Q- Sort Methodology
What is Q Methodology?
Q methodology provides a foundation for the systematic study of subjectivity, a person’s viewpoint, opinion, beliefs, attitude, and the like. Typically, in a Q methodological study people are presented with a sample of statements about some topic, called the Q-set. Respondents, called the P-set, are asked to rank-order the statements from their individual point of view, according to some preference, judgment or feeling about them, mostly using a quasi-normal distribution. By Q sorting people give their subjective meaning to the statements, and by doing so reveal their subjective viewpoint or personal profile. These individual rankings (or viewpoints) are then subject to factor analysis. Q methodology presented as an inversion of conventional factor analysis in the sense that Q correlates persons instead of tests; “whereas previously a large number of people were given a small number of tests, now we give a small number of people a large number of test-items”. Correlation between personal profiles then indicates similar viewpoints, or segments of subjectivity which exist. By correlating people, Q factor analysis gives information about similarities and differences in viewpoint on a particular subject. If each individual would have her/his own specific likes and dislikes, then their profiles will not correlate; if, however, significant clusters of correlations exist, they could be factorized, described as common viewpoints (or tastes, preferences, dominant accounts, typologies, et cetera), and individuals could be measured with respect to them. The factors resulting from Q analysis thus represent clusters of subjectivity that are operant, i.e., that represent functional rather than merely logical distinctions. Studies using surveys and questionnaires often use categories that the investigator imposes on the responses. Q, on the other hand, determines categories that are operant. A crucial premise of Q is that subjectivity is communicable, because only when subjectivity is communicated, when it is expressed operantly, it can be systematically analyzed, just as any other behavior. The results of a Q methodological study can be used to describe a population of viewpoints and not, like in R, a population of people. In this way, Q can be very helpful in exploring tastes, preferences, sentiments, motives and goals, the part of personality that is of great influence on behavior but that often remains largely unexplored. Another considerable difference between Q and R is that “Q does not need large numbers of subjects as does R, for it can reveal a characteristic independently of the distribution of that characteristic relative to other characteristics” One of the important advantages of Q is that questions pertaining to one and the same domain are not analyzed as separate items of information but rather in their mutual coherence for the respondent: “subjective feelings and opinions are most fruitfully studied when respondents are encouraged to order a good sample of items from one and the same domain of subjective interest (instead of just replying to single questions)”. Because Q is a small sample investigation of human subjectivity based on sorting of items of unknown reliability, results from Q methodological studies have often been criticized for their reliability and hence the possibility for generalization. The most important type of reliability for Q is replicability: will the same condition of instruction lead to factors that are schematically reliable – that is, represent similar viewpoints on the topic - across similarly structured yet different Q samples and when administered to different sets of persons. An important notion behind Q methodology is that only a limited number of distinct viewpoints exist on any topic. Any well-structured Q sample, containing the wide range of existing opinions on the topic, will reveal these perspectives. Based on the findings of two...
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