Major Movements in Psychology

Psychology As a Science

Why is sample selection important?

In psychological research, we try to draw conclusions about a larger population from observations of a small sample. We cannot study all male college students or all people with schizophrenia so we study a sample of the population of interest and then try to apply our findings to the larger population. For this reason it is critical to make sure the sample is similar to the larger population. There are many ways the sample can vary from the larger population. The way we recruit our study subjects may bias the sample right from the start. For example, if you want to study illegal behavior, you are likely to find your sample in the judicial system. Right off the bat your sample is biased toward people who have been arrested, leaving out the people who never got caught. If you want to study people with depression, you are likely to study people in the mental health system and your sample will be biased toward people who seek treatment. Because it is virtually impossible to remove all problems from sample selection, researchers must carefully describe their samples so that the applicability to a larger population, or the study’s generalizeability, can be assessed.


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