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While there are many ways to conduct an experiment in psychology, there are only so many ways you can describe it.

In this lesson, we will discuss the differences, strengths, and weaknesses of the qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods.

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Quantitative, Qualitative, and Mixed Methods

Researchers have many ways of examining and relating their study. Quantitative, qualitative, and mixed measures are all differentiated by the question, ‘How is the researcher explaining his or her findings?’ If the researcher uses numbers, they are using a quantitative measure; if they use a descriptive style, it is qualitative measure; and if they are somewhere in between, it is a mixed method.

Quantitative Research

Quantitative research uses numbers to test hypotheses and make predictions by using measured amounts, and ultimately describe an event by using figures. By using numbers, the researcher has the opportunity to use advanced and powerful statistical tests to ensure that the results have a statistical relationship and are not just a fluke observation.When using quantitative research, the researcher must define what they are measuring.

The idea here is to look at a specific attribute or variable. This is referred to as an operational definition. By operationalizing what you are looking for, you are only measuring a particular and relevant thing, which restricts your view to what is relevant. For example, if you are only looking at acts of aggression by physically touching someone, you don’t count when someone yells at another person.A strength of quantitative methods is that, by examining numbers, a certain level of bias is removed. It is hard to argue that one kicking a ball, for instance, is not kicking a ball. When a researcher studies a specific variable that is operationally defined, then the results can be applied to larger populations, making the findings generalizable.

Here’s an example: You have been called upon to conduct research on elementary school violence. You go through the process of selecting the school and decide that you will observe the youngsters while at recess. Prior to your observations, you decide you will operationally define violence as one child pushing, shoving, or striking another child during recess. You monitor them for a week and find 50 acts of violence, with an average of 10 a day and a standard deviation of two.By using quantitative research, you have been able to determine how frequent violent acts occur on a school ground. This can then be generalized to other schools in the area under similar conditions or act as a comparison to other schools in different areas.

Qualitative Research

Qualitative research describes the kind and quality of a subject, while interpreting and attempting to understand an event.

By using narrative descriptions, the purpose of qualitative research is to give someone a mental picture of what the researcher is seeing. Due to the nature of qualitative research, it is difficult to use statistical procedures to measure kinds and qualities, and this research typically focuses on a few individuals or just a single person.Qualitative research is dependent on a researcher’s personal view and description of a situation. This leads to a certain level of bias and subjectivity in the description. For example, in the schoolyard situation before, what you may see as aggressive, I may see as playful. It’s all in the eye of the beholder.

The descriptions, however, take on a dynamic and personal account of what is occurring. They are not just tallies of something that occurred, but a story of the individual or group. Going along with this story idea, though, is the issue of a lack of generalizability. The story is a unique description that reveals the dynamic interaction of an individual or group; it limits its ability to be about other people.Qualitative research is often used when researching a new field or area, a unique interaction between people, or rare or unique conditions.

A new field, like studying the interaction between genetics and psychology, would first need to be described so other researchers can follow. Unique interactions between people are studied, for example, when a group of soldiers returning from war are part of a support group. And lastly, rare or unique conditions, like a new diagnosis, must be described so that others can see what you see. In all of these instances, the researcher is looking for patterns, features, and themes.

Mixed Methods

Mixed methods represents the middle group, the application of qualitative and quantitative methodologies to fully describe an event.

Why doesn’t everyone do this? Well, in a way they do. It is extremely difficult to have a purely qualitative or quantitative study. So, there is some overlap between the two, and in the center of it are the true mixed methodologies.

Mixed methods can be used to describe something qualitatively, as in the form of a description of something new or a unique set of circumstances. They also use quantitative mechanics to provide statistically useful information that can be generalized to other situations. An example is a unique blend of medicine and psychology when a study looked into the effects of pesticides on the cognitive development of children. The children’s actions and responses to memory and psychological tests were both described and quantified, providing both kinds of useful information.

Lesson Summary

Quantitative research looks to test predictions and find statistical relations by using figures. It excels at generalizability, but falls short when it comes to unique or varied responses. Qualitative research attempts to describe a unique and dynamic interaction to the reader. It excels in the area of description, but is subject to researcher bias and flaws. Between the two, there is a mixed method, which attempts to combine the two and take the best of both worlds.

Learning Outcomes

At the end of this lesson, you will be able to:

  • Describe the differences in quantitative research, qualitative research and mixed methods research
  • Explain the strengths and weaknesses of each type of research

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