Research Methods and Empiricism
Empiricism is a theory of knowledge that uses our senses to obtain knowledge and emphasizes on experience and evidence obtained through sensory perception. Empiricism, in the philosophy of science emphasizes the scientific knowledge that has got evidence, especially those discovered through experiments. It is the fundamental part of the scientific method that gives an opportunity for the hypotheses and theories to be formulated against observation.
There are some of the research methods and designs that go in tandem with the theory of empiricism in that they involve the use of senses to obtain knowledge. First, there is the observation method which is a data collection strategy in which the ongoing behavior of individuals is recorded with a little interaction between observer and the subject. The goal entails determining exactly what individuals are doing in a specific setting. The technique has some of the advantages that enable it to be truthful: the objects are observed in their natural setting, it allows for the observation of development at various stages, and lastly, the researchers do not impose themselves on the subjects and it is important in determining how children and adults function in their everyday life.
Clinical method is another commonly used research method whereby a researcher deals with one individual at a time and it involves observation and careful questioning. It is very flexible and questioning given can be individualized for each person. However, it may produce conclusions that are dependent on the interviewer ability t ask the right questions and hence the need of verification of the results obtained by other parties involved.
There are times when one is required to carry out a research for a long period of time. For instance when one wants to identify Erikson’s psychosocial stages, and the times when each conflict is experienced. Such a research might take a tremendously long time- the research might last for over sixty years. To carry out such a research one requires a Longitudinal Research method Design. Longitudinal Research in its basic form refers to a repeated testing of a group of individuals over a period of time. Another example is testing same adults every ten years to see changes in their moral reasoning. In contrast, cross sectional design involves studying same group of individuals over a short period.
Descriptive research, also known as statistical research is concerned with the study of status. There are several branches of descriptive research with survey and case study perhaps being the major ones. The prominence of the two owed to the fact they merited for giving reliable and valid results. Almost similar to descriptive research is correlational research, a research method with an overarching idea of providing relationships between different variables. A good example of correlational research is the study of the effect of play on psychomotor development of a child.
The experimental technique, also a research method, involves the manipulation of one set of variable (independent variable) against a second set of variables (dependent variable). For example, we can analyze how varying the amount of time a child spends playing (dependent variable) affects the child’s sleep (independent variable). Dependent variable is the manipulated variable whereas the independent variable is not influenced by others. This method is more appropriate when one want to establish cost-relationships and it can also as well be used to study behaviors that tend to occur irregularly. This method provides a test for the reliability of the findings. However, it is important to note that some behaviors are not open to experimental manipulation, and some of the findings are noted to have limited findings. The scientific methods and their concepts therefore must be very empirical, that is, it has to depend on the evidence that have been observed through the senses.
During the process of conducting the empirical research, there are some ethical considerations that must be taken into account. The research can expose one to possible physical harm and that means that the empirical results that are expected to be obtained will not come out as expected, hence the truth will not be achieved. There should be protection from physical or psychological harm. For instance, there should no elements of punishment in the process of research as this will affect the investigator psychologically, Subjects should not be forced to engage in the research as it require one to prepare psychologically and emotionally, The identity of the subject when written should be kept in strict confidence. There should be informed consent from the subjects themselves. This involves giving correct information about the research, the purpose and operation of the research, and many others should be given the right to refuse the consent. In a nut shell, scientific methods are associated with the evidence the gives the truth. Exceptionally pertinent is the fact that all obtained data, since they provide the basis of drawing conclusions, should reflect the actual situation.
Sensation and Perception
To bring the world into our head, there is a great need to detect physical energy from the environment and encode it as neutral signals, a process that is referred to as sensation which in depth, is the process by which we receive, transform and process stimuli detected by our sensory organs into signals that the brain uses to bring about vision, hearing, taste, smell, touch among others. It is very important to note that we must select, organize and interpret the nerve impulses we receive through the sense organs in a process called perception. In our every day experiences sensation and perception join into one continuous process. For instance, our sensory and perceptual processes work together to help us to sort the complex images in a picture or a painting. Sensation is a passive process in the sense that we do not have to be consciously engaged in the "sensing" process. On the other hand, perception involves conscious organization and interpretation of the sensations hence it is an active process.
The process of sensation and perception occurs in a sequential manner. First, the sensory organs detect physical energy from the environment which is then converted into neural impulses by the sensory receptors. The impulses are sent to the brain where perception follows, thereafter, the brain organizes the information and translates it into something meaningful. It is worth noting that sensation deals with detecting energy changes in the physical environment (stimuli) which are translated into psychological experiences. Thresholds are used to measure the events of sensations and are referred to as the dividing line between what is detectable and the one which is not. For example, a person can hold a hot material with bare hands for sometime without being burnt but after some time, when pain reaches the ‘threshold’, the person begins to feel pain.
Another aspect that is concerned with sensation is difference threshold which is the minimum amount of stimulus intensity change which is required to give a noticeable change. When the intensity of the stimuli is great, the change that produces noticeable change is also great. For instance, if you pick a 10kg mass and a 2kg mass, it is very important to notice a change. However, a mass of 12 kg and that of 12.3 kg are not likely to bring out a noticeable change.
