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& Operational Defininitions

A.  Identifying a Research Problem
   A problem is an unanswered question.  

     The problem selected for study depends in part upon the researcher's
          Resources available

Sources determining research problems:
     1.  Observation of life events and asking how and/or why they do.

     2.  Brainstorming happens when two or more people generate ideas for research

     3.  Theoretical Predictions - regarding what will emerge if a particular explanatory           system (paradigm) is valid.

     4.  Developments in Technology make possible two types of study:
          1)  studies to investigate old problems in new ways, usually by increases in                     resolution.
           2) advances generate new problems.  E.g.  Computers leading to studies in                     artificial intelligence.
          a.  Computer Data Analysis now permits efficient accumulation, management, and           analysis of huge amounts of information not      previously possible.
             b.  Computer Control permits the precise application of stimuli, instructions, and                apparatus control.  In addition to recording, storing, and analyzing data.

        c.  Computer Simulations can be utilized to model psychological and other                processes.

Knowledge of Research Literature

     Science is based upon the research literature.  Without it all would have to start from zero.  Familiarity with the literature in a discipline can help clarify and select problems and defines what it means to be a professional.

  Problems can be generated by:
     a.  Identifying gaps (laguna) in existing knowledge.  We know about “A”, and we                know about “C”.  What about “B”?.

     b.  Encountering contradictory findings.  E.g. research on extra sensory perception

     c.  Replication of previously published research result.  “Do you believe everything           you read?”

Searching the Research Literature

     Psychological Abstracts
     World Wide Web  - the NIH's National Library of Medicine is clearly the best                resource for searching topics in the health sciences, including Psychology.
      - go to PubMed page

B.  Hypotheses - A hypothesis is a statement, which if true, solves the problem.  It is a tentative explanation which formulates the problem so it can be studied systematically.

     1.  Research Hypotheses specify a possible relationship between different aspects of           the problem,  i.e. between the IV and the DV.

      2.  Research Hypotheses are assessed by two criteria:

          a.  Does the hypothesis state a relationship between the variables?  It should                also serve to narrow the problem down to specific variables and/or                     contexts.

          b.  Is the hypothesis testable?  Careful  wording is important, and the terms                     should be definable (operationally), observable, and measureable.

C.  Null Hypotheses - (not to be confused with research hypotheses)

     A null hypothesis is a special type of  hypothesis associated with statistical analysis.
     Traditionally, a null hypothesis states for the problem at hand,
          “No relationship exists between the variables”.
     It is the common wisdom that is assumed (by experts or the population at large) to           be true, and which the experimenter sets out to attack and prove wrong.

     It is what would be expected, either by logic or by experience (prejudice?).
             E.g. “A fair coin tossed 100 times, will show an equal number of heads and tails.”


Good definitions in science are used so others can better understand research methods, findings and interpretations.

A.  Dictionary definitions provide only a set of synonymous terms for a term which may have several possible referents (ie. limits).

B.   A term may refer to direct or indirect observation of the wor1d
1. eg. "reaction time" amount of time from onset of  stimulus for action (teacher giving assignment) and the action (student starting the assignment).

2.     Or, "learning" = (which cannot be seen) can be inferred by performance, answering questions or carrying out tasks.

C.     A term can also be defined according to a theory (a system of interelated meanings each supporting the other), eg.:
1.     “reinforcement" = a satisfying state of affairs.
2.     "punishment" = an annoying state of affairs.  Each term mirrors and supports the other.

D.     Factual/Conceptual vs. Operational Definitions.

1.     A Factual/Conceptual definition is a dictionary-type that uses another term or set of terms synonymous with term being defined.   Thus

a. a “reinforcer” = a satisfying stimu1us or, a “satisfier = a reinforcer.

b. The problem is both above are roughly equivalent., i.e. ambiguous and circular.

1)     Is a reinforcer always a satisfier? And  vice-versa? or dos calling a satisfier a reinforcer make it any clearer what it really is?

2.     Operational definitions were made popular by physicist Percy Bridgeman necessitated by Einsteins theory of relativity (e.g. “time” is very difficult to define)

a. an operational defininition establishes a term by describing the set of manipulations necessary to create the presence of the object.,
  or by describing the measuring operations which identify the terms presence.

3.     There are two types of operational definitions.

a.  Experimental operational definitions describe how a terms referents are manipulated.
E.g. "hunger" = length of time without food.
     Then someone without food for 24 hours would be “hungrier” than someone without for 12 hours.

And  an operational definition of "Chocolate cake" - the recipe to make it.

b.  Measured operational definitions describe how referents of a term are measured.

     eg. "hunger" - the amount of food (by weight, volume, or calory content) consumed.

     "Chocolate cake" - a description of the flavor., texture, appearance & other properties of the cake.

4.     One or the other is used in a research report.

 a. Here's a hypothesis:  "Students learn more if classes are short, rather than long."  
                         What is "long"?, or "short"?

     1)     Manipulatory operational definition:

          “short class” = one lasting less than 50 minutes
          “long class” = one lasting more than 50 minutes.

2)     Measurement operational definitions:

          “short class”  one ending before squirming begins;  
          “long class” one still in session when 1/2 class is squirming or looking out the window.

E.     Advantages of operational definitions:

     1.     Make research methodology used clearer to reader.
     2.     Confine statements to things either directly or indirectly observable ie.                empirical.
     3.     Helps assure good communication by specifying how terms are used.

F.     Limitations of operational definitions:

1.     None can fully define a phenomena.

2.     One can use any operational definitions but should use operational definitions similar to those in use and which are consistent with historical reference avoids initial struggle.

3.     What about “brave” = leaving the house in the morning without a cup of coffee.  

     What's wrong here?