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Session 2 – Methods for social research

1. Quantitative methodology
a. Types of quantitative methods
b. Experimental method
c. Strengths and limitation of quantitative methodology
d. Mixed methods
2. Qualitative methodology
a. Qualitative research process
b. Types of qualitative methods
c. Focus groups
d. Strengths and limitation of qualitative methodology
3. Ethical considerations
4. Summary

Social psychology has different methods for conducting empirical tests of hypotheses. There are two
broad types of method:
1. Experimental (Quantitative)
2. Non-experimental (Qualitative)
each of them has advantages and disadvantages. The choice which method to take depends on the
nature of the investigation.
Confidence in the validity of a hypothesis is enhanced if the hypothesis has been confirmed a number
of times by different research teams using different methods.

Quantitative methodology
“Quantitative methods infer evidence or a theory through the measurement of variables that
produce numeric outcomes.” (Field, 2005)

Theory Hypothesis Data collection Hypothesis (prediction)


Empirically testable
prediction about what co-
e.g. Hypothesis: ballet dancers perform better in front of an audience than when occurs with what, or what
dancing alone. causes what
=> this can be tested empirically:
1. Assessing their performance alone
2. Assessing their performance in front of an audience

Empirical test can falsify hypothesis (investigator rejects the hypothesis, revises it)
Empirical test might support hypothesis (generate more finely tuned hypotheses)
e.g. if we find that ballet dancer do indeed perform better in front of an audience, we might then hypothesis
that this only occurs when the dancer already well-rehearsed

Important feature of a scientific research: replication (guards against fraud & that finding is tied to the
circumstances in which a test was conducted)
-dogma and rationalism (understanding based on authority)
1A. Types of quantitaive methods
Experimental methods Non-experimental methods
Experimental Research (cause & Correlation Research (link between two variables)
effect) (involves manipulation of -e.g. knowledge test scores, psychological tests
one or more IVs)
-e.g. in a laboratory in the field
(natural setting, e.g. shopping
mall)
Survey Research
-structured interviews (open-ended or closed-ended
-e.g. questionnaires
-large amount of data but subject to experimenter
bias; poorly constructed questionnaires
Archival Research
-e.g. collections of data, reports (of a company)
-allows you to look at a specific social (large-scale)
phenomenon (e.g. why a company keeps making bad
managerial decisions)
-used to make comparisons between cultures, nations
regarding mental health, suicide etc.

1B. Experimental method


Independent variable: Variable thought to be the cause of some effect
Dependent variable: Variable thought to be affected by changes in the independent variable
e.g. I hypothesis that my car greedily guzzles too much petrol because tyres are under-inflated. I conduct an
experiment. I note petrol consumption over an average week, then I can increase the tyre pressure and again
note petrol consumption over an average week. If consumption is reduced, then my hypothesis is supported.
Independent variable: tyre pressure
Dependent variable: petrol consumption

e.g. Test the hypothesis that violent television programmes increase aggression in Confounding
young children. It is important that there are not any differences among the Where two or more
participants (e.g. age, sex, background). If there were, these factors would be independent variables covary
confounded (durcheinanderbringen) with the independent variables. in such a way that it is
Important to avoid Confounding: the conditions must be identical in all respects impossible to know which
except for those represented by the manipulated independent variable. has caused the effect

Laboratory: The field experiment:


A place in which data are collected, usually by more naturalistic setting outside the laboratory
experimental methods. It aims at avoiding as (e.g. how people interact with a product)
many confounding variables as possible.
Lab experiments are intended to The experimenter still manipulates the IV but in
-create artificial conditions a “natural” setting
-isolate and manipulate a single aspect of a
variable
-cause-effect relationships between variables

fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance


Imaging): A method used in social neuroscience
to measure where electrochemical activity in
the brain is occurring.

Strength: Strength:
Easier to replicate + control of IVs (independent Reflects more “real” behaviour
variable)
Limitation: Limitation:
Artificial setting = unnatural behaviour Less control of extraneous variables
=> low external validity => high external validity
External validity: (Mundane realism)
similarity between circumstances surrounding an experiment and circumstances encountered in
everyday life

Internal validity: (Experimental realism)


Psychological impact of the manipulations in an experiment (The manipulations must be full of
psychological impact and meaning for the participants)
Laboratory experiments can be prone to a
range of biases.
Subject effects:
Effects that are not spontaneous, owing to
demand characteristics and / or participants
wishing to please the experimenter. (artificial
rather than natural response)
It is important to avoid Demand characteristics:
Features of an experiment that seem to
“demand” a certain response.
(participants want to be helpful)
=> no longer blind or naïve regarding the
hypothesis of the experiment
Experimenter effects:
Effect that is produced or influenced by clues to
the hypotheses under examination,
inadvertently (unabsichtlich) communicated by
the experimenter.
Double-blind:
Procedure to reduce experimenter effects, in
which the experimenter is unaware of the
experimental conditions.
=> neither the participants nor the researchers
know which participants belong to the control
group

