Evaluating EE questions
For many students, the most difficult part of the whole EE process is deciding on a research question. It is important that before students finalize their question, that they have done a bit of research. Asking a question for which they cannot find any research, is a frustrating waste of time.
In order to help my own students, I have a stack of Scientific American Mind magazines. We spend time together over lunch looking through them and identifying topics that they find interesting. They then sign out the magazines to read articles to get them started. Another way to get students thinking about topics is to expose them to the different types of psychology and the kind of questions that psychologists in that field study.
It is totally acceptable for students to write a paper that extends understanding of a topic in the IB Psychology curriculum; however, the EE must go into more depth than simply the "classic studies" that are in any of the textbooks available.
Guidelines for formulating a question
First and foremost, the question needs to be psychological in nature. In other words, it should not be a history or anthropology topic. For example, a history of asylums in the United States is not an appropriate topic. If you are not sure if it is a psychology topic, look at the syllabus. Is it relevant to areas of the curriculum? If not, can you find information on your topic in a psychological journal or database?
Secondly, the question must present a debate. The argument should be able to present more than one side or perspective on an issue. EE questions such as "What happens during the stress response" or "Factors that influence depression" are too descriptive in nature and do not present a debatable topic.
Thirdly, the question must be focused. If the question is too general, students are penalized. When writing a "to what extent question", there should only be one variable. For example, "To what extent does genetics play a role in resilience?" or "To what extent do cognitive factors play a role in depression?" A poorly constructed question would be: To what extent do biological, cognitive and sociocultural factors play a role in depression? These questions score low marks as to really evaluate the extent of each of those factors is beyond the scope of a 4000-word paper. Papers that attempt to do this lack depth and analysis.
Another aspect of a question being focused is the clear operationalization of terms in the introduction. For example, if the question is "To what extent do genetics play a role in criminal behaviour?" - then criminal behaviour should be clearly defined. The paper should not look at violent crime, delinquency, anti-social personality disorder and cheating/lying. Only one aspect should be discussed in depth in order to get high marks.
Finally, when choosing a topic, think of the audience. Avoid questions that could be seen as offensive. A question such as "Is there validity to the argument that women who are raped are "asking for it"?" or "To what extent were Mengele's experiments on Jews in the Holocaust beneficial to science?" or "My friend's experience with sexual abuse: a personal story." These topics are very controversial and seen as offensive by many. Although there is no "automatic penalty" for these types of topics, they are seen as poor judgment and the school may be contacted with concerns about the ethics of the paper.
For each of the following research questions, decide whether you think that it is a good example of an EE question. If it is not, explain your reasons and what you would recommend to your friend that is thinking of writing a paper on that topic.
1. Does being a perfectionist have a detrimental effect on sporting performance?
2. Is addictive behaviour more inherited or is it more influenced by environment?
3. How can society address the problem of teenage obesity?
4. Is there a biological basis for homosexuality?
5. What factors affect the likelihood that we will conform to group norms?
6. To what extent are the media to blame for eating disorders?
7. The effect of diet on children’s performance in an educational setting
8. An exploration of the social motivations of graffiti artists
9. A comparison of the effectiveness of different methods of teaching reading.
10. How images are used in magazine advertisements to influence consumer attitude and behaviour
11. An evaluation of British and American methods of offender profiling
12. The impact of bilingualism on cognitive functioning.
13. What is the effect of gender on preference in reference to novel genre?
14. Cognitive dissonance in the Cambodian Genocide.
15. The effects of steroids on the human brain.
16. To what extent do biological or environmental factors contribute to the development of serial killers?
17. To what extent can a child’s testimony be seen as credible and reliable within an eyewitness situation?
18. The 1964 Kitty Genovese Case: America’s Tolerance for the Bystander Phenomenon
19. Do psychological factors affect a person’s immune system?
20. Aggression in sports: A discussion of the psychological explanations of aggression in female amateur roller derby players
21. An analysis of psychological explanations of the Holocaust
22. Are married couples happier than singles?
23. The effect of music on the human brain and the use of music in therapeutic treatment
24. Does sexual intercourse abate aggression in males?
25. My coming out experience - does it reflect what psychologists predict?