Samenvattingen bij de voorgeschreven artikelen van Wetenschapstheorie (RUG) 21/22

Samenvattingen bij de voorgeschreven artikelen van Wetenschapstheorie (RUG) 21/22

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Article summary of Can Smiling Really Make You Happier? by O’Grady - Chapter

Article summary of Can Smiling Really Make You Happier? by O’Grady - Chapter


What is the facial feedback hypothesis and what is known about it?

Psychologists thought that exercises such as holding a pen between your teeth could make someone happier. This was based on ‘facial feedback hypothesis’: the idea that emotional expressions like smiling could make the brain actually happier. However, scientists that have looked more into this have found that the theory behind this facial feedback is not complete.

In 1872, Darwin already thought about that smiling could make someone happier. For example, he wondered whether emotions that are expressed are felt more intensely compared to emotions that are repressed. In 1988, social psychologist Fritz Strack published a study on facial feedback, and found that participants who held a pen between their teeth rated comic news papers as more funnier than a control group. There was a lot of support for the facial feedback hypothesis.

In 2016, there was a turnaround when 17 labs failed to replicate the ‘pen study’. These studies were good studies, because they repeated the original study by Strack as closely as possible. This was devastating for the emotion literature, because a lot of this literature was based on the facial feedback theory! This is just part of the ‘replication crisis’. Wagenmakers suggest that the failure to replicate signals the need for more studies and other questions.

The Many Smiles Collaboration is based on the pen study from 1988. It is based on intense collaboration, peer reviewers and journal editors. The goal of this collaboration is to find out more about the facial feedback hypothesis and answer: does smiling really make you happier? An early pilot study indicated that the hypothesis might be true: smiling does seem to affect happiness. However, there will be more research needed on this topic before any conclusions can be made!

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Article summary of Social psychology as history by Gergen - Chapter

Article summary of Social psychology as history by Gergen - Chapter


Psychology is defined as the science of human behaviour, and social psychology is defined as the branch that deals with human interaction. A goal of science is to establish general laws through systematic observations. Social psychologists thus want to discover causal relationships to establish basic principles that explain the phenomena studied in social psychology. The idea behind this goal was that if general principles of human behaviour could be established, it might be possible to reduce social conflict, mental illness, and to create optimal social conditions that would benefit society. Some even hoped to translate these principles into mathematical forms. However, in contrast to events in the natural sciences, concepts in the social sciences are not stable. Instead, social concepts are nonrepeatable and fluctuate a lot over time. This means that knowledge cannot accumulate. In this paper, the author discusses how social psychology is a historical inquiry.

What was the impact of science on social interaction?

Social science can be viewed as a communications system. The scientist receives messages, transmitted by humans. These messages are ‘noise’, which need to be decoded with the use of scientific theories. This were Back’s (1963) ideas. However, his ideas had to be extended by including another task of the scientist: he or she needs to be a communicator. When a scientists discovers ideas, he or she needs to communicate these, so to help others. Thus, science and society are in a feedback loop.

What is the prescriptive bias of psychological theory?

When social scientists generate knowledge about social interactions, they also communicate personal values. This means that he or she sends a dual message: messages that describe what happens, and messages that prescribe what is desirable. Consider research on personal dispositions. Many people would not like to be characterized as compulsive, or close-minded. This is because of cultural processes. However, these reactions are also created by psychologists who describe certain concepts. For example, when psychologists state: “The authoritarian personality tries to combine societal beliefs with irrational beliefs”. This communicates that an authoritarian personality is undesirable. Findings may also drive people’s behavior, for example when females read that they are more persuasible than males, they might try to overcompensate. In sum, the concepts in the field of psychology are not value-free. However, value-free terms are not as interesting to the reader. In addition, psychologists themselves are also humans, who try to express themselves in their writings. Therefore, it is hard to change this labelling of concepts in terms of values. The author suggests to maintain as sensitive as possible to biases and to communicate them as openly as possible. Even if it is unavoidable to express values, one can avoid labelling them as objective reflections of truths.

What is the relationship between knowledge and behavioral liberation?

Based on Rosenthal’s (1966) research that found that even subtle cues about experimenter expectations can alter the behaviour of the subject, it is now common practice to avoid telling the participant about the theory behind an experiment. There are thus ‘naïve subjects’ required. This is also a difference between the natural and social sciences, in which communication in the latter can have a vital impact on behavior. However, when people learn about psychological processes, they might become more knowledgeable in terms of thinking about alternatives. Thus, being conscious of certain behaviors may modify behaviours and thus lead to ‘behavioral liberation’.

 However, knowledge can also become power to others. When people can predict your behavior, they can manipulate you. Humans don’t like to be controlled, they strive for autonomy. Therefore, the stronger a theory is (the more it is able to predict behaviour), the more people will try to invalidate the theory. This is a disadvantage for social psychology, because there is a high drive for people to invalidate theories that predict human behaviour.

What can we do about it?

Since humans try to invalidate strong social psychological theories, it seems that the science might be removed from the public. However, another way is to find out how people react to theories. This might help the science to predict and control the effects of knowledge. This is called a psychology of ‘enlightenment’. However, this is hard. This theory may also be rejected because of its threats to feelings of autonomy.

What about psychological theory and cultural change?

Another argument for that social psychology is based on historical circumstances is resembled in the fact that many predictors change over time. For example, variables that successfully predict political activism during the Vietnam war do not predict activism during later periods. Thus, the factors changed over time.

What are the implications for an historical science of social behavior?

The author states that the study of social psychology is an historical undertaking. Scientists are often engaged in describing contemporary affairs. They utilize scientific methodology, but the results are not scientific principles. The author describes five alterations to the field that could help scientists.

Alteration 1: Toward an Integration of the Pure and Applied

Academic psychologists seem to be prejudiced against applied researchers. It is seen as being limited to solving immediate problems, and pure research is seen as contributing to basic and enduring knowledge. However, as you now know, pure research is also not endurable. However, one shortcoming of applied research is that the terms used are often very specific. In academic psychology, the explanatory language is more general and can be used more broadly. The author suggest to focus on contemporary social issues which are based on the application of scientific methods and tools for broad generality.

Alteration 2: From Prediction to Sensitization

The author describes that the traditional aim in psychology to predict and control behaviour is misleading. Therefore, it should be play more a role as a ‘sensitizing device’, with which it can elucidate the range of factors that potentially influence behaviour under various conditions. Social psychology can sharpen one’s sensitivity to subtle influences and pinpoint assumptions about behaviour which are not proved useful in the past. When a social psychologist is asked for advice, the best thing to do would be to inform the inquirer about a number of possible occurrences, and thus expand the inquirer’s sensitivity.

Alteration 3: Develop Indicators of Psycho-Social Dispositions

The author suggests that concepts in social psychology should not be viewed as basic as in the natural sciences. Therefore, there is a high need for methodologies that tap into the prevalence, strength, and form of psychological dispositions over time. This means that a technology of psychologically sensitive social indicators is required.

Alteration 4: Research on Behavioral Stability

Phenomena vary in the extent to which they are subject to historical change. This signals the need for methods that determine the relative durability of social phenomena. For instance, scientists could employ cross-cultural methods. Content analytic techniques could also be used to study accounts in earlier historical periods.

Alteration 5: Toward an Integrated Social History

The author concludes by stating that there should be more focus on the interrelation of events over extended periods of time. Thus, the history should be studied in a broad context, including political, economic, and institutional. This can help to achieve understanding in an integrated way.

BulletPoints

  • Psychology is defined as the science of human behaviour, and social psychology is defined as the branch that deals with human interaction. A goal of science is to establish general laws through systematic observations. Social psychologists thus want to discover causal relationships to establish basic principles that explain the phenomena studied in social psychology. The idea behind this goal was that if general principles of human behaviour could be established, it might be possible to reduce social conflict, mental illness, and to create optimal social conditions that would benefit society. Some even hoped to translate these principles into mathematical forms. However, in contrast to events in the natural sciences, concepts in the social sciences are not stable. Instead, social concepts are nonrepeatable and fluctuate a lot over time. This means that knowledge cannot accumulate. In this paper, the author discusses how social psychology is a historical inquiry.

  • Social science can be viewed as a communications system. The scientist receives messages, transmitted by humans. These messages are ‘noise’, which need to be decoded with the use of scientific theories. This were Back’s (1963) ideas. However, his ideas had to be extended by including another task of the scientist: he or she needs to be a communicator. When a scientists discovers ideas, he or she needs to communicate these, so to help others. Thus, science and society are in a feedback loop.

  • Based on Rosenthal’s (1966) research that found that even subtle cues about experimenter expectations can alter the behaviour of the subject, it is now common practice to avoid telling the participant about the theory behind an experiment. There are thus ‘naïve subjects’ required. This is also a difference between the natural and social sciences, in which communication in the latter can have a vital impact on behavior. However, when people learn about psychological processes, they might become more knowledgeable in terms of thinking about alternatives. Thus, being conscious of certain behaviors may modify behaviours and thus lead to ‘behavioral liberation’.

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Artikelsamenvatting van Replication, falsification and the crisis of confidence in social psychology van Earp & Trafimow - Chapter

Artikelsamenvatting van Replication, falsification and the crisis of confidence in social psychology van Earp & Trafimow - Chapter


Wat is repliceren en falsificatie?

Repliceren is een van de belangrijkste onderdelen in empirisch onderzoek. Volgens sommigen is repliceren zelfs datgene wat het onderscheid maakt tussen wetenschap en pseudowetenschap. Hetzelfde wordt door sommigen gezegd over falsificatie. Psychologen zijn er van overtuigd dat de kennis ontstaat door de accumulatie van (repliceerbare) experimentele bevindingen. Er zijn in deze context echter ook een aantal problemen te noemen.

Wat voor problemen zijn er?

Ten eerste ontstaat er een soort paniek (crisis) onder psychologen als er niet gerepliceerd wordt. Dit komt gedeeltelijk doordat onderzoek doen om ander onderzoek te repliceren bij de meeste onderzoekers niet hoog in het vaandel staat. In de velden van onderzoek waar het dus juist nodig is om replicaties te hebben, wordt het niet (genoeg) gedaan omdat er op neergekeken wordt. Ten tweede is er een probleem met het vertrouwen op Popper. Sinds 1960 lijkt zijn idee van falsificatie of zijn idee van experimenteel repliceren niet toepasbaar in de praktijk. Beschouw het volgende voorbeeld. Stel dat onderzoeker B het onderzoek van onderzoeker A precies nadoet en tegenstrijdige resultaten vindt: is het onderzoek dan gefalsifieerd? Het antwoord is “nee”, omdat men niet weet of onderzoeker B geen fouten gemaakt heeft, of het lab geen fouten gemaakt heeft, etc. Stel dat het effect inderdaad niet bestaat, dan kunnen er alsnog allerlei andere factoren meespelen. Onderzoeker A kan op zoek gaan naar andere achtergrondinformatie of een creatievere hypothese opstellen zodat er nog steeds een logisch resultaat uitkomt. Popper zelf gaf ook toe dat er geen uitsluitende weerlegging van een theorie kan zijn, omdat men altijd kan zeggen dat resultaten niet betrouwbaar zijn bijvoorbeeld. Popper was echter van mening dat met name theorieën in de sociale wetenschappen te losjes geformuleerd zijn, zodat ze eigenlijk toegepast kunnen worden in elk soort experiment. Als de theorieën niet sterk geformuleerd zijn, dan is er dus ook meer ruimte voor onenigheid over wat dan precies replicatie is. Men moet ook overwegen in welke in iets telt als goede replicatie (wat is “hetzelfde” als het origineel?). Men krijgt namelijk nooit een onderzoek helemaal hetzelfde: er is tijd overheen gegaan, de deelnemers zijn nieuw, etc. Bovendien weet je niet welke variabelen relevant zijn voor verschillen. Wanneer je dat niet weet kan je er ook niet voor controleren. Het probleem met een veld zoals de psychologie is dat men niet weet welke verschillen relevant zijn voor de theorie.

Wat voor praktijkvoorbeelden zijn er?

Zo kwam bijvoorbeeld Collins tot de conclusie dat onenigheden in de natuurwetenschappen over wat waarschijnlijker waar was vaak opgelost werden door middel van sociale onderhandelingen en onderhandelingen over reputatie. Volgens Meehl verliezen onderzoekers in de sociale wetenschappen hun interesse en worden theorieën daarom niet gefalsifieerd. Replicaties hoeven echter geen uitsluitsel te bieden om informatief te zijn. Hetzelfde geldt voor falsificatie: men moet openstaan voor het feit dat de eerder opgestelde theorie wellicht niet helemaal klopt, maar een eenmalige weerlegging betekent niet dat de theorie in zijn geheel verworpen moet worden. Er is een onderscheid tussen conceptuele/reproductieve replicaties (extra zekerheid voor een bepaalde theorie) en directe/nabije replicaties (extra zekerheid voor de bevinding).

