How to Write a Psychology Research Proposal

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A solid psychology education should lead to all kinds of outcomes related to analytical skills, statistical reasoning, and research design. One of the core skills that I try to cultivate in my students is the ability to write a clear and concise research proposal. Being able to write a solid research proposal demonstrates the following qualities:

* An understanding of some theoretical concepts in the behavioral sciences

* The ability to organize one’s ideas in a coherent and efficient way

* The ability to get to the foundation of a set of research ideas

* The ability to write clearly and concisely in a scientific manner

* The ability to describe a hypothesis, proposed methodology, and proposed set of statistical analyses

* The ability to efficiently contextualize one’s ideas in the existing scientific literature in some area

* The ability to think about how statistics can be used to examine some research-based predictions

* and probably more

Toward this end, I tend to give the following assignment to students in my undergraduate class in evolutionary psychology:

“Evolutionary psychology is a research-based enterprise. And learning about evolutionary psychology tends to lead people to develop hypotheses about human nature. For this assignment, you are to write a brief paper that does the following:

  • Articulates a hypothesis based on evolutionary reasoning.
  • Describes methods that would test this hypothesis.
  • Predicted outcomes and implications.

Importantly, this paper is to be no more than two pages – printed on two sides of a single page. And it should be double-spaced.

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This kind of assignment, forcing you to get your ideas reduced in a small space matches the kinds of assignments that professionals have all the time – this assignment will help prepare you for this kind of assignment in your future.”

As an end-of-the-semester activity, to demonstrate the process of writing a research proposal, we actually worked together today (5/3/2018) as a class to develop and to fully create a research proposal. The document below (and linked here (link is external)) is the result of this work. Nice job, evolutionary psychology students!

Research Proposal: A Proposed Study on the Mental Health Effects of Outdoor Experiences

Written by the SUNY New Paltz Spring 2018 Evolutionary Psychology Class

The evolutionary psychological perspective on human behavior suggests that instances of evolutionary mismatch may lead to adverse psychological functioning (e.g., Geher, 2014). Mismatch can exist in multiple domains, including nutritional offerings, exercise, community size, technology, transportation, and the nature of one’s physical environment – among many others.

One important way that modern environments are mismatched from ancestral environments pertains to the proportion of time that people spend in the out of doors. In fact, many evolutionists have made the case that humans have a natural love of the living world (see Wilson, 1984). Based on this reasoning, it may be the case that increased time spent in the outdoors leads to positive mental health outcomes. On the other hand, we might predict that increased time spent in human-made, non-natural environments, might have adverse mental health outcomes.

Several mental health outcomes have been documented as important in all kinds of human psychological functioning. In particular, this research will focus on depressive tendencies, tendencies toward anxiety, and general psychological well-being. The basic prediction is that increased out-of-door experiences will correspond to less depression and anxiety and higher scores on a measure of well-being.

 

This study will utilize a randomized between-groups design using 200 relatively fit American adults ranging in age from 18-34 selected from Southern California. Using a random-assignment process, participants will be assigned to either (a) the outdoor condition or (b) indoor condition.

Participants in the two experimental conditions will all be included in a climbing camp for two weeks. The outdoor participants will be at an all-outside version of the camp in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of Southern California in September. The indoor participants will be at an all-indoor version of the camp at an indoor climbing gym for the same two weeks. Importantly, these climbing experiences will be overseen by the same Climbing Camp with the same activities and personnel.

This methodology would allow for the isolation of the “out of doors” variable and will have participants across groups have the same experiences otherwise. Given the random assignment to experimental conditions, this methodology would allow for an examination of the specific effects of the outdoor experience.

To measure anxiety, Liebowitz’s (1987) measure of social anxiety will be used. To measure depressive tendencies, Kessler et al.’s (2003) measure will be used. We will create a 5-item likert scale of subjective well-being that participants will also complete.

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Anticipated Results

Across the three outcome measures, including social anxiety, depressive tendencies, and subjective well-being, it is predicted that the outdoor group will score as less anxious, less depressed, and as higher in subjective well-being. These results will be examined using three between-groups t-tests.

Potential Implications

Evolutionists are interested in the mismatches between modern conditions and ancestral conditions. Simply being in the out-of-doors or not is a classic mismatch that surrounds us all the time, often unbeknownst to ourselves. The experimental design here would allow us to zero in on the effects of the outdoor experience as it relates to mental health outcomes, controlling for individual differences between groups.

If the predicted pattern of results is obtained, then we would have strong evidence suggesting that people function best when they are provided with outdoor experiences. Such a pattern would support an evolutionary-mismatch approach to understanding the interface of people with their physical environments.

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