Qualitative psychological research
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In psychology, qualitative research has come to be defined as research whose findings are not arrived at by statistical or other quantitative procedures. Qualitative research is often said to be naturalistic. That is, its goal is to understand behaviour in a natural setting. Two other goals attributed to qualitative research are understanding a phenomenon from the perspective of the research participant and understanding the meanings people give to their experience. It attempts to do this by using so-called naturalistic methods—interviewing, observation, ethnography, participant observation and focus groups. Each of these methods seeks to understand the perspective of the research participant within the context of their everyday life. This means that the researcher is concerned with asking broad questions that allow the respondent to answer in their own words. These methods allow the researcher to try to qualify their understanding during the research process through further probing questions. In addition, a method such as observation allows the researcher to observe people within natural settings—particularly those in public places. This has resulted in greater understanding of people's behaviours in, for example, lifts, public transport, and queues.
Qualitative research is sometimes said to have as its goal the understanding of the sample studied, rather than generalizing from the sample to the population. However, the results of qualitative research can be applied to other settings—as long as the reader of the research understands the limitations. For example, the research findings of a qualitative case study of primary school children in a particular school and their mobile phone usage will tell us more about the mobile phone usage of children in the general population, than of adults. However, the type of school (public or private), where it was located, and the socio-economic background of the students need to be taken into consideration when applying any findings to other settings (either schools or the general population of children).
In addition to the methods for collecting data mentioned above, qualitative research includes a wide range of ways to analyse the data. One of the most popular of these is known as grounded theory. Others include conversation analysis, discourse analysis, thematic analysis, and even historical analysis.
Qualitative psychological research emphasizes fieldwork, and this emphasis has been offered as a distinguishing mark. Qualitative psychological research is also described as holistic. That is, qualitative researchers believe in studying phenomena in its context rather than concentrating on narrow aspects of the phenomena. This means that they either observe or participate in the phenomena they are studying, e.g. attending a football game to understand the behaviours of fan, and/or they ask open-ended questions about the behaviour of fans at football games. These questions are holistic because they are designed to understand the context of behaviour—they will usually follow a pattern that replicates the experience, e.g. "What did you do when you arrived? Who did you come with? What did you do then?" However, similar methods are used by quantitative researchers.
Origins and methods
The philosophical bases of qualitative psychological research are found in phenomenology, ethnomethodology, and naturalistic behaviourism. Its research methods are derived from ethnography and anthropology.
In psychology, the research methods commonly classified as qualitative include:
- participant observation
- direct observation
- unstructured interviewing
- case studies
- content analysis
- protocol analysis
- focus groups
The data collected by researchers using these techniques consist of:
- the results of open-ended interviews
- notes of direct observation
- written documents (answers to questionnaires, diaries, program records, etc.)
After collecting data, qualitative psychological researchers' goal is to examine their data in depth and in detail.
Most psychological researchers probably use both types of method. In particular, qualitative methods are widely used as exploratory methods; the results of qualitative analysis are used to design quantitative research which tests null hypotheses derived from the qualitative observations.
Those psychological researchers who prefer qualitative research argue that statistically based research has limitations because it is less able to take into consideration the context of behaviour. Qualitative researchers have developed their own criteria for assessing reliability and validity. The work of Yvonna Lincoln and Egon Guba is an example of this.
Confirmability is a qualitative concept analogous to the concept of objectivity in quantitative research. It is the degree to which research results can be confirmed by other researchers.
Transferability has been proposed as a qualitative substitute for psychometric validity. Research findings are transferable to the extent to which they can be generalized to settings other than the one in which they were made.
It could be argued, however, that any concept which attempts to assess degree or extent is inherently quantitative.
Qualitative psychological research has crystallised as one of the most effective ways of gathering insight into the behaviours, attitudes and decision-making processes of consumers and customers. Most qualitative research companies in the world will claim that they employ psychologists and base their findings on psychological theories. The psychology backed methodologies applied in qualitative marketing research are continuously changing and being further developed. One of the examples of psychology theory developed specifically for use in marketing research is morphological psychology.
In educational psychology, qualitative research is used to address questions concerned with developing an understanding of the meaning and collecting nonnumerical relevant data to gain insights into particular phenomenon. The central to good qualitative research is whether the research participants’ subjective meanings, actions and social contexts, as understood by them, are illuminated. Qualitative logic are for examining patterns across people. It is widely used in educational psychology. Educational psychologists only infrequently drew on qualitative literatures in the past 11 years to design their research studies. It does appear, however, that there has been an increase in the number of educational psychologists publishing studies using qualitative design frameworks in the past 5 years. On the other hand, it has its weakness as well. Qualitative formats for representing knowledge, such as text, afford insights into a learner’s understanding but are difficult to assemble into summary formats that concisely show a learner’s progress or allow comparisons among learners or across groups. The most fundamental and significant distinction between quantitative research method and qualitative research method is about the data, how the data collected and analyzed. Therefore, this article would be focus on the research methods and how the data collected and analyzed by researchers in qualitative research.
