What are some cool psychological research topics


by Imke Gerkensmeier, Lisa Lüdders and Karina De Santis

Since July 2015, a ForstA project in the modules methodology and statistics has offered Bachelor psychology students the opportunity to familiarize themselves with research in their first semesters. Experience so far shows that research-based studies in the introductory phase make scientific methodological skills tangible. Students not only actively participate in research processes, but also independently develop research content and evaluate empirical data. With the support of the lecturers, the participants have already made several contributions to current research after just two semesters, such as presenting scientific posters at conferences and submitting an article in a journal for student research.

Our project concept

At the University of Bremen, students should be encouraged in their research activities right from the start of their studies so that they can acquire comprehensive research skills and develop a scientific habitus. Research also plays a major role in the Psychology degree program, as many of the compulsory modules are fundamentally based on empirical research. In the statistics and methodology modules, among other things, students are made familiar with methodological specialist knowledge and thus prepared for their future role as researchers and / or as recipients of research. However, these modules are rarely the students' favorite subjects. The acquisition of specialist knowledge, especially in quantitative research, goes hand in hand with statistical evaluation methods, which are often viewed as a hurdle. Learning and understanding formulas is - subjectively perceived - differentiating itself from application and concrete research practice. The ForstA project, which has been carried out in the modules statistics and methodology since July 2015 and runs until December 2016, offers the opportunity to close this gap between theory and practice and to increase the attractiveness of the two modules. We have summarized the details of our concept below and also presented them at a university didactic conference (conference for research-related teaching and learning) at the University of Oldenburg in June 2016 (Lüdders et al, 2016a).

Students as researchers

In our project, the students work independently in teams and go through the essential steps of a research process, from the initial literature research and data collection to the evaluation of the data and presentation of the results to the professional world. This gives the participants the opportunity to try out research and gain their first experience in the scientific world. The fact that they are not left to their own devices (as, for example, with a thesis), but can work in a group and under the guidance of experienced researchers, is an enormous relief Bring in wishes. Table 1 provides an overview of the topics of our project.

Table 1: Summary of the topics covered and the methods used in the ForstA project

Research studies in the curriculum

Our ForstA project is implemented on two levels: Some contents were integrated into the regular teaching in the modules statistics and methodology, which were led by Prof. De Santis and Dr. Lüdders are responsible. For example, in the 2015/16 winter semester, a workshop on systematic literature research was held for all students in the 1st and 3rd semester in cooperation with Ms. Kirsten Bergert from the State and University Library. The literature search represents the first important scientific methodological competence. To carry out it practically with a topic relevant in terms of content and to use the results of the research in the next step for the further research process was an important motivation basis for our students. Feedback showed that the connection with practical research created a personal outcome for the participants. Furthermore, a statistical evaluation showed that the students after the workshop with Ms. Bergert had better results in an information competence knowledge test (Leichner et al, 2015) than before the workshop. The immediate effect could thus also be proven statistically.

In addition to the events of the compulsory modules, there are additional events for interested students in the form of workshops (e.g. on the construction of questionnaires) and a weekly journal club in which studies are read and discussed in English (see Figure 1). It should be emphasized that participation in our ForstA project is voluntary and not binding, so that students have the opportunity to adapt their workload for this extracurricular project to their workload in the curricular events.

Figure 1: Schedule for the ForstA project from July 2015 to December 2016

The role of teachers and students

In the ForstA project, we act more as moderators and mentors rather than lecturers. We accompany the research and learning process, support the students and are the contact persons for questions or problems. In addition, the heterogeneity in the composition of the project participants is used in our project, so that students from higher semesters can pass on their knowledge to students from lower semesters, similar to tutors. The students also train soft skills that they need, for example, for working in a group. This ranges from communication and coordination of work steps to solving (technical) differences of opinion. These are all skills that students can benefit from in their future working life.

Our research topics and previous results

In our ForstA project, three subject areas are examined, whereby the students are of course free to do research on several subjects or only attend the courses on one research area.

1. Question: cannabis use and Depression - Is There a Link?

Figure 2: Poster from our ForstA project on the subject of "Cannabis use and depression - is there a connection?", Which will be presented at the 50th annual congress of the German Society for Psychology (DGPs) (September 2016)

The first research subject of our project is the investigation of the connection between cannabis use and depression. The consumption of cannabis and its consequences for (mental) health are a socially highly relevant topic that is also very topical with the global discussion about legalization. Methodologically, we approach this topic with a summary of the systematic reviews that have already been published. Our results from the 2015/16 winter semester show that cannabis consumption has only a weak connection with depression (see Figure 2). We have summarized these results together with our student participants of the Journal Club as an abstract in English and will present them in the form of a poster at one of the largest congresses for psychologists in Germany (50th annual congress of the German Society for Psychology, DGPs) in September 2016 (Kedzior et al, 2016). Thanks to the support of the ForstA project, it is also possible for the student co-authors of the posters to travel to the DGPs congress. In the 2016 summer semester, we also assessed the quality of the reviews from our poster using a standardized scale. In the coming winter semester 2016/17 we will read further, new studies on the topic and possibly carry out a new statistical analysis (meta-analysis) with the results.

