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Psychological methods

Since the time of Aristotle people have tried to discover what was going on in our minds, but the lack of research methods prevented satisfactory results. It was not until 1860 that the philosophers and psychologists Wilhelm Wundt, Max Weber and Gustav Fechner began the first experiments in the field of psychology.

Psychological methods are types of research that are based on the development and dissemination of procedures that help collect, analyze, understand and interpret the psychological processes of our mind.

What are the techniques of psychology used for?

The purpose of these methods is the propagation of innovations in research design , measurement , methodology, and quantitative and qualitative analysis to the psychological community; Its objective is to promote effective communication on related substantive and methodological issues.

Before beginning to show the different types of psychological methods that exist, we will answer a question that is fundamental to understand what we are talking about, what is a method?

What is a method of psychology?

The method is a way to follow , a way of operating, a search process, a direction that is printed to the research activities, with the purpose of obtaining accurate and beneficial results .

By definition, a method is an established, customary, logical, or prescribed practice, or a systematic process to achieve certain ends with precision and efficiency, usually in an orderly sequence of fixed steps.

The more appropriate the methods to be followed, the greater the yield of the researcher’s effort. Norms, rules, processes and ways of proceeding are established by people with knowledge and experiences in certain knowledge, to facilitate the task of researchers who seek an increasingly accurate knowledge of the facts and objects inaccessible to the natural game of ordinary observation and of the imagination.

There are methods shared by certain sciences and other methods that are specific to each of them. The object is the main part of the method, because without object or type of object a science could not determine its method to follow. In psychology, methods include the procedures by which the knowledge that makes up psychological science is obtained .

The most common study methods in psychology

There are several types of methods that psychology uses for its research. Below we will list and detail each of the psychological methods and their function.


The introspection was formerly regarded as the only psychological method . This consists of the direct and immediate observation of mental phenomena by the individual himself; in other words, it is conducting an examination of our interior, the observation of consciousness by consciousness itself .

Who Developed Introspection?

The original idea of ​​introspection was developed by the German psychologist and philosopher Wilhelm Wundt . It focused on three areas of mental functioning: thoughts, images, and feelings. Wundt’s work eventually led to current work on perceptual processes and the establishment of the field of cognitive psychology.

The method of introspection can be described as the process of analysis of consciousness, where we analyze our own thoughts, feelings, memories, desires and internal affective states. For example: we practice introspection when we examine the reasons for a resolution we just made.

What is Introspection?

This method consists of the ability of consciousness to be able to unfold itself and perform a reconstitution of events through memory.

According to Meumann (German psychologist and founder of experimental psychopedagogy) the observation includes the following :

  • Attentive perception
  • Proceed methodically according to a certain plan
  • Order what has been observed under a common concept

The introspection process can focus on current mental experience or past mental experiences (retrospection). As a research method, introspection uses a more objective and standardized version, in which people are trained to carefully analyze the content of their own thoughts, as impartially as possible.

What can we use it for?

Using introspection helps to improve our ability to understand ourselves , to understand our motivations, and to learn more about our own feelings; It also helps us take the power out of daily distractions and prioritize and focus on the issues that matter most.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of the introspection method?

Although the introspection method is one of the best to know the qualitative aspect of internal events -such as the emotional state- there are several drawbacks that make its exclusive use insufficient.

Each of us can know ourselves or believe we know ourselves directly. However, we must bear in mind that events that are presented in the same way in other people, may have different repercussions internally. We cannot generalize the internal aspects and the perceptions of people , that is, make an extension of what happens to us, as this would lead to a serious error .

We have a great tendency to interpret what happens in others taking as a point of reference what happens to us, instead of placing ourselves from the point of view of the observed person and considering them qualitatively different from us.

Introspection is based on memory, which very often changes past events. Memory tries to reconstruct past situations, but it can deceive us and falsify reality.

The greatest benefit of the introspection method is that it gives us direct insight into our emotional states. In this way it also helps us to realize that we do not all react in the same way to emotions, and that what is pleasant for us may be unpleasant for another individual.

Behavioral psychology considers that introspection is an almost useless method, since they argue that the observations made by this method cannot be repeated under the same conditions by different observers, therefore, they would always be constituted by individual knowledge.


Extrospection is a term used for exterior observation methods. It is perception or ordinary reasoning of the senses about things thus perceived. Extrospectively, the manifestations or bodily alterations that accompany the inner psychic processes are studied.

What is Extrospection based on?

Unlike introspection that is based on subjective facts, extrospection is based on objective facts , which can be perceived at the same time by different observers.

For example, if a person experiences an emotion , the external reactions generated, such as: movements; facial expression; changes in heart rate, can be perceived by another observer.

In extrospection, the levels can range from the intense concentration of a thinker following a process of logical deduction, to the peripheral perception of a man walking in the street.

External movements or reactions caused by an internal event can be studied objectively with great efficiency. Some objects of extrospective observation are:

  • Language, gestures, attitudes, and tone of voice
  • The functioning of the organs and body systems such as: the heart, the respiratory system , the muscular system, the digestive system and the nervous system .
  • Outcome of activities, such as: writing, painting, manual work or forms of drawing


Hindsight is a form of introspection that can present itself as a memory or reminiscence. This psychological method consists of investigating the past through memories.

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Sometimes autobiographies are taken as a form of retrospection, but these often lack sincere content. From a scientific point of view , the value of the autobiography should not be exaggerated, as it is not an exact method. There is a lot of fantasy, a lot of exaggeration, and a lot of false observation in the autobiographical proceedings.

