How to come up with an empirical project idea

The final year is a dissertation year. In psychology, that is called an empirical research. We get the opportunity to gain first-hand experience of carrying out a study under the supervision of a member of faculty. To me, this is incredible mainly because we used to only read about studies and psychological concepts and now we get to design and execute a study in the field of our own interests.

But with every study comes a great deal of background research that needs to be done before finalizing the design. One thing to note is that the dissertation has to explore something novel – something that has not yet been tested. Having free hands also means that you have no recommended articles or authors and have to therefore find a place to start on your own.

At first, I was completely undecided: I knew I wanted to do something related to marketing or sales, since that is the career I will probably pursue after graduation, and decision-making but nothing more specific. I started with Library Search, searching for keywords, such as ‘marketing psychology’, ‘sales psychology’, ‘marketing decision-making’ etc. I tried looking for journals in that area and came across ‘Psychology & Marketing’ which has proven to be quite useful.

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I wanted to explore cognitive biases in decision-making, anchoring bias in particular. I continued with library search, searching for keywords such as ‘anchoring’, ‘anchoring bias’, ‘cognitive biases’, etc. Now, since my research has to include something novel, I made sure I was looking at abstracts of articles published from 2010 onwards.

I found interesting topics of cognitive abilities and anchoring bias. This gave me a couple of ideas for a possible study, so I repeated the first step (Library Search), but searched for different keywords, such as ‘cognitive abilities anchoring’, ‘IQ and anchoring’, ‘cognitive anchoring’, etc. Again, looking at articles and the year they were published, I found some interesting titles, abstracts and study designs.

Once I decided which direction to pursue, I needed to make sure that no researchers have tested that before. Here’s where a one-hour seminar on research in psychology from my first year came in handy. Through the Web of Knowledge, I looked up the articles that were the most recent and corresponded well with my idea, and checked how many times they have been cited. Then, I looked up the articles that cited my chosen articles, to see whether they have by any chance addressed my idea already. If they haven’t that meant that my idea could become my project and if they have, that meant that I needed to change or adapt my idea.

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Through the above process I managed to come up with an idea and design for my empirical project. This is all very unofficial at the moment as I still need to get certain approvals on the study, but I think you can get a rough idea from the proposed title:

The effects of cognitive load and cognitive ability on anchoring in online shopping

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