Cognitive psychology, the school of psychology that researches internal mental processes, employs various methods as it examines how humans understand, diagnose, as well as solve problems and how human memory works (Cognitive Psychology, 2016). Two widely used methods of cognitive psychology are a case study and a controlled experiment. Case studies are in-depth investigations of individuals or single cases. Through the method of case study, a detailed analysis of an individual or a case is obtained. This is achieved through the use of certain data collection tools including questionnaires, interviews, and observations, etc. The data collected provides evidence which is used to disprove or support some theory because it incorporates highly detailed data. At the same time, a considerable disadvantage of this method is its subjectivity and limited generalizability (Yin, 2013).

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Case study accounts in psychology, because they are based on the qualitative approach to data collection and data analysis, risk being affected by the researcher bias. In particular, researchers who work with the observed individuals often for a long time can become biased towards the patients and manipulate the findings to create ground for their theories. Sometimes, the findings reflect the researcher’s attitude to the patient, e.g. whether he/she likes the study participant or not, and are interpreted in the way that serve the researcher’s bias. Another disadvantage of the case study is difficulty of replication and limited generalizability (Yin, 2013). Case studies are used to research rare cases and single individuals over a long time in cognitive psychology and they cannot be replicated because of the individual differences among people. Also, they use inductive reasoning.

To compare, the experiment is also used in cognitive psychology to either support or disprove theories. However, the experiment uses deductive reasoning, because it verifies a hypothesis with the help of factual data represented through figures and calculations. This method lies within the quantitative paradigm and involves comparisons of (two or sometimes more) variables as they are manipulated under specific conditions. Randomized control trials (the most valid and reliable type of experiment) involve a highly representative sample of randomly assigned participants and allows establishing causal relationships between studied variables. These findings are applicable to a larger society, and they are valid and reliable evidence for the theory support or disproval. In this way, the use of experiment leads to more objective results, with greater validity and reliability; it is applicable to the society in general and can be replicated (McBride, 2010).

Hill, DelPriore, & Vaughan (2011) used the method of experiment to test new hypotheses on envy, namely how envy affects cognition with regard to attention, memory, and self-regulation. The purpose of the study was to examine whether the experience of envy increases the memory of and attention to certain advanced targets and examine how this experience affects the self-regulatory resources within those who experience envy. To achieve their aim, the authors of the study used four consecutive experiments each testing a particular hypothesis relating to the research purpose (Hill, DelPriore, & Vaughan, 2011). The samples varied from 65 and 69 participants in the third and first experiments to 187 and 152 participants in the second and fourth experiments. Using the quantitative research design and statistical methods of data analysis, the authors found that envy has significant effects on cognitive processing: it enhances both attention to and memory of information about targets and depletes one’s willingness to demonstrate persistence or exert willpower in other spheres (Hill, DelPriore, & Vaughan, 2011). In this way, Hill, DelPriore, & Vaughan (2011) confirmed the socio-functional perspective on envy as a source of shifting cognitive processes in individuals towards certain targets.

  • Cognitive psychology. (2016). In Columbia University & P. Lagasse, The Columbia Encyclopedia. New York, NY: Columbia University Press. Retrieved from
  • Hill, S. E., DelPriore, D. J., & Vaughan, P. W. (2011). The cognitive consequences of envy: Attention, memory, and self-regulatory depletion. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 101 (4), 653-666.
  • McBride, D. (2010). The process of research in psychology. SAGE.
  • Yin, R. (2013). Case study research: Design and methods. SAGE Publications.