5 Tips for teaching research methods in personality and social psychology

At the Society for Personality and Social Psychology’s Annual Convention last month, we were pleased to present the SAGE Young Scholars Awards to five outstanding early-career researchers. Not only did our winners demonstrate achievement in advancing scholarship, they expressed innovation, creativity and potential to become future leaders in their fields.

Interested in how this year’s award winners are preparing the next generation of young scholars to conduct their own research, we asked our winners about their top tips for teaching research methods in personality and social psychology. Read their insightful answers below.

Cheryl Wakslak

Cheryl Wakslak

“When I teach research methods, I like to walk students through varied stages of the research process, from coming up with ideas to designing studies to presenting their work to others. Early on, one thing that I have students do is to describe their research focus to a partner coming from a different discipline or subarea, encouraging them to ask each other naive questions. (I teach behavioral methods in a business school, so students have pretty varied backgrounds and interests!) Sometimes this exercise can help to reveal key research “holes” that the existing literature may have missed by adopting one particular focus or utilizing one dominant paradigm.”

-Cheryl Wakslak, Assistant Professor of Management and Organization, USC Marshall

Jon Freeman

Jon Freeman

In teaching students research methods, I think something often not fully conveyed is the theoretical baggage that comes with any method. Teaching students the theoretical assumptions and conceptual underpinnings of any given method is critical, in my view. It is also useful to adopt hands-on techniques and give students the opportunity to use the method in practice.”

-Jon Freeman, Assistant Professor of Psychology, New York University



Wiebke Bleidorn

“In my classes, I try to advertise research methods as a set of tools; tools that allow us to become better consumers of research. I try to encourage students to use these tools and to critically discuss and evaluate classic and recent research articles, to challenge paradigms and positions. In doing so, I strive to create a classroom environment that allows students to express their opinion, to think critically, to reason from evidence, to become better consumers  and hopefully also better producers of research.”

-Wiebke Bleidorn, Ph.D., Assistant Professor at the Department of Psychology, UC Davis

Adam Waytz

Adam Waytz

“The first thing I try to teach students regarding research methods in social and personality psychology is the importance of simplicity. There is plenty of time in a career program for complexity, but I think it is essential to master simple study designs and simple analyses first. I am constantly impressed by researchers who reap value out of 16-cell interactions, but I find it difficult to do so, particularly at the early stages of a research program. I also think simpler designs allow students to understand the conceptual variables in which they are interested.

“Second, I think it is important to get students to think about whether a particular research method matches the research question being asked. Often students are simply drawn to a particular approach – be it a behavioral approach, a self-report approach, an implicit approach, a neuroscience approach, or a psychophysiological approach – without asking, ‘Is this the best method to answer my question?’ Being thoughtful about this issue can save time and money.”

-Adam Waytz, Associate Professor of Management and Organizations, Northwestern University

Ulrich Orth

Ulrich Orth

“In my courses, I try to show that research methods matter for understanding substantive issues. For example, when teaching personality development, I give an introduction to latent growth modeling and ask students to read an empirical article that uses this method. Then, in class I go through the details of the analyses and discuss with students why and how the methods help us better understand the substantive issues at hand, that is, the patterns and causes of personality development. I hope that students also learn that research methods can be fun!”

-Prof. Dr. Ulrich Orth, Department of Psychology, University of Bern

Interested in more insights on research methods? Check out our new blog series, Methods in Action, which focuses on hot topics from SAGE Research Methods.

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