Which method is more valuable in psychology research, Quantitative or Qualitative?

Most psychologists would argue that the Quantitative method is the most valuable in psychology as it produces the most reliable results and it is the most scientific. The main advantages of the quantitative method are that, firstly, they can strongly establish cause-effect relationships with reliable results. Also, quantitative methods are standardised across experiments and all scientific disciplines, enabling us to conduct valid meta-analyses. Quantitative methods are also less based on personal interpretation, so one might also say that they offer less bias results. A criticism of the quantitative method is that it offers no explanation for it’s results, an often, they have little meaning. Some might say that human nature is to complex to be analysed in such a straight forward manor, that often uses closed questionnaires and very simple tests, and that psychology research should take a more explorative approach.

 

Qualitative research attempts to do exactly this. It attempts to describe and understand behaviour, and generate new hypotheses. It therefore provides us with rich meaningful data, and a deep understanding human behaviour and emotions that quantitative data simply cannot offer. However, we can question the reliability and validity of qualitative research; it is often difficult to control all independent variables, for example, in naturalistic observations and case studies. There are also often relatively few participants in qualitative studies, due to the time it takes to code the data, and there may be few participants that fit the necessary criteria, therefore limiting the validity. Also there may be differences in the coding and transcription of qualitative data, although a standardised process is often used, the process may be partially subjective, also jeopardising the validity and reliability of research results.

 

Possibly, a combination of the two methods might prove to be the most valuable method in psychology. This is possible with a mixed methods design, which may incorporate both qualitative methods and quantitative methods. It may code qualitative research in such a way that we can use statistical methods to derive meaning from it. It may also take it’s form in a questionnaire or interview that comprises both open and closed ended questions. I therefore think that data from a mixed methods design will provide the most meaningful and valuable data. However this is not always possible, and if it were between purely qualitative and purely quantitative data, I would say that qualitative data is more valuable in psychology, as I agree with the statement that human behaviour is too complex to investigate in a quantitative, statistical manner.

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4 Responses to Which method is more valuable in psychology research, Quantitative or Qualitative?

  1. amandasau says:

    I think that you have made a really valid conclusion, that a mixed methods design would be best, as quantitative methods apply numbers in order to test the hypotheses constructed, whilst qualitative methods focus on describing the data in order to generate the initial theory. So obviously, the ideal situation would be to use both techniques of data collection. However, like you pointed out, this isn’t possible the majority of the time. If I had to pick a method that I think has the edge in terms of value it would have to be quantitative because the methods are replicable and generalisable, which I feel are important factors within scientific research.

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  3. psucd8 says:

    I think the effectiveness of each individual method of research is dependent on the situation and what the researcher aims to get out of the study. For a study that intends to explore the individual differences and personal experiences related to a particular topic then qualitative would be better, but for the impact of drug dosage on reaction times then quantitative would be the best method, and it would be very difficult to use both methods in a study like that. However I have to disagree with your statement that quantitative methods enable us to conduct valid meta-analyses. You suggested that quantitative methods are more scientific, which is a whole argument on its own, however does this science really imply that the results are more valid? A very popular example of the discovery of phrenology by Franz Gall is when the scientific method has been used and the results obtained from the study have had a huge impact on scientific progression however the findings were not valid at all. Gall did not end up measuring what he had planned to or thought that he was measuring, therefore if this evidence was used in a meta-analysis it still would not be valid. Quantitative research can also be subjective to the interpretation of the researcher aswell. For example, if a researcher was investigating the relationship between displays of aggression in children and the amount of playtime allowed in a schoolday then it can be very subjective as to what a display of aggression is. Is it based on intention, or the amount of damage caused, or whether it was provoked, and as an observer how do you know if there was intent or not? So although in many instances quantitative research can be very valuable it also has many downfalls.

    The article below provides more information about the history and theories of phrenology and Gall.

    http://thebrain.mcgill.ca/flash/capsules/pdf_articles/phrenology.pdf

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