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Research Methods and Statistics in Psychology Lecture 12a: Qualitative Methods I

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Title: Research Methods and Statistics in Psychology Lecture 12a: Qualitative Methods I


1
Research Methods and Statistics in
Psychology Lecture 12a Qualitative Methods I
  • Overview of lecture
  • 1. Introduction
  • 2. Critiques of quantitative approaches
  • (a) the standard critique
  • (b) the radical critique
  • 3. Methods of collecting qualitative data
  • 4. Principles for handling qualitative data
  • Reading for this lecture
  • Chapter 12 in HM.

2
Research Methods and Statistics in
Psychology Lecture 12a Qualitative Methods I
  • 1. Introduction
  • Despite the many differences between the
    statistical techniques that we have discussed in
    previous lectures, its clear they all have one
    thing in common the collection and manipulation
    of quantitative data.
  • This meant that when we thought about potential
    research questions (e.g., Does absence make the
    heart grow fonder?), answers were provided that
    relied upon numbers rather than words.
  • Having collected data in this form, the methods
    for analysing it could also be understood in
    terms of a series of well-defined decisions that
    led to readily interpretable outcomes.

3
Research Methods and Statistics in
Psychology Lecture 12a Qualitative Methods I
  • 1. Introduction
  • This is all well and good. However, it possible
    to object to these practices on grounds that they
    misrepresent the underlying subject matter of
    psychology.
  • Indeed, criticism of this form may have already
    occurred to you. For example, you might feel that
    circling a number on a scale can never come close
    to capturing what it means to be in love.
  • In effect, you are asking for examination of
    these phenomena that is qualitative rather than
    (just) quantitative and which does a better job
    of understanding them
  • (a) as they are experienced by the people
    involved and
  • (b) as they occur naturally in the real world.

4
Research Methods and Statistics in
Psychology Lecture 12a Qualitative Methods I
  • 2. Critiques of quantitative approaches
  • What are the main misgivings that (some)
    researchers have about quantitative methods?
  • Answering this question helps us to understand
    the basic motivations that underpin various
    qualitative methods and to understand where those
    who use them are coming from.
  • It also raises a number of issues that all
    researchers need to consider carefully in
    thinking about qualitative research.

5
Research Methods and Statistics in Psychology
Lecture 12a Qualitative Methods I
  • 2. Critiques of quantitative approaches
  • This is important as researchers often advocate
    the exclusive use of quantitative methods and
    dismiss altogether the potential for qualitative
    approaches to contribute to psychological
    knowledge (usually on grounds that they are
    non-cumulative, non-generalizable, subjective and
    unscientific).
  • This response is misguided because an
    appreciation of the issues raised by qualitative
    studies has the potential to enrich all
    psychological research including that which is
    exclusively quantitative.

6
Research Methods and Statistics in Psychology
Lecture 12a Qualitative Methods I
  • 2. Critiques of quantitative approaches
  • (a) The standard critique
  • This is based on the view that there is more to
    psychological phenomena than can be conveyed by
    mere numbers and by crude attempts to manipulate
    discrete aspects of the environment one at a
    time.
  • If one thinks, for example, about our separation
    and attraction study we can see that it is
    possible to object to this at a number of levels
  • (a) feelings are transposed into numbers when, in
    reality, their positive and negative aspects
    encompass emotions as varied (and with
    distinctions as subtle) as fondness, pleasure,
    affection, love, and lust as opposed to hate,
    dissatisfaction, distrust, pique, jealousy, and
    boredom.
  • If a person circles a 6 on a scale, which of
    these does it mean?

7
Research Methods and Statistics in Psychology
Lecture 12a Qualitative Methods I
  • 2. Critiques of quantitative approaches
  • (a) The standard critique
  • (b) the same experimental manipulation can mean
    different things to different people.
  • So one person may find repeated interaction with
    a stranger increasingly stimulating while another
    finds it increasingly bizarre.
  • Faced with these problems, one key recommendation
    of qualitative researchers is to adopt research
    practices that
  • (a) focus on the meaning that particular
    behaviours have for participants themselves (this
    is commonly referred to as a hermeneutic
    approach) and
  • (b) actively involve participants in the research
    process (a principle referred to as participant
    involvement or user involvement).

