Quantitative methods have taken the spotlight as the governing statistical method used within psychological research. Nevertheless, the use of qualitative methods has been increasing within recent years as it has been noted they have strengths where quantitative methods have weaknesses. Despite this, there has been hot debate on the usage of qualitative methods. For example, Kuhn (1970) suggests that the nature of using qualitative methods is unscientific. Toomela (2008) contrastingly suggests statistical analysis are not always appropriate in investigating specific fields of study where qualitative methods are suitable. Predominately, qualitative methods can retrieve in-depth accounts of the individual’s perspective which has proven to be useful when studying sensitive and taboo issues in society. Where quantitative methods retrieve wider scientific conclusions of which struggle to recover the same rich data.
Qualitative and quantitative research are both crucial in psychological research in producing results rich in reliability and validity. They produce useful data both when used together and separately and it is important to note they both have strengths and weaknesses. It is important to discuss the usefulness of qualitative methods in order to establish their importance in psychological research. Elliot et al (1999) suggest all qualitative methods have the same intention, which is to develop understanding rather than to substantiate or disprove previous theory. Some of the methods include Grounded Theory and Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis (IPA).
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These methods have been established mainly to study the perspective of the participant. Constructionists use qualitative methods and believe that each individual has a different perspective of this one reality, which implies knowledge is relative. Constructionists believe qualitative methods are valuable as they aim to address social judgements, culturally specific norms and central values that quantitative methods cannot access.
The biggest advantage of qualitative research is that it offers an extensive view of a phenomenon. An early account is Piaget’s method, which consisted of open-ended interviews and diary analysis (Mey, 2002).The Positivist Paradigm opposes the nature of qualitative methods and contrastingly suggests that all that is observed scientifically, should be observed and measured. The paradigm also integrates realism into the equation, that proposes there is only one actual reality, and researchers should hold an objective truth. However, Positivists forget how different cultural norms and central values effect what appears to be objective reality in psychological research. Qualitative methods emphasise the individual opinions of society rather than just cause-effect results. Reicher (2000) suggests favouritism of methods should never effect the outcome choice of method.
Hohnman (1999) agrees and suggest qualitative methods could provide a deeper comprehension of the delivery and requirement of mental health services, than when using only quantitative methods. There has been a move forward, as Bhaskar (1997) comments that despite the fact realists reject positivism; they do accept that knowledge obtained through qualitative methods may be useful to contribute in medical development. Palinkas et al (2011) advocates that within mental health services research, qualitative methods have been very useful when used singularly or in combination with other methods. Similarly, Stenbecka (2001) suggest quantitative methods provide scientific explanation and qualitative methods supply richer, descriptive understanding and therefore work well in collaboration to provide rich data. Henwood (2004) further states that using multiple methods in combination can also improve research validity with responsible and truthful communication when discovering differing viewpoints. Debats et al (1995) provides an example of a study using both qualitative and quantitative methods.
The study found significant results when researching aspects of meaning in life in relation to psychological well-being. Using both methods allows an in-depth analysis of perspective, and a comparison of well-being questionnaire results. Rather than a single-minded objective view of the researcher on the participant, this allows an emphasis that the output is a result of interaction between the two. Nevertheless, time and time again using only qualitative methods for certain areas of study has proven to be beneficial.A valuable example of a qualitative method is Grounded theory (GT), which creates categories that synopsize dominant themes of data and simultaneously analyse this research.
The analytic process consists of coding data; developing, checking, and integrating theoretical categories; and writing analytic narratives throughout inquiry. Strauss (1967) states the importance of how both data collection and analysis are required at the same time when carrying out research. Glaser (2002) comments a notable benefit of GT that immediately after data collection begins, so does analysis. Moore et al (2017) provided an example of a successful application of GT in the study of the grieving process on social media.
Rigorous interviews were carried out regarding ways in which different individuals show grief through social media. Through replicated and rigorous analysis, similar codes were detected by numerous researchers. This research couldn’t have been carried out without using GT, which portrays its unique usefulness in collecting in-depth perspective on sensitive issues. However, Charmaz and Bryant (2011) suggest GT mainly consists of data analysis with unresolved issues.
Allan (2003) provides an example of an issue and suggests GT presents a lack of precision in interview procedures and researcher bias. Nevertheless, steering from leading questions can deplete bias when undergoing interviews. Despite its few weaknesses, GT is empowered by its many strengths which secures its position as a respectable qualitative method in psychological research.IPA (Smith, Flowers and Larkin, 2009) is another example of a well renown qualitative method which intends to analyse and exhibit an explanation from the perspective of the participant as in depth as possible.
