How to filter reliable from unreliable psychology research

Assumption College Undergraduate

All Assumption bachelor’s in psychology students gain a foundational understanding of research, taking courses such as PSY 225 Research Methods in Psychology, PSY 265 Statistics and PSY 400 Research Seminar. We also offer a Semi-Annual Psychology Department Poster Session for undergraduates to present their research.

Along the way, you may come to better distinguish reliable from unreliable psychology research referenced in the media and other sources.

Here are three red flags to look for when reviewing scientific studies:

  1. Cost and length of study: Don’t mistake large amounts of dollars and years spent as the primary indicator of study validity. Budgets and duration do not equal credibility.
  2. Weak sample population: There are some specific cases where small sample size is acceptable, but for the most part the smaller the sample size, the less generalizable the results. Apart from size, pay attention to factors like location. Peoples’ behaviors and attitudes can vary based on where they’re from, so if participants are all from the same area, be wary. Ideally, the study will use random sampling techniques.
  3. Bias or conflict of interest: Keep a fresh eye for bias and conflicts of interest in studies. Is there a company or industry funding the study that could be pushing for or expecting a certain result? Does the researcher in general have something to gain from one result or the other? Also, be mindful of who is publishing the piece and what gain they could be receiving from featuring a study with those results (despite it’s validity or accuracy).

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