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Role of ecological validity

Drawing on examples from Chapters 3, 4 and 9 of Investigating Psychology, discuss the role of ecological validity in psychological research. Before you choose which option you will complete, you need to make sure you understand exactly what each question

Drawing on examples from Chapters 3, 4 and 9 of Investigating Psychology, discuss the role of ecological validity in psychological research.

Before you choose which option you will complete, you need to make sure you understand exactly what each question requires. This means identifying and understanding the process and content words.

Process and content words

In this question there is one process word: ‘discuss’. ‘Discuss’ requires you to explain something, in this case the role of ecological validity in psychological research, then to give two sides of the argument and, finally, to consider any implications of the issue being discussed. ‘Discuss’ indicates that this essay must go beyond description and should consider different viewpoints and evaluate the relative importance and/or implications of the relevant evidence. Content words are ‘the role of ecological validity in psychological research’. Note that you are also instructed to use material from Chapters 3, 4 and 9 of your textbook Investigating Psychology.

Therefore, Option A requires you to:

explain what ecological validity is and why it might be important in psychological research, drawing on examples from Chapters 3, 4 and 9 of Investigating Psychology
consider alternative viewpoints to the idea that ecological validity is important; that is, provide evidence that things other than ecological validity are as relevant when conducting psychological research, again drawing on Chapters 3, 4 and 9 of Investigating Psychology
evaluate the importance of ecological validity, in the light of the evidence available in Chapters 3, 4 and 9 of Investigating Psychology.
Thus, in considering both sides of the argument you will need to explore the possibility that some research, while achieving good levels of ecological validity, might have other shortcomings (such as more confounding variables). Equally, other research might have low ecological validity, but its findings are nevertheless valid and have made an important contribution to psychology. In other words, you need to evaluate the relevant evidence and draw a conclusion. Also, spend some time thinking about the main content words: ‘ecological validity’ and ‘psychological research’. What do we mean by ‘ecological validity’? What sort of psychological research is this concept most relevant to? Where in the module materials did you come across ecological validity as an issue?

Relevant material

The essay question is very exact about the material that you should draw on for the EMA: Chapters 3, 4 and 9 of Investigating Psychology. While many of the sections in these three chapters will contain material relevant to the question (especially when it comes to selecting examples), you may find the following guidance helpful.

Chapter 3 looks at Albert Bandura’s research on social learning and aggression. Section 2 introduces the experiment, while Section 3 looks at the interpretation of the results of Bandura et al.’s (1963) experiment, including issues directly relevant to the essay question.

Chapter 4 focuses on the topic of behaviourism, specifically the work of B.F. Skinner. Section 2 of the chapter explains the basic principles of behaviourism. Section 3 is especially relevant to this essay as it deals with the issue of how principles derived from animal research can be applied to human behaviour. You will also find relevant evidence in Section 4, which includes examples of how behaviourist principles have been applied to modify human behaviour.

Chapter 9 focuses on memory. Section 3, which looks at applied experimental research is particularly useful for this essay as it directly tackles the issue of ecological validity and its importance in psychology. Also, it considers the link between ecological validity and ethics which you may want to discuss in your answer. However, other sections will also be relevant, especially when it comes to finding examples of research where ecological validity is a concern.

You may also find it useful to draw on the audio-visual material linked to Chapters 3, 4 and 9 where it contains information that you find relevant for the essay.

As you are asked to consider a broad issue (the role of ecological validity in psychological research), you may find it helpful to revisit the general introduction to Investigating Psychology and the Final Note, as well as the introductions and conclusions to Parts 1 to 3. Investigating Methods also contains relevant material. For instance, the study considered in Section 3 of Chapter 3 raises the issue of ecological validity in experimental research, while Section 4 discusses an alternative way of studying the effects of watching television which specifically addresses this matter. Section 2 of Chapter 7 is also relevant as it discusses the notion of validity in psychological research, including ecological validity. Feel free to refer to (and appropriately reference) this material, but note that whatever module materials you refer to in the essay, the question clearly states that you should build your answer on examples from Chapters 3, 4 and 9 of Investigating Psychology. In other words, you can refer to material from Investigating Methods alongside, but not instead of, examples from Investigating Psychology.

