Evidence-based thinking: scientific approaches to studying human behaviour | Abertay University

Evidence-based thinking: scientific approaches to studying human behaviour


Many of the theories and practical skills you experience during your early years of study are delivered in encapsulated sessions that can seem far removed from the bigger issues relevant to your discipline. This module will explain how theoretical knowledge is applied to development of research questions and how skills you develop are used in the scientific study of human (and non-human) behaviour in the field of psychology.


The aim of this module is to provide the student with a broad knowledge of different approaches to studying behaviour and to help them develop a suite of skills that will make them better psychologists. Through active participation in weekly workshops, students will see how the core domains of psychology underpin the development of research questions and will be introduced to methods currently being used in psychological research at Abertay and beyond. Students will develop key skills in using an evidence base to develop research questions and for carrying out critical evaluation. These will have far-reaching benefits in assessment preparation, project work, exam techniques and future employability.

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this module the student should be able to:

1.  Demonstrate an understanding of methods used in the scientific study of human behaviour.

2.  Understand the process involved in using an evidence base to identify research questions.

3.  Use theories from the core domains of psychology to guide development of research questions.

4.  Understand the process involved in critical evaluation of an evidence base to inform research decisions.

5.  See how psychology research can be applied to real-world problems.

Indicative Content

1 Where do I start? Understanding scientific literature

Understanding empirical research and extracting the most important information from a sea of confusing statistics and 'science-speak' can be challenging. You will learn how to approach a published research paper and how to identify the main message from the results.

2 Experimental or correlational?

Designing an experiment is challenging – there is often a balance to be made between the ‘ideal’ experiment and what can practically be done. This session will introduce you to the differences between experimental and correlational designs and ask questions about when it is appropriate to make a compromise and how this will affect your results.

3 What can we learn from studying animals?

Comparative psychology uses animal models to help us understand how the human mind works and how the pressures of our environment influence how cognitive processes and behaviour evolve. You will consider how evidence from animal psychology can be used to inform research questions about human behaviour.

4 Does psychology need neuroscience?

The growing use of brain imaging techniques in psychological research has stimulated huge debate in relation to when these expensive techniques are useful and when they are not. You will be introduced to methods such as Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tCDS) that are used to measure brain activity and will be asked to consider the pros and cons of each method.

5 What is a critical review?

You will be guided through what a critical review is and learn where to begin when asked to evaluate current research and identify questions still to be answered.

6 Controlling experiments – introduction to psychophysics

In psychophysics, we carefully present stimuli in order to estimate the sensitivity towards particular cues, perhaps colour, sound, shape or even taste. By carefully measuring these sensitivities, we can establish what kinds of stimuli humans are able to perceive easily and those that are detected with more difficulty. This session will introduce you to methods used and explore the concept of experimental control.

7 Nothing makes sense except in the light of evolution

Evolutionary psychology is a relatively new discipline and involves looking at human behaviour in the context of Darwin’s theory of natural selection. This session will introduce you to the basics of evolutionary theory and evaluate whether it helps or hinders our understanding of human behaviour.

8 What can we learn about behaviour from watching people move?

This session will look at aesthetic perception, for example when watching dance, and consider how we measure this. It will look at challenges in these types of methods such as how to measure subjective preferences.

Statement on Teaching, Learning and Assessment

Material will be delivered as a series of workshops that run every week and will require active participation from students. Some workshops will required students to prepare beforehand. The sessions are designed to be interactive and will expose students to a number of staff from the Psychology Division and the research that they do. Thus, this module has strong teaching-research linkages. These workshops are designed to develop the key skills required by students as they progress through their academic career and will enhance future employability. Assessment will be via a portfolio of work based on participation in the workshops. Time will be available during the scheduled sessions for students to work on their assessment submission. Further drop-in sessions will be offered to help with the assessment.

Teaching and Learning Work Loads

Total 200
Lecture 0
Tutorial/Seminar 30
Supervised Practical Activity 0
Unsupervised Practical Activity 0
Assessment 30
Independent 140

Guidance notes

Credit Value – The total value of SCQF credits for the module. 20 credits are the equivalent of 10 ECTS credits. A full-time student should normally register for 60 SCQF credits per semester.


We make every effort to ensure that the information on our website is accurate but it is possible that some changes may occur prior to the academic year of entry. The modules listed in this catalogue are offered subject to availability during academic year 2018/19 , and may be subject to change for future years.