Chapter 8: Complex Research Designs

In Chapter 1 we briefly described a study conducted by Simone Schnall and her colleagues, in which they found that washing one’s hands leads people to view moral transgressions as less wrong (Schnall, Benton, & Harvey, 2008)[1]. In a different but related study, Schnall and her colleagues investigated whether feeling physically disgusted causes people to make harsher moral judgments (Schnall, Haidt, Clore, & Jordan, 2008)[2]. In this experiment, they manipulated participants’ feelings of disgust by testing them in either a clean room or a messy room that contained dirty dishes, an overflowing wastebasket, and a chewed-up pen. They also used a self-report questionnaire to measure the amount of attention that people pay to their own bodily sensations. They called this “private body consciousness.” They measured their primary dependent variable, the harshness of people’s moral judgments, by describing different behaviours (e.g., eating one’s dead dog, failing to return a found wallet) and having participants rate the moral acceptability of each one on a scale of 1 to 7. They also measured some other dependent variables, including participants’ willingness to eat at a new restaurant. Finally, the researchers asked participants to rate their current level of disgust and other emotions. The primary results of this study were that participants in the messy room were in fact more disgusted and made harsher moral judgments than participants in the clean room—but only if they scored relatively high in private body consciousness.

The research designs we have considered so far have been simple—focusing on a question about one variable or about a statistical relationship between two variables. But in many ways the complex design of this experiment undertaken by Schnall and her colleagues is more typical of research in psychology. Fortunately, we have already covered the basic elements of such designs in previous chapters. In this chapter, we look closely at how and why researchers combine these basic elements into more complex designs. We start with complex experiments—considering first the inclusion of multiple dependent variables and then the inclusion of multiple independent variables. Finally, we look at complex correlational designs.


  1. Schnall, S., Benton, J., & Harvey, S. (2008). With a clean conscience: Cleanliness reduces the severity of moral judgments. Psychological Science, 19(12), 1219-1222. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2008.02227.x
  2. Schnall, S., Haidt, J., Clore, G. L., & Jordan, A. H. (2008). Disgust as embodied moral judgment. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 34, 1096–1109.