What are the advantages and disadvantages of quantitative and qualitative methods in Psychology ?

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Introduction

What are the advantages and disadvantages of quantitative and qualitative methods in Psychology ? Quantification can be defined as the process of measuring on some numerical basis. That is whenever we count or categorise, we quantify (Coolican, 1990). Quantitative methods in Psychology are concerned with the measurement and analysis of psychological phenomena. Quantitative psychologists aim to develop and apply mathematical methods of summarising and analysing all kinds of data from various areas of psychology. For example, quantitative psychologists have helped biologists develop mathematical methods of precisely describing the ways in which brain waves change when alcohol is consumed (Bernstein et al, 1991) Qualitative methods involve emphasising meanings, experiences, descriptions and so on (Coolican, 1990). So whereas the data for quantitative research tends to be numerical or categorical, the data for qualitative research generally consists of descriptions whether verbal recorded interviews and conversations involving experimental subjects or a description of an observed phenomena. Examples of qualitative research include reports describing and interpreting the ways in which individuals face death and describing how a minority group dealt with assimilation into the majority culture (shaughnessy & Zechmeister, 1994).

Middle

The fact that the design of qualitative research is unstructured has the advantage of great flexibility, being able to adapt the inquiry as understanding deepens or situations change and allowing the researcher to pursue new paths of discovery as they emerge (Quinn Patton, 1990). Qualitative research has a high validity. Validity refers to the appropriateness, meaningfulness and usefulness of inferences made by the researcher based upon the data which they collect (Fraenkel & Wallen, 1994). In other words, qualitative research always tends to measure what the researcher claims it to. Qualitative research also has its disadvantages in that it is often very subjective as the researcher often includes personal experience and insight as part of the relevant data thus making complete objectivity an impossibility. Also, it has a very low reliability in that it is extremely difficult to replicate a piece of qualitative research due to the fact that it does not have a structured design or a standardised procedure.

Conclusion

Reason and Rowan (1981) argued against quantitative research, stating that 'some things which are numerically precise are not true; and some things which are not numerical are true.' They put forward the point that the results of orthodox (quantitative) research may be statistically significant but are often humanly insignificant:- '... in human enquiry it is much better to be deeply interesting than accurately boring.' This is obviously a very strong point of view, maybe slightly biased, but it is only a response to the constant criticism over the years of qualitative research in Psychology to the extent that important topics which were not susceptible to objective measurement and direct observation of every concept were devalued. However we should realise the advantages and disadvantage of both types of research methods and accept that qualitative methods are appropriate for some types of research - for example, if someone was studying the experience of mourning, but quantitative research methods are perhaps more suitable for other types of research, for example in the study of human perception in detecting colour changes (coolican, 1990).

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