Psychology Research Jargon You Should Know

A Look at Common Terms and Concepts Used to Investigate the Mind

Psychologists utilize a number of different research methods to investigate the human mind and behavior. As you read about different psychological findings, you might find yourself wondering how researchers arrived at the conclusions that they did and what it all really means.

Psychology research methods can be relatively simple or very complex, but there are a number of terms and concepts that all psychology students should understand. Check out the following list of the top psychology research method terms you need to know.

Applied Research

Exploring the human mind

Fuse / Getty Images

Applied research is a type of research that focuses on solving practical problems. Rather than focusing on developing or investigating theoretical questions, researchers are interested in finding solutions to problems that impact daily life. For example, researchers focused on applied research might investigate which treatments for a psychiatric condition lead to the best outcomes. This research is directly applicable and can help people improve their day-to-day lives.

Basic Research

Basic research is a type of research that involves investigating theoretical issues to add to the scientific knowledge base. While this type of research contributes to our understanding of the human mind and behavior, it does not necessarily help solve immediate practical problems.

Case Study

A case study is an in-depth study of a single individual or group. In a case study, nearly every aspect of the subject’s life and history is analyzed to seek patterns and causes for behavior.

Correlational Research

Correlational studies are used to look for relationships between variables. There are three possible results of a correlational study: a positive correlation, a negative correlation, and no correlation.

The correlation coefficient is a measure of correlation strength and can range from -1.00 to +1.00.

Cross-Sectional Research

Cross-sectional research is a type of research method often used in developmental psychology but also utilized in many other areas including social science, education, and other branches of science. It involves examining a "cross-section" of a population (for example, first through fifth graders) at a single point in time.

Demand Characteristic

A demand characteristic is a term used in psychological research to describe a cue that makes participants aware of what the experimenter expects to find or how participants are expected to behave.

Dependent Variable

The dependent variable is the variable that is being measured in an experiment. Researchers will alter one or more independent variables and then measure the dependent variable or dependent variables to determine if there were any changes as a result.

Double-Blind Study

A double-blind study is a type of study in which neither the participants nor the experimenters know who is receiving a particular treatment. This helps eliminate the possibility that the researchers will give subtle clues about what they expect to find and influence the behavior of the participants.

Experimental Method

The experimental method involves manipulating one variable to determine if changes in one variable cause changes in another variable. By using this method, researchers can determine if cause and effect relationships exist between different variables.

Hawthorne Effect

The Hawthorne effect is a term referring to the tendency of some people to work harder and perform better when they are participants in an experiment. Individuals may change their behavior due to the attention they are receiving from researchers rather than because of any manipulation of independent variables.

Independent Variable

The independent variable is the variable of interest that the researcher systematically varies. By varying the independent variable, the researcher can then measure the effect, if any, on the dependent variable. Doing this allows scientists to determine if there is a cause and effect relationship between two different variables (n other words, if changes in one variable lead to changes in another).

Longitudinal Research

Longitudinal research is a type of research method used to examine long-term effects and relationships. The studies take place over an extended period of time, such as several weeks, years, or even decades.

Naturalistic Observation

Naturalistic observation is a research method commonly used by psychologists and other social scientists. This technique involves observing subjects in their natural environment. This type of research is often utilized in situations where conducting lab research is unrealistic, cost-prohibitive, or would unduly affect the subject's behavior.

Random Assignment

Random assignment refers to the use of chance procedures in psychology experiments to ensure that each participant has the same opportunity to be assigned to any given group.


Reliability refers to the consistency of a measure. A test is considered reliable if we get the same result repeatedly. For example, if a test is designed to measure a trait (such as introversion), then each time the test is administered to a subject, the results should be approximately the same. Unfortunately, it is impossible to calculate reliability exactly, but there are several different ways to estimate reliability.


Replication is a term referring to the repetition of a research study, generally with different situations and different subjects, to determine if the basic findings of the original study can be generalized to other participants and circumstances.

Selective Attrition

In psychology experiments, selective attrition describes the tendency of some people to be more likely to drop out of a study than others. This tendency can threaten the validity of a psychological experiment.


Validity is the extent to which a test measures what it claims to measure. It is vital for a test to be valid in order for the results to be accurately applied and interpreted.

A Word From Verywell

This list just scratches the surface of all the terms and topics that are part of the psychology research process. It does, however, provide an overview of some of the basic concepts with which you should be familiar.

Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

By Kendra Cherry
Kendra Cherry, MS, is the author of the "Everything Psychology Book (2nd Edition)" and has written thousands of articles on diverse psychology topics. Kendra holds a Master of Science degree in education from Boise State University with a primary research interest in educational psychology and a Bachelor of Science in psychology from Idaho State University with additional coursework in substance use and case management.