What is it about different psychological research areas that necessitates the use of different research methods?

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Different types of research methods are used for certain psychological research areas to unlock the mysteries of behaviour. However, caution is needed as some methods are only useful for a particular psychological research area. The appropriate method is needed otherwise incorrect conclusions may be drawn about a behaviour.  This issue is explored by addressing three different research areas in psychology; Forensics, Health and Biology.

Forensic psychology focuses on the study of the mind and ways in which the mind works, especially in the instances of violent crime. Forensic psychologists carry out research to uncover the reasons behind why an individual might carry out such an act of crime. There are many different reason as to why an individual might lash out and commit a violent act. Forensic psychology sets out to prove the link between emotional distress, psychological strain and violence through the use of particular research methods.

Sexual deviancy is a common issue dealt with in forensic psychology and there are particular research methods used to study this. Self report measures are used when dealing with individuals suffering from mental disorders. McGuire et al (1996; as cited in Eysenck, 2006) studied schizophrenics using a self report method, and found that these patients had reduced activity in those parts of the brain involved in monitoring inner speech. This evidence suggests that self-report measures provide a promising approach to understanding the causes of mental disorders. However, in a study by Wormith (1986; as cited in Gray, Brown, MacCulloch & Smith, 2005) a self report measure misclassified 17% of the paedophiles as normal. This incorrect classification suggests that self report measures are not particularly reliable and individuals can deliberately fake their answers, making it difficult to get an insight into forensic problems in a meaningful manner.

Research on sexual deviancy also uses actuarial measures, such as Dolan and Doyle’s (2000) review of the current status of risk prediction research. This study found that actuarial risk assessment approaches are important in forensic psychology to enhance the accuracy of predictions of offenders’ violent outcomes. However, actuarial measures can often lead to serious errors in prediction and confuse attempts at meaningful interpretations of findings, (Rogers & Jackson, 2005). This is because actuarial measures tend to be insensitive to change and highly reductionist in its grouping of most sex offenders into a single category.

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Gray, Brown, MacCulloch, Smith and Snowden (2005) invented a new method known as the implicit association test (IAT) to investigate the associations between children and sex in paedophiles. The IAT is a computerised reaction-time based cognitive task which indirectly measures social cognitions. Gray et al (2005) presented pictures to paedophiles of words and images related to sex and the individuals had to signal which dimension they attributed that word/image to. Results showed that paedophiles had little confusion over the child and sex condition but more over the adult and sex condition. The IAT successfully displayed that paedophiles were unable to ...

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