Was er een crisis in sociale psychologie?

Het idee van zelfcorrectie binnen het wetenschappelijk onderzoek is een mythe. Dit wordt duidelijk als men kijkt naar verhalen van wetenschappers die fraude hebben gepleegd. Er is echter nog een verschil tussen fraude en twijfelachtige onderzoekspraktijken. Zo geeft een aantal onderzoekers toe dat ze soms niet alle afhankelijke variabelen meenemen en extra analyses uitvoeren als ze er achter komen dat hun voorlopige resultaten significant zijn. Dit soort onderzoekspraktijken zijn gebruikelijker dan fraude plegen. Een probleem in de wetenschap is dat tijdschriften geneigd zijn om alleen significante of nieuwe effecten te publiceren. Replicatie-onderzoeken of niet-significante effecten worden niet gepubliceerd. Dit heet de publicatiebias. Daarbij lijkt het heel makkelijk te zijn voor onderzoekers om een statistisch significant effect te vinden voor in feite elke hypothese. Dit fenomeen wordt aangeduid met de term vrijheidsgraden van de onderzoeker. De onderzoeker kan keuzes maken in welke condities hij bijvoorbeeld gaat vergelijken om zo bewijs te vinden voor zijn hypothese. Dit zorgt er voor dat de kans op een false positive (Type I fout) groter wordt. Aangezien dit hoogstwaarschijnlijk vaak gebeurt, bestaat er dus veel twijfel over de waarheid van onderzoeken. Het is niet de eerste keer dat zo’n crisis zich heeft voorgedaan. In 1970 werden de standaardmethodes en strategieën binnen het onderzoek herzien en concludeerde men dat replicatie de enige oplossing was. Vandaag de dag wordt dezelfde conclusie getrokken.

Wat is het verschil tussen directe replicatie versus conceptuele replicatie?

Om een replicatie informatief te maken is het belangrijk om te beslissen waar het voor bedoeld is. Een directe replicatie moet zo gelijk mogelijk zijn aan het originele onderzoek: het valideert een bepaald feit. Een conceptuele replicatie verandert expres een aantal elementen van het originele experiment, om te zien of de effecten terug te vinden zijn in verschillende condities: het valideert een onderliggende theorie. Het probleem hiermee is dat een conceptuele replicatie geen uitsluitsel geeft over de effecten. Wanneer er geen significante resultaten worden gevonden, kan dit toegeschreven worden aan de verschillende condities. Men moet beginnen met de directe replicaties, om er achter te komen welke aspecten van het onderzoeksdesign theoretisch relevant zijn.

Zijn er andere aandachtspunten?

Een ander punt om replicaties meer informatief te maken is dat het onderzoek buiten het originele laboratorium uitgevoerd moet worden. Dit wijkt af van de strenge regels van directe replicatie, maar is nodig omdat replicatie door dezelfde onderzoekers beïnvloed kan worden door de allegiance bias en confirmatiebias. De originele onderzoeker betrekken bij de replicatie kan daarentegen ook nuttig zijn, omdat de onderzoeker precies weet hoe het onderzoek gegaan is. Verder is het belangrijk om de effecten en methoden nauwkeurig te definiëren, de methode zo exact mogelijk te volgen, een hoge statistische power te hebben en de details van de replicatie beschikbaar maken.

Wat zijn replicatie, falsificatie en behulpzame aannames?

Onderzoekers baseren hun voorspellingen meestal niet op een theorie, maar er is een combinatie tussen de theorie en behulpzame aannames (auxiliary assumptions). Deze aannames helpen de onderzoeker om de link tussen de uitkomsten die een onderzoeker kan observeren en abstracte inhoud van de theorie. Een voorbeeld is dat de onderzoeker er van uit gaat dat wanneer iemand aankruist wat zijn motivatie is, dit ook daadwerkelijk zijn motivatie is. Met behulpzame aannames doe je dan de volgende uitspraak: “Wanneer de theorie waar is en de behulpzame aannames waar zijn, moet een bepaalde observatie zich voordoen.”. Als de behulpzame aannames niet waar blijken te zijn, maar deze zijn niet bekend, dan kan de theorie onterecht afgewezen worden. Wil men repliceren, moet men zich houden aan de ceteris paribus aanname (de-rest-is-gelijk aanname): als de replicatie valide geacht moet worden, moeten de behulpzame aannames gelijk genoeg zijn aan die van het originele experiment. Tenslotte is een replicatie niet per definitie definitief, maar stel dat er een miljoen replicaties zijn die een bepaald onderzoek niet kunnen bevestigen, is het beter om aan te nemen om dat eerste onderzoek onwaar is.

Wat is het Bayesiaanse kader?

De mate waarin iemand zeker kan zijn van een bepaald resultaat hangt af van verschillende factoren. Ten eerste moet men aannemen dat de kans op niet repliceren kleiner is als het origineel waar is dan wanneer het niet waar is. De kans gaat dan verder weg van 1. Ten tweede is dit afhankelijk van de kwaliteit van de replicatie: hoe dichter de replicatie bij de ceteris paribus conditie zit, hoe verder weg de kans is van 1. Het aantal replicaties speelt ook een rol.

Wat voor conclusie kan je trekken?

Replicaties zullen nooit op zichzelf uitsluitsel geven, maar een replicatie afwijzen omdat het niet de “juiste” resultaten laat zien is ook te makkelijk. Replicaties moeten gezien worden als onderzoeken die extra informatie leveren. Binnen de experimentele sociale psychologie, moet dit gebeuren. De betrouwbaarheid van het veld hangt er van af.

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Article summary of Theoretical risks and tabular asterisks: Sir Karl, Sir Ronald, and the slow progress of soft psychology by Meehl - Chapter

Article summary of Theoretical risks and tabular asterisks: Sir Karl, Sir Ronald, and the slow progress of soft psychology by Meehl - Chapter


What are the twenty difficulties in conducting research in certain areas of psychology?

1. The response-class problem

This difficulty or problem is about that it is difficult to slice up behaviour in measurable units. For example, what is important to getting a degree? Is it sitting an exam, writing a sentence, writing a letter or is the firing of a neuron that is responsible for the movement of the arm and hand important? This problem is already evident in the experiment of the Skinner box and becomes even more problematic when studying human behaviour.

2. Situation-Taxonomy problem

This is kind of the same as the respons-class problem, but then it is applied to stimuli or to situations. For example, every theory of personality defines behaviour as a function of the person and the situation. So, the situation should be defined: is it the whole culture, the region a person lives in, a t town, a house, a room?

3. Unit of Measurement

This is about the questions in rating scales and in psychometrics. This is a problem, because there is often no agreement in whether, for example, an interval or a ratio scale should be used.

4. Individual differences

Individuals differ in their dispositions and even more problematic, in the way their dispositions are shaped and organized. This makes it difficult for researchers to conduct research and compare individuals on the results.

5. Polygenic Heredity

Most of the research done in the soft areas of psychology are things that are influenced by polygenic systems. This means that there are many different influences on for example, introversion. In other words, introversion is probably the result of a confluence of different polygenic contributors such as anxiety, dominance, need for affiliation, etc.

6. Divergent Causality

This difficulty is about that a small event can lead to many different (divergent) outcomes. For example, many students marry other students. But, the way that they get to know these other students vary from individual to individual and it depends on things such as to which classroom they get allocated.

7. Idiographic problem

There are many factors that influence certain things, for example personality. These factors also interact and therefore every individual is quite unique. This is a problem for research, because the research methods should therefore be extremely large and complex. This is the same for the statistical analysis, which also should be sophisticated enough to analyse all the factors and their numerous interactions.

8. Unknown Critical Events

This problem is related to divergent causality and the idiographic understanding. This problem is about that it is hard to know which events in the development of personality have been critical. Sometimes these critical events are unknown to the researchers as well as to the individual. These critical events can also be inner events such as fantasies.

9. Nuisance Variables

For research it is good to sort variables in three classes: variables that we manipulate, variables that we do not manipulate but can control (or keep constant to reduce the influence of them on the results) and variables that are ‘quasirandom’, which means that they only contribute to the measurement error or the standard deviation of a static. But, there are also variables that are not random but that are systematic and that are influenced by other variables. The problem is that it is not always easy to determine the size and the sign of these relationships. One of the biggest of these ‘nuisance variables’ is socioeconomic status, which is very hard to control for, because this variable has a big influence on many aspects of people’s lives.

10. Feedback Loops

In psychology it is known that an individual’s behavior affects the behavior of other person. This fact also makes that conducting research on behavior can be very complex.

11. Autocatalytic Processes

Autocatalysis means that one of the end products leads to catalyzing the process itself. In psychology examples of these processes are depression and anxiety as affects or economic failure as a social impact. It is very difficult to get a clear view of situations in which autocatalytic processes are involved.

12. Random Walk

Sometimes things happen randomly. Then the quantification of this behaviour becomes difficult. For instance, luck is one of the biggest reasons for individual differences. Social scientists seem to neglect this sometimes in their research.

13. Sheer Number of Variables

There are many variables that contribute to a psychological disorder or to a personality trait. Because of this, there are also a lot of nuisance variables and all these variables also lead to idiographic development through divergent causality.

14. The Importance of Cultural Factors

Sometimes researchers forget to include cultural factors that lead to certain disorders or diseases. For example, a physician will treat someone with a stomach ache in the same way, regardless of their social class. This is a problem, because sometimes a problem can be solved or prevented by looking at the cultural factors (like, someone belongs to the lowest class regarding SES and therefore he or she has many deficits in his or her diet which lead to stomach ache).

15. Context-Dependent Stochastotogicals

In Psychology, the term ‘nomological network’ is used to represent the relations between constructs. The constructs are ‘nodes’ which are linked to other constructs through strands. Meehl states that ‘nomological’ in psychology is a synonym for ‘meaning’ and it could even be misleading. He says this, because the relationships are not as strict as suggested by calling it a nomological network. In psychology, instead of strict relationships, there are correlations, tendencies, statistical clusterings, increments of probabilities and stochastic dispositions. The author therefore suggests a “stochastological network”. With this he tries to make clear that the results obtained in psychological experiments are dependent on the context in which the measurements were obtained. Because it is hard to determine what influences what and how big this influence is. So, in soft psychology, the context is very important. But, we do not know the complete list of the contextual influences, the function form of context dependency for the known influences and the numerical values of parameters in those functions and lastly the values of the context variables.

16. Open Concepts

It is often hard to come up with operational definitions for theoretical concepts. Even if researchers come up with operational definitions, these seem to lack theoretical background and technologies to measure them. This means that there are a lot of ‘open concepts’ in psychology, which further complicates research.

17. Intentionality, Purpose and Meaning

Humans think, plan and intend way more than any other species. This makes them stand out compared to other species, but again leads to complexity in researching their behaviour.

18. Rule Governance

People or human beings do not only do things out of inner motivation, they also do things because they think that is what is expected from them. They feel obligated to follow certain rules. In research there is not a clear definition of when a rule can be considered as a rule. So when conducting research, it is sometimes difficult to determine whether one performs some kind of behavior because of real, internal motivation or because he or she is following a certain rule.

19. Uniquely Human Events and Powers

Because many of the research in psychology, such as digestion and reproduction, comes from studies with animals, some things are very difficult to research. For example, Richard M. Elliot stated that the reason for the lack of high quality research on humor is that humans are the only species that laugh. So, because some things are uniquely human, it makes it difficult to conduct research. Except for laughing, other examples that are unique to human are seeking revenge for things that happened years earlier or has discussions on discussions.

20. Ethical Constraints on Research

There are many ethical constraints in research in psychology. For example, it is unethical to let a group of children from as old as 10 years smoke and then compare them to children who did never smoke. Meehle names five noble traditions in psychology that have lead to great insights. In the times of these traditions, the ethical constraints were a lot less than that they are now. The five noble traditions are: descriptive clinical psychiatry, psychometric assessment, behavior genetics, behavior modification and psychodynamics. He states that Freud did not perform any t-test, but that he would choose Freud’s clinical observations over most of the researchers’ t-tests. All these traditions have not focused on statistical significance testing.

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Article summary of The social constructionist movement in modern psychology by Gergen - Chapter

Article summary of The social constructionist movement in modern psychology by Gergen - Chapter


In this article the author describes social constructionism. This type of research is about how people describe, explain or otherwise account for the world in which they live. There are different assumptions of this approach, which are described.

  1. What we take to be experience of the world does not in itself dictate the terms by which the world is understood. This means that what we understand as knowledge about the world is not a product of induction or of building and testing hypotheses. Questions asked are: “How can theoretical categories map or reflect the world if each definition used to link category and observation itself requires a definition?”, and “How can words map reality when the major constraints over word usage are furnished by linguistic context?”. This is where social constructionist plays a role. It starts with radically doubting the taken-for-granted world. For example, social constructionism invites to think about the objective basis of knowledge. For example, think about gender. Social constructionistic research shows that there are not only two genders.

