Methodology as a Key to Reforming Psychology`s Research

Methodology as a Key to
Reforming Psychology’s Research
Methods Curriculum
Brian Haig
University of Canterbury
27 May 2012
Kuhn (1970) argued that textbooks provide a dogmatic
initiation of learners into established research traditions.
Psychology’s textbook-oriented methods curriculum does
much the same.
Therefore, this curriculum cannot be a source for a genuine
education in research methods.
A basic limitation of psychology’s research methods
instruction is that the methods dealt with are not properly
informed by their accompanying methodology.
The neglect of methodology leads to an impoverished
understanding of the methods.
The Nature of Methodology
Methodology is the interdisciplinary field that studies
methods. It draws importantly from the disciplines of
statistics, philosophy of science, and cognitive science,
among other disciplines.
Methodology describes relevant methods and explains how
they reach their goals, it critically evaluates methods
against their rivals, and it recommends what methods we
should adopt to reach our chosen goals (Nickles, 1987).
Methodology is naturalistic; it is a substantive domain that
uses the methods of science to study methods
themselves (e.g., Proctor & Capaldi, 2001a).
The Importance of Philosophy of
The philosophy of science is an important methodological
resource that research methods teachers largely neglect.
Its occasional use mostly draws from sources that are 40
to 50 years out of date. This neglect leads to a failure to
consider key methodological ideas to do with research
problems, scientific method, confirmation, theory,
models, causation, explanation, and scientific discovery
(Blachowitz, 2009; Proctor & Capaldi, 2001b).
Much philosophy of science is now philosophy for science,
and contains detailed knowledge about specific
methodological issues, strategies, and methods.
Example of Poor Understanding: NHST
Psychologists have a poor understanding of NHST.
Psychology textbooks unwittingly present an inchoate
amalgam of the Fisherian and Neyman-Pearson schools
of thought . This virtually guarantees conceptual
confusion by the learner (Gigerenzer, 2004).
Researchers in psychology mistakenly take NHST beyond
its proper concern with sampling uncertainty and use it
to test substantive hypotheses and theories (Meehl,
Alternatives to NHST, such as Bayesian statistical
inference, are typically not presented.
The Disregard of Scientific Method
The methods curriculum, including its textbooks, gives
little attention to the topic of scientific method , despite
its centrality in science (Blachowicz, 2009).
This curriculum should give due regard to prominent
theories of scientific method, such as inductive,
hypothetico-deductive, and abductive theories.
Knowledge of these methods would help learners
understand the process of phenomena detection
(inductive method), the complexities of theory testing
(revised hypothetico-deductive method), and the nature
of explanatory reasoning in science (abductive method)
(Haig, 2005).
A Narrow View of Data Analysis
Psychology’s methods curriculum concentrates on
confirmatory data analysis at the expense of exploratory
data analysis (Tukey, 1980). Both are important.
Initial data analysis, exploratory data analysis, and
computer intensive resampling methods, such as the
bootstrap, all deserve inclusion in the standard methods
Relatedly, the strategies of close and constructive
replication should be emphasized as well.
Psychology’s methods curriculum is poor at dealing with
research strategies. Philosophy of science can help here.
The De-emphasis on Theory
Methods textbooks in psychology emphasize data analysis
at the expense of theory construction.
At best, textbook treatments of theory construction focus
on orthodox hypothetico-deductive theory testing. This
method is confirmationally lax.
Methods specifically tailored to theory generation (e.g.,
exploratory factor analysis), theory development (e.g.,
analogical modelling), and theory appraisal (e.g.,
inference to the best explanation) all deserve a place in
the methods curriculum (Haig, 2005).
Methodology is the appropriate source for a genuine
understanding of research methods.
Psychologists tend to neglect methodology and therefore
poorly understand the methods they use.
Psychology’s methods curriculum is narrow and ignores
many important developments in methodology.
Statisticians are not the guardians of scientific method.
Nor are they expert about inferential and interpretive
problems of statistical methods.
Research methods courses should be taught by teachers
who know about research methodology.
Blachowicz, J. (2009). How science textbooks treat scientific method: A philosopher’s
perspective. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 60, 303-344.
Gigerenzer, G. (2004). Mindless statistics. The Journal of Socio-Economics, 33, 587-606.
Haig, B. D. (2005). An abductive theory of scientific method. Psychological Methods, 10, 371388.
Kuhn, T. S. (1970). The structure of scientific revolutions (2nd ed.) Chicago: University of
Chicago Press.
Meehl, P. E. (1967). Theory testing in psychology and physics: A methodological paradox.
Philosophy of Science, 34, 103-115.
Nickles, T. (1987). Methodology, heuristics, and rationality. In J. C. Pitt & M. Pera (Eds.),
Rational changes in science (pp. 103-132). Dordrecht: Reidel.
Proctor, R. W., & Capaldi, E. J. (2001a). Empirical evaluation and justification of
methodologies in psychological science. Psychological Bulletin, 127, 759-772.
Proctor, R. W., & Capaldi, E. J. (2001b). Improving the science education of psychology
students: Better teaching of methodology. Teaching of Psychology, 28, 173-181.
Tukey, J. W. (1980). We need both exploratory and confirmatory. American Statistician, 34,