8
Research Methods and Statistics in
Psychology Lecture 12a Qualitative Methods I
  • 2. Critiques of quantitative approaches
  • (a) The standard critique
  • As a result, where quantitative approaches
    involve the cold, bare statistical analysis of
    numerical data, qualitative research focuses on
    words or other ways of capturing the warmer,
    richer elaboration of experience.
  • Having said that, many of the actual methods to
    which these ideas lead sit quite happily
    alongside the quantitative methods we have
    already discussed in previous lectures and they
    can be used for very similar purposes.

9
Research Methods and Statistics in
Psychology Lecture 12a Qualitative Methods I
  • 2. Critiques of quantitative approaches
  • (b) The radical critique
  • This suggests that qualitative research needs to
    be doing something altogether incompatible with
    quantitative goals and practices.
  • There are different components of this radical
    critique that not all researchers subscribe to,
    but three are most prominent
  • (a) An objection to the philosophies of realism
    or positivism that underpin most quantitative
    research.
  • Realism and positivism reflect the view, that
    there are a set of objective psychological facts
    out there awaiting discovery by suitably
    trained researchers (e.g., fondness, memory).

10
Research Methods and Statistics in Psychology
Lecture 12a Qualitative Methods I
  • 2. Critiques of quantitative approaches
  • (b) The radical critique
  • Radical critics argue that features of the world
    only exist as a result of a set of meanings which
    are actively constructed by communities within it
    (e.g., scientists, students, Westerners, etc).
  • From this perspective, what counts as
    fondness, memory, absence or attention can
    be seen to depend on who you are and where you
    fit into the social structure.
  • These objections are consistent with philosophies
    of idealism, constructionism, constructivism,
    relativism, or (more loosely) post-modernism.
  • Broadly speaking, these argue that no uniquely
    valid interpretation of the world is possible,
    because multiple interpretations of the world
    exist and each appears equally valid when looked
    at from the perspective of the interpreter.

11
Research Methods and Statistics in Psychology
Lecture 12a Qualitative Methods I
  • 2. Critiques of quantitative approaches
  • (b) The radical critique
  • (b) a rejection of researchers goal of
    developing universal laws of cause and effect
    (what is sometimes called a nomothetic approach).
  • As an alternative researchers argue for an
    approach which attempts to understand behaviour
    in the contexts where it occurs without seeking
    to elevate any such understanding to the status
    of a law (an idiographic approach).
  • In answer to the question If my partner goes
    overseas will she love me more or less when she
    returns?, a qualitative researcher may start by
    asking Well, what exactly do you mean by
    love?.
  • They may also want to stop thinking about love as
    a variable and instead look at how the idea of
    love is used in everyday interaction.

12
Research Methods and Statistics in Psychology
Lecture 12a Qualitative Methods I
  • 2. Critiques of quantitative approaches
  • (b) The radical critique
  • (c) recognition of researchers involvement in
    the research process and belief that the products
    of scientific enquiry only have subjective, not
    objective, validity.
  • Such objections are most clearly expressed in an
    opposition to the standard practices for writing
    up research findings.
  • Research reports tend to be written in a
    dispassionate and seemingly disinterested way so
    that the facts appear to emerge as the result
    of a cold inhuman scientific process (e.g., the
    report in HM pp. 469-475).
  • Qualitative critics argue this is unrealistic as
    research outcomes are contingent upon
    researchers perspectives, values and objective.
    They argue these need to be visible and accounted
    for.

13
Research Methods and Statistics in Psychology
Lecture 12a Qualitative Methods I
  • 2. Critiques of quantitative approaches
  • (b) The radical critique
  • As presented above, the differences between
    quantitative and qualitative research appear to
    be rather stark.
  • However, it is important to note that, in
    practice, the distinction between the two is not
    this black and white.
  • This is for at least three reasons
  • (a) not all qualitative researchers endorse a
    radical critique (or, if they do, they only
    embrace certain parts of it).
  • (b) many quantitative researchers are sympathetic
    to the issues that this critique raises and try
    to display sensitivity to it in their research
    practice and theorizing.
  • (c) although quantitative and qualitative methods
    are different, the methods and principles that
    guide data collection are often very similar.