2. Question: What motivates psychology students to actively participate in Research?

Figure 3: ForstA project participant Tomke Holtz presents our results on the topic "What motivates psychology students to actively participate in research?" At the conference for student research at the University of Oldenburg (June 2016)

The ForstA project developed out of the interests of the students in the course of the project. Research projects play an increasingly important role in the study of psychology, but so far there is little scientific knowledge about what motivates students to actively participate in research. With students from the first semester, a quantitative questionnaire was developed on this question and the data was collected from psychology students. The answers were then statistically evaluated by the ForstA participants and the results interpreted. Our data show that undergraduate psychology students show an interest in research as early as the introductory phase and are ready to take on research tasks independently. With regard to the motivations for participating in research, the students hardly differ from one another in terms of previous education and semester. We presented these results together with three ForstA participants on two posters at the conference for student research at the University of Oldenburg (June 2016) (see Figure 3; Holtz et al, 2016; Wennike et al, 2016a), another poster will be presented at the DGPs Congress in September (Lüdders et al, 2016b). In addition, with our help, our three ForstA participants also submitted the results as a full-text article in the journal for student research “forsch!” (With peer review) of the University of Oldenburg (Wennike et al, 2016b).

3rd question: research-based study, Inquiry-Based Learning ... What's the Difference?

Figure 4: Discussion in the working group on the topic of "Research-based study, research-based learning ... What is the difference?" (University of Bremen, August 2016)

Our third research topic focuses on research-based teaching and learning methods. As a starting point, we asked ourselves what is actually meant by research-based studying and research-based learning; after all, it is the fundamental basis of the ForstA project. In the literature there are different approaches that deal with this question from a technical expert's point of view (e.g. Huber, 2014). However, little research has been done to date on what the students - as the addressees of these forms of teaching and learning - understand by these terms.

In order to approach this question, qualitative group discussions on the subject of research-based study and research-based learning were held in the context of the Journal Club in the 2016 summer semester. Here, the entire ForstA group discussed how the terms used so far relating to research studies and learning can be distinguished from one another. The student working group that then formed spontaneously summarized the results and systematized them (see Figure 4). The aim is to develop a quantitative scale for measuring the concepts of “research-based study” and “research-based learning” and to test these with freshmen in the coming winter semester 2016/17. Such an approach will again enable us to include the new cohort of psychology students in our project and thus ensure the long-term implementation of the project.

Evaluation of the ForstA project

With regular evaluations, we try to ensure the quality of our project and to check whether the students can benefit from the events. The students thus also indicate a direction and communicate whether they would like to explore certain aspects more or whether they find other aspects rather uninteresting. As the ForstA team, we are flexibly oriented towards these wishes. We are firmly convinced that this is the only way that research has real added value for students.

In the 2015/16 winter semester, students from the compulsory elective methodology module carried out a qualitative evaluation as part of a seminar. Short face-to-face interviews were held with students, regardless of whether they took part in the project or not. The results of the survey of these two student groups, i.e. the participants and non-participants, were very valuable for our project team. Some changes could be made to the project plan to better adapt it to the needs of the students. For example, in the 2016 summer semester, the flow of information between lecturers was optimized and better informed about the progress of the project. In the summer semester of 2016, the number of participants also increased, so that these measures can be regarded as successful. In addition, the feedback from the students was very positive overall.

For example, a participant from the first semester describes: “Yes, it's actually fun! That means, we developed this questionnaire and I think it's a good feeling to do something and it actually has a result. So that I don't do my homework in statistics at home alone, but that I do something and say to myself: "Wow, cool, people are really doing our questionnaire now and in the end something might even happen!". " The practical relevance of the results from the ForstA project is very well received by this student and motivates her to continue participating.

An anonymous quantitative evaluation was carried out with the students from the 2016 summer semester via the Stud.IP platform, and here again positive results are shown. Overall, the participants are satisfied with the project and have seen an increase in learning. In the context of open questions, the students gave feedback on how they would specifically improve the project in the future (e.g. more specific task description, more targeted work) and also had the opportunity to comment on the ForstA project in general.

A person expresses himself as follows: “I have a feeling that the project personally. It's great to have learned Apply things from the lectures can and so a much better understanding to get (especially in methods and also in Statistics). You can understand much better why you learn that and that it is makes sense. " The goals of the ForstA project described at the beginning seem to have been achieved with this person. The relaxed interaction with each other and the enthusiasm of the teachers are positively highlighted in the comments, as well as the zeal of all those involved. In addition, requests for more varied work and better documentation of interim results were noted.

