Course taster

Business psychology as a science

As a manager or consultant, you will often need to conduct business psychology research and apply this to organisations (Arnold et al., 2005). You will consider examples of this research throughout this module. Business psychology operates within a scientific paradigm. A paradigm means a model or a representation. Essentially, it is a mental image of the way things are.

Mingers defines a paradigm as:

...a construct that specifies a general set of philosophical assumptions covering, for example, ontology (what is assumed to exist), epistemology (the nature of valid knowledge), ethics or axiology (what is valued or considered right) and methodology.

Mingers (2001, p. 242)

A paradigm is our image of reality, which comes from our own background and experience. You will see later on in our consideration of conceptions of the person and individual differences how the paradigm that the manager operates from impacts on how they interpret the evidence collected. As Serrano (2012) points out, perceptions are not always correct.

An accessible analysis of the positivist research paradigm that might help you structure your critical essay is provided by Serrano (2012). The positivist paradigm of studying social reality is founded on the assumption that observation and reason are the best ways to obtain knowledge of human behaviour.

According to Mingers (2001, p. 45), a research methodology: a structured set of guidelines or activities to assist in generating reliable results. It will often consist of various methods or techniques, not all of which need to be used every time.

Qualitative and quantitative research methods are perhaps the two most common paradigms you will encounter in business psychology (Serrano, 2012).

Select the headings below to reveal some more information about each methodology:

Qualitative and quantitative research methods are used in business psychology. As far as qualitative research is concerned, this tends to answer questions such as 'who', 'what', 'how', 'when' and 'why'. It tries to unpack and understand the nature or quality of a phenomenon.

The qualitative and quantitative research methods are summarised by Martin (2013) in more detail in the video below.

In qualitative research, the manager or consultant may do:

  • simple observation of what is happening in the organisation
  • in-depth interviews
  • focus groups
  • case studies
  • content analysis of documents (qualitative)

By contrast, quantitative research considers the issue of how much - it considers the issue of magnitude. When managers and business consultants consider the issue of how much, they consider two things: first, the incidence, the prevalence or the magnitude of, for example, a particular personality trait, and second, the magnitude of the relationship or association between particular personality traits and business success (Martin, 2013).

Quantitative research is often divided into observational, non-observational and interventional (Martin, 2013).


  • Case-control studies
  • Experiments
  • Document analysis (quantitative)
  • Cross-sectional surveys
  • Cohort study
  • Ecological study


  • Randomised control studies
  • Action research

In the following video, Martin (2013) provides more details on the research methods summarised above:

Research Methods - Introduction

View Research Methods - Introduction video transcript

Your critical essay while conducting research should be on a real work-related problem. Baltessan (2012) provides details on how you can create a research question for your essay. For more detailed guidance on the research methods that you might use for your critical essay, see Silverman (2013); Bell et al. (2018); and Saunders et al. (2015). See Horn (2012) and Bell and Waters (2018) for guidance on how to write up a research-based critical essay.

Further reading

Please read the following article for some useful guidance on using qualitative research in business psychology:

And here is an example of quantitative business psychology research in practice: