While it started as part of philosophy and biology, it officially became its own field of study when early psychologist Wilhelm Wundt founded the first laboratory devoted to the study of experimental psychology.

Some of the important events that helped shape the field of experimental psychology include:

  • 1874 - Wilhelm Wundt published the first experimental psychology textbook, "Grundzüge der physiologischen Psychologie" ("Principles of Physiological Psychology").
  • 1875 - William James opened a psychology lab in the United States. The lab was created for the purpose of class demonstrations rather than to perform original experimental research.
  • 1879 - The first experimental psychology lab was founded in Leipzig, Germany. Modern experimental psychology dates back to the establishment of the very first psychology lab by pioneering psychologist Wilhelm Wundt during the late nineteenth century.
  • 1883 - G. Stanley Hall opened the first experimental psychology lab in the United States at John Hopkins University.
  • 1885 - Herman Ebbinghaus published his famous "Über das Gedächtnis" ("On Memory"), which was later translated to English as "Memory: A Contribution to Experimental Psychology." In the work, Ebbinghaus described learning and memory experiments that he conducted on himself.
  • 1887 - George Truball Ladd published his textbook "Elements of Physiological Psychology," the first American book to include a significant amount of information on experimental psychology.
  • 1887 - James McKeen Cattell established the world's third experimental psychology lab at the University of Pennsylvania.
  • 1890 - William James published his classic textbook, "The Principles of Psychology."
  • 1891 - Mary Whiton Calkins established an experimental psychology lab at Wellesley College, becoming the first woman to form a psychology lab.
  • 1893 - G. Stanley Hall founded the American Psychological Association, the largest professional and scientific organization of psychologists in the United States.
  • 1920 - John B. Watson and Rosalie Rayner conducted their now-famous Little Albert Experiment, in which they demonstrated that emotional reactions could be classically conditioned in people.
  • 1929 - Edwin Boring's book "A History of Experimental Psychology" was published. Boring was an influential experimental psychologist who was devoted to the use of experimental methods in psychology research.
  • 1955 - Lee Cronbach published "Construct Validity in Psychological Tests," which popularized the use of construct validity in psychological studies.
  • 1958 - Harry Harlow published "The Nature of Love," which described his experiments with rhesus monkeys on attachment and love.
  • 1961 - Albert Bandura conducted his famous Bobo doll experiment, which demonstrated the effects of observation on aggressive behavior.

Experimental Psychology Uses

While experimental psychology is sometimes thought of as a separate branch or subfield of psychology, experimental methods are widely used throughout all areas of psychology.

  • Developmental psychologists use experimental methods to study how people grow through childhood and over the course of a lifetime.
  • Social psychologists use experimental techniques to study how people are influenced by groups.
  • Health psychologists rely on experimentation and research to better understand the factors that contribute to wellness and disease.

A Word From Verywell

The experimental method in psychology helps us learn more about how people think and why they behave the way they do. Experimental psychologists can research a variety of topics using many different experimental methods. Each one contributes to what we know about the mind and human behavior.

4 Sources

Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. Shaughnessy JJ, Zechmeister EB, Zechmeister JS. Research Methods in Psychology. McGraw-Hill.

    (Video) Psychological Research: Crash Course Psychology #2

  2. Heale R, Twycross A. What is a case study?. Evid Based Nurs. 2018;21(1):7-8. doi:10.1136/eb-2017-102845

  3. Chiang IA, Jhangiani RS, Price PC.Correlational research. In: Research Methods in Psychology, 2nd Canadian edition. BCcampus Open Education.

  4. Pierce T.Naturalistic observation. Radford University.

Additional Reading

  • Kantowitz BH, Roediger HL, Elmes DG. Experimental Psychology. Cengage Learning.

  • Weiner IB, Healy AF, Proctor RW. Handbook of Psychology: Volume 4, Experimental Psychology. John Wiley & Sons.

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FAQs

How is behavior studied through the experimental method? ›

Experimental Method:

This is the most objective way of studying the behaviour. In this method, experiments are conducted in the laboratories under controlled conditions. In experiments, usually the effect of independent variable on the dependent variable is studied.

What makes a psychology study experimental? ›

What Is the Experimental Method in Psychology? The experimental method involves manipulating one variable to determine if this causes changes in another variable. This method relies on controlled research methods and random assignment of study subjects to test a hypothesis.