Example of an experimental design:

Researchers want to know if listening to fast paced music helps students remember better

Variables:
-Independent variable (IV): type of music (fast, slow) -> cause of the effect
-Dependent variable (DV): the memory test (affected by changes in the independent variable)

Condition 1: one group of students listens to fast paced music


Condition 2: the other group listens to slow paced music
Statistical hypothesis formulation:
-Alternative hypothesis H1: (effect is present)
-Null hypothesis H0: (effect is absent)

The experimental method is a way to isolate and identify the cause of something.
observe, describe, hypothesize – test it (hypothesizes) & compare wiggeling and non-wiggeling
condition (control and experimental conditions) – conclusion
=> Everything in a control condition is the same as the experimental conditions except that the
independent variable is absent or held constant.

Validity and Reliability:


1. Validity: whether an instrument measures what it is designed (supposed) to measure
2. Reliability: whether an instrument can be interpreted consistently across different situations

1c. Strengths and limitations of quantitative methodology


Advantages

 Generalizable research findings


 Data collection can be quick and inexpensive (lab research)
 May be able to eliminate confounding variables
 Analysis is relatively less time consuming
 Useful for studying behaviours of large numbers of people

Disadvantages

 Internal validity high, external validity low in experimental conditions


 Researcher’s categories may not be reflected in local communities or interpreted differently
from researcher to researcher (researcher bias)
 Confirmation bias (hypothesis testing rather than generation of a hypothesis)

1D. Mixed methods


The multi method research design: connecting quant and qual together
Quantitative and qualitative methods are at times seen to be binary (paarweise, doppelt) and on
opposing points of view of the research paradigms
-Quantitative methods: associated with a positivist epistemology (a single reality, we are all the
same)
-Qualitative methods: associated with constructivist epistemology (multiple, constructed realities –
look at the individual itself)

Qualitative methodology
Qualitative methodology is interested in interpreting meaning (looking at non-numerical data –
texts).
-locates the observer in the world
-consists of interpretive, material practices that make the world visible
-turn the world into a series of representations
-interpretive naturalistic approach

“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted”
-Qualitative method as constructivist approach and anti-positivist
-Deals best with complexity, depth and meaning
-Question before method

In the past, a lot of experiments (quantitative methodology) but nowadays more qualitative
methodology

2A. Qualitative research process

Question Sample Data collection Analysis Hypothesis

 Starts with a question


 Often (not always) followed by a literature review and theoretical framework
 Hypothesis (inductive – after analysis)

 Non-probability sampling (does not aim to produce statistically representative sample or


draw statistical interference)
 Purposive sampling (relevance over quantity)
-Convenience
-Snowball

Some sampling considerations

 Research objectives?
 Target population?
 Who to include or exclude?
 Budget and timescale?
 Data collection methods?
 Interview length?
 Participant recruitment?
 Participant recruitment process?

2b. Types of qualitative methods


Data collection methods:

Structured interviews (sample of questions prepared)


Semi-structured interviews (popular in social sciences; few questions to direct the conversation)
Unstructured interviews (no interview guide, maybe one question; commonly not used a lot –
exploratory research method)
Focus groups (mass behaviour, group dynamics, popular in market research)
Ethnography – participant-observation (integrated the particular group he/she is observing,
recording videos etc; e.g. management studies – writing everything he does – how he copes with
management decisions)
All require active listening and note-taking (researcher-intensive) – time consuming

2c. Focus groups


Are deliberately selected people who participate in a planned discussion that is intended to elicit
consumer perception about a particular topic or area of interest (environment should be non-
threatening and receptive.). The focus group allows member of the group to interactand influence
each other during the discussion.

2d. Strengths and limitations


Advantages

 Deals with how participants understand and experience phenomenon


 Useful for studying a limited number of cases n depth and providing individual case
information
 Describes complex phenomena well
 Offers robust contextual understanding within which phenomenon occur

Disadvantages

 Non-generalizable findings (i.e. unique to the people included in the study)


 Difficult to make quantitative predictions
 Usually a lot more time and labour intensive
 May be more open to researcher’s personal biases (not necessarily)
 Might have lower credibility due to institutional perceptions (positivism and constructionism)

Ethical considerations
 Physical/psychological harm
-e.g. use of electric shocks; telling participants that they have done badly
 Abuse of power
 Privacy, anonymity and confidentiality (informed consent) – participant always has the last
word
 Deception (cannot lie about your participants about what you are studying; you can be
vague in order not to mislead the results) e.g. Migram’s obedience studies
 Use and misuse of data
 Debriefing
-participants should be fully debriefed after taking part in an experiment
-should make that people leave the laboratory with a respect and understanding towards
social psychology

Summary
 Originally, Social psychology only used experimental methods to observe behaviour
 Experimental method is objective, replicable and controllable and has external validity
 Qualitative method is subjective and explore people’s point of view of the world / of a
certain topic
 Quant answers “what” vs. qual answers “why” questions
 Whatever method you choose for your research, you must ensure that it is done ethically