As stated earlier, all that we receive through sense organs have to be interpreted into recognizable patterns such as objects, words, smells and so on in a process of perception. The perceptual development has been discussed by four main theories. First there are the traditional theories that believe that our perception of objects is developed through learning by associating the multiple sensations that an object evokes. For example for an apple, one has to perceive and associate all the related parts.
The Gestalt psychology claims that we perceive objects by organizing principles that result from the brain’s natural organizational processes influenced by innate principles. This theory argue that the brain has the innate ability to organize objects as whole and not parts-through the principles of proximity, similarity, continuity and closure. Empiricists on the other hand argue that people are born ‘blank slates’ then experiences are imprinted on them. Later they learn to discriminate between sensory inputs and thus to them, perception develops as a result of a long learning process. Finally, the Nativity’s Theory holds that many perceptual abilities are present at birth due to structural characteristics of the nervous system.
It is therefore evident that perceptual development is a continuous process that involves some changes. First, as children grow, their perception becomes more selective and more purposeful in that they focus on stimulus that has more functional value, they become more increasingly aware of the meaning of their perceptions. For example, they are able to determine whether the perceptions are pleasurable, useful or painful. Another important change is that, perception becomes more sensitive as children develop in that they begin to detect increasingly subtle aspects of stimuli. For example, the banging of the door means annoyance.
Perceptual development is closely linked to motor development. The increased mobility exposes one to a larger environment with more objects to perceive, more actions to perform and hence more opportunity for schemata to be formed. A favorable environment rich in intellectual as well as emotional stimulation is an important factor in the full development of one’s potential.
Different types of perception are formed depending on: motivation, expectation, genetic- maturation and experience, culture, context and amount of stimulation (rich environment). One type of perception that is formed is the object permanency, which is the realization that objects continue to exist even when out of sight. Another one is the development of Depth perception which the ability to judge relative distance and it is important because it warns people of the imminent danger for example falling off tables or chairs. Babies for instance who have developed perception of depth will sit on the edge and cry for help. There is the development of the picture perception whereby according to Pieget, children’s recognition of pictures as real is not predetermined though it is innate. Dominant features in the picture first capture their attention. Finally, there is the development of the perceptual constancy whereby things are treated as unchanging as in the case of shape, position and size constancy.
Classical Conditioning, Operant conditioning and Social Learning Theory
Classical Conditioning was articulated by Ivan Pavlov in 1927 and hence also regarded as Pavlovian or Respondent conditioning. It a form associative learning that involves presentations of a neutral stimulus alongside a stimulus that has got some significance, called the unconditioned stimulus. The unconditioned stimulus is one that naturally, unconditionally and automatically brings about a response. For example, the smell of some kinds of foods may make one hungry and therefore, the smell of food in this case acts as unconditioned stimulus.
The unconditioned stimulus brings about unconditioned response which is unlearned and occurs naturally. Like in this case, the feeling of hunger in our example is the unconditioned response towards the smell of food. The neutral stimulus after being associated with unconditioned stimulus becomes the conditioned stimulus which brings about a conditioned response. For instance, if every time the smell of food was paired with a certain unique sound which is unrelated to the smell, the sound would eventually bring about the conditioned response. Therefore in this case the sound becomes the conditioned stimulus. In our example, the hunger brought about by the sound is a conditioned response which is the learned response to the previously neutral stimulus.
This theory has got many real world applications and one of them is its usefulness in treatment of phobias or anxiety problems especially by teachers who can create a positive classroom environment that eliminates phobia and anxiety. For instance this can be done by pairing an anxiety provoking situation with pleasant surroundings to enable them learn new associations.
Operant Conditioning is yet another theory that explains how behavior can be learnt and also unlearnt. According to this theory, human behavior is as a result of environmental stimulation, which results from the accumulated effects of learning. It says that much of what an individual becomes is as a result of what he or she has experienced or learned in the environment. This theory argues that learning depends on rewards and punishments. It was propounded by B.F. Skinner who believed that behavior cannot be explained by internal thoughts and motivations but instead he suggested that the causes of human behavior are external and observable. For example children may work hard in order to complete homework so as to earn a reward from a parent or a teacher. Another example is where children in a classroom are told that they are bound to lose privileges like going for a field trip in case they make noise. In conclusion, rewards cause an increase in behavior whereas punishment or removal of undesirable outcome leads to a decrease in a particular behavior.
Another theory that explains how behavior is acquired is Social Learning Theory, which entrenches the idea that people learn new behaviors by observing and imitating other people. Through observation the process of knowledge acquisition is directly linked to the observation of models either through interpersonal links or media sources. Individual observer can be affected in two ways as a result of observation; the inhibitory effect and disinhibitory effect. Inhibitory effect occurs when an observer watch the action of another being involved in a social situation being punished for that action and therefore learns to avoid it. In a disinhibitory effect an individual is praised for an action and the observer learns from and imitates that action. For example, a student who sees the other being praised for a good action he or she has done will tend to imitate that action.