Below you will find tips for writing this essay, but before you start working on it, you should make sure that you have completed the online activities relevant to this task. Even if you have completed these in the relevant weeks, you may wish to revisit them as part of your preparation for the EMA.

Online Activity 29.1: Preparing for the EMA. This offers advice about how to complete the final assignment, including how to choose which option to answer and how to develop an argument in the essay.
Online Activity 10.2: Essay writing (Part 2) – Essay planning. You may find it valuable to revisit this activity to help to create an essay plan for the EMA.
Online Activity 13.2: Constructing an argument. This activity deals with how to present material in an assignment in a logical and coherent way, so that it addresses the question.
Online Activity 15.3: What is evaluation? Revisiting this activity will refresh your memory of the demands of an evaluative essay. Remember that although the process word in the EMA is ‘discuss’ rather than ‘evaluate’, the answer should include the evaluation of the claim made in the question.
Also, before you begin to plan your essay, review the feedback you received from your tutor for the essays in TMA 02 and TMA 03 to see if there is any advice about the essay structure/content etc. that you could apply to this essay.

Tips for writing your essay

Having worked through the online activities, and identified the process and content words in the essay, the first step is to select the material that you will use in your essay. Begin by rereading the relevant chapters with the essay question in mind, and make notes. When making notes you may find it helpful to consider which points support the idea that ecological activity has an important role in psychological research, and how they support this claim, and which points suggest that there are other important issues and criteria that need to be taken into account.

As with all essays, it is a good idea to create an essay plan in order to help to organise the points that you may want to make into a logical structure, and think about ‘the story’ of the essay in terms of how it begins, proceeds through the points and then ends. As you will be covering material from different chapters, some of which will support the claim in the question and some of which will support an alternative view, it is particularly important that you work out what you want to say and what order to say it in. This is so that a reader can understand how you have addressed the question and follow your argument.

When planning the structure of your essay, remember to include a clear but concise introduction in which you set out the issue(s) that you will be addressing and how you intend to approach the question. Use your introduction to say what you will be arguing.

For the main body of the essay, note that while you are required to give a balanced view, you do not need to provide an equal number of points in favour and against the claim that ecological validity is important in psychological research. However, you should aim to draw evenly on material from all three chapters specified in the question. Make sure that you choose examples carefully and that for each one you say clearly how it is relevant to the question. You probably will not be able to include all the pertinent examples from the chapters, so you will need to be selective. Make sure you include at least one example from each of the three chapters specified in the question, and do not include any from other chapters: you will not gain marks for including irrelevant material.

Remember also to finish with a concluding paragraph that summarises your argument.

Although the word limit for the EMA is 1500 words, there is a lot of material to cover. Therefore, it is important to focus on the question and to be as succinct as possible. This will inevitably require you to revisit your essay several times, refining your arguments and clarifying your points. This will also give you the opportunity to check for any errors in spelling or grammar, or poor expression, all of which can have a significant impact on the fluency and accuracy of your essay. It will also allow you to check that you have included appropriate references in the text of your essay and in a reference list at the end.

Remember to state the word count at the end of your answer.

Name the file in a way that indicates whether you have answered Option A or Option B and include your PI number. For example, for Option A, name the file X1234567-OptionA (where X1234567 is your personal identifier).

When marking Option A the marker will be looking for:

evidence of understanding of the relevant material
good paraphrasing skills and writing in your own words
clear and concise writing
the ability to structure the essay in a logical way that addresses the question
a balanced argument with evidence of evaluation
the ability to provide evidence from Chapters 3, 4 and 9 of Investigating Psychology to support points made in the essay
referencing of sources
keeping within the word limit of 1500 words.

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