This morning I was watching a show that my son watches (Ready, Jet, Go) that is about science and astronomy. It has a lot of great information and it’s actually pretty funny. In this particular episode the characters sang a song about the Scientific Method and the steps it involved. It was quite impressive. And although I won’t sing you a song about this topic, I will help to explain it.
The Scientific Method is used in all sciences. It is a way for scientists to ask and answer questions. As vague as it sounds, it can be quite an elaborate way to investigate some kind of phenomenon. It’s a way for the field of psychology to examine the human experience. It’s very systematic and comprehensive. There are six steps in the Scientific Method; some sciences only use five while others may change the title of each step.
This is where you question an event, a behavior, or see a problem. You notice something that is interesting and you want to find an explanation. You do some research to see if this event, behavior or problem has occurred before and what answers were found previously. For example, you see a child rocking himself on the ground and you find this behavior questionable. You do some research and find that children with autism can rock themselves when they feel stress or anxiety. This is the question that you want answered; do children with autism rock themselves when they feel stress or anxiety.
In this step, you come up with a testable hypothesis; that is, a testable question. You can’t simply state the question you had in the first step, but rather you have to break it down to be testable. You can, in no way, test every single child with autism to see if they rock themselves when they are stressed. Being testable means that you create an experiment that can explain an observation or phenomenon as a theory, but since you can’t test everyone, it stands to reason that there may be other reasons for the behavior. With this experiment, you create a specific prediction about how one variable relates to another; in this case, how stress relates to a child’s rocking. In this step you would hypothesize that children with autism do rock themselves when they are under stress.
Here you would design the experiment and collect the data. I have loosely used the word ‘experiment’ but the research design can use other methods to test a hypothesis. You can do a case study, surveys, observations, etc. (I will make another posting explaining the different methods of research). For the example given, we would observe children with autism in a classroom. We would note every time a child rocks themselves and see if it relates to something considered stressful. There are many different issues that need to be addressed when designing an experiment. The largest issue is to make sure that we do no harm. So, we would not purposely put undue stress on children in order to see their reaction but rather observe them in their daily lives.
Statistical Analysis/Interpret the data
Step three is where we would organize, summarize and interpret the data. After reviewing all the data and doing a statistical analysis, we would determine whether or not to accept or reject the hypothesis. In our example, we may see that out of the 50 children we observed, 45 of them started to rock themselves whenever they had to take a test (or when some other stressful event occurred). In this case, we would accept the hypothesis that some children with autism will rock themselves when they are under stress. You have to remember to not make an overall assumption by stating ALL children because, again, we could not test every child to make that statement.
Publishing; Reporting Your Results
It is very important for any research to find its way to other researchers. When a researcher completes a study, they submit it to a peer-reviewed journal, so that other scientists can critically evaluate it. It is in this publication that you discuss your conclusion about the outcome of the experiment. You need to remember that even if your experiment ‘fails’ it does not make the experiment a failure. The test results always give useful information and will give other researchers valuable material to use in future research studies. Not all scientists like to publish their work, especially if their hypothesis was rejected; however, without knowing that a hypothesis was rejected, other researchers may waste their valuable time and efforts to do a study that had already been done.
After several studies have been done regarding a particular phenomenon, a theory can be formed. In this case scenario, this theory states that some children with autism rock themselves when they are under stress or anxiety. The theory is formed because there have been hundreds of studies that have found this behavior to be influenced by the variable of stress. Also, the information from this study can lead to new research questions. Other researchers may want to see if rocking is also apparent in the home, or if other children with mental disorders also rock themselves when under stress.
So, the next time you see something interesting and cannot explain it readily, go through the steps of the Scientific Method. It could yield valuable information; it is a logical and rational way in which to explain things we didn’t know how to explain as part of the human experience. Of course, you can also use this method for non-human phenomenon as well, such as do plants grow faster when they are exposed to music (I did this one; it doesn’t work).