How does experimental psychology contribute to psychology? ›

The experimental method in psychology helps us learn more about how people think and why they behave the way they do. Experimental psychologists can research a variety of topics using many different experimental methods. Each one contributes to what we know about the mind and human behavior.

What does experimental psychology mean in psychology? ›

noun. the branch of psychology dealing with the study of emotional and mental activity, as learning, in humans and other animals by means of experimental methods.

Why is the experimental method preferred in psychology? ›

The experimental method is often preferred in research on behavior because a properly designed experiment can allow cause and effect conclusions to be made. Many studies in social psychology are experiments. These types of studies can be done in a laboratory setting or in a natural setting.

What are the advantages of using the experimental method? ›

Advantages of experimental research

Researchers have a stronger hold over variables to obtain desired results. The subject or industry does not impact the effectiveness of experimental research. Any industry can implement it for research purposes. The results are specific.

What is the main purpose of experimental research? ›

Experimental research seeks to determine a relationship between two (2) variables—the dependent variable and the independent variable. After completing an experimental research study, a correlation between a specific aspect of an entity and the variable being studied is either supported or rejected.

What is the main purpose of an experiment? ›

An experiment is a procedure carried out to support or refute a hypothesis, or determine the efficacy or likelihood of something previously untried. Experiments provide insight into cause-and-effect by demonstrating what outcome occurs when a particular factor is manipulated.

What's an experimental study? ›

Experimental studies are ones where researchers introduce an intervention and study the effects. Experimental studies are usually randomized, meaning the subjects are grouped by chance. Randomized controlled trial (RCT): Eligible people are randomly assigned to one of two or more groups.

When was experimental psychology used? ›

Experimental psychology emerged as a modern academic discipline in the 19th century when Wilhelm Wundt introduced a mathematical and experimental approach to the field.

What is an example of experimental method in psychology? ›

The researcher decides where the experiment will take place, at what time, with which participants, in what circumstances and using a standardized procedure. Participants are randomly allocated to each independent variable group. An example is Milgram's experiment on obedience or Loftus and Palmer's car crash study.

What is experimental psychology essay? ›

Experimental psychology is a sub-discipline in psychology that focuses on understanding the human behavior resulted from life experience through research and experimental studies (“Career in Psychology,” n.d.). Therefore, experimental psychologists approve or disapprove psychological beliefs through research.

Who developed the experimental approach to studying behavior? ›

There's Gustav Fechner, often credited with performing the first experiments that can be identified as psychological—and that, as early as 1839, when Wundt was only seven years old. Fechner might easily be called the father of psychophysics, which is today one of the most rigorous areas of psychological research.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of experimental method in psychology? ›

List of Advantages of Experimental Research
  • It gives researchers a high level of control. ...
  • It allows researchers to utilize many variations. ...
  • It can lead to excellent results. ...
  • It can be used in different fields. ...
  • It can lead to artificial situations. ...
  • It can take a lot of time and money. ...
  • It can be affected by errors.

What are the main advantage and disadvantage of experimental method? ›

The advantages and disadvantages of experimental research show that it is a useful system to use, but it must be tightly controlled in order to be beneficial. It produces results that can be replicated, but it can also be easily influenced by internal or external influences that may alter the outcomes being achieved.

What is the main characteristic of the experimental method? ›

Experimental designs, also called randomized experiments, are characterized by two distinguishing features: (i) the conscious manipulation by the researcher of a treatment or, more generically, an independent variable of interest, and (ii) the random assignment of units to treatment and control groups (Fig.

What is the main purpose of experimental research quizlet? ›

The purpose of the experimental research strategy is to establish the existence of a cause- and- effect relationship between two variables. To accomplish this goal, an experiment manipulates one variable while a second variable is measured and other variables are controlled.

What essential characteristic does a good experiment have? ›

Good experiments have two essential characteristics: a single variable is tested, and a control is used. The variable is the factor that changes in an experiment in order to test a hypothesis.

What do you need for an experiment? ›

To design a controlled experiment, you need: A testable hypothesis. At least one independent variable that can be precisely manipulated. At least one dependent variable that can be precisely measured.

