what is a case study in psychology

what is a case study in psychology

The Importance of Case Studies in Psychology

1. Introduction to Case Studies

Those who are not familiar with case studies must be prepared to question their own assumptions, background, and personal biases. Case studies are generally a focused form of research that can utilize a variety of methods to produce information of a much more detailed nature than can be found in a single case or case within some type of framework. Researchers can utilize six different primary types of case studies to conduct their research. These include the illustrative case study, which is described as being the first kind of primary research in and of itself. It is descriptive and used in order to obtain more information on a particular event, which provides more effective understanding and learning in the reader’s thesis. A cumulative case study is the type of case study where the information from different previous studies is utilized in order to carry out a comparison. The information that is gathered is used to pinpoint specific ideas and to then uncover some things otherwise unknown. The exploratory case study is used in order to help define whether information is actually going to work to define the research question. It is similar to the type of case study found in a cohort study, and the idea is to uncover that something works well in the event it is tried on a larger scale. The last two types of case study design are the critical (it examines certain areas of the problems and ways of solving them) and the program implementation (no specific area and different propounded solutions are given). The purpose here is to try to determine a solution and its success. Case studies have been found to be incredibly useful. They are very often the starting place of new ideas and the testing of new methods and they are also an excellent way for guiding further research. Case studies lend themselves to both qualitative and quantitative research.

2. Benefits of Case Studies in Psychology

Compared with statistical data and other methods of research, case studies work by their very nature being focused on one or a few individuals. This may make the gathering of data more time-consuming and as with all research methods there are pros and cons to this, but the depth of how the data can be analyzed is far greater. Statistical studies may have vast amounts of data, but the data is just that, the chance to understand it is limited by the tools used to gather it. With a case study the ability to understand the data is far greater, as the research goes back to the case at many points to pick up and analyze information. This level of analysis, though not always possible, provides the best opportunity for a fuller understanding of the issue.

Case studies have the ability to be much more valuable than other research methods. The level of detail is very high and the ability to look for a phenomenon in depth allows for a much more qualitative and wider analysis of the issue. Because of the in-depth nature of the data collected, the same case study can offer a wealth of information about different aspects of the research problem as a result.

3. Steps Involved in Conducting a Case Study

A) Selecting a case For very obvious reasons, the single-case study is a very appealing method for an applied profession like education. Armed with a very detailed knowledge of a single pupil, a therapist can hope to intercede successfully. Alternatively, a detailed knowledge of single pupils can be collated across different contexts and times to build a very detailed profile of certain types of difficulties or abilities. Using this type of comparative case research, therapists and teachers can aim to formulate hypotheses that cause comparisons between differing pupils. With the aim of theory testing, a single case study can be selected to refute or support the generalizations of a theory. This is often seen as the best way for testing the validity of a theory. So for example, Bandura and Walters (1963) researched a sample of children in order to test their then newly formulated social learning theory. After observing that many direct tests of this theory had failed, Bandura made the hypothesis that because aggression was often a maladaptive behavior, the children would not partake in it if offered an alternative method of obtaining the same goal. Bandura was unable to manipulate naturally occurring events to test this hypothesis so instead he carried out different experiments to create a case study. In each instance, his predictions were confirmed and over time the generalizations of the theory were supported. The final reason for selecting a case study is that of it being the best possible strategy for answering the research question at hand. This is due to the case study method being one of the most inexpensive research methods and if fruitful can create further research easily, i.e. a case study can be carried out then implemented to create a treatment in a very similar situation. It is of course relevant to ask, what makes a good case study? According to Crowe et al (2011), a good case is one that is an exemplar of the population to which it is trying to represent. This is often achieved using a specific sampling technique, which can be gained through access to the case. Crowe et al goes on to say that good cases should be those that are different from what is already known about a topic in order to challenge existing theory, or in the instance of testing a theory, the case should be one that would otherwise be predicted late or non-adoption of the theory.

4. Examples of Successful Case Studies

Freud’s most famous case studies include Little Hans (1909a) and The Rat Man (1909b). Even today, they are regarded as classic examples of the use of psychoanalytic theory to explain psychological problems. Freud’s theories were based on his experiences with his neurotic or obsessive patients, and The Rat Man and Little Hans studies both illustrate this. Freud believed that obsessive symptoms were the result of an exaggerated defense mechanism. He illustrated this with The Rat Man, who was pathologically obsessing about the security of his father. Freud explored the meaning of this obsession through his patient’s associations and thus was able to relate the symptoms back to a repressed event in the patient’s childhood. This is also relevant to Little Hans, who developed a phobia of horses after a frightening incident. He associated the horse with his father around the time of the birth of his baby brother. Through further analysis, Freud found that Hans held unconscious sexual desires toward his mother and wished his father’s death to enable this. Freud concluded that the idea of his father dying put his mother over to him, and this was the true motive for Hans’ wishes. Freud’s theory could therefore explain why Hans developed a phobia of equine animals and why his symptoms subsided after his father speculated moving to a more rural area where there were fewer horses. Both of these case studies provided vast and powerful data that helped Freud shape his theory of psychosexual development. Little Hans has also been a case in point to support the effectiveness of psychoanalysis as he was cured after a short period.

5. Conclusion: The Value of Case Studies in Psychological Research

At the beginning of this paper, we made the distinction between qualitative methods and scientific research in psychology. We suggested that case study methods are a kind of qualitative research that allows a more flexible approach to the study of complex social phenomena. It was stated that case studies are a methodology and that the choice to use this method was the topic of a single research, an instance where the subject’s own research could be used to provide an in-depth insight to the phenomenon. We also distinguished various kinds of case studies between exploratory (or preliminary), descriptive (or interpretive) and explanatory case studies. We know that we made the point very strongly that the case study does not aim to generalize the results, but only to provide an in-depth analysis that might lead to the further implication of scientific research. Using a range of methods and using multiple sources of data, we discussed that a case study may involve only one method of research, or may use several, in sequence usually and that using several sources of data collection reduces an influence of bias on the results. And lastly, we discussed the issue of the within-case and between-case approaches to selecting cases. Step from the logical-aiculative paradigm where predictions are made to comparisons with other cases, or vice versa to refute a theory and select an understanding to the concerned case of study. Now looking back on what we have written and knowing what we have learned from case studies, there is a substantial value to this kind of research in psychological methods. Case studies provide detailed analysis of one, or more, cases, with an attempt to generalize across a population of a course. It is a method that is in-depth, where the researcher can explore the behaviors in context. In comparison with other methodologies which involve observing behavior, case studies allow the researcher to have a greater interaction with the subject(s), a useful method for testing hypotheses providing a more satisfying understanding to the problem, determination and testing a hypothesis, with a frame-of-reference being continuous with the general inductive data performing process. It is also a versatile method allowing for explanations of complex social phenomena and adding further knowledge to theories currently in existence. With the vast paradigm differences between psychopathology to social psychology, there’s an almost infinite amount of various kinds of case studies. The scientific rigor is greater for the case study compared with other methods. Offering a tried and tested structure with documentation, general concise and comprehensive patterns and an analytical framework that would give a new development in the given theory. This is made more apparent in the medical case where there are claims to improving the quality of healthcare, and the need for case studies in creating and implementing evidence-based practice.

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