In qualitative research, the researcher is the primary data collection instrument. Qualitative research involves data collected from participant observations, interviews, questionnaires, phone calls, focus groups and etc. Interviewing, focus groups, and participant observation are common modes of qualitative data gathering. Interviews are used in most types of qualitative research. Focus groups are facilitated group discussions that make use of the group interaction as the means to explore the research issue being studied, so the use of group processes distinguishes them from individual interviews. Researchers conducting focus groups should ensure that every participants have equal chance to declare their points of views. Participant observation is a method particularly employed by ethnographers in the anthropological tradition. It is used to learn about the naturally occurring routines, interactions and practices of a particular group of people in their social environments, and so to understand their culture. When a researcher becomes a part of the participants in the situation under observation, it is called a participant observer. Furthermore, qualitative data can be used to strengthen quantitative research designs in general and intervention research designs (i.e., experimental, quasi-experimental) in particular. For example, in educational psychology, researchers could conduct a qualitative pilot study to determine which group of students should be selected for quantitative study by observing or interviewing different groups of students.
Qualitative data analysis contains reviewing, summarizing, generalizing and interpreting data in an appropriate and accurate way. It is to describe and explain the phenomena or social worlds being studied. One of the most important steps in the qualitative research process is analysis of data. Analyzing qualitative data also requires researchers’ patience. There are two different analytical procedures: Meaning and discovery-Focused approaches. Meaning-focused approaches emphasize meaning comprehension. In other words, try to understand the subjective meaning of experiences for the participants, instead of placing those meanings into researchers’ own conceptions. Discovery-focused techniques aim to establish patterns and connections among elements of data. However, no matter which procedure is used, it is essential to apply an effective system for retrieving data because of the identity of qualitative data analysis, which is exploring data progressively.
There are also a variety of the available analysis tools and strategies for qualitative data analysis.
- Constant Comparison Analysis, or called "coding system" : Coding enables the researcher to locate and bring together similarly labeled data for examination and to retrieve data related to more than one label when wanting to consider patterns, connections, or distinctions between them.
- Keywords-in-Context: It is a data analysis method that reveals how respondents use words in context by comparing words that appear before and after "key words. KWIC is a helpful analysis to utilize when there are specific words that are of interest to the researcher or when the data appear to be less rich in information.
- Word Count: Word counts are based on the belief that all people have distinctive vocabulary and word usage patterns.
- Classical Content Analysis: Classical content analysis is similar to constant comparison analysis and also is used frequently in qualitative research.
- Domain Analysis: Domain analysis represents a search for the larger units of cultural knowledge, which Spradley (1979) called domains. This method of analysis stems from the belief that symbols are an important way of communicating cultural meaning. This analysis should be used when researchers are interested in understanding relationships among concepts.
- Taxonomic Analysis: Taxonomic analysis is the second step after domain analysis. This analysis helps the researcher to understand how participants are using specific words.
- Componential Analysis: Componential analysis is another step that can be undertaken after domains are created. It is used when a researcher is trying to uncover relationships between words.
Using computers in qualitative data analysis
There are many computer programs are available to help in analyzing qualitative data. The capacity of computers to effectively sort, store and retrieve information makes their use in qualitative data analysis appealing. However, it is important to notice that computers can only aid in some parts of analysis; computer software do not code data or replace the conceptual processes. It cannot analyse qualitative data for the researcher.
Qualitative research methodologies are oriented towards developing understanding of the meaning and experience dimensions of human lives and their social worlds. Good qualitative research is characterized by congruence between the perspective that informs the research questions and the research methods used.
- For example see Hutchins 1995
- For an example of a historical approach to psychology see Wertsch, 1998
- Lincoln, Y., & Guba, G. (2003). Paradigmatic controversies, contradictions, and emerging confluences. In N. Denzin, & Y. Lincoln (Eds.). The landscape of Qualitative Research – Theories and issues (2nd ed.) (pp. 253–276). Thousands Oaks, CA: Sage
- Fossey, E., Harvey, C., McDermott, F., & Davidson, L. (2002). Understanding and evaluating qualitative research. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 36(6), 717-732. doi:10.1046/j.1440-1614.2002.01100.x.
- Butler, D. (2006). Frames of Inquiry in Educational Psychology: Beyond the Quantitative-Qualitative Divide. Handbook of educational psychology (pp. 903-927). Mahwah, NJ US: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.
- Nesbit, J., & Hadwin, A. (2006). Methodological Issues in Educational Psychology. Handbook of educational psychology (pp. 825-847). Mahwah, NJ US: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.
- Leech, N., & Onwuegbuzie, A. (2007). An array of qualitative data analysis tools: A call for data analysis triangulation. School Psychology Quarterly, 22(4), 557-584. doi:10.1037/1045-38220.127.116.117.
Butler, Deborah L. (2006), Frames of Inquiry in Educational Psychology: Beyond the Quantitative-Qualitative Divide, Handbook of educational psychology (Mahwah, NJ US: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates): 903–927
Fossey, E.; Harvey, C.; McDermott, F.; Davidson, L. (2002), Understanding and evaluating qualitative research, Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry 36 (6): 717–732, doi:10.1046/j.1440-1614.2002.01100.x, PMID 12406114
Nesbit, John C.; Hadwin, A. (2006), Methodological Issues in Educational Psychology, Handbook of educational psychology (Mahwah, NJ US: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates): 825–847