What's next?

The funding of the project by ForstA will expire in December 2016, but there is a clear desire on the part of our students as well as us, the lecturers, to continue the project beyond. In addition, there are considerations to link the project even more closely with the compulsory modules methodology and statistics. In addition, an overarching research project could also be networked with the elective methodology module in the 5th semester, so that accompanying the students over their entire bachelor's degree would be conceivable. In our experience, a positive effect on research-based studies in the bachelor's degree in Psychology would be very likely and would strengthen methodological competence and application relevance in studies and at work.


At the moment we can draw a very positive conclusion about the course of our ForstA project so far. We were able to achieve many of the goals set at the beginning after just two semesters. Our students have made high-quality scientific contributions to specialist conferences and we are always impressed by their commitment. We understand the concept of research-based learning and study better and better and, as lecturers, gain valuable experience with this teaching and learning method, which we can also implement in our regular courses. We are very much looking forward to further successes and more exciting research results in the coming winter semester and beyond.

About the authors:

Imke Gerkensmeier is a university lecturer, teaches psychological research methods and statistics and heads the ForstA project in the Department of Methodology and Evaluation in the Psychology course (Department 11) at the University of Bremen. As a project manager, she is in charge of the ForstA project.

Karina De Santis is a substitute professor, teaches psychological research methods and statistics and heads the ForstA project in the Department of Methodology and Evaluation in the Psychology course (Department 11) at the University of Bremen. She has already published numerous articles with student co-authors in peer-reviewed journals.

Lisa Ludders is a university lecturer, teaches psychological research methods and statistics and heads the ForstA project in the Department of Methodology and Evaluation in the Psychology course (Department 11) at the University of Bremen.She was awarded the OLB Science Prize in the dissertation category and the Berninghausen Prize for good teaching both for her research work and for her teaching in the statistics module in 2013.


Holtz, T., Bürger, J., Wennike, N., Lüdders, L., Kedzior, K. K., & Gerkensmeier, I. (2016). Influence of previous academic education on research motivation within the framework of the ForstA project: A survey among psychology students in the introductory phase. [Poster] presented at the conference for student research, University of Oldenburg, 8.-9. June 2016.

Huber, L. (2014). Research-Based, Research-Oriented, Inquiry-Based Learning: Everything the Same? A plea for an understanding of terms and distinctions in the field of research-based teaching and learning. Higher Education, 62, 22-29.

Kedzior, K. K., Gerkensmeier, I., Lüdders, L., Hofmann, L., & Engelhardt, T.-C. (2016). What do we know about the relationship between cannabis use and depression or anxiety in the general population? A summary of results from systematic reviews. [Poster] presented at the 50th annual congress of the German Society for Psychology, Leipzig, 18.-22. September 2016.

Leichner, N., Peter, J., Waeldin, S., Mayer, A.-K. & Krampen, G. (2015). Blended learning of information literacy. Training manual (BLInK). Lengerich: Pabst.

Lüdders, L., Gerkensmeier, I., & Kedzior, K. K. (2016a). Effective promotion of “Inquisitive Study from the Beginning (ForstA)”: Concept and practice in the Bachelor in Psychology at the University of Bremen. [Lecture] presented at the conference for research-based teaching and learning, University of Oldenburg, 9.-10. June 2016.

Lüdders, L., Gerkensmeier, I., Kedzior, K. K., Wennike, N., & Holtz, T. (2016b). What does “Inquiry study from the beginning (ForstA)” mean? A survey among psychology students in the introductory phase as part of the ForstA project. [Poster] presented at the 50th annual congress of the German Society for Psychology, Leipzig, 18.-22. September 2016.

Wennike, N., Holtz, T., Bürger, J., Lüdders, L., Gerkensmeier, I., & Kedzior, K. K. (2016a). Inquiry study from the beginning (ForstA): Does the subject semester influence the motivation for research in psychology students in the introductory phase? A survey. [Poster] presented at the conference for student research, University of Oldenburg, 8.-9. June 2016.

Wennike, N., Holtz, T., Bürger, J., Lüdders, L., Gerkensmeier, I., & Kedzior, K. (2016b). Research in the introductory phase: motivations of students in the bachelor's degree in psychology. brisk! [submitted in August 2016].




  • Author photos: Imke Gerkensmeier (private); Lisa Lüdders (private); Karina De Santis (private)
  • Tab. 1: Imke Gerkensmeier; Lisa Lüdders; Karina De Santis
  • Fig. 1/2/3/4: Imke Gerkensmeier; Lisa Lüdders; Karina De Santis



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