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JoVE Science Education
Experimental Psychology

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Perspectives on Experimental Psychology


Source: Laboratories of Gary Lewandowski, Dave Strohmetz, and Natalie Ciarocco—Monmouth University

As the Department Chair of Psychology at Monmouth University, I teach primarily upper level undergraduate students who are interested in Experimental Methods. These classes don’t have the same inherent appeal to students. This JoVE Psychology collection will help students vicariously watch the experiments being performed from start to finish, allowing them to gain exposure to over a dozen topics that they may not experience otherwise. Importantly, the videos provide a context for seeing the experiments embedded in their natural states—in the actual research process.

A few projects in this Science Education collection stand out. First, I consider the Ethics in Psychological Research video to be very useful in teaching, as it demonstrates how sensitive topics, such as interpersonal violence, can be studied in creative ways. Furthermore, students learn better with topics that they care about and can conceptualize in their personal lives. For example, Observational Research delves into the factors that go into homesickness, going beyond questionnaires and examining the relationship to what individuals actually leave around in their rooms. This design allows the researcher to curiously discover conclusions that students may not be fully aware of themselves.

Being an instructor and textbook author of research methods, I am keenly aware of the relative lack of quality resources that are available to teach Experimental Psychology well. These JoVE videos will help bring the material to life for instructors and particularly for students who do not necessarily get the opportunity to complete their own research projects. 


So my name is Dr. Gary Lewandowski. I'm the department chair of psychology at Monmouth University. So my typical students are upper-level psychology majors, generally juniors and seniors. Many of the courses they've taken have been a couple of research classes.

They'll take our experimental methods course, which I teach, which focuses on experimental design, writing, all in preparation for their senior thesis, where every one of my seniors will take their very own research idea, and sort of take it from start to finish over the course of a semester.

So one of the biggest challenges I face with teaching upper-level research is that psychology students don't generally come into psychology thinking that they wanna do research. Rather, they wanna help people, they wanna go into counseling, more of the applied areas.

It's only through being a psychology major that they really realize that much of what we do in psychology focuses tremendously on research. So, the research courses just don't have the same intuitive appeal as something like abnormal psychology, child psychology, or social psychology. So one of the real challenges you face with that is keeping students interested, or actually, really getting them interested in a topic that they're just not inherently interested in, in the first place.

So the JoVE Science Education videos are really gonna be helpful for students because it's not every student that gets to do his or her own research, and so there are certain things in life that are just most useful to learn by doing, and research is one of those things.

There's only so much you can learn by reading a textbook and learning how to do a research study or having someone describe it to you. Really, the absolute best, the gold standard would be to do your own study, but logistically, that's just not practical for every student. The next best thing is to vicariously watch somebody else do a study from start to finish, which is really the next best thing. You can read about a study in a textbook, or even a journal, there's something that is really beneficial about seeing it in action, and particularly seeing a study from start to finish. So this gives the students the opportunity to see over a dozen different experiments, and gain some exposure that they may not otherwise get.

So what I think is most useful about these JoVE Science Education Videos is that, rather than focusing on an isolated concept, for example, just focusing a video on what is an independent variable, everything with research is best understood in context, and ideally in the context of a study that's actually taking place. And so what you're getting with these videos is seeing the concepts embedded in their natural state as a person is going through the research process. So rather than taking concepts out in a way that's artificial, you're really seeing them embedded where they belong, which is in the research process. 

So the video that I think is probably the most useful of all the videos is probably the ethics video. Because I think it's really important for students, particularly early in a course, to really understand how ethics guides all of our decisions throughout the research process. Often students, or those who are new to ethics, tend to think that, because we have to sort of weigh the cost and the benefits, and we can't do harm, that it's really tough to study sensitive topics, but that's really not the case. When you learn a little bit about research methods, your creativity in the design of the study will allow you to study things like interpersonal violence in really creative ways, as you'll see in this video.

So really, the best way to learn anything is to put it in the context of your real life, and though that may seem difficult with research methods, really the best research focuses on things and topics that students care about. For example, one of the videos in this series focuses on homesickness, so rather than just simply giving somebody a questionnaire that says, how homesick are you, this video shows a way that research can really delve into how homesick somebody is through some of the things they leave around their room. And this is the interesting part of research, right? I mean you get to delve into people's lives, you get to be a little bit curious to see really what's going on in ways that they may not fully understand themselves.

As a research methods instructor myself, and author of a research methods textbook, I'm keenly aware of the relative lack of quality resources that are out there to teach this course, which is sad because this is one of the most important courses that students will take, but it's also one of the most difficult to teach, and to teach well. So having these videos at the disposal of the instructor will really help bring the material to life, particularly for those students who don't get the chance to do their own in-depth research project, or just for any instructor who's looking to bring a little bit more life to their classroom, or to have students look at things online as part of a flipped classroom environment.

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