IPA uses semi-structured interview transcripts and sometimes the diaries of participants to gain their perspectives. IPA suggests the world is a construction of the individual, and their perspective is a realistic explanation of their own experiences. Brocki and Wearden (2006) comment on the emergence of IPA in Health Psychology and its growing nature in Clinical Psychology. For example, Johnson, Burrows and Williamson (2004) mention the use of IPA in the perception of bodily changes in women when they become pregnant for the first time. Additionally, Flowers et al (1997) look at the work regarding male homosexual accounts of unprotected sex, which is an example of IPA making a mark in Social Psychology through looking at the lived experiences of a range of individuals in society. Pringle et al (2011) suggests the usefulness of IPA and its malleable nature gives an in depth explanation which benefits the participant.
Hefferon and Gil-Rodriguez (2011) contrastingly suggest that IPA is not consistently suitable for comparing one group with another. Additionally, IPA introduces the problematic nature of interviewing. Smith (1996) notes the researcher influences the interpretation of data. Specific themes may be emphasised in order to substantiate their research question, which may defuse their ability to be objective. Additionally, the different interpretation of data may mean important themes are overlooked. Each researcher will have had different encounters in their lives and so their interpretation in writing will be different, which will impact the findings. Also, there is the problem that interview settings aren’t naturalistic.
This is problematic as a natural setting enables those who are being interviewed to be comfortable and act as naturally as they can. Nevertheless, performing an interview in the home cannot always be seen as natural as the individual may still feel apprehensive before the interview. Therefore, there should be a compromise in the settings and a consideration that there is further communication in interview settings than in lab settings.
Interviewing is an advantageous technique considering the nature of the sample being studied. Some individuals may prefer a more descriptive approach, and may be more responsive to human experiences. Creswell (1998) suggests these individuals may find qualitative approaches more user-friendly and credible than the use of quantitative methods. Therefore, especially counselling psychology practitioners may feel qualitative methods are more compatible with the descriptive prospects of their therapeutic work. Overall, it is agreeable to say IPA is an extremely useful qualitative method and has produced high levels of valid data within psychological research. Qualitative methods are also advantageous during early phases of psychological research as they allow initial comprehension of certain problem in order to collect pilot data.
Qualitative methods have been useful in examining variables that aren’t easily investigated, which may be due to lack of previous research. Also, when there is a lack of understanding regarding a phenomenon, qualitative methods may contribute innovative information into the mix (Marshall ; Rossman, 1999). When there is a phenomenon without theory, qualitative methods are designed to help the initial construction of theory.
Dorsey et al (2014) employed qualitative methods within a pilot project in order to fine tune an already standing intervention in the application of trauma-focused CBT. This was completed within a small sample of foster parents, in order to distinguish any specific areas of increased adaptation to the intervention which differ across populations. Another valuable quality of qualitative methods in mental health services is with assessment of process. These methods are used to explain how interventions work. Harris et al (2012) comment how the use of qualitative methods provide insight into early intervention in psychosis services by studying the perspective of clients. Likewise, Bring et al (2008) completed a dense intervention for shared care in mental health by carrying out a process of evaluation using qualitative methods.
Thompson and Williams (1997) suggest qualitative methods are perfect for understanding psychotherapy processes thoroughly, because they are successful at investigating processes. Hoshmand (1999) suggests qualitative methods can devise interventions, not only for social change but for other organizations too.Despite the advantageous nature of qualitative methods within psychological research, it is important to discuss their shortcomings in order to assess their usefulness. An example lies with generalisability. Much research that results from qualitative methods are specific to certain concepts which means they cannot be generalised to other concepts.
Additionally most qualitative research is conducted through small samples, which makes the generalisability of findings limited to a wider population. However, it can be said that some themes could be generalised to a larger population with replication of study. Additionally, validity and reliability in qualitative research have been noted as less effective than with quantitative methods. Mays and Pope (1995) propose qualitative research results in simply personal opinions of which are a result of researcher bias. They also suggest the personal opinions retrieved from the researcher, will lack replicability due to the influence of the researcher.
They believe one researcher may retrieve a different perspective from the same individual to another researcher. Nevertheless, Yin (1994) argues in favour of qualitative research and suggests that the likes of using small samples and case studies have preceded the construction of theories which generalise to wider populations. Wagstaff and Williams (2014) also believe that qualitative methods will struggle to produce reliable, valid psychological research. They comment the interpretative, compliant nature clashes with accurate replicability and therefore can alter results through bias. Osborn and Smith (1998) contrastingly suggest that the objective of validity is not to provide one truthful report, but to confirm reliability of the final account and aspire for trustworthiness within research. In conclusion, it is undoubtable that qualitative methods are extremely useful for psychological research. It would be impossible to research perspective at such an in-depth level without qualitative methods, therefore they should be given the same respect as quantitative methods. Sure, there is the validity-reliability problem regarding qualitative methods, but constructionists have themselves admitted that their aim is to provide truthful accounts which will attribute to bigger theories rather than general scientific conclusion.
Additionally, the research mentioned within this essay is proof that mixed method designs have become popular within psychological research which does partially address validity and reliability issues. Eisner (1991) summarises the usefulness of qualitative methods well, and suggests that when using a respectable qualitative study, it can increase understanding of certain concepts that otherwise would be unclear.