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Chapter 6

PSYC 201W Chapter 6: Psyc 201W - Chapter 6 Notes

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A.George Alder

Chapter 6 – Case Studies and Observational Research Case Studies • Case study – In-depth analysis of an individual, social unit, or event • In psychology, many case studies examine just one person o However, case studies may also focus on other social units such as: ▪ Couple ▪ Family ▪ Group ▪ Team ▪ Organization ▪ Entire community ▪ Entire culture Basic Characteristics • Case studies in psychology typically include: o Direct observation o Questioning • In clinical case studies, psychologists base much of their analysis on observing and talking with their patients in therapy sessions • Case study researchers may also gather data in other ways: o Talking with family members and others who know the participant o Physiological measures and brain imaging o Psychological assessments ▪ Personality tests ▪ Intelligence tests ▪ Neuropsychological tests • Case studies are reported in diverse ways: o Entire article o Book ▪ Single case study or publication of several case studies Why Conduct Case Studies? • Case studies can offer: o Unique window into the nature of a person’s behaviour and mental life o Considerable detail about unusual events and people who have rare psychological abilities or disorders o Insight into more common psychological experiences and afflictions o Insight into the possible causes of behaviour and lead to hypotheses that are tested using other research methods o Testing hypotheses and providing evidence that supports or contradicts a theory or scientific viewpoint o Support for external validity of findings obtained in experiments or other types of research ▪ External validity – the degree to which the findings of a study can be generalized to other populations and settings Concerns About Case Studies • Concerns about case studies typically center around three issues: 1. Difficulty drawing clear causal conclusions ▪ Many factors to consider ▪ Potential causes may operate individually or in various combinations making it difficult to sort them out ▪ Alternative explanations 2. Generalizability of the findings ▪ Question is whether findings based on only a single case run an especially high risk of having low external validity ▪ Always a risk that the sample of people studies may be atypical, even highly atypical, of the population from which they are drawn ▪ Need to be validated by further research 3. Potential for observer bias ▪ Observer bias – occurs when researchers have expectations or other predispositions that distort their observations ▪ Example  Easy to imagine how two researchers with different theoretical frameworks and expectations might selectively focus their attention on difference behaviours or perceive the same behaviours differently ▪ Researchers’ expectations can influence the behaviour of the people they are studying ▪ In experiments and some other types of research, procedures can be used that will reduce the influence of such bias Observational Research • Observational research – encompasses different types of non-experimental studies in which behaviour is systematically watched and recorded Basic Characteristics • Researchers measure the behaviour of multiple people or non-human animals, either in real time as the behaviour unfolds or upon reviewing electronic records of the behaviour • Some researchers: o Adopt a qualitative approach ▪ Goal is to achieve a holistic description and understanding of behaviour primarily through non-statistical means o Adopt a quantitative approach ▪ Relies heavily on numerical measurements and statistical analyses to describe and understand behaviour o Use a mixed-method approach ▪ Mixed-method approach – combination of qualitative and quantitative approach Why Conduct Observational Research? • Well suited to describing behaviour • Benefit of recording the behaviour of multiple participants • Can be used to test hypotheses and theories • Findings may suggest possible causal relations that can be examined subsequently using controlled laboratory experiments • Help establish the generalizability of principles discovered in experiments • When practical and ethical constraints make it difficult or impossible to conduct experiments on a particular issue, observational studies often remain a viable approach for gathering information Types of Observational Research • Observational studies vary in the naturalness of their settings in whether participants are aware or unaware that their behaviour is being observed, and in the degree tot which the observer intervenes in the situation o Example  City street or tropical rain forest vs. laboratory or zoo • Five types of observational research: 1. Naturalistic observation • Disguised and undisguised 2. Participant observation • Disguised and undisguised 3. Structured observation Naturalistic Observation • Naturalistic observation – researchers passively observe behaviour in a natural setting o Passively – researchers try to avoid direct involvement with the individuals who are being observed Disguised Versus Undisguised Naturalistic Observation • Disguised versus undisguised observation – based on whether the individuals being studied are aware that they are being observed o Undisguised naturalistic observation – when individuals are aware of the observer’s presence ▪ Example  studies where researchers are visible while passively observing animals in the wild, or children in their homes or at school o Disguised naturalistic observation – when individuals are NOT aware of the observer’s presence ▪ Example  Interpersonal space and private space study conducted where individuals did NOT know they were being observed Advantages and Disadvantages • Advantages of naturalistic observation: o Examines behaviour under what are sometimes called ecologically valid conditions ▪ Similarity between the research setting and settings that occur in real life ▪ With naturalistic observation, research setting is “real life” ▪ Disguised naturalistic observation has the added advantage that the behaviours observed have not been distorted by the presence of the observer o Whether the findings obtained from naturalistic observation will have external validity? ▪ The external validity of both observational and experimental findings needs to be established by conducting new studies in diverse settings and with different populations • Disadvantages of naturalistic observation: o Complexity of behaviour o Lack of control over the research setting o Practical difficulties of observing every important behaviour that takes place ▪ Many factors are likely to influence participants’ behaviour at any given time, and the observer does not have the ability to control the research setting in order to isolate some factors while holding others constant o Ethical issues o Undisguised naturalistic observation enhances the risk that the observer’s presence will cause participants to alter their behaviour ▪ Reactivity – occurs when the process of observing (or otherwise measuring) behaviour causes that behaviour to change Participant Observation • Researchers who conduct naturalistic observations attempt to avoid interacting with their subjects • Participant observation – the observer becomes a part of the group or social setting being studied Disguised Participant Observation • Both disguised and undisguised participant observation run the risk that the researcher’s presence in the group – and likely interactions with group members – may influence the group’s behaviour Undisguised Participant Observation • Avoids ethical issue of deception that arises when researchers conceal their identity • Combined with other methods of gathering data directly from participants o Example  Ethnography – qualitative research approach that often combines participant observation with interviews to gain an integrative description of social groups Advantages and Disadvantages • To researchers who value participant observation, its key benefit is the opportunity to study people’s behaviour from the viewpoint of an insider • Provides greater opportunity to gain insights about the personal meaning of behaviour to group members, particularly when the observation is undisguised and the researcher is thus free to supplement observations with interviews or other data collection methods • Participant observers run a greater risk of influencing the behaviour they are studying because their involvement in the situation is more active • Raises risk of losing objectivity when doing research for long time periods and can make it difficult to maintain appropriate boundaries with group members Structured Observation • Structured observation – researcher fully or partly configures the setting in which behaviour will be observed o Example  researcher may present participants with specific tasks, or expose them to a social situation that the researcher has created, and observe their responses Advantages and Disadvantages • Greater efficiency and control • Researcher can expose participants to the same tasks, make things happen at a specific time and place, and save time and money by eliminating potentially long waits for the target behaviours to occur spontaneously • Moreover, if the setting is a laboratory, this exposes all participants to the same
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