  2. The terms in which the world is understood are social artifacts, products of historically situated interchanges among people. According to constructionists, understanding is not a process driven by nature. Instead, it is the result of an active, cooperative relationship of persons. This invites to look back at history, which has shown there to be a lot of variations in for example the ‘concept of a child’.

  3. The degree to which a given form of understanding prevails or is sustained across time is not fundamentally dependent on the empirical validity of the perspective in question, but on varieties of social processes. For example, whether an act is defined as envy, flirtation or anger depends on social circumstances.

  4. Forms of negotiated understanding are of critical significance in social life and they are integrally connected with other activities in which people engage. For example, when someone asks you: “Hello, how are you?”, this utterance is often accompanied by certain facial expressions, bodily postures, and movements. Similarly, descriptions and explanations are integral parts of social patterns.

How is social constructionism viewed from a historical perspective?

It can be helpful to look at constructionism in two different traditions which are distinguished in terms of basic epistemological orientations or models of knowledge. The first tradition is the exogenic perspective, which views knowledge as directly resulting from the world. In contrast, the endogenic perspective views knowledge as being dependent on processes. In the past two decades, there was a big reversal in emphasis. Whereas previously the exogenic perspective was dominant, the endogenic perspective made a return. There was thus an evolution in social psychology, which was driven by Kurt Lewin. However, this perspective has not fully developed yet. Explanations for how cognitions are built up from experience are still lacking. Also, the Cartesian mind-body problem remains unsolved. Thus, the goal for social constructionism should be to develop a new framework of analysis based on a non-empiricist theory.

What are the implications of social constructionism for psychology and science?

With regard to psychology, the implications of social constructionism are large. However, it will experience strong resistance within psychology, because it poses a challenge to traditional knowledge claims. For social constructionist, the development of a metatheory should be of high priority. This means that the locus of scientific rationality should not lie within the minds of individuals, but within the social aggregate. This would also mean that new theoretical tools are required. In addition, the functions of language should be elaborated on.

BulletPoints

  • It can be helpful to look at constructionism in two different traditions which are distinguished in terms of basic epistemological orientations or models of knowledge. The first tradition is the exogenic perspective, which views knowledge as directly resulting from the world. In contrast, the endogenic perspective views knowledge as being dependent on processes. In the past two decades, there was a big reversal in emphasis. Whereas previously the exogenic perspective was dominant, the endogenic perspective made a return. There was thus an evolution in social psychology, which was driven by Kurt Lewin. However, this perspective has not fully developed yet. Explanations for how cognitions are built up from experience are still lacking. Also, the Cartesian mind-body problem remains unsolved. Thus, the goal for social constructionism should be to develop a new framework of analysis based on a non-empiricist theory.

  • With regard to psychology, the implications of social constructionism are large. However, it will experience strong resistance within psychology, because it poses a challenge to traditional knowledge claims. For social constructionist, the development of a metatheory should be of high priority. This means that the locus of scientific rationality should not lie within the minds of individuals, but within the social aggregate. This would also mean that new theoretical tools are required. In addition, the functions of language should be elaborated on.

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Article summary of The Construction of Emotion in Interactions, Relationships, and Cultures by Boiger & Mesquita - Chapter

Article summary of The Construction of Emotion in Interactions, Relationships, and Cultures by Boiger & Mesquita - Chapter


Most emotions occur in the contexts of social interactions and relationships. However, most psychological studies have focused on emotions in nonsocial situations, such as during physical threats. When you assume that emotions develop in social contexts, then you also assume that emotions are ‘socially costructed’. In this article, it is described how emotion is construed from a multicomponential perspective of emotion. This means that emotions are viewed as emerging from the interplay between different components (cognitive, motivational, and physiological), rather than being unitary entities. Also, a person’s appraisal of the situation arises from other components of emotion. For instance, when someone spills a drink over you and you think that this is on purpose, you might get angry. However, when you see that the person slipped and it happened on accident, you may not be as angry. It is described how emotions differ based on different contexts: interactions, relationships, and the sociocultural context.

How are emotions construed within contexts?

Moment-to-moment interactions

Emotions develop as a function of interactions. For instance, when you are arguing, your emotion depends highly on the other person’s reactions: is he or she accepting or denying your emotions? Thus, the emotions that others have and express, interact with your own emotions. Also, emotions are influenced by the type of relationships. If you know someone for a very long time you may experience different emotions when he or she lies to you, compared to when you just met someone. Emotions are thus shaped by the relationship in which they occur, and they also shape relationships. There are also differences in the way that emotions are construed across sociocultural contexts. For example, some cultures emphasize autonomy, while others emphasize the relatedness between people (collectivism). Therefore, in individualistic cultures, anger may be seen as functional and it may be accepted. In contrast, in collectivistic cultures, the expression of emotions that reflect individual desires (anger) may be discouraged and perceived as immature.

Thus, the social construction of emotion is an iterative and ongoing process that unfolds within interactions, relationships, and which derive their shape and meaning from the large sociocultural context. The process of social construction happens during each emotional episode.

What are the interdependencies between the three different contexts?

There are not many studies conducted on the interplay between interactions, relationships and cultural contexts. One rare example on this topic is a cross-cultural study on mother-child interactions in Germany and Japan. This study showed that German mothers, in response to a disobeying child, infer that the child is acting on purpose. Therefore they react with anger. In response, the child reacts with protest. Then, the mother sees this as affirmation for her idea that her child is acting like that on purpose. This turns into a tantrum by the child. Then the mother feels like she lost control and the conflict is unresolved and may be repeated in the future. In Japan, mothers were more likely to view the disobedience of the child from the child’s perspective (“it is just a child, he or she just wants to play, he or she is just tired”). When their children misbehave, Japanese others repeat their demands in a friendly manner, and feel sorry for the child. The child reacted with irritation to the demand, and the mother feels disappointment and regret. In Japan, ittaikan refers to the desired feeling of harmony and one-ness, and it is a prevailing value. Therefore, both the child and the mother made concessions. The mothers comforted their children, and distracted them. This lead to that the child complied and the conflict was solved. These types of interactions have long-term effects on children’s relational patterns: escalations of interactions in early childhood predict the level of empathy-based altruism 9 years later. This example shows the interplay between the different contexts: mother-child emotional interactions were constructed based on prevalent cultural meanings, these shaped relational contexts immediately and over time, and therefore these culturally prevalent ways of dealing with emotions are maintained over time.

What can be concluded?

There is thus evidence for the social construction of emotion in three different contexts: moment-to-moment interactions, relationships, and cultural contexts. These findings signal that emotional construction should not only be viewed on one level of analysis. Instead, emotions should be studied from a social constructionist perspective.

BulletPoints

  • Most emotions occur in the contexts of social interactions and relationships. However, most psychological studies have focused on emotions in nonsocial situations, such as during physical threats. When you assume that emotions develop in social contexts, then you also assume that emotions are ‘socially costructed’. In this article, it is described how emotion is construed from a multicomponential perspective of emotion. This means that emotions are viewed as emerging from the interplay between different components (cognitive, motivational, and physiological), rather than being unitary entities. Also, a person’s appraisal of the situation arises from other components of emotion. For instance, when someone spills a drink over you and you think that this is on purpose, you might get angry. However, when you see that the person slipped and it happened on accident, you may not be as angry. It is described how emotions differ based on different contexts: interactions, relationships, and the sociocultural context.

  • There is thus evidence for the social construction of emotion in three different contexts: moment-to-moment interactions, relationships, and cultural contexts. These findings signal that emotional construction should not only be viewed on one level of analysis. Instead, emotions should be studied from a social constructionist perspective.

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Article summary of Kinds of People: Moving Targets by Hacking - Chapter

Article summary of Kinds of People: Moving Targets by Hacking - Chapter


The following text summarizes the British Academy Lecture “Kinds of people: Moving targets”. The lecture is about classifications of people and how they impact the people who are classified as well as how these people themselves impact their classifications. The lecturer has been interested in classifications for many years and he also wrote two books about this topic. Furthermore, he invented two new terms concerning this topic.

What do the concepts of ‘making up people’ and ‘looping effect’ mean?

First, “making up people” refers to the process of creating a new kind of person based on its classifications. Thus, we create a new kind of person by giving it a name that imposes a certain way of behavior and thinking about it. Doing so, we create kinds of people that have not existed before. How this is done will be clarified in two examples namely multiple personalities and autism. Second, there is the “looping effect” which describes how a classification and its classified target interact with one another. Those who are classified as moving targets since our observations and investigations interact with the targets themselves and change them. These ideas about the classification of people is a form of Nominalism. An exception to the concept of nominalism is that his work as dynamic rather than static, as it looks at how names interact with the named people.

The process of "making up people" consists of five steps:

  1. There is a classification, for example “Multiple Personality Disorder”. This is the target.
  2. There are people that can be put into this category, for which they have to fulfil certain criteria (they are unhappy, or unable to cope).
  3. There are institutions (clinics, annual meetings of the International Society for the Study of Multiple Personality and Dissociation). There are also talk shows such as that of Oprah Winfrey, which emphasize the importance and prevalence of the ‘new kinds of persons’, as well as special training programs for therapists.
  4. There is knowledge, which is defined as ‘presumptions that are taught, spread, and refined within the context of the institutions’, rather than being true beliefs. There is expert knowledge, which is the knowledge of the professionals of a certain field. There is also popular knowledge which is spread in the wider population of interest. In this running example it might be that people diagnosed with multiple personality disorder have diverse personalities and that they cannot control who they are right now. Or that they even have different hand-writings.
  5. There are experts that generate knowledge, decide how valid it is and whether they should integrate it in their practices. To guarantee their legitimacy, authenticity and status they work in institutions. Further, they investigate, study, try to help and advice those people that are classified as belonging to a certain category.

As you may have noticed, this framework operates in a circular manner. Thus, the process of making up people starts with a classification and works its way up including people, institutions and knowledge until it arrives at experts. From experts on it operates its way back to the start of classification. The framework consists of of the following elements: classification, people, institutions, knowledge and experts, is a positivist list. He argues that all five elements are needed and interact in the process of making up people and the looping effect. Also, identifying historical or earlier manifestations of a certain classification helps to make it appear more legitimate. For example, when people state that homosexuals have always existed, they might refer to paintings of Ancient Greece depicting sexual acts of people of the same sex.

Turning to our example of Multiple personality disorder, which was renamed into Dissociative Identity Disorder, could be termed as a transient disorder. Transient, because it disappeared as soon as its name and expected symptoms disappeared.

How is autism related to all of this?

A more recent example is the conception of autism. It was introduced in 1908 as abnormal introversion and self-absorption, a definition that was valid until 1992. In 1943, it was termed as infantile autism since it was thought to refer only to children. Today, it is known that autism usually lasts a lifetime. It can be recognized as early as 30 months after birth. So far, it has not been discovered what causes autism, even though there were a lot of correlations drawn, for instance with the length of a mother's fingers. It is assumed that a combination of neurological, biological, and genetic abnormalities lead to autistic disorders. There is no cure identified, yet. However, behavioral therapy and, more specifically, pure operant conditioning can help to compensate for certain deficits. A loving and caring environment helps as well to overcome some of the symptoms.

In 1973, autism was rare and was related to a definite and narrow stereotype. Now, we have developed an entire spectrum of autistic disorders, including Asperger’s syndrome which involves high-functioning people with autism. These are people who have all the symptoms of autism except for the language difficulties. A famous example is Temple Grandin who says that she sees the world rather as an animal than as a human being and used this to help develop more animal-friendly slaughterhouse techniques. An autism liberation front has been founded which argues against aiming to assimilate autists into normal people, as they are better at some things, whereas others may be better at other things. However, the class of high-functioning autists rapidly expanded. This group consists of autists who kind of "recovered" from their disorder, growing out of most of their symptoms. Once these “recovered” autists were established in society more and more adults recognized similar behavioral patterns in themselves. Even though they had never been diagnosed with autism they classified themselves as high-functioning autists, which led to rapid expansion of this classification. You should have noticed that the previous described framework of a) classification, b) people, c) institutions, d) knowledge and e) experts also fits with this example.

What are the engines of discovery?

These two examples of how the five-element framework can be used, provide us with an idea of how “making up of people” takes place. But, what are the driving forces behind them? Count, quantify, create norms, correlate, medicalize, biologize, geneticize are identified as classical engines of discovery. ''Normalize'' is seen as an engine of practice and ''bureaucratize'' as an engine of administration. ''Reclaim our identity'' is for those who discovered the process of how people are made up and claim their own identity back.

