Descriptive Research Methods (Ch. 12)
Case Studies: Detailed analysis of a single (or limited number) of people or events. Case studies are usually interesting because of the unusualness of the case (Three Faces of Eve, Mind of a Mnemonist) and/or the detail and apparent insightfulness of the conclusions drawn by the writer (e.g., Freud’s cases such as ‘Little Hans’). The major problem with case studies is the problem of objectivity. The person who is presenting the case usually has some theoretical orientation. It is acceptable for a theoretical orientation to affect one’s interpretation of events. In a case study the theoretical orientation can also lead to the selection of the facts to include in the case. It is not surprising that case studies often seem to provide very compelling evidence for a theory. (I discovered this when I tried to provide alternative interpretations of classic cases described by Freud, Adler, and Jung.) Case studies can therefore assist psychology by illustrating how a theory could be applied to a person or events and by assisting with the development of hypotheses for more systematic testing, e.g., Piaget’s case studies of the cognitive development of his three children. Observational Research: Accounts of the natural behavior of individuals or groups in some setting. Unless the observation is unobtrusive, there may be some subject reactivity to being observed. This often decreases with time, a process called habituation. Observers cannot usually observe all behaviors all of the time. They may use a behavioral checklist and may also use time sampling or event sampling procedures. It is important to assess observer bias by the use of interobserver reliability. Observational research may also pose ethical problems. These can arise when the behaviors being observed are not public behaviors and when the observer joins a group in order to observe the members’ behavior – participant observation. Survey Research:...
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