Chapter 5

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7 Dec 2010

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Chapter 5 ± Research Methods in the Study of Abnormal Behavior
Science and Scientific Methods
science ± the pursuit of systematized knowledge through reliable observation
Testability and Replicability
- a scientific approach requires 1st that propositions and ideas be stated in a clear and precise way
- statements, theories, and assertions, regardless of how plausible they may seem, must be testable in
the public arena and subject to disproof
- closely related to testability is the requirement that each observation that contributes to a scientific body
of knowledge be replicable or reliable
- whatever is observed must be replicable; that is, it must occur under prescribed circumstances not once,
but repeatedly
- if the event cannot be reproduced, scientists become wary of the legitimacy of the original observation
The Role of Theory
theory ± a formally stated and coherent set of propositions that purport to explain a range of phenomena,
order them in a logical way, and suggest what additional information might be gleaned under certain
I.O.W. a theory is a set of propositions meant to explain a class of phenomena
- a primary goal of science is to advance theories to account for data, often by proposing cause-effect
- a theory permits the generation of hypotheses to be tested in research
hypothesis ± the specific prediction about the outcome of an experiment; it is based on the assumption
that the theory in question is accurate
I.O.W. hypotheses are expectations about what should occur if a theory is true
- the generation of a theory is perhaps the most challenging part of the scientific enterprise
- theories are constructions put together by scientists; in formulating a theory, scientists must often make
use of theoretical concepts, unobservable states or processes that are inferred from observable data
- a theoretical concept, such as acquired fear, is useful in accounting for the fact that some earlier
experience can have an effect on current behavior
- theoretical concepts can be linked to several different measurements, each of which taps a different
facet of the concept
- theoretical concepts are better defined by sets of operations that by a single operation
The Research Methods of Abnormal Psychology
- all empirical research entails the collection of observable data
- there are many research methods in the study of abnormal behavior; the methods vary in the degree to
which they permit the collection of adequate descriptive data and the extent to which they allow
researchers to infer causal relationships
The Case Study
case study ± the collection of historical or biographical information on a single individual, often including
experiences in therapy
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- a comprehensive case study would cover family history and background, medical history, educational
background, jobs held, marital history, and details concerning development, adjustment, personality, life
course, and current situation
- case studies from practicing clinicians may lack the degree of control and objectivity of research using
other methods, but these descriptive accounts have played an important role in the study of abnormal
- case studies have been used to:
1. provide a detailed description of a rare or unusual phenomenon and of important, often novel,
methods or procedures of interviewing, diagnosis, and treatment
2. disconfirm allegedly universal aspects of a particular theoretical proposition
3. generate hypotheses that can be tested through controlled research
Providing Detailed Description
- because it deals with a single individual, the case study can include much more detail than is typically
included with other research methods
- Eve White assumed at various times 3 very distinct personalities; she subsequently claimed to have had
21 separate personalities
- the constant comparative method, which consists of the identification of relevant units of information
(unitizing), placing the units into categories that emerge from the data (categorizing), and providing
organizational themes for the information (identifying themes)
The Case Study as Evidence
- case histories are especially useful when they negate (prove something is false) an assumed universal
relationship or law
- the case study fares less well as evidence in support of a particular theory or proposition
- case studies do not provide the means for ruling out alternative hypotheses
Generating Hypotheses
- through exposure to the life histories of a great number of patients, clinicians gain experience in
understanding and interpreting them
- eventually they may notice similarities of circumstances and outcomes and formulate important
hypotheses that could not have been uncovered in a more controlled investigation
- to sum up, the case study is an excellent way of examining the behavior of a single individual in great
detail and of generating hypotheses that can later be evaluated by controlled research
- it is useful in clinical settings, where the focus is on just 1 person
- but when general, universal laws are sought to explain phenomena, the case study is of limited use
- a case study may not reveal principles characteristic of people in general and is unable to provide
satisfactory evidence concerning cause-effect relationships
Epidemiological Research
epidemiology ± the study of the frequency and distribution of illness in a population
- in epidemiological research, data are gathered about the rates of a disorder and its possible correlates
in a large sample or population
- this information can then be used to give a general picture of a disorder, how many people it affects,
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whether it is more common in men than in women, and whether its occurrence also varies according to
social and cultural factors
- epidemiological research focuses on determining 3 features of a disorder:
1. prevalence ± the % (proportion) of a population that has the disorder at a given point or period
of time
2. incidence ± the rate at which new cases of the disorder occur in a given place at a given time
(usually a year)
3. risk factor ± a condition or variable that, if present, increases the likelihood of developing the
- knowing the prevalence and incidence rates of various mental disorders and the risk factors associated
with these disorders is important for planning health care facilities and services for allocating provincial
and federal grants for the study of disorders
- knowledge about risk factors can give clues to the causes of disorders
- depression is about twice as common in women as in men; thus, gender is a risk factor for depression
- the results of epidemiological research may provide hypotheses that can be more thoroughly
investigated using other research methods
Canadian Perspective 5.1 ± Early Risk Factors and Psychological Disorders in a Canadian Setting: The
Role of Abuse
- risk factors that are related to mental disorders are: the experience of severe physical or sexual abuse
as a child, a history of parental mental disorder, and failure to graduate from high school
- people with 2 or more disorders are especially disadvantaged, relative to both the healthy group and the
single-disorder group, on all of the theorized risk and socio-demographic factors
- parental mental disorder and severe abuse are the strongest risk factors from among all of the variables
severe abuse ± the traumatic experience of extreme mistreatment by someone else (eg: childhood
sexual abuse)
- in summary, the results of the major epidemiological study conducted in Ontario suggest that severe
physical and sexual abuse and even spanking and slapping are risk factors for the onset and/or
persistence of adult psychiatric disorders
The Correlational Method
correlational method ± the research strategy used to establish whether 2 or more variables are related;
relationships may be positive ± as values for one variable increase, those for the other do also ± or
negative ± as values for one variable increase, those for the other decrease
- in correlational research, the variables being studied are measured as they exist in nature; this feature
distinguishes the method from experimental research, in which variables are actually manipulated and
controlled by the researcher
way so that they vary together (co-UHODWHG"´
Measuring Correlation
- 1st step in determining a correlation is to obtain pairs of observations of the variables in question; once
such pairs of measurements are obtained, the strength of the relationship between the 2 sets of
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