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Prospectus

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Designing an Empirical Study

Course
2017-2018

Entry requirements

Open to MSc Psychology (research) students

Description

The aim of this course is to teach students in the research master programme – regardless of their area of specialisation – about a variety of approaches and methods that can be used in evaluating and designing psychological research. This is intended to broaden students’ views about the possibilities to address different kinds of research questions.
The course meetings and assignments are intended to make students more aware of the added value of creatively combining different research traditions, and to enhance their ability to consider, combine, and apply multiple approaches within a single research design.

Course objectives

  • Students will be taught about different aspects of evaluating an empirical study, and learn how to design a new research project.

  • They will gain an overview of the different types of experimental and theoretical methods used in psychological research.

  • They will learn to reflect upon the strengths and weaknesses of different measures and constructs in order to assess their suitability to address a particular research questions.

  • They will hone their skills in developing theoretically meaningful hypotheses and designing the most suitable empirical approach to test them.

Timetable

For the timetables of your lectures, work groups and exams, please select your study programme in:
Psychology timetables

Lectures

Registration

Course

Students need to enroll for the lectures.
Master’s course registration

Mode of instruction

Four modules (each composed of two 2-hour lectures) and one plenary meeting.

Assessment method

Students will evaluate a paper of their own choice and suggest improvements regarding design and method.
Presence is obligatory.

The Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences has instituted that instructors use a software programme for the systematic detection of plagiarism in students’ written work. In case of fraud disciplinary actions will be taken. Please see the information concerning fraud.

Reading list

The literature will consist of 2-3 articles per module: one article to introduce the method and one or two to describe it in more detail.
Each of the four modules consists of two meetings. The first meeting will be an introduction into the topic(s) to be discussed and the second meeting will focus on practising the application of the main topic(s).

Module 1: Hypothesis generation and levels of explanation
The aim of this module is to increase the sensitivity of the students with respect to two important issues. The first concerns the process of hypothesis generation, something that is often overlooked in methodological courses. How does one generate a good idea for an empirical study? Even though psychological research is often said to aim for testing hypotheses about human mind and behavior, hypotheses are actually often derived after the fact—that is, after the relevant data have been collected. We will discuss the logical and ethical implications of this practice. The second issue relates to the fact that the human mind and behavior can be explained at different levels: at a phenomenological, functional, or physiological level. They all provide potentially useful insights into psychological processes but, unfortunately, many researchers confuse these levels and consider some as “causing” others. We will discuss examples for, and the implications of this classical logical error. This module aims to stimulate critical thinking and controversial discussion.
Teacher: Prof. Dr. S. Nieuwenhuis

Key readings:

  • Kerr, N. L. (1998). HARKing (Hypothesizing After the Results are Known). Personality and Social Psychology Review, 2, 196-217.

  • Weisberg, D.S., Keil, F.C., Goodstein, J., Rawson, E., & Gray, J. (2008). The seductive allure of neuroscience explanations. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 20, 470-477.

Module 2: Exploring the brain
Functional neuroimaging can be a useful tool for testing psychological theories. This module will cover the methodological aspects of designing and analyzing an experimental task for the use of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The module will focus on the following questions: 1) Which theories can be tested with fMRI? 2) What are the experimental requirements for testing these theories? 3) How can we evaluate fMRI research? These questions will be illustrated with data examples from various research areas.
Teacher: Dr. A.C.K. van Duijvenvoorde

Key readings:

  • Poldrack, R. A. (2012). The future of fMRI in cognitive neuroscience. Neuroimage, 62, 1216-1220.

Module 3: Evaluating interventions
In this module we will discuss the strengths and weaknesses of different designs to evaluate interventions, ranging from case reports to randomized controlled trials. Examples will be drawn from the clinical and medical research areas, but the principles are applicable to other interventions as well. The standards for conducting and reporting intervention research will also be addressed.
Teacher: Dr. V. Ly

Key readings:

  • Boutron, I. et al. (2008). Methods and processes of the CONSORT group: Example of an extension for trials assessing nonpharmacologic treatments. Annals of Internal Medicine, 148, 295-309.

  • Vandenbroucke, J.P. (2008). Observational research, randomized trials, and two views of medical science. PLoS Medicine, 5: e67.

Module 4: Observation and simulation
In this module, we will focus on understanding rich social situations using standardized and controlled studies. We will address the question of how theoretically meaningful aspects of social situations can be simulated or re-created in the lab (experimental simulations and games), to observe their effects under highly controlled circumstances. We will use specific research examples to practice evaluating and designing empirical studies. Moreover, we will discuss differences between fundamental (process-focused) and applied (problem-focused) research to learn how standardized and controlled studies relate to reality.
Teacher: Dr. M.K. Noordewier

Key readings:

  • Wilson, T. D., & Aronson, E., & Carlsmith, K. (2010). The art of laboratory experimentation. In S. Fiske, D. Gilbert, & G. Lindzey (Eds.), The handbook of social psychology (5th ed., vol. 1, pp. 49-79). New York: Wiley.

  • Reis, H.T., & Gosling, S.D. (2010). Social psychological methods outside the laboratory. In S. Fiske, D. Gilbert, & G. Lindzey, (Eds.), The handbook of social psychology (5th ed., vol. 1, pp. 82-114). New York: Wiley.

  • An empirical article (to be announced) that we will evaluate and re-design in the second meeting.

Contact information

Sander Nieuwenhuis SNieuwenhuis@FSW.leidenuniv.nl