It also happens that the memories we have of our childhood do not reach our first years of life, and we only tend to remember the events that had the greatest impact on our psyche.

Memories, in addition to making mistakes and omitting details, are grafted with events imagined or heard by another person and, later, they are taken as their own and real experiences. These are easily modified and, in some cases, we fondly remember events that never happened; This is where what we call optimistic or positive hindsight occurs.

What is optimistic hindsight?

Optimistic hindsight is a falsehood of memory ; it is the tendency to remember events more favorably than they actually were . This represents a clear example that memory is not as accurate or reliable as we used to believe; in fact, it is surprisingly fallible and misleading. This memory bias applies to all of us, and explains why we often remember the past with much more fondness than the present.

Retrospection is not a method used only at the individual level , but also at the group or social level, for example: in certain disciplines such as history or archeology. This is because in these disciplines, the subject or object of study is in the past.

Psychoanalytic method

The psychoanalytic method consists of the exploration of the deepest layers of our unconscious , by means of skillful interrogations directed to the patient.

This method emphasizes the unconscious, because according to the theory of psychoanalysis proposed by Freud, the unconscious is a vast repository of repressed memories, which exert determining influences on our behavior and mental attitudes.

Freud believed that people could cure their psychopathologies by making their unconscious motivations and thoughts conscious, thus gaining insight into the focus of their behavior.

No memory is lost. The memories of all the experiences lived are stored in the unconscious mind. According to the psychoanalytic method, many of these “saved” memories can be provoked and brought to consciousness by procedures and under special conditions.

Unpleasant experiences, unsatisfied desires or feelings of disgust are not forgotten, they are found living in the unconscious – away from consciousness due to the inhibition process – and having an impact on the behavior of each individual.

What is the psychoanalytic method used for?

The psychoanalytic method uses techniques such as: free association , spontaneous description , failed act , interpretation of dreams to access the unconscious . But it can also be accessed through drawing, painting or writing, in fact, artistic productions are one of the sources of objective psychoanalytic research.

The methods used by psychoanalysis have great diagnostic and procedural value for the cure of neurosis (mental nervous diseases). It has been shown that the affective complexes that are brought to the consciousness of the patient and analyzed by him, generate in him an attitude of self-confidence, serenity and security.

But it must be borne in mind that to investigate a neurosis one must have experience in the area of ​​psychoanalysis and use the psychoanalytic method skillfully and discreetly. Interpretation of the unconscious by inexperienced people can lead to false and disastrous results.

Experimental method

The experimental method is based on experiment and consists of the intentional provocation of phenomena, in the case of psychology, of mental phenomena.  These phenomena can be caused by modifications of the environment in which an individual is found, by modifications in the latter’s organism or by modifications in the environment and in the organism together.

What is an experiment?

An experiment is an investigation in which a hypothesis is scientifically tested . The characteristics of this are: the control of the variables, the careful measurement and the establishment of cause and effect relationships.

In the experiment, an independent variable (a cause) is manipulated and the dependent variable (an effect) is measured; any strange variables must be controlled.

Experiments must always be objective . The experimenter determines his research plan by consulting the state of the science and his personal observations. The views and opinions of the investigator should not affect the results of a study. This is good as it makes the data more valid and less skewed.

What is the experimental method used for?

The experimental method is frequently used by experimental psychology , in many cases where observation is difficult or impossible due to the infrequency with which certain phenomena occur.

Comparative method

The comparative psychological method uses the confrontation of the behavior of two individuals of the same species or different species, in order to get to know humans better. This method allows the researcher to highlight the differences and similarities of the reaction forms of each species.

What is the comparative method used for?

With the comparative method , the adult man is compared , for example, with other individuals who are passing through other stages of life, such as: childhood, adolescence or old age. It can also be compared to the opposite sex or to animals in general.

The underlying assumption is that to some extent, the laws of behavior are the same for all species, and that therefore knowledge gained from studying rats, dogs, cats, and other animals can be generalized to humans.

Genetic method

The genetic method allows us to know not only the origin of an individual, but also the different stages through which it passes along its path. For example: if we studied the life of an animal observing it only in its adulthood, we would not achieve a satisfactory knowledge, since we must first understand its origins and its evolution. The same is true of psychological phenomena. These present evolutionary stages, therefore, they must be studied by the genetic method.

Pathological method

The pathological method is usually used in animals. With this it is possible to do a large-scale experimentation, modifying their environment or altering their own organism.

The techniques of studying the pathological method in the nervous system are only slightly different from those used in a study of general pathology. In the latter case, the routine study is quite simple and is generally limited to the application of some methods, while in neuropathology it can be more diversified.

What is the pathological method used for?

For researchers using the pathological method, it is not forbidden to lock up an animal to experiment with it. The experiment can range from grafting substances into the animal’s blood, to removing gray matter from their brain or sacrificing them to investigate their behavior in different situations.

With men, these interventions are not allowed, unless in necessary cases, where the patient does not show signs of life or is entitled to a medical intervention.

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Hello Readers, I am Nikki Bella a Psychology student. I have always been concerned about human behavior and the mental processes that lead us to act and think the way we do. My collaboration as an editor in the psychology area of ​​Well Being Pole has allowed me to investigate further and expand my knowledge in the field of mental health; I have also acquired great knowledge about physical health and well-being, two fundamental bases that are directly related and are part of all mental health.

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