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Generating of Types of Studies

Now look at table 3.1. I have divided research topics (not arenas) into classes, based on the relation among kinds of variables.

Table 3.1 Types of Studies











Internal states I






External states






Reported behavior





Observed behavior









The five major kinds of variables are:

  • 1. Internal states. These include attitudes, beliefs, values, and perceptions. Cognition is an internal state.
  • 2. External states. These include characteristics of people, such as age, wealth, health status, height, weight, gender, and so on.
  • 3. Behavior. This covers what people eat, who they communicate with, how much they work and play—in short, everything that people do and much of what social scientists are interested in understanding.
  • 4. Artifacts. This includes all physical residue from human behavior—radioactive waste, tomato slices, sneakers, arrowheads, computer disks, Viagra, skyscrapers—everything.
  • 5. Environment. This includes physical and social environmental characteristics. The amount of rainfall, the amount of biomass per square kilometer, location on a river or ocean front—these are physical features that influence human thought and behavior. Humans also live in a social environment. Living under a democratic versus an authoritarian regime or working in an organization that tolerates or does not tolerate sexual harassment are examples of social environments that have consequences for what people think and how they behave.

Keep in mind that category (3) includes both reported behavior and actual behavior. A great deal of research has shown that about a third to a half of everything people report about their behavior is not true (Bernard, Killworth et al. 1984). If you want to know what people eat, for example, asking them is not a good way to find out (Basiotis et al. 1987; R. K. Johnson et al. 1996). If you ask people how many times a year they go to church, you’re likely to get highly exaggerated data (Hadaway et al. 1993, 1998).

Some of the difference between what people say they do and what they actually do is the result of out-and-out lying. Most of the difference, though, is the result of the fact that people can’t hang on to the level of detail about their behavior that is called for when they are confronted by social scientists asking them how many times they did this or that in the last month. What people think about their behavior may be what you’re interested in, but that’s a different matter.

Most social research focuses on internal states and on reported behavior. But the study of humanity can be much richer, once you get the hang of putting together these five kinds of variables and conjuring up potential relations. Here are some examples of studies for each of the cells in table 3.1.

Cell I:

The interaction of internal states, like perceptions, attitudes, beliefs, values, and moods.

Religious beliefs, authoritarianism, and prejudice against homosexuals (Tsang and Rowatt 2007).

Perceived gender role and attitudes about rape in Turkey (Golge et al. 2003). American Indians’ beliefs about ethnic identity and their perceptions about the beliefs their parents hold regarding education (Okaqaki et al. 2009).

This cell is also filled with studies that compare internal states across groups. For example, Cooke’s (2004) study of attitudes toward gun control among American, British, and Australian youth and Yarrow et al.’s (2006) study comparing the early development of implicit racial prejudice in rural Japan and urban United States.

Cell II:

The interaction of internal states (perceptions, beliefs, moods, etc.) and external states (completed education, health status, organizational conditions).

Health status and hopefulness about the future (Vieth et al. 1997).

The relation between racial attitudes and the political context in different cities (Glaser and Gilens 1997).

Cell Ilia:

The interaction between reported behavior and internal states.

The relation, among adolescent girls in New Hampshire, between feeling that it’s important to contribute to their community and self-reports of taking up smoking (Dinapoli 2009).

Attitudes toward the environment and reported environment-friendly behavior (Minton and Rose 1997).

Cell Illb:

The interaction between observed behavior and internal states.

Attitudes and beliefs about resources and actual behavior in the control of a household thermostat (Kempton 1987).

Mexicans report being less talkative (feeling less sociable) than Americans but are behaviorally more social (more talkative) than Americans (Ramirez-Esparza et al. 2009).

Cell IV:

The interaction of material artifacts and internal states.

The effects on Holocaust Museum staff in Washington, DC, of working with the physical reminders of the Holocaust (McCarroll et al. 1995).

The ideas and values that brides and grooms in the United States share (or don’t share) about the kinds of ritual artifacts that are supposed to be used in a wedding (Lowrey and Otnes 1994).

How children learn that domestic artifacts are considered feminine and artifacts associated with nondomestic production are considered masculine (Crabb and Bie- lawski 1994).

Cell V:

The interaction of social and physical environmental factors and internal states.

How culture influences the course of schizophrenia (Edgerton and Cohen 1994).

The extent to which adopted children and biological children raised in the same household develop similar personalities (Loehlin et al. 2009).

Cell VI:

How the interaction among external states relates to outcomes, like longevity or financial success.

The effects of age, sex, race, marital status, education, income, employment status, and health status on the risk of dying from the abuse of illegal drugs (Kallan 1998).

The impact of a person’s race, age, and gender, along with community crime rate, unemployment rate, and voting patterns on the length of received prison sentences (Helms and Jacobs 2002).

The effect of skin color on acculturation among Mexican Americans (Montalvo and Codina 2001; Vasquez et al. 1997).

Cell Vila:

The relation between external states and reported behavior.

The likelihood that baby-boomers will report attending church as they get older (Miller and Nakamura 1996).