Specific examples with autism and obesity:

  • Count: People start to look at the prevalence of a person that displays a certain type of behavior. The first attempt of counting autistic children yielded 4.5 per 10.000. Today, eighty articles have been published yielding 40 autistic children per 10.000. Obesity has increased all over the world in the past twenty years.
  • Quantify: In the 1970s, the concept of Body Mass Index was introduced. In 1988, having a BMI above 25 was defined as being overweight, and having a BMI above 30 was defined as being obese. 18,5 is defined as the cut-off score of being underweight. To give you a sense of the meaning of this numbers: Marilyn Monroe’s BMI varied between 21 and 24, the models in the Playboy magazine have gone down from having a BMI of 19 to 16.5.
  • Create norms: Define what counts as normal and what counts as deviant. In weight, we have the normal range of the BMI, but in most disorders it is rather hard to state specific norms. Furthermore, it cannot be said which was first; normality or deviance.
  • Correlate: To find explanations for all sorts of phenomena and disorders, we correlate them with everything we can think of. For social sciences, correlations are especially fundamental. They found out that most autists are male and tried to identify certain risk factors such as the mothers’ nutrition. Also, being overweight is seen as bad for a person because of its high correlations with a range of diseases as well as its social stigma.
  • Medicalize: We aim to medicalize all kinds of people that deviate from the norm in order to make them normal. The increasing prescriptions of anti-craving medicines are one example as well as the expansion of the DSM, including more symptoms than before.

As soon as a child is diagnosed with autism it has a mental disorder and also a medical problem. Another prominent example is related to the increasing diagnosis of ADHD in the population. This might also be due to the process of medicalization.

  • Biologize: After we have stated that something is a disease or disorder that needs treatment (medicalize), we assume that this observed deviance has a biological cause, namely a neurobiological cause. For instance, overeating might be explained by a chemical imbalance, autism might be due to a shortage of mirror neurons. In every case, biologizing reduces, at least partly, the responsibility from a person. This might be good, for example: certain stereotypes such as the one that characterizes fat people as lazy, are loosened. On the other hand it can also lead to a feeling of helplessness.
  • Genetize: One step further from medicalization to biologization is to geneticalization. This refers to our tendency to search for explanations for certain deviations in a person’s genetical make-up. A popular example is the discovery that criminal behavior might have genetic origins. Due to new brain imaging techniques, this debate has recently been raised again. Of course, the question of responsibility is a prevalent issue here as well.
  • Normalize: Normalization is an engine of practice rather than of discovery. It involves our urge to transfer deviant people into normal people. For this we mainly use behavioural therapies or drugs.
  • Bureacritize: Bureacracy is an engine of administration. We have a system that identifies people that deviate from the norm and assumes that these need help to get back on track to be able to function properly. An example would be to scan children for developmental problems, in their early years of schooling. If we detect problems, we could place these children in special schools where they should receive best support. This might lead to a feedback effect in which the developmental problem becomes more salient for the children themselves and thus they tend to express them more often than they would in a normal school. Obesity is in this case a contrast case, since it has not been bureaucratized yet.
  • Resist: Resistance is the engine that people who get medicalized, normalized, and bureaucratized might use to reclaim their identity. They might use it to get back some control the experts and institutions took from them while they were putting them in a certain kind of category. A very famous example of this process of resistance is the movement of gay pride. Followers of gay pride as well as its predecessors were able to restore some control over the classification in which they fall by redefining it. In autism we have the “autism liberation front” that was mentioned earlier. In obesity we have several organizations that call for pride and dignity in heavy bodies. An example is the French organization Groupe de Reflexion sur l`Obesite et le Surpoids (GROS).

All these ten engines that were just described act and interact in a dynamic manner. They constantly set the limitations and boundaries of the kinds of people we made up new. This is why these kind of people are termed moving targets.

How important is ‘making up people’?

The process of making up people can take place in different ways. For instance, the species mode involves forming a new species, for instance the autistic child. On one hand, this might be problematic since it includes a depersonalization of the people and turn them into objects for scientific inquiry. On the other hand, people could argue that something, like having autism, is more than just a characteristic, and that it is rather part of the nature of a person, and thus essential property. Thus, the term “autistic child” would suit better than the term  “child with autism”. A counterargument for this is related to obesity, since being overweight is usually only a characteristic of a person, and not part of his or her enduring identity. It is rather seen as a certain property, much like one’s hair color. This can be further elaborated by thinking of the similarities between people in these two kinds of categories. Autistic children tend to have a lot in common with each other ranging from language problems, social problems, to an obsession with order and literalness. Obese people on the other hand do not have much in common, except for being overweight.

There are more example of how our society has been making up people in the past decades. For example, the introduction of the poverty line in the 1890s, which defined who and what is poor and who and what is not. Now, we use “the poor” in a sense of species. Suicide is another example of how the five-element framework led to a change in concept. Suicide has always existed, but is now tied to depression, and is sometimes seen as cry for help. However, the way in which we define suicide is not a human universal, but rather something that resulted out of Western society.

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Article summary of How should we define health? by Huber et al. - Chapter

Article summary of How should we define health? by Huber et al. - Chapter


What is this article about?

In 1948, the WHO introduced a definition of health as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. This definition has been criticised over the past 60 years, and the criticism is increasing. This article describes the limitations of this definition and describes how it can be made more useful.

What are the limitations of the WHO definition?

 Most criticism on the WHO definition is about the word ‘complete’ in relation to wellbeing. He or she states that almost no one is healthy for most of the time. This is a problem, because this has lead medical technologies and drug industries to sell a lot of things that are supposed to increase “health”, and develop drugs for “conditions” that are not actually health problems. Also thresholds for interventions tend to be lower. The author suggest that this is due to the emphasis on complete physical wellbeing. 

The second criticism is that the demography of populations and the nature of diseases have changed considerably. In 1948, acute diseases presented the main burden of illness and chronic diseases led to death. However, there are now different disease patterns. Currently, ageing with chronic illnesses has become the norm. The healthcare system is under pressure, and this is also partly due to the WHO definition which seems to declare people with chronic diseases and disabilities as ill.

The third criticism on the definition is about the operationalisation. It is impracticable because ‘complete’ is not operational (not measurable).

What do we need?

The author suggests that the definition should be changed. The Ottawa Charter is one proposal, and emphasises social and personal resources as well as physical capacity. However, WHO has never accepted any proposal for change of their definition. It is also hard to redefine health, because it is complex; there are many aspects that need to be considered and there are many stakeholders. A discussion between Dutch experts about the definition of health was “the ability to adapt and self manage”. To be able to use this concept, it should be identified for the three domains of health: physical, mental, and social health.

Physical health

When an organism is healthy, the organism is capable of ‘allostasis’: maintaining physiological homeostasis through changing circumstances. When an organism experiences stress, it should be able to create a protective response, to reduce the potential for harm, and restore equilibrium. If this coping strategy is not successful then there is damage, called allostatic load. This eventually leads to illness.

Mental health

Mental health is described as ‘the sense of coherence’, which is a factor that contributes to successful coping, recovering from psychological stress, and prevent post-traumatic stress disorders. It is about understanding, managing and giving meaning to difficult situations. Being able to adapt and manage oneself improves subjective wellbeing and may result in a good interaction between mind and body. For example, patients with chronic fatigue syndrome who receive cognitive behavioural therapy show positive effects in terms of symptoms and wellbeing, as well as an increase in brain grey matter volume.

Social health

In the social domain, health is seen as people’s capacity to fulfil their potential and obligations, the ability to manage their life with some independence, and to be able to participate in social activities including work, despite having a medical condition. Patients with chronic illnesses who learnt to manage their lives better, reported improved self-rated health, less distress, less fatigue, more energy and less perceived limitations. Their healthcare costs also reduced!

How can we measure health?

Health measurements should relate to health as the ability to adapt and to self-manage. Operational tools include existing methods for assessing functional status and measuring quality of life and sense of wellbeing.

BulletPoints

  • In 1948, the WHO introduced a definition of health as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. This definition has been criticised over the past 60 years, and the criticism is increasing. This article describes the limitations of this definition and describes how it can be made more useful.

  • The second criticism is that the demography of populations and the nature of diseases have changed considerably. In 1948, acute diseases presented the main burden of illness and chronic diseases led to death. However, there are now different disease patterns. Currently, ageing with chronic illnesses has become the norm. The healthcare system is under pressure, and this is also partly due to the WHO definition which seems to declare people with chronic diseases and disabilities as ill.

  • The author suggests that the definition should be changed. The Ottawa Charter is one proposal, and emphasises social and personal resources as well as physical capacity. However, WHO has never accepted any proposal for change of their definition. It is also hard to redefine health, because it is complex; there are many aspects that need to be considered and there are many stakeholders. A discussion between Dutch experts about the definition of health was “the ability to adapt and self manage”. To be able to use this concept, it should be identified for the three domains of health: physical, mental, and social health.

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Article summary of Neuroenhancement as Instrumental Drug Use: Putting the Debate in a Different Frame by Schleim - Chapter

Article summary of Neuroenhancement as Instrumental Drug Use: Putting the Debate in a Different Frame by Schleim - Chapter


Neuroenhancement, or the use of performance-enhancing drugs to increase performance received a lot of attention by ethicists, scholars, pharmacologists and researchers from other disciplines. The most often discussed drugs are amphetamine, methylphenidate, and modafinil. Currently, questions about whether the use of performance drug use at universities should be seen as cheating are discussed.

Publications in neuroethics often used the term “enhancement”, but the author wants to use another term: “instrumental drug use”. He suggests that, if we frame the phenomenon as instrumental drug use, it could be easier to integrate different types of research fields: neuroethics, addiction, substance use, drug diversion, and diffusion.

What is meant by ‘instrumental drug use’?

When people use substances to achieve goals, this is called instrumental. The author wants to explain that substance use is not only of irrational addictive origin, and it can also be instrumental. Drugs can be instruments. Christian Müller described how instrumental drug use has been prevalent throughout human history. Animals use drugs to increase their chances of survival and to reap evolutionary benefits. He distinguished nine different goals of drugs:

  1. Improve social interaction.
  2. Facilitate sexual behavior.
  3. Improve cognitive performance or counteract fatigue.
  4. Facilitate recovery or coping with stress.
  5. Self-medicate for psychiatric disorders and mental problems.
  6. Sensory curiosity; expand one’s perception.
  7. Experiencing euphoria, hedonia, or a ‘high’.
  8. Improve physical appearance or attractiveness.
  9. Facilitate spiritual or religious activities.

In the debate about neuroenhancement drugs, the term ‘enhancement’ signals that it is something positive. When we would use the term ‘instrumental drug use’, this is a more neutral term.

What is the known about instrumental drug use?

There have been a lot of studies conducted on instrumental drug use. A review of 28 different articles investigating “nonmedical stimulant use” (instrumental drug use) between 2000 and 2009 showed that the methodologies varied widely, and that most of the studies were based on self-reports from non-representative samples and those samples differed from 50 participants to 54.000 participants. The kinds of drugs studied differed, and also the time span differed. These studies also differ in their outcomes: the reported prevalence of instrumental drug use varied between 1.7 and 55%. Among the studies published about instrumental drug use, there were a lot of differences in the publications in terms of the definitions used to study nonmedical use, methodologies, and samples. It also seemed that academic motivations were mentioned most frequently. However, this may also be because students were most often studied! The second reason seemed to be recreation: getting high, help with socializing. Weight loss was not cited as often. Instrumental drug use was reported to be a public health problem, but not in epidemic proportions. Data from the Global Drug Survey of 2015 and 2017 showed that there has been an enormous increase in just two years!

However, a study by McAuliffe and colleagues showed that the use of instrumental amphetamine is declining since the mid-1960s, and that the use of recreational drugs is increasing. This study showed that the use of nonmedical drugs was more common in the 1960s to the 1980s than now in the 21st century.

What can be concluded?

The author concludes that it is difficult to come to a conclusion of the prevalence of instrumental drug use because there are a lot of different definitions and methodologies. The evidence reviewed in the current article shows that neuroenhancement is not new. Stimulant drugs and mostly amphetamine and methylphenidate are the most frequent non-medically used drugs. However, evidence that these drugs can benefit functioning is scarce. The effects of taking  does not seem to be better than computer training, physical exercise, and healthy sleep. Also, even if there are benefits, there are also risks and side-effects.

BulletPoints

  • Neuroenhancement, or the use of performance-enhancing drugs to increase performance received a lot of attention by ethicists, scholars, pharmacologists and researchers from other disciplines. The most often discussed drugs are amphetamine, methylphenidate, and modafinil. Currently, questions about whether the use of performance drug use at universities should be seen as cheating are discussed.

