Range of research methods
Critically evaluate the range of research methods commonly used in health psychology. Discuss the relative merits of each approach and when it is appropriate to use.
Research is the one of the single most important aspects of human existence. The curiosity to investigate, and discover, has benefited us so widely and enhanced our way of life, none more so than in the field of medicine as a result saving countless lives, and in particular health psychology. Research allows us to go beyond the curiosity of theoretical questions and add collective quantitative and qualitative data together to give us a better understanding of human psychology.
To conduct research however we have to ascertain how we will go about the practice of collecting our data and how the experiment will performed. Firstly we must collate observations or use previous theories to develop a testable hypothesis. Then we must construct a suitable experiment to provide us with data that can be later analysed and used to prove or disprove the hypothesis. Therefore this means that for each experiment we must pick from the range of research methods and pick one most suitable for our application which will yield the most reliable results. Due to the nature of health psychology empirical data cannot always be yielded from experiments as one cannot provide an accurately unbiased quantitative value on pain or intention, for example, which would be accurate for all as it is a subjective emotion relying on multiple variables such as pain threshold. This adds an extra obstacle to the development and usage of any particular research method. Furthermore all experiments must adhere to the correct human and animal rights ethics of the country of practice. We shall now explore the different types of research methods currently in use and discuss their uses and shortcomings.
The biggest grouping one can put on health psychology experiments is Qualitative and Quantitative. As mentioned earlier there are some aspects of health psychology which cannot be expressed in numbers. This means the data obtain from qualitative experiments cannot always be subjected to the same statistical analysis like other experiments, but requires the use of raw data instead.
The first type of experiment to be discussed is observational research. This can require very little input from the researchers as they are simply observing the relationship between two factors in their natural environment. An example would be an experiment carried out by Bravo et al. (2010), where they observed whether patients who were asked to recall medical advice given to them during a consultation, remembered it better once it was over. They observed 963 patients in 37 different health care trusts. The results showed that asking a patient to repeat the instruction before leaving helped them remember it better. This type of experiment is relatively easy to set up and cheap to conduct. Also data analysis is simple as it requires comparison of only two data sets. The limitation of this type of study is that it does not take into consideration other factors, such as patient age. This factor is of importance, as older patients are more likely to have reduced memory capacity than younger patients, causing an inaccuracy in result. It also does not take into consideration the length of the consultation, some patients will have more to recall than others. Furthermore the results are recorded by the observer at their own discretion. If a patient recalls 75% of advice one observer may consider that sufficient whereas another may consider it insufficient and will again skew the data. This experiment is best used when there are limited variables which can affect the data and on much smaller scale experiments where you can have one observer to standardise results, possibly best used as a preliminary experiment.
Another method of research commonly used is Questionnaire research. The best way to find out what someone is feeling, thinking, intending or other emotion is to ask. These experiments are usually in the format of a question booklet pertaining several questions with spaces for participants to answer. This can be in the form of block texts or ticking boxes. Questionnaire surveys have subsets within themselves due their broad range of designs. One type of questionnaire research is cross sectional experiments. Cross sectional experiments show the relationship between many different variables at single point in time.(4) This is very useful for gathering large amounts of information from a relatively small sample to represent a wider group. A good example is an experiment by Ingledew et al (2010) which studied people's motives for sun exposure or avoidance. It was very useful in showing links between people's aspirations and their sun exposure as well as showing how social conformity affected peoples sun exposure motives. The benefits of this kind of research are it allows researchers to measure several different variables in relation to each other fairly quickly. It also gives people a bit of anonymity as they are writing on paper as opposed to oral replies, which has been shown to yield biased results(6). The shortfalls are that again it is allowing people to use their own perspective and judgement and assign a common numerical value.