The effect of age, income, and season on how much leisure time Tawahka Indian spouses spend with each other (Godoy 2002).

Gender differences in self-reported marijuana use (Warner et al. 1999) and suicidal behavior (Vannatta 1996) among adolescents.

Cell Vllb:

The relation between external states and observed behavior.

The relation between the importance of gender-specific subsistence activities and the amount of time in childhood allocated to playing (and and learning) those activities (Bock and Johnson 2004).

Observed recycling behavior among Mexican housewives is better predicted by their observed competencies than by their beliefs about recycling (Corral-Verdugo 1997).

Cell VIII:

The relation of physical artifacts and external states.

How age and gender differences relate to cherished possessions among children and adolescents from 6 to 18 years of age (Dyl and Wapner 1996).

How engineering drawings and machines delineate boundaries and facilitate interaction among engineers, technicians, and assemblers in a firm that manufactures computer chips (Bechky 2003).

Cell IX:

The relation of external states and environmental conditions.

How the work environment contributes to heart disease (Kasl 1996).

The different effects, for older men and women in the United States, of neighborhood characteristics on the likelihood of obesity (Grafova et al. 2008).

How proximity to a supermarket affects the nutrition of pregnant women (Laraia et al. 2004).

Cell Xa:

The relation between behaviors, as reported by people to researchers.

The relation of self-reported level of church attendance and self-reported level of environmental activism among African Americans in Louisiana (Arp and Boeckel- man 1997).

The relation of reported changes in fertility practices to reported changes in actions to avoid HIV infection among women in rural Zimbabwe (Gregson et al. 1998).

Cell Xb:

The relation between reported and observed behavior.

Assessing the accuracy of reports by Tsimane Indians in Bolivia about the size of forest plots they’ve cleared in the past year by comparing those reports to a direct physical measure of the plots (Vadez et al. 2003).

The relation of reports about recycling behavior and actual recyling behavior (Cor- ral-Verdugo 1997).

Cell Xc

The relation between observed behaviors

Slower eating reduces the amount of food that men actually eat, but not on how much women eat (C. Martin et al. 2007).

Cell XIa:

The relation of observed behavior to specific physical artifacts.

The number of incidents of smoking in movies was the same in 2002 as it was in 1950, even though the incidence of smoking had declined by half in that time (Glantz et al. 2004).

Cell XIb:

The relation of reported behavior to specific physical artifacts.

People who are employed view prized possessions as symbols of their own personal history, whereas people who are unemployed see prized possessions as having utilitarian value (Ditmar 1991).

Cell XIIa:

The relation of reported behavior to factors in the social or physical environment.

The relation of compulsive consumer behavior in young adults and whether they were raised in intact or disrupted families (Rindfleisch et al. 1997).

The relation of social support and independent daily functioning (bathing, eating, etc.) in elder Navajos (Fitzpatrick et al. 2008).

Cell Xllb:

The relation of observed behavior to factors in the social or physical environment.

People are willing to wait longer when music is playing than when there is silence (North and Hargreaves 1999).

How environmental features of gay bathhouses facilitate sexual activity (Tewksbury 2002).

Cell XIII:

The association of physical artifacts to one another and what this predicts about human thought or behavior.

The research on how to arrange products in stores to maximize sales is in this cell. Comparing the favorite possessions of urban Indians (in India) and Indian immigrants to the United States to see whether certain sets of possessions remain meaningful among immigrants (Mehta and Belk 1991). This is also an example of Cell IV. Note the difference between expressed preferences across artifacts and the coexistence of artifacts across places or times.

Cell XIV:

The probability that certain artifacts (relating, for example, to subsistence) will be found in certain physical or social environments (rain forests, deserts, shoreline communities). In anthropology, this area of research is mostly the province of archeology.

Cell XV:

How features of the social and physical environment interact and affect human behavioral and cognitive outcomes.

Social and physical environmental features of retail stores interact to affect the buying behavior of consumers (Baker et al. 1992).

Social and physical environmental features of communities interact to affect people’s physical activity (Transportation Research Board and Institute of Medicine 2005).

The above list is only meant to give you an idea of how to think about potential covariations and, consequently, about potential research topics. Always keep in mind that covariation does not mean cause. Covariation can be the result of an antecedent or an intervening variable, or even just an accident. (Refer to chapter 2 for a discussion of causality, spurious relations, and antecedent variables.)

And keep in mind that many of the examples in the list above are statements about possible bivariate correlations—that is, about possible covariation between two things. Social phenomena being the complex sorts of things they are, a lot of research involves multivariate relations—that is, covariation among three or more things at the same time.

For example, it’s well known that people who call themselves religious conservatives in the United States are likely to support the National Rifle Association’s policy on gun control (Cell I). But the association between the two variables (religious beliefs and attitudes toward gun control) is by no means perfect and is affected by many intervening variables.

I’ll tell you about testing for bivariate relations in chapter 21 and about testing for multivariate relations in chapter 22. As in so many other things, you crawl before you run and you run before you fly.

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