  • When people use substances to achieve goals, this is called instrumental. The author wants to explain that substance use is not only of irrational addictive origin, and it can also be instrumental. Drugs can be instruments. Christian Müller described how instrumental drug use has been prevalent throughout human history. Animals use drugs to increase their chances of survival and to reap evolutionary benefits. He distinguished nine different goals of drugs.

  • The author concludes that it is difficult to come to a conclusion of the prevalence of instrumental drug use because there are a lot of different definitions and methodologies. The evidence reviewed in the current article shows that neuroenhancement is not new. Stimulant drugs and mostly amphetamine and methylphenidate are the most frequent non-medically used drugs. However, evidence that these drugs can benefit functioning is scarce! The effects of taking  does not seem to be better than computer training, physical exercise, and healthy sleep. Also, even if there are benefits, there are also risks and side-effects.

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Article summary of The removal of Pluto from the class of planets and homosexuality from the class of psychiatric disorders: a comparison by Zachar & Kendler - Chapter

Article summary of The removal of Pluto from the class of planets and homosexuality from the class of psychiatric disorders: a comparison by Zachar & Kendler - Chapter


What is the history of decisions regarding Pluto?

This article compares the removal of Pluto as a planet to the removal of homosexuality from the DSM list of mental disorders. The article argues that competition between groups for ‘scientific authority’ is normal when it comes to scientific progress. In both types of removals, it was the complex relationship between empirical evidence and abstract concepts that led to problems in classification.

The existence and location of Pluto was predicated based on wrong calculations. The decision of classifying homosexuality as a psychiatric disorder, was based on the assumptions of the degeneration theory, which first was a theological concept but, with the introduction of evolutionary theories, became a psychological theory. Sexual practices were seen as signs of progressive psychic decline. This caused the inclusion of homosexuality in the DSM-I.

One of the most important questions of this article is: who decides on a controversy if the scientific community cannot agree on it? It is suggested that disagreement, and thus postponing a decision, could be useful in this case. If it's absolutely necessary to make a decision immediately, there are two important things to remember: 1) the decision should be made by well-informed experts, and 2) the members of the broader scientific community must believe that the decision is fair.

What were the scientific decisions concerning Pluto and homosexuality?

The controversy about Pluto peaked when the planet Eris was discovered. It was larger than Pluto and had a moon, and thus appeared to be a 10th planet. The Working Group forced a vote on the Pluto issue; seven people voted in favor, seven voted against and seven voted in favor of the idea that there should be several subsets of planets.

Regarding homosexuality, this was long considered as an immoral and illegal perversion. In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) voted homosexuality out of the DSM. This decision was preceded by numerous protests at the annual APA conventions. The protestors revealed cases of discrimination of homosexuals, that were justified by the claim that homosexuality was a mental disorder. Additionally, several scientific discoveries influenced the decision:

  • Afred Kinsey et al. showed that there were high prevalence rates for homosexual activity.
  • Evelyn Hooker's concluded that homosexual relationships are usually long-term and committed, instead of impulsive.
  • Robert Spitzer attended meetings of gay psychiatrists and concluded that they were underdogs who were in pain. He wanted to help them. He concluded that homosexuality differed from psychiatric disorders, because they don't lead to impairments in social functioning.

Both the decision of removing Pluto and the decision of removing homosexuality caused some protest among scientists. And in both cases, the parties felt considerable pressure to reach a decision. The decision was made by redefining the concepts of planet and psychiatric disorder (e.g. it causes distress and dysfunction).

What do scientists believe?

Hull and Longino believe that the social nature of science, which involves different research communities assessing each other’s work, is required if scientific authority is to be objective. However, one of the difficulties of this is that scientific authority is an abstract concept, and it is hard to decide who holds this scientific authority.

Therefore, one of the main criticisms was not the process of voting, but the belief that authority had been provided to the wrong communities. In these cases, the dynamicists were given authority over the geophysicists and the research academics over the practicing psychoanalysts.

Scientific communities normally rely on various epistemic communities with different research problems, methodologies, and information. However, when authority is allocated to a single classification, it inevitably blocks the normal dispersion of epistemic authority in the respective sub-communities.

To avoid being a popularity contest, it is evident that informed experts should make decisions regarding the respective scientific community, but how are these experts chosen? In both research areas, people agree that experts should have knowledge and experience, but they did not agree about what kind of experience and knowledge. In broad fields like astronomy and psychiatry, there are several different expert groups and each have their diverse interests and incentives, which will most likely influence their decisions.

What can be concluded?

The goal of this article is not to criticize or dismiss the presence of partisanship and politics in academic classification, but to demonstrate that science is and will always be carried out by fallible human beings. Conflicts and controversy are part of scientific development. The difficulties that can exist in any scientific discipline are due to the fact that they often rely on abstract conceptualizations, that there are often social, psychological and economic implications with each classification, and that the existing classifications are approximations as they do not account for all of the existing empirical data on the topic at hand.

There are several ways to deal with these problems. When delegating authority, academic fields need to aim to choose experts in a way that is fair and consistent. These groups have to be self-critical and should include both conflicting and different perspectives. Agreement will not necessarily be reached just because the integrity of the process is met, but it is a necessary requirement for the scientific community and its continued authority.

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Article summary of The nature of psychiatric disorders by Kendler - Chapter

Article summary of The nature of psychiatric disorders by Kendler - Chapter


Realism is a theory in the philosophy of science. In this theory it is assumed that the content of science is real regardless of human perceptions and activities, which is also called “mind-independent”. There are two kinds (two flavors) of realism: one is based on the hard science of chemistry and the other biology. In hard science, elements in the periodic table are “mind-independent”.  An argument is, if other species would develop far enough, they would find something like our periodic table. The elements in this table also show another important point of realism, namely that of essences. When you know the atomic number of something, you can predict many other things about it. An essence is a metaphor for a “level” (the atomic number of elements). When you know something on a given level,  this tells you a lot about the other things.

In biology, biological species are most important. Species differ in four ways: their boundaries are less clear-cut, while the borders of elements are much sharper. Secondly, the conditions for existence are more conditional than for elements. Thirdly, species have no essence, while elements do: there is not just one thing that defines a whale. Finally, not all members of a species are identical to each other, while atoms in elements are. The biological flavor of realism is more appropriate to use to understand psychiatric disorders. Psychiatric disorders are more like species than like elements.

In pragmatism, key concepts in science are seen as ‘instruments’ or tools with which we can understand the world. In this view, scientific categories are judged on their usefulness and not on whether they are real or not. But pragmatism does not say anything about the underlying reality of psychiatric disorders.

Constructivism is a very anti-psychiatric perspective. Constructivism is about how people themselves construct things. This is also true for psychiatric disorders. An example of constructed psychiatric disorders are “iatrogenic disorders” which are disorders that patients have that are “constructed” from the expectations of therapists.

What are the two arguments against realism for psychiatric disorders?

Realism is considered to be the more useful option to understand the nature of psychiatric disorders. But there are two strong arguments against realism called: pessimistic induction (‘all past beliefs about nature have sooner or later turned out to be false) and historical contingency. Historical contingency means two things: when thinking about going back in history and re-writing the DSM and doing this a hundred times (called re-running the “tape of time”) it would not lead to reliable (consistent) psychiatric disorders. Secondly, our current diagnostic system seems to be dependent on historical events.  

Which four modifications exist for more useful realism?

There are four ways to modify the realistic perspective to be more useful for understanding psychiatric disorders

Homeostatic property clusters: These clusters tell that each psychiatric disorder has a unique set of causal interactions regarding symptoms, signs and underlying pathophysiology. This is a “softer” way than looking for true “essences”. It also has implications for how to understand the relationship between symptoms: it would be better to assume direct causal relationships between symptoms than to assume that each symptom is a reflection of an essence.

A more limited view of realism: Philosophy has two theories about when something is true: the correspondence theory (when someone says “It is raining” and this is happening, then this corresponds) and the coherence theory (considers something to be true when it fits with all the other things we know about the world).

Types of psychiatric disorders versus tokens: Tokens are part of a broader class which are called types. For example: Type (psychiatric disorders), sub type (mood disorder) and token (major depression). In psychiatry it would be better to focus on types instead of tokens, because this would lead to less pessimistic induction or historical contingency arguments.

A historical perspective applied to psychiatric disorders: This means that as long as disorders continue to provide us with new insights, they become more real. An example is that of “splitting” a diagnosis which leads to differences in treatment and etiology, which is called progressive diagnostic splitting. An example of this is Kraepelin’s splitting of the manic-depressive syndrome into major depression and bipolar illness.

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Article summary of What is epistemology? (Chapter 1) by Willig - Chapter

Article summary of What is epistemology? (Chapter 1) by Willig - Chapter


How, and what, can we know?

Epistemology is a part of philosophy and it is called ‘the theory of knowledge’. It answers the question: “how and what can we know?”. It is about thinking about the nature of knowledge itself, the scope of knowledge and about the reliability and validity of knowledge. Research methods have the goal of answering questions. However, before answering a question, one needs to know what the goal is, so: what are the objectives of our research? One also needs to decide on what kinds of things are possible to find out. This means that one should adopt an ‘epistemological position’ before carrying out any research.

What is positivism?

Positivism is one example of an epistemological position. According to positivism, there is a one-to-one relationship between the world (objects, events, phenomena) and our perception and understanding of it. If one takes a positivistic stand, then one believes that what is ‘out there’ is also all there is. It is also called ‘the correspondence theory of truth’. It suggests that phenomena directly determine our perception. There is thus no room for talking about differences in perception based on thoughts or beliefs. According to positivism, the goal of research is to produce objective knowledge: knowledge based on a view from the outside.

What is empiricism?

Related to positivism, there is empiricism. According to empiricism, our knowledge of the world should be derived from ‘facts of experience’. According to empiricism, simple observations are combined and lead to more complex ideas. Theory follows from observations: theory has the goal to make sense of the data collected through observation. Experiments are based on this position. However, contemporary, many researchers do not agree with the idea that perception is always related to facts. For instance, the more one knows about something, the more detail one perceives when observing it. Perception is known to be selective and people can perceive the same phenomenon in different ways. However, modern-day empiricists still argue that knowledge depends on the collection and analysis of data. Only theory is not enough: all knowledge must be complemented with data. There is a difference between the terms ‘empiricist’ and ‘empirical’: ‘empiricist’ refers to the attitude that all knowledge must be grounded in data, and ‘empirical’ refers to research involving the collection and analysis of data.

What is hypothetico-deductivism?

Karl Popper introduced the idea of ‘hypothetico-deductivism’, as a reaction to limitations of positivism, empiricism, and inductivism. It is now the basis of mainstream psychology. Popper explained that a collection of observations does not indicate causality. Even if someone observes the same thing repeatedly, one can not be sure: there is always the possibility that the next observation is off. This is called the problem of induction, and it meant that no scientific theory in that time could be verified because they relied on inductivism. Therefore Popper proposed to, instead of relying on induction and verification, scientists should rely on deduction and falsification. In hypothetico-deductivism, theories are tested by deriving hypotheses from them and then test these in practice. The aim of the research is to put the theory’s ideas to test, by either rejecting the theory of retain from it. Thus, instead of relying on confirmatory evidence, in hypothetico-deductivism researchers look for disconfirmation or falsification. It is about finding out whether a claim is not true. By a process of eliminating claims, one can find the truth.

What are critiques of the ‘scientific method’?

Popper’s method was also criticized, for example:

  1. Hypothetico-deductivism limits theory development: relying on hypotheses generated by existing theories, it is hard to generate new theories.
  2. Hypothetico-deductivism is elitist: since this position works with existing theories, it excludes people who are not familiar with such theories and systems from its practice.
  3. Hypothetico-deductivism is a myth: in this position, scientists test hypotheses to find out which theories can be discarded. Thomas Kuhn (1962, 1970) disagreed. He stated that theories are not put to test in this way: if scientists found out that a theory could not be confirmed, then they assumed that their experiment was wrong.

What are feminist critiques of established epistemologies?

Most of the critiques noted came from females. In the 1960s and 1970s, females remarked that women are invisible in social scientific work. When women were studied, they were often portrayed as being inferior to men in terms of moral development, intelligence, and conversational style. To challenge these inequalities, the feminist scholars questioned the epistemological foundations of these types of knowledge. This lead to the critique of ‘male science’, which includes the following arguments:

  1. The male as the norm. Most of the studies carried out were done with male subjects. Therefore, the findings from these studies were generalized to the whole population of males. Then, other members of society were compared to these males, making these males ‘the norm’.
  2. The God trick. The ‘male science’ claimed to be objective. Feminists argued that the attempt to be ‘objective’ and the strategies adopted towards this goal were not effective. They stated that it is impossible for a researcher to position themselves ‘outside of’ the subject matter. Attempts to do so were called ‘God’s eye view’.