14
Research Methods and Statistics in Psychology
Lecture 12a Qualitative Methods I
  • 3. Methods of collecting qualitative data
  • Most of the techniques that are used to collect
    quantitative data can also be used to collect
    qualitative data.
  • This is particularly true of a number of the main
    methods of data collection that we have discussed
    in previous lectures including interviews, case
    studies, archival studies and observational
    studies.
  • In all these settings, rather than gathering
    numerical data a researcher can gather verbal
    data from
  • interviews (structured or unstructured),
  • group discussion (e.g., using focus groups or
    delphi groups),
  • written communication (e.g., letters, memos,
    public documents),
  • recorded material (e.g., radio programmes,
    television interviews),
  • other sources (e.g., the Internet, transcripts of
    court or legislative proceedings).

15
Research Methods and Statistics in Psychology
Lecture 12a Qualitative Methods I
  • 3. Methods of collecting qualitative data
  • However, qualitative methods of data gathering
    vary in three key respects from those typically
    associated with quantitative methods
  • (a) the data can be structured or unstructured.
  • (b) data can be gathered explicitly for research
    purposes or it can exist independently of
    research.
  • (c) researchers themselves can either be internal
    or external to the data.

16
Research Methods and Statistics in Psychology
Lecture 12a Qualitative Methods I
  • 4. Some general principles for collecting and
    analysing qualitative data
  • In light of the radical critique discussed above,
    there are some dangers in attempting to identify
    general principles that guide the collection and
    analysis of qualitative data.
  • Indeed, some radical qualitative researchers
    correspond to what psychologists traditionally
    think of as method.
  • Nonetheless, Yin (1994) discusses five steps for
    carrying out qualitative case studies and, these
    are broadly appropriate to most qualitative work

17
Research Methods and Statistics in Psychology
Lecture 12a Qualitative Methods I
  • 4. Some general principles for collecting and
    analysing qualitative data
  • Step 1
  • Develop appropriate research questions
  • Qualitative research usually asks How do? and
    Why do? questions, (rather than How much?,
    How often?, i.e., quantitative ones).
  • The rationale for this rests on two assumptions
  • (a) that research participants are in a position
    to comment verbally on issues pertaining to the
    research topic, and/or
  • (b) that their comments are in some way relevant
    to understanding that topic.

18
Research Methods and Statistics in Psychology
Lecture 12a Qualitative Methods I
  • 4. Some general principles for collecting and
    analysing qualitative data
  • Step 2
  • Identify key propositions for the study
  • As with quantitative work, much qualitative
    research is driven by a desire to test (or
    explore) a set of hypotheses that derive from a
    particular theory or approach to a topic.
  • Stating in advance of any study what its purpose
    is an important means by which its success can
    ultimately be judged.

19
Research Methods and Statistics in Psychology
Lecture 12a Qualitative Methods I
  • 4. Some general principles for collecting and
    analysing qualitative data
  • Step 3
  • Specify the unit(s) and context(s) of interest.
  • Qualitative research typically aims to make
    statements about classes of individuals (e.g.,
    older daughters, scientists, chess players) or
    situations (e.g., organizational cultures,
    learning regimes, hospital wards).
  • Specifying the unit(s) and context(s) of interest
    helps readers to understand the relationship
    between a particular piece of data (e.g., a
    response in an interview) and the research
    project as a whole.

20
Research Methods and Statistics in Psychology
Lecture 12a Qualitative Methods I
  • 4. Some general principles for collecting and
    analysing qualitative data
  • Step 4
  • Establish the logic linking the data to the
    propositions.
  • Explaining how and why particular pieces of data
    help achieve particular research objectives
    allows consumers of the research to evaluate its
    success.
  • The nature of these explanations will vary
    substantially as a function of the approach to
    research that is adopted (e.g., whether it is
    informed by a realist or constructionist
    philosophy).

21
Research Methods and Statistics in Psychology
Lecture 12a Qualitative Methods I
  • 4. Some general principles for collecting and
    analysing qualitative data
  • Step 5
  • Explain the criteria for interpreting the
    findings
  • Even though no thing like an alpha level exists
    in qualitative research, it is still necessary
    for researchers to indicate why they favour
    particular interpretations of their data and why
    they draw particular conclusions.
  • Usually (but not always) these claims will rely
    on the detection of regularities and patterning
    within the data, including similarities and
    differences (e.g., within and between individuals
    and situations).
  • Researchers need to explain why any set of
    regularities and patterns has been singled out
    for attention. This helps to offset
    counter-claims and alternative interpretations of
    the data.
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