What is an example of a experimental study? ›

The most basic example of experimental research is laboratory experiments, which may differ in nature depending on the subject of research.

How do you do experimental research? ›

Four steps to completing an experimental research design
  1. Step 1: establish your question and set variables. ...
  2. Step 2: build your hypothesis. ...
  3. Step 3: designing experimental treatments. ...
  4. Step 4: categorize into treatment groups.

Why are experimental studies difficult? ›

It is a time-consuming process.

For it to be done properly, experimental research must isolate each variable and conduct testing on it. Then combinations of variables must also be considered. This process can be lengthy and require a large amount of financial and personnel resources.

› hsrs › types_of_research ›

What is Experimental Research? Experimental research is a study that strictly adheres to a scientific research design. It includes a hypothesis, a variable that...
Experimental research, often considered to be the “gold standard” in research designs, is one of the most rigorous of all research designs. In this design, one ...
Experimental research is a systematic and scientific approach to the scientific method where the scientist manipulates variables.

What is the experimental method of research? ›

Experimental research is a study that strictly adheres to a scientific research design. It includes a hypothesis, a variable that can be manipulated by the researcher, and variables that can be measured, calculated and compared. Most importantly, experimental research is completed in a controlled environment.

How do you do experimental research? ›

Steps in Planning a Research Experiment
  1. State the hypothesis to be tested. ...
  2. Formulate a context. ...
  3. Formulate a theoretical model. ...
  4. Design the experiment. ...
  5. Construct the experiment.
  6. Test the experimental apparatus. ...
  7. Perform preliminary experiments. ...
  8. Perform the experiment.

What is experimental method example? ›

The researcher decides where the experiment will take place, at what time, with which participants, in what circumstances and using a standardized procedure. Participants are randomly allocated to each independent variable group. An example is Milgram's experiment on obedience or Loftus and Palmer's car crash study.

What is experimental teaching method? ›

Experimental teaching can be defined as a process that includes a procedure carried out to support laid down assumptions. The procedures entail hands-on activities that engage and motivate students to learn in the science classroom (Doherty, 2011; Safaruddin et al., 2020).

What is the main purpose of an experiment? ›

An experiment is a procedure carried out to support or refute a hypothesis, or determine the efficacy or likelihood of something previously untried. Experiments provide insight into cause-and-effect by demonstrating what outcome occurs when a particular factor is manipulated.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of experimental method in psychology? ›

List of Advantages of Experimental Research
  • It gives researchers a high level of control. ...
  • It allows researchers to utilize many variations. ...
  • It can lead to excellent results. ...
  • It can be used in different fields. ...
  • It can lead to artificial situations. ...
  • It can take a lot of time and money. ...
  • It can be affected by errors.

Why is the experiment important? ›

Experiments have an important place in the development of science because experiments are used to test the reality of a thought, an axiom, or a phenomenon with a theoretical basis and to turn it into a law or a theorem such as Newton laws.

Where is experimental research used? ›

Experimental research design can be majorly used in physical sciences, social sciences, education, and psychology. It is used to make predictions and draw conclusions on a subject matter.

Which of the following is a key feature of an experimental study? ›

True experiments have four elements: manipulation, control , random assignment, and random selection. The most important of these elements are manipulation and control.

What type of sampling is used in experimental research? ›

Probability sampling or random selection of participants from the population of interest is used in experimental designs.

How do you gather data in an experimental study? ›

There are four major ways to collect data: surveys, observation, computer simulation and experiment. In addition to laboratory and field experiments, this paper considers computer model simulation as an experiment. Other computer simulation can be statistical; 2D/3D vector/scalar/graphical; and binary [4].

What are the benefits of using experimentation as a teaching strategy in class? ›

Classroom experiments serve as a good starting point for problem discussion, enhance instructor-student interactions, and help inspire students to understand theoretical concepts through discussions about the experiments.

What is experiential learning? ›

“Experiential [learning] is a philosophy and methodology in which educators purposefully engage with students in direct experience and focused reflection in order to increase knowledge, develop skills, and clarify values” (Association for Experiential Education, para. 2).

What is the basic technique of the experimental method essay? ›

We make observations, form hypothesis, make predictions, and do experiments, analyze the results of an experiment, draw a conclusion and finally we report findings and results of the experiment.

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