However, in despite of these feminist critiques, there is no one feminist epistemology or methodology. There were several approaches developed by feminist social scientists and philosophers, called standpoint epistemology (Harding, 1991), ethnomethodology (Stanley & Wise, 1983), and varieties of feminist post-structuralism (Henriques et al., 1984).

What is social constructionism?

Social constructionism is about the fact that human experience, including perception, is mediated by history, culture, and linguistics. What one perceives and experiences is thus not a direct reflection of environmental conditions. Instead, it must be understood within these conditions. It states that there are ‘knowledges’ instead of ‘knowledge’. Research within social constructionism is about how there are various ways of constructing social reality. For example, researchers in this field have studied emotion, prejudice, and psychopathology to describe how these provide a way of construing reality instead of reflecting reality.

What about epistemology and methodology?

To answer what the relationship is between epistemology and methodology, one first needs to be aware of what the difference is between ‘method’ and ‘methodology’. Even though these terms are often used interchangeably, they are different. ‘Methodology’ is defined as ‘a general approach to studying research topics’, while ‘method’ refers to a specific research technique. For example, when a researcher adopts an epistemological position, he or she will adopt a methodology of collecting data. The specific methods used can differ. Hypothetico-deductivism is one approach that offers both an epistemological position and a research method, namely hypothesis-testing through experimentation. A researcher’s epistemological and methodological commitments do limit him or her in which methods can be used. Consider a social constructionist methodology: this methodology is not compatible with methods that are designed to measure variables in a population. This is because it questions the validity of ‘psychological variables’, and is more about exploring different ways in which these variables are construed.

What can be said about qualitative research?

Qualitative research methods can and are used by researchers with different epistemological positions. Empiricist as well as social constructionists use qualitative measures. This means that there are ‘qualitative methodologies’, and not one ‘qualitative methodology’. However, qualitative methods share a number of assumptions, and this can be referred to as ‘qualitative methodology’.

Qualitative methodology

Qualitative research is about meaning. It is about how people make sense of the world and how they experience events. They are thus interested in the quality and texture of experience, and not with identifying causal relationships. Qualitative researchers ask questions such as: “What do people do when they form groups?”, or “How do people manage change in the workplace?”.

Epistemological differences

Epistemologies determine the approach to qualitative data and thus the theory that is used as a framework. If one takes a social constructionist position, then they may approach text using a discourse analytic theoretical framework. When one has a empirical position, then one may use the grounded theory method or content analysis to identify categories of meaning. The different qualitative methodologies can be differentiated based on the extent to which they emphasize reflexivity and by the degree of emphasis on language. Reflexivity refers to that a researcher is aware of his or her contribution in the research, and acknowledging that it is impossible to remain ‘outside of’ the subject matter (think back about the ‘God’s eye’). Reflexivity is then about that the researcher reflects on what their role is in the research. There are two types of reflexivity: personal reflexivity and epistemological reflexivity. Personal reflexivity refers to reflecting on the ways in which our own values, experiences, interests, beliefs, political commitments, and so forth affect the research. It is also about thinking how the research may have affected and possibly changed us. Epistemological reflexivity is about questions such as: “How has the research question defined and limited what can be ‘found’?, and “How has the design of the study and the method of analysis ‘constructed’ the data and the findings?”. Qualitative researchers differ in the emphasis they place on reflexivity in their research: for some, personal and epistemological reflexivity are important and should be reported, while for others they do acknowledge the importance, but do not report it. One part of reflexivity is ‘critical language awareness’. This means that the words we use to describe experiences play a part in the construction of the meanings we attribute to experiences: it has to a constructive dimension. The categories and labels that researchers use will thus shape their findings. For example, when a researchers asks a respondent how she felt during a medical procedure, this invokes the category ‘emotion’. Whatever the response is, emotion will have to be oriented to.

What are ‘small q’ and ‘Big Q’?

There is a distinction between two meanings of ‘qualitative research’, with big Q referring to open-ended, inductive research methodologies. ‘Big’ Q is oriented with theory generation and exploration of meanings, whereas ‘little q’ refers to including non-numerical data into hypothetico-deductive research (thus complementing experiments with qualitative data). For an example of ‘Big Q’, researchers can include an open-ended question in a forced-choice questionnaire, and then use content analysis to ‘score’ the qualitative material. It is thus not about ‘bottom-up’, the goal is not to find ways to gain new insights into the ways in which participants construct meaning and/or experience of their world. Instead, they have a hypothesis and they have defined categories, against which the qualitative data is then checked. In the book, it is mainly about ‘Big Q’ methodology.

What are three epistemological questions?

To evaluate research, one needs to know what the goal of the research is. There are three questions that can help to identify the methodology’s epistemological roots:

  1. What kind of knowledge does the methodology aim to produce? The type of knowledge that is aimed to produce depends on the epistemological positions.
  2. What kinds of assumptions does the methodology make about the world? This is about ‘ontology’, which is defined as the nature of the world. Compared to epistemology, which asks: “How can we know?”, ontology asks: “What is there to know?”. When one assumes that events are generated by underlying structures such as socioeconomic status, this would constitute a materialist ontology. If one assumes that psychological phenomena are independent from such structures, this is called an idealist position. Ontological positions are divided into ‘realist’ and ‘relativist’. A realist ontology is about that the world exists of structures and objects that have cause-effect relationships. Materialism is a form of realist ontology. A relativist ontology states is about that there are different interpretations of the world. Idealism is form of a relativist ontology.
  3. How does the methodology conceptualize the role of the researcher in the research process? Some methodologies in qualitative research view the researcher as a builder who constructs a house: the researcher is the central figure in the research process. Other methodologies in this research acknowledge the importance of the researcher, but do not view the researcher as the author of the findings. Instead, they view the researchers as someone who uses their skills to find evidence.

BulletPoints

  • Epistemology is a part of philosophy and it is called ‘the theory of knowledge’. It answers the question: “how and what can we know?”. It is about thinking about the nature of knowledge itself, the scope of knowledge and about the reliability and validity of knowledge. Research methods have the goal of answering questions. However, before answering a question, one needs to know what the goal is, so: what are the objectives of our research? One also needs to decide on what kinds of things are possible to find out. This means that one should adopt an ‘epistemological position’ before carrying out any research.

  • Related to positivism, there is empiricism. According to empiricism, our knowledge of the world should be derived from ‘facts of experience’. According to empiricism, simple observations are combined and lead to more complex ideas. Theory follows from observations: theory has the goal to make sense of the data collected through observation. Experiments are based on this position. However, contemporary, many researchers do not agree with the idea that perception is always related to facts. For instance, the more one knows about something, the more detail one perceives when observing it. Perception is known to be selective and people can perceive the same phenomenon in different ways. However, modern-day empiricists still argue that knowledge depends on the collection and analysis of data. Only theory is not enough: all knowledge must be complemented with data. There is a difference between the terms ‘empiricist’ and ‘empirical’: ‘empiricist’ refers to the attitude that all knowledge must be grounded in data, and ‘empirical’ refers to research involving the collection and analysis of data.

  • Most of the critiques noted came from females. In the 1960s and 1970s, females remarked that women are invisible in social scientific work. When women were studied, they were often portrayed as being inferior to men in terms of moral development, intelligence, and conversational style. To challenge these inequalities, the feminist scholars questioned the epistemological foundations of these types of knowledge. This lead to the critique of ‘male science’, which includes the following arguments:

    • The male as the norm. Most of the studies carried out were done with male subjects. Therefore, the findings from these studies were generalized to the whole population of males. Then, other members of society were compared to these males, making these males ‘the norm’.
    • The God trick. The ‘male science’ claimed to be objective. Feminists argued that the attempt to be ‘objective’ and the strategies adopted towards this goal were not effective. They stated that it is impossible for a researcher to position themselves ‘outside of’ the subject matter. Attempts to do so were called ‘God’s eye view’.
  • To answer what the relationship is between epistemology and methodology, one first needs to be aware of what the difference is between ‘method’ and ‘methodology’. Even though these terms are often used interchangeably, they are different. ‘Methodology’ is defined as ‘a general approach to studying research topics’, while ‘method’ refers to a specific research technique. For example, when a researcher adopts an epistemological position, he or she will adopt a methodology of collecting data. The specific methods used can differ. Hypothetico-deductivism is one approach that offers both an epistemological position and a research method, namely hypothesis-testing through experimentation. A researcher’s epistemological and methodological commitments do limit him or her in which methods can be used. Consider a social constructionist methodology: this methodology is not compatible with methods that are designed to measure variables in a population. This is because it questions the validity of ‘psychological variables’, and is more about exploring different ways in which these variables are construed.

  • There is a distinction between two meanings of ‘qualitative research’, with big Q referring to open-ended, inductive research methodologies. ‘Big’ Q is oriented with theory generation and exploration of meanings, whereas ‘little q’ refers to including non-numerical data into hypothetico-deductive research (thus complementing experiments with qualitative data). For an example of ‘Big Q’, researchers can include an open-ended question in a forced-choice questionnaire, and then use content analysis to ‘score’ the qualitative material. It is thus not about ‘bottom-up’, the goal is not to find ways to gain new insights into the ways in which participants construct meaning and/or experience of their world. Instead, they have a hypothesis and they have defined categories, against which the qualitative data is then checked. In the book, it is mainly about ‘Big Q’ methodology.

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Article summary of What are epistemological bases for qualitative research? (Chapter 2) by Willig - Chapter

Article summary of What are epistemological bases for qualitative research? (Chapter 2) by Willig - Chapter


In this chapter, the range of epistemological positions that qualitative researchers can take are described. The relationships between different epistemological positions are also discussed. Lastly, it is discussed how researchers can identify their own assumptions. For example, a researcher can ask him- or herself the following questions to find out where he or she stands:

  1. What kind of knowledge do I aim to create?
  2. What are the assumptions that I make about the (material/social/psychological) world which I study?
  3. How do I conceptualize the role of the researcher in the research process? What is the relationship between myself and the knowledge I want to generate?

What are different types of knowledge?

In qualitative research, three types of knowledge can be created: realist knowledge, phenomenological knowledge, and social constructionist knowledge.

Realist approach

When a researcher tries to create knowledge that reflects the truth as much as possible, in other words, that reflects something exactly as it is happening in the world, that is called a realist approach. Realists assume that things exist independently of the researcher or any other human’s knowledge about it. This can include social or psychological processes. For example, a realist may be interested in what happens when a new member joins an established group, or a study of the way in which people who lost their parents at an early age approach intimate relationships. In sum, a realist assumes that social/psychological processes exist and can be identified. These processes are ‘real’, which means that they exist, even when the participants are not aware of it. Further, the researchers can be able to identify and describe the processes. Realist-like research is characterized by a discovery orientation: the role of the researcher is like that of a detective who uses his or her skills, knowledge, and experience to find out what is really going on. There is also a difference between ‘naïve’ and ‘critical’. Naïve realist approaches believe that there is a uncomplicated and direct relationship between what is observable (data) and what is really going on (reality). For example, if a naïve realist studies how people feel about taking an HIV test, they would interview individuals and accept their stories. The term ‘naïve’ sounds bad, but naïve realism does have a significant value to the field! She suggests calling this approach ‘direct realism’. A critical realist approach differs from a naïve approach in that it does not assume that data reflects the reality directly. Instead, the data needs to be interpreted before one can understand it. For instance, if one tries to find out why people smoke cigarettes, it is not enough to just simply ask them. It is important to dig deeper, for example to look at forces that drive smoking (peer pressure, social learning, addiction). This means that the participants are not aware of what drives their behaviour, but the researcher can identify it.

Phenomenological approach

In a phenomenological approach the goal is to produce knowledge about the subjective experience of the research participants. A phenomenological researcher tries to capture something that exists in the real world (the participants’ feelings, thoughts, and perceptions), but does not make any claims about what causes these concepts. It is more concerned with the quality of the experience (so: what is it like to experience something). It is not about discovering what causes social and psychological events. It also does not matter whether a participant describes something in an objective way (this and that happened), instead it is about how the participant experienced it. Researchers in this approach could study what individuals experience when they are going through a divorce. When a participant states that he or she “feels rejected by the whole world”, this constitutes phenomenological knowledge, irrespective of whether it is true or not. The role of a researcher within this context resembles a person-centered counsellor who listens empathically, with an attitude of unconditional, positive regard and without criticizing the participant. These researchers thus assume that there is more than one ‘world’, because similar events can be experienced in a variety of ways. Phenomenological approaches range from descriptive to interpretative. Descriptive phenomenology is concerned with capturing experience ‘precisely as it is’. Thus, a researcher does not edit the data or attribute different meanings to it. Interpretative phenomenology stays as close to the data as possible, but it also tries to understand the meaning of an account (a story) and reflects upon it within its wider (social, cultural, psychological) contexts.

