Best Scientific Research Methods to study Cognitive Psychology

Following are the best Methods to study cognitive psychology.

  1. Naturalistic Observation
  2. Introspection or Self Report
  3. Experiments or Laboratory/ Controlled Observation
  4. Quasi-Experiments
  5. Neuropsychological tools

Naturalistic Observation

Observation means watching, monitoring, scrutiny, examination, or inspection. Best way to study something is to watch them/ it behave (eat, sleep, walk, think, etc) in their normal environment.

  • It is a detailed studies of cognitive performance in everyday situations and no laboratory contexts.
  • An observer watching people in familiar, everyday contexts going about their cognitive business.
  • Example- How to withdraw money from a automated teller machine (ATM).
  • Most appropriately used to identify problems, issues, or phenomena of interest to be investigated with other research methods. ◦
  • Positive Aspect-
    • Ecological validity.
    • Relatively easy,
    • Doesn’t require a lot of resources to carry out,
    • Doesn’t  require other people to formally volunteer for study.
  • Negative Aspect-
    • Lack of experimental control.
    • Observer bias.- to remove it we can use – Blind observers: People who do not know what the research question is: So, they will have no preconceived notions about what they “should” see.

Observer effect – people who know they are being watched, will not behave normally. Thus Observer should be hidden.

2. Introspection or Self Report

  • By Wilhelm Wundt.
  • The observer observes his/ her own mental processes.
  • Self-reports -An individual’s own account of cognitive processes.
  • For example- participants might be asked to solve complicated arithmetic problems without paper or pencil and to “think aloud” as they do so.
  • Positive Aspects of introspection-
    • better insight into an experience and the factors that influenced it,
    • yielding a richer, more complete picture than an outsider could observe.
  • Negative Aspects of introspection-
    • Biasness in regard to your own cognition.
    • Social desirability of looking good .

3. Experiments or Laboratory/ Controlled Observation

  • Few times observing behavior of a person / animal is not practical in a natural environment.
  • When researches want more control on variables.
  • Fully controlled Independent variable.
  • Random Assignments of sample.
  • For example, Infants reaction to a mirror .
  • Positive Aspects of Experiments/ Laboratory Observation
    • Little more influence over the setting.
    • To standardize the setting for all participants,
    • Researcher would be trying to channel the behavior in certain ways.
  • Negative Aspects of Experiments/ Laboratory Observation
    • Subject or sample can have observer effect.

4. Quasi-Experiments

  • When researcher cant controlled Independent variable.
  • When Researcher cant assign sample randomly.
  • but researcher will have somehow control to most of the variables playing role in the experiment.
  • For example, experimenters cannot reassign participants to a different gender, ethnicity, age, or educational background.

5. Neuropsychological methods

 These are useful to examine the brain damage, brain disease, and severe mental illness.

  • Electroencephalography (EEG)– shows brain activity
  • Positron emission tomography (PET) scans -shows where neurons are firing.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – shows grey matter, white matter, and cerebrospinal fluid.
  • Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans 
  • Neuropsychological Assessment Battery® (NAB®) by Robert A. Stern, and Travis White, to Assesses a wide range of cognitive skills and functions Age range:18- 97 years; Time:3 hrs & 40 minutes for all five modules


  • Philip D. Harvey, Clinical applications of neuropsychological assessment.
  • Galloti, K. M. (2004). Cognitive psychology in and out of the laboratory. USA: Thomson Wadsworth.
  • Matlin, M. (1994). Cognition. Bangalore: Harcourt Brace Pub
  • Sternberg, R. J. (2007). Cognitive Psychology. Australia: Thomson Wadsworth.
  • Solso, R. L. (2004). Cognitive Psychology (6th ed.). Delhi: Pearson Education.


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