Question practice: research study questions
Revision and exam skills
This type of question requires answers that focus on description and/or evaluation of research studies. Descriptive content will need to be focused on aims, procedure and conclusions of research studies, while evaluation could centre on methodological and ethical considerations, as well as what conclusions can be drawn, for example the degree of support for an explanation. There are some studies that are explicitly listed in the specification, such as Ainsworth’s ’Strange Situation’ or Pavlov’s research into classical conditioning, so these could form the basis of such questions, for example Questions 1 and 3, which are drawn from the Attachment and Approaches topics. Questions could also be asked that allow a choice of research study, for example Questions 2 and 4.
1 Outline the aims and findings of Ainsworth’s ’Strange Situation’ study of attachment.
2 Outline and evaluate one research study of memory.
3 Outline Pavlov’s research into classical conditioning.
4 Outline and evaluate one research study of the biological treatment of OCD.
Strategies for improvement
Identify command words before attempting an answer.
Use marks in brackets as a guide to how much to write/how much elaboration is required.
Make sure you have studied a research study in sufficient detail (aims, procedure, findings, conclusions and evaluative points) for all topic areas.
Make sure you have studied in sufficient detail all studies that are explicitly listed in the specification.
Practise these types of questions for all topic areas regularly.
Providing a lack of necessary detail
Focusing on the wrong elements of a study (for example, giving findings and conclusion when the question explicitly asks for the aims and procedure)
Using studies solely as a form of evaluation rather than describing the necessary features
The aim of Ainsworth’s ’Strange Situation’ study was to test how infants behaved under conditions of mild stress and novelty and to assess differences in mother and infant pairs in terms of the quality of their attachments. Ainsworth found three main types of attachment: Type A — insecure-avoidant, Type B — securely attached and Type C — insecure-resistant. However, although the ’Strange Situation’ is regarded as a reliable measurement of attachment type, as it produces consistent results, it is not seen as a valid measurement, as it does not measure an infant’s general attachment type but its attachment type to one specific person.
3/6 marks. Two relevant aims of Ainsworth’s study are clearly stated and the findings quoted about types of attachment are accurate. However, the findings lack detail — a brief description of the behaviours associated with the different attachment types would have easily gained the other marks available. Also, unfortunately the final comments about the reliability and validity of the study, although accurate, are not relevant to the question, as they are a form of evaluation.
Marks would only be awarded for description of Ainsworth’s aims and findings, so any outlining of procedure or evaluation of the study would not earn credit and would waste valuable time. The actual mark gained would depend on the level of accurate detail provided.
One research study of memory was Peterson & Peterson’s (1959) study of the duration of short-term memories. Participants were presented briefly with nonsense trigrams, words of three letters that did not make sense, and then asked to count backwards in 3s from 100 (to stop rehearsal of the presented trigram) for varying amounts of time. About 90 per cent of participants correctly recalled trigrams after 3 seconds, but only 5 per cent after 18 seconds, which suggests that the duration of short-term memories is quite short.
The task performed in this laboratory experiment, recalling trigrams, is not an everyday task and so can be said to lack ecological validity and so may not reflect the duration of short-term memories in real-life scenarios.
5/6 marks. A relevant study is selected and is detailed in a fashion that shows a thorough knowledge of the study in terms of its aims, procedure and findings. A brief conclusion is given, as well as a fair point concerning the study’s lack of ecological validity, which is done in such a way as to suggest the candidate understands what the term means. However, the answer probably needs a little more in terms of evaluation to deserve being awarded all the marks available. For example, there could be some comment about whether the short duration of memory was due to the information decaying over time or whether displacement of the letters in a trigram was occurring by the numbers that were being said aloud because the capacity of short-term memory is limited to a maximum of about 9 items.
The answer calls for both description and evaluation of a relevant research study, which could be achieved by detailing the aims, procedure and findings. The evaluation could focus on relevant methodological and ethical points, as well as what conclusions could be drawn about the results.
Pavlov was the pioneer researcher into classical conditioning. He became interested while researching the role of salivation in digestion in dogs as to how dogs learned through association to predict the arrival of their food. Using the reflex action of salivation, Pavlov found that if a bell was rung 7 times when food was presented to a dog, it would subsequently salivate just to the bell. Originally the dog would only have salivated to the presentation of food. It was concluded that the dog had learned to associate the sound of the bell to being fed, hence the salivation in anticipation of food.
4/6 marks. A ’solid’ description of Pavlov’s research is evident. It is accurate, relevant and coherent. However, there is a lack of detail and specialist terminology, which prevents the answer being placed in the top level of marks. This could have been achieved by using specialist terms such as unconditioned stimulus, conditioned stimulus and conditioned response when describing Pavlov’s research to show a higher level of detail and understanding.
Marks would only be awarded for description of Pavlov’s research, so any evaluation would not earn credit and would waste valuable time. The actual mark gained would depend on the level of accurate detail provided.
One research study into the effectiveness of anti-depressants in treating OCD was a study by Koran et al. (2000). They aimed to see how effective Olanzapine was when combined with the SRI drug Fluoxetine in treating non-responsive forms of OCD. There were 10 participants, all of whom had had OCD for at least a year. They were being treated with Fluoxetine and increased levels of Olanzapine were then added to their treatment for 8 weeks. The findings showed that the combined treatment was superior in reducing symptoms than by treatments with just Fluoxetine alone. Some participants did suffer the side-effect of significant weight increase.
4/6 marks. A good answer in terms of description. There is accurate and somewhat detailed reference to the aim, procedure and findings of the study. However, the answer is unbalanced as only the final sentence can be classed as evaluation.
The answer calls for both description and evaluation of a relevant research study, which could be achieved by detailing the aims, procedure and findings. The evaluation could focus on relevant methodological and ethical points, as well as what conclusions could be drawn about the effectiveness of the treatment.