Social constructionist approach

Researchers can also be interested in how people talk about the world and their experiences. This means that the researcher is interested with social construction of ‘knowledge’ itself and with how people construct versions of reality with language. The goal is thus to understand the process by which knowledge is constructed. Social constructionists often study ‘discourses’, for example they might analyze the language used in policy documents to find out how ‘antisocial behaviour’ is constructed in these documents. This approach is also often described as ‘relativist’, but not all researchers in this approach would describe themselves as relativists. There are also radical or less radical strands of social constructionism. The radical version is about the way in which speakers in specific social contexts use discourse to achieve an objective. It is not about the experience of the participant. The discourse that a participant uses is assumed to be driven by their goals. Researchers in this approach often use tape-recordings, for example of first therapy sessions. In sum, the point of social constructionist research is to identify localized, context-specific discursive productions (describing the self as ‘weak’, ‘strong’, ‘normal’, ‘deserving’), and tries to find out what the goal of these productions is. Then, the radical constructionist is only interested in the reality constructed for specific purposes (the first therapy session). More moderate social constructionists are more interested in making connections between the discursive construction of a reality and a wider context. For example, they could first try to identify the discursive strategies of clients in psychotherapy and then take a closer look at ‘therapy culture’, for example by watching TV shows about it. The researcher can try to explore how the dominant discourses about psychotherapy (on TV) drive people and with what consequences.

Methodological pluralism

It is also possible to combine different qualitative methodologies, which is called ‘methodological pluralism’. For example, a researcher tries to study what happens when someone is diagnosed with a terminal illness. First, he or she could collect first-person accounts and conduct a thematic analysis with the goal of better understanding what happens. This is called a realist approach, which assumes that the accounts of the patients reflect what actually happened to them. Then, to find out what it is like for an individual to receive a terminal diagnosis and what it means to them, he or she adopts a phenomenological stance. This means that he or she may generate a set of themes which capture a range of different subjective meanings. Then, the researcher may find out that many accounts include terms as ‘responsibility’ and might try to study that further. Then he or she adopts a social constructionist approach and can look to find discursive data. Findings can be presented in two ways: one can attempt to integrate the results from the various cycles, presenting a narrative. Alternatively, they can present the different readings next to each other, without trying to make a coherent narrative. To pursue a pluralistic approach, one needs to understand the epistemological basis of all qualitative methods.

How can one use the right approach?

In sum, every qualitative research is informed by a research question, which is based on assumptions about the world and people. These assumptions are called ‘ontological’. Every research question also makes assumptions about knowledge (what and how), which are called ‘epistemological assumptions’. There are three approaches to knowledge generation (realist, phenomenological, and social constructionist, and a combination, a pluralistic approach).

To find the right approach, you first need to formulate a research question. This question needs to be specific enough and it needs to identify what the researcher wants to find out. Then, after identifying a research question, the researcher needs to identify their epistemological orientation and think about the advantages and disadvantages of this. Then, think about methods of data collection and analysis.

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Article summary of When quantitative measures become a qualitative storybook: A phenomenological case analysis of validity and performativity of questionnaire administration in psychotherapy research by Truijens et al. - Chapter

Article summary of When quantitative measures become a qualitative storybook: A phenomenological case analysis of validity and performativity of questionnaire administration in psychotherapy research by Truijens et al. - Chapter


To study the efficacy of psychotherapeutic treatments, researchers use validated self-report questionnaires to quantify symptoms. Based on randomized controlled study designs (RCTs), evidence for therapeutic efficacy is gathered. In an RCT, symptom levels are assessed for a group of patients pre- and posttreatment, compared to a group of patients who have received an alternative treatment or no treatment at all (a placebo). RCTs are regarded as the best type of evidence in therapeutic research. In meta analyses, multiple RCTs are reported and this serves as a basis for large-scale policy decisions on the organization of evidence-based mental health care. When using RCTs, one requires significance tests to show that the treatment group performed better than the control (alternative/no treatment group). In psychotherapeutic research, evidence is thus based on numbers (differences between the groups and p-values for significance). In this article, it is described how patients who participate in the research translate their story into numbers, so that their story becomes ‘data’ that is used as evidence.

In psychotherapy research, numerical data is collected using standardized self-report questionnaires: participants choose one of several answers. However, this comes with issues. First, the respondents/participants have to be able to understand the questions. This is not always the case: sometimes a question is interpreted differently by someone. Participants may also give a different response, based on what they believe is expected of them. This can lead to over- or underestimation in responses. Second, respondents have to score their behavior on numerical scales. This scoring is affected by the format! For example, participants feel more comfortable to score “extreme” on a -5 to +5 scale compared to a scale going from 0 to 10. The reason for this is that participants feel that a ‘0’ in the -5 to +5 scale reflects ‘neutrality’, while in the scale going from 0 to 10 they feel like it reflects ‘absolute absence’. Third, the type of answers that respondents can provide are limited and do not allow for nuances. Lastly, respondents find it hard to decide which reference point they have to keep in mind while scoring (so: does this question refer to my whole life, the last year, the last week?).

These issues are just part of a broader problem. In psychology, the human beings are both the object and the subject of the science, which means that we have to ask the object (the human) to study their own behaviour (the subject). When humans are asked to reflect on their feelings, thoughts, attitudes and behaviors, the idea of being observed or assessed may invoke a change in their behaviour (which is called the Hawthorne Effect). For example, someone can answer in a socially desirable way or someone could emphasize a set of complaints when they know that they are being observed. It is hard to deal with these issues, because each human is different.

In psychotherapy, these problems are even more prominent because in psychotherapy the objects of interest are behaviours, thoughts and feelings that already deviate from the norm. In the clinical practice, patients often experience a lot of different symptoms. However, in research it is often required to isolate different symptoms, to be able to engage in causal attribution.

Even though there are these kind of epistemic problems, this is hardly talked about in empirical papers. Instead, the numerical approach is still regarded as the most reliable and trustworthy means to obtain evidence in psychotherapy research. The idea is that when RCTs are designed properly, when the used questionnaires/measures are valid, and when the data-analysis is reliable and transparent, then the evidence will be sound. However, trs his reasoning leaves out that the value of the evidence, even if the analysis is perfect, still depends on the input into the analysis. This means that the data that is collected has to be valid in the first place to make any research valid. In this article, the aim is to analyze the validity of the ‘data’ collected in psychotherapeutic research. They look at how patients’ stories are translated into numerical data in psychotherapy research. To do so, they discuss a case of a participants who participated in one of their psychotherapeutic studies (SCS).

What methods and materials were used?

Participants

This study makes use of a ‘case’, which is an example of an in-depth analysis of a person. In this study, June was the case. June is 26 year old and was referred to treatment by her general practitioner. June experiences an intense and overwhelming fear to be sick/dysfunctional. She fears to have different kinds of ‘psychological and physical diseases’ and she is afraid to go crazy. When she hears, reads, talks or even thinks about specific problems that other people have, she becomes obsessed with the fear of having the problem as well. These problems range from depression, paranoia, and substance dependence to cancer and intestinal problems. June was selected because she made a lot of annotations on paper-and-pencil questionnaires, which make her a ‘rich case’.

Therapy

June received 58 psychotherapeutic session. The therapist was a 36-year old male with experience in psychotherapeutic therapy. He works on the principles of supportive-expressive therapy, as defined by Luborsky. This is a form of psychodynamic treatment which focuses on creating a supportive therapeutic environment to pursue cognitive and emotional understanding.

Research team

The case study in this article was conducted by a research team consisting of the first, third, and fourth author. The first author had the task to conduct follow up on the data collection. However, the researcher never spoke to the patient because she was not reachable. All contact with the patient was conducted by the therapist. To avoid interpretation bias because of therapeutic experience over narrative analysis, the therapist was not involved in the analyses of the case data. The findings were discussed with the therapist (the second author) to reach consensus on the interpretations.

Materials

The data in this article were obtained in a naturalistic psychotherapy study (SCS). In this SCS, all therapy sessions were recorded. Furthermore, after each therapy session, the patients completed self-reports and the therapist wrote a clinical report. Examples of the used questionnaires were:

  • The General Health Questionnaire (GHQ-21). This is a 12-item self-report measure that assesses general mental wellbeing in the previous week. For example: “Have you recently been able to enjoy your normal day-to-day activities?”. These items are answered on a 4-point Likert scale, in which 0 = Not at all, 1 = Not more than usual, 2 = A bit more than usual, and 3 = A lot more than usual. The GHQ was administered after each therapy session.

  • The Beck Depression Inventory-II Dutch Version (BDI-II-NL). This questionnaire measures the presence and severity of depression symptoms with 21 items. In the Dutch version, each item has a title that indicates a symptom, for example “aversion of one-self”. This is answered by a 4-point Likert scale. An answer is scored by circling the number before the sentence. For example, the item “suicidal thoughts or wishes” provides the following options: 0 = I don’t have any thoughts of killing myself, 1 = I have thoughts of killing myself, but I would not carry them out, 2 = I would like to kill myself, and 3 = I would kill myself if I had the chance. In the current study, the BDI was administered following every eighth therapy session.

  • The Depressive Experiences Questionnaire (DEQ-nl). This questionnaire assesses personality patterns that are associated with depressive symptoms and it contains 66 items, for example: “It is not ‘who you are’, but ‘what you have achieved’ that counts.” The items are scored on a 7-point Likert scale, with 0 = Not at all to 7 = Extremely. In the current study, the DEQ was administered following every eighth therapy session.

  • The Inventory of Interpersonal Problems (IIP). The IIP assesses interpersonal dynamics from the responder’s perspective, specified for the relationship with their parents. It consists of respectively 64, 32, and 32 items. An example is: “I find it hard to feel good about the happiness of others.” The respondent has to answer how strongly this item reflects themselves. Items are scored on a 5-point Likert scale with 0 = Not at all and 4 = Very strongly. The IIP was administered following every eighth therapy session. The shortened 32-item version was administered following every therapy session.

  • The Personal Style Inventory (PSI). This is a 48-item that assesses personality styles that are related to depression. For example: “I often put the needs of others before my own”. These items are scored on a 6-point Likert scale, ranging from 1 = Completely disagree to 6 = Completely agree. The PSI was administered following every eighth therapy session.

  • The Symptom Checklist (SCL-90). The SCL-90 assesses mental wellbeing and deviation and it has 90 items. Examples are: “To what extent were you hindered by one of the following complaints” during the previous week?”. The items have to be scored for the previous week and are answered based on a 5-point Likert scale, with 0 = Not at all to 5 = Extremely. The SCL was administered after every eighth therapy session.

What was the procedure?

June came to the therapy for a period of three years: weekly, bi-weekly or monthly. After the 53th week, she stopped coming to therapy. After two years, she restarted her treatment. She received 58 sessions of treatment. After three sessions with the therapist, she agreed to participate in a pilot psychotherapy study. She signed an informed consent form. She also agreed to participate in follow-up interviews, but as noted before, she did not show up to these interviews. In the psychotherapy study (the SCS), different methods were used: quantitative, qualitative and biological. All sessions were recorded (audiotaped) so that the sessions could be transcribed. After each therapy session, the paper-and-pencil questionnaires were administered. June requested to complete the questionnaires in the presence of the therapist, and this request was accepted. The therapist did not look at the scores and he brought the paper-and-pencil questionnaires to the university. Then, the first author put the data into SPSS. Doing so, the therapist noticed the amount of visual and textual annotations on the questionnaires and therefore June was purposively selected for a case study.

This article is about the experience of questionnaire administration and not about the results. Therefore, the experiences and visualizations that June reported are discussed, and not the quantitative scores on the questionnaires.

How was the data analyzed?

The narrative data were analyzed based on the principles of ‘interpretative phenomenological analysis’. First, June’s therapeutic narrative was analysed qualitatively in two different research projects. The first project (HU & FT) focused on the narrative expression of complaints and anxious obsessions, and the second project (ED & FT) focused on the narrative experience of questionnaire administration. In both projects, the researchers first familiarized themselves with the data by transcribing and re-reading it. After, they coded the data in a data-driven manner. Both projects made use of iterative analysis. There were no hypotheses proposed, because this could interfere with a data-driven analysis.

What were the findings?

Three main/core themes in June’s complaints are discussed.

First, June is afraid to be ‘crazy’ or ‘ill’.  She fears to be diagnosed with depression, bipolar mood disorder, paranoia, loss of control, substance dependence, panic or anxiety disorder, chronic fatigue, personality issues, HSP, and other things. She does not fear to have a specific disorder or disease, she just fears to have something. June also seems to be susceptible for suggestion. When she hears about a random condition, she fears to have it herself. For example, she reports about suicide:

Like, sui-, the word suicide com-comes up in my mind and then I am [extremely – in dialect] afraid, I don’t want that [breathes heavily]. Like and then, then it is.. Yeah I am here by myself so in theory I could.. dó something like that, there is no one here to control me, like.. (Session 25)

Whenever June speaks, she analyses her words and says things like: “That is a sign of depression, isn’t it?”

Second, June is afraid to be locked up in a psychiatric institution. June searches for signs of abnormality, because she is afraid that others will perceive her as being crazy. She thinks that when others find her crazy, they might lock her up. Consider the following narrative:

Well, that is that ultimate fear, like, yes, you will be imprisoned, or put in psychiatry, like in a small room or something. And no one will come to you, like, no interaction or no communication or, like, not being recognized as a person but as a patient or something. Or as a “lunatic.” Like, like not normal anymore. (Session 2)

In sum, June’s overt phobic fears seem to stem from a fear of deviating from the societal norm and being an outcast.

Third, June is afraid to be “too much and too little”. June’s relation with societal norms is visualized in a drawing on the questionnaire. She explains her drawing by stating:

With this picture. A box, that is society…. You can even see it in micro or like I don’t know, in 2D. And that is me… that.. that smear, and those are the lines of society and sometimes I have hiatuses, and other times I jump beyond them. And I compare that, or I found that on society, and then I see like [gasps for breath ostentatiously]. So what I do is, those smears that go beyond, those I don’t wanna have, those have to go away. I want control over them, and on the other hand it frightens me, those hiatuses, like [gasps for breath ostentatiously], like “Oh no.” So I would really like to be exactly on the box. (Session 58)

To fit in the ‘box’, she tries to control her feelings and her thoughts, so that it is neither too much or too little. She tries to find understanding of her feelings and thoughts. She also feels an urge to visualize, and to make her understanding as concrete as possible. One ambivalence in June’s behaviour is that she searches to fit societal norms, but she does not want to coincide with those norms. Thus, she does everything she can to control herself, but on the other hand she is afraid that she might coincide with the box. Consider the following narrative:

“[I am] afraid to be put in a cage and [I want to] escape from that” (Session 11).

What was June’s questionnaire experience?

First, June is conflicted about the meaning of items. This means that she can not interpret the items in a straightforward manner. She takes a lot of time to decide which interpretation is “right”. Consider the following narrative:

“I am too generous towards others” … Does [this item] mean materialistically or do you mean…? For me that is really… contradicting. For me, that is materialistic…. I am very egoistic, but uhm… Regarding stuff, like borrowing something that they may use or like, with my time that they… Then I am ver-.. a bit too generous. […] Do I have to write that down like that, or not? Or? (Session 1)

Because of this, she scores the item “I am too generous towards others” by writing down “materially” (scored a 0), and writing down “time & services” (scored a 4 out of 4).

Another example refers to her answers on the item “I am a very independent person”. She scores this item both a 7 (yes) and 1 (no). She annotates: “when I am anxious, I feel a need for someone to hold me”. She also sometimes divides items into different parts and provides multiple answers to one item.

She also often changes the instructed time frame, so that it better fits the reference that she has in mind. For example, the GHQ is scored on a 4-point Likert scale with 0 = Not at all, 1 = Not more than usual, and 3 = A lot more than usual. June adds a category called “A bit less than usual”. June is also very ambivalent about scores: she often crosses scores and changes them to another number. She also marks two numbers and connects them with a line, indicating that she prefers a score in the middle of those two numbers.

June’s use of symbols and visual mark-ups indicate that she finds it important to elaborate on her answers.

Second, June is apprehensive about the confrontation with items in and the evaluation by questionnaires. This happens because topics can make her fearful. She also visualizes these fears by writing “from this thought, I get scared”.

Third, June is fueled by the act of questionnaire completion. This refers to that June was apprehensive of the questionnaire items and that she requested to complete them with the therapist. During this process, June regularly asks the therapist about the meaning of items and instructions and scores, and so forth. It seems that asking questions calms her down. At the end of the 53th session, June tells the therapist that she would like to speak with him about how questionnaire items “suggest” things for her or “bring things to her mind”. However, after this session, she does not return for a number of years. In the 54th session, she explains that she felt that her anxiety was under control and that she did not need therapy anymore. Later she experienced panic attacks and decided to call the therapist for a session. In this session, she explained that the questionnaires brought phobic thoughts to her mind.

How does questionnaire administration interact with June’s primary complaints?

The questionnaire as suggestion

When June hears, reads, sees or even thinks about an illness, she becomes fearful and experiences thoughts that she has an illness or psychological disorder. This means that her fears are provoked and increased by the questionnaires in the study. The questionnaires thus became a catalyst of June’s phobic fears. This means that the questionnaire may become a feared stimulus itself. This explains why she requests the therapist to stay with her during administration: this makes her feel more relaxed.

The questionnaire is not only a primer of June’s fears, it also creates new phobic fears. For example, multiple questions about suicide lead June to wonder whether she would ever be capable of doing something like that. Even though she does not experience any suicidal thoughts, she gets scared she might be able to do something like it. This impacts the way she scores the items. For example, she is afraid that she might have a personality disorder. Therefore, she is inclined to score her alleged narcissistic traits, because she feels that she needs to be “honest” in her scoring. However, this means that the scores based on her fear and not on her actual experience.

The questionnaire as judgmental other

The story that June tries to tell via the questionnaire seems to be addressed to ‘another’, which could be a concrete person or a even broader, society. This is indicated by the amount of details and remarks she puts next to the items. However, June also fears the verdict of others. This means that the questionnaire becomes a substitute for the evaluating other, which scares June because she is afraid that others will perceive her as ‘crazy’. She does not trust herself, so she feels a strong need to keep control of herself and to prevent others of perceiving what she thinks she can perceive herself.

The questionnaire as a cage

On the one hand, June does everything to fit in, and she wants to not fall out of the ‘normal’. She is afraid that she might be locked up by others if she does so. Therefore, she tries to find any signal that shows that she is weird. Thus she tries to fit the ‘box’ of society, but she is very afraid to be locked up in a ‘cage’. This leads to that she is afraid to ‘tick’ specific answers, because she is afraid that these answers may lead her to be locked up. For every answer that she provides, the tries to be as nuanced as possible and tries to avoid leaving an image that is open for interpretation. In terms of the questionnaire, June tries to find all issues that could imply craziness. She then evaluates her own behaviours and thoughts based on this questionnaire. However, every box on the questionnaire increases the risk of being understood within some specific image. This means that the questionnaire is a tool to avoid rejection by others, but it also becomes a warrant to be rejected by others. This makes June feel trapped, and in her attempt to escape, she internalizes all the signs so that she could negate any possible symptoms before they could even appear to others. June ends up controlling herself, and therefore the questionnaire becomes her cage.

What can be concluded?

June shows that questionnaires are not always the best method. She experienced a lot of problems trying to interpret the questionnaire. She felt conflicted about the meaning of items, and she found it hard to interpret items in a straightforward way. She also felt limited by the provided scales, indicated with the amount of visualizations and remarks. This is consistent with other experiences of questionnaire administration in other research settings. For example, Malpass et al. (2016) found that patients often find it hard to ‘fit’ their answers in the scales. Some patients call the scales ‘too simplistic’. This means that the scores that patients provide do not always reflect their experience. This can cause differences in interpretation by different respondents, and this can harm between-subjects comparability and eventually lead to an entirely invalid measurement.

Second, Schwarz (1990) noted the communicative problems of scales. This also played a role for June she appeared to be aware of the audience of the questionnaires. This also fits with other findings, for example the finding that substance abuse patients like to answer the questionnaires in the presence of the administrator, so that they could clarify their thoughts behind their answers. Another study showed that, when participants are asked to ‘think out loud’ during questionnaire completion, they often hesitated, which indicates that they try to fit in the social situation. This means that questionnaires are often used as a tool to communicate with another person.

However, from the perspective of research, June’s tendency to communicate directly to the administrator poses a threat to validity of research. The researchers has to make a difficult decision: should I put June’s data into a standardized format that is often used to analyse data, which means that only one of the answers that June provided is used as data. This means that a lot of information is lost. The researcher could also decide to input every response, but this then makes it hard to compare to other participants. Both options form a threat to the accuracy and legitimacy of the data, because there are only two options: lose information, or lose comparability. This means that comparability is a specific epistemic choice.

June was also aware of the evaluation of others who read her questionnaires. This makes it clear that questionnaire administration in psychotherapeutic research is not only about gaining information from ‘the object of interest’, but that it also involves an active process of meaning-making by the subject who is responding. Questionnaire items have to, in addition to make sense in the common way, also be meaningful within the personal context of the subject. For example, in one study with questionnaire administration after job loss, the participants interacted with the questionnaires to create stories that fit their experiences. Participants use three strategies to deal with questionnaire items: 1) reject it, 2) construct their experiences in a way that matches the questionnaire’s questions, and 3) reformulating the questionnaire’s questions to match their own experiences. This means that the conclusions stemming from questionnaire data are crafted by the respondents from an idiosyncratic point of reference. This means that data do not just represent a report drawn from the respondent, or that it is a general process by which demand characteristics by the researcher impact the respondents answers. Instead, it is dyad between question and answer that has to be made sense of.

McClimans (2011) argued that it is impossible to determine how legitimate a question is before any answers are obtained. This means that it is impossible to determine whether standardized questions are legitimate, before knowing participant’s answers. Instead, to validate the legitimacy of questions, we should be looking into the content of the answer, just like was done in the current study. This means that researchers should genuinely listen and try to learn from the respondents’ answers and ask them what they mean. Another issue is that asking questions can interfere with answering. For example in the case of June. This is referred to as ‘performativity’, which means that descriptions of symptoms are used to describe experiences: based on the description, participants evaluate their own experiences.

What can be said about the validity of data?

June’s case shows that the validity of data is threatened in multiple ways. It lead to cognitive and communicative issues as Schwarz (1990, 2007) described. This means that the act of data collection may interact with the variables that are being studied.Further, it it is vital for the validity of research to scrutinize the validity of data: it is important to understand what the data means, instead of just checking the validity of measures. Currently, psychological research does not seem to be equipped properly to scrutinize the validity of data collection. As Cronbach and Meehl (1995) stated, validity is not a feature of the instrument itself, instead it depends on a valid application in a particular research context. This means that measures should be infused with qualitative questions on the meaning of answers. Also, for statistical analysis to be valid, the input to the analysis should be valid. June’s case shows that validity problems involve more than discussed in the literature. Questionnaire administration can affect the complaints, just because it is measured.

BulletPoints

  • In psychotherapy research, numerical data is collected using standardized self-report questionnaires: participants choose one of several answers. However, this comes with issues. First, the respondents/participants have to be able to understand the questions. This is not always the case: sometimes a question is interpreted differently by someone. Participants may also give a different response, based on what they believe is expected of them. This can lead to over- or underestimation in responses. Second, respondents have to score their behavior on numerical scales. This scoring is affected by the format! For example, participants feel more comfortable to score “extreme” on a -5 to +5 scale compared to a scale going from 0 to 10. The reason for this is that participants feel that a ‘0’ in the -5 to +5 scale reflects ‘neutrality’, while in the scale going from 0 to 10 they feel like it reflects ‘absolute absence’. Third, the type of answers that respondents can provide are limited and do not allow for nuances. Lastly, respondents find it hard to decide which reference point they have to keep in mind while scoring (so: does this question refer to my whole life, the last year, the last week?).

  • This study makes use of a ‘case’, which is an example of an in-depth analysis of a person. In this study, June was the case. June is 26 year old and was referred to treatment by her general practitioner. June experiences an intense and overwhelming fear to be sick/dysfunctional. She fears to have different kinds of ‘psychological and physical diseases’ and she is afraid to go crazy. When she hears, reads, talks or even thinks about specific problems that other people have, she becomes obsessed with the fear of having the problem as well. These problems range from depression, paranoia, and substance dependence to cancer and intestinal problems. June was selected because she made a lot of annotations on paper-and-pencil questionnaires, which make her a ‘rich case’.

  • June was also aware of the evaluation of others who read her questionnaires. This makes it clear that questionnaire administration in psychotherapeutic research is not only about gaining information from ‘the object of interest’, but that it also involves an active process of meaning-making by the subject who is responding. Questionnaire items have to, in addition to make sense in the common way, also be meaningful within the personal context of the subject. For example, in one study with questionnaire administration after job loss, the participants interacted with the questionnaires to create stories that fit their experiences. Participants use three strategies to deal with questionnaire items: 1) reject it, 2) construct their experiences in a way that matches the questionnaire’s questions, and 3) reformulating the questionnaire’s questions to match their own experiences. This means that the conclusions stemming from questionnaire data are crafted by the respondents from an idiosyncratic point of reference. This means that data do not just represent a report drawn from the respondent, or that it is a general process by which demand characteristics by the researcher impact the respondents answers. Instead, it is dyad between question and answer that has to be made sense of.

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