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10 Case Study Advantages and Disadvantages

case study advantages and disadvantages, explained below

A case study in academic research is a detailed and in-depth examination of a specific instance or event, generally conducted through a qualitative approach to data.

The most common case study definition that I come across is is Robert K. Yin’s (2003, p. 13) quote provided below:

“An empirical inquiry that investigates a contemporary phenomenon within its real-life context, especially when the boundaries between phenomenon and context are not clearly evident.”

Researchers conduct case studies for a number of reasons, such as to explore complex phenomena within their real-life context, to look at a particularly interesting instance of a situation, or to dig deeper into something of interest identified in a wider-scale project.

While case studies render extremely interesting data, they have many limitations and are not suitable for all studies. One key limitation is that a case study’s findings are not usually generalizable to broader populations because one instance cannot be used to infer trends across populations.

Case Study Advantages and Disadvantages

1. in-depth analysis of complex phenomena.

Case study design allows researchers to delve deeply into intricate issues and situations.

By focusing on a specific instance or event, researchers can uncover nuanced details and layers of understanding that might be missed with other research methods, especially large-scale survey studies.

As Lee and Saunders (2017) argue,

“It allows that particular event to be studies in detail so that its unique qualities may be identified.”

This depth of analysis can provide rich insights into the underlying factors and dynamics of the studied phenomenon.

2. Holistic Understanding

Building on the above point, case studies can help us to understand a topic holistically and from multiple angles.

This means the researcher isn’t restricted to just examining a topic by using a pre-determined set of questions, as with questionnaires. Instead, researchers can use qualitative methods to delve into the many different angles, perspectives, and contextual factors related to the case study.

We can turn to Lee and Saunders (2017) again, who notes that case study researchers “develop a deep, holistic understanding of a particular phenomenon” with the intent of deeply understanding the phenomenon.

3. Examination of rare and Unusual Phenomena

We need to use case study methods when we stumble upon “rare and unusual” (Lee & Saunders, 2017) phenomena that would tend to be seen as mere outliers in population studies.

Take, for example, a child genius. A population study of all children of that child’s age would merely see this child as an outlier in the dataset, and this child may even be removed in order to predict overall trends.

So, to truly come to an understanding of this child and get insights into the environmental conditions that led to this child’s remarkable cognitive development, we need to do an in-depth study of this child specifically – so, we’d use a case study.

4. Helps Reveal the Experiences of Marginalzied Groups

Just as rare and unsual cases can be overlooked in population studies, so too can the experiences, beliefs, and perspectives of marginalized groups.

As Lee and Saunders (2017) argue, “case studies are also extremely useful in helping the expression of the voices of people whose interests are often ignored.”

Take, for example, the experiences of minority populations as they navigate healthcare systems. This was for many years a “hidden” phenomenon, not examined by researchers. It took case study designs to truly reveal this phenomenon, which helped to raise practitioners’ awareness of the importance of cultural sensitivity in medicine.

5. Ideal in Situations where Researchers cannot Control the Variables

Experimental designs – where a study takes place in a lab or controlled environment – are excellent for determining cause and effect . But not all studies can take place in controlled environments (Tetnowski, 2015).

When we’re out in the field doing observational studies or similar fieldwork, we don’t have the freedom to isolate dependent and independent variables. We need to use alternate methods.

Case studies are ideal in such situations.

A case study design will allow researchers to deeply immerse themselves in a setting (potentially combining it with methods such as ethnography or researcher observation) in order to see how phenomena take place in real-life settings.

6. Supports the generation of new theories or hypotheses

While large-scale quantitative studies such as cross-sectional designs and population surveys are excellent at testing theories and hypotheses on a large scale, they need a hypothesis to start off with!

This is where case studies – in the form of grounded research – come in. Often, a case study doesn’t start with a hypothesis. Instead, it ends with a hypothesis based upon the findings within a singular setting.

The deep analysis allows for hypotheses to emerge, which can then be taken to larger-scale studies in order to conduct further, more generalizable, testing of the hypothesis or theory.

7. Reveals the Unexpected

When a largescale quantitative research project has a clear hypothesis that it will test, it often becomes very rigid and has tunnel-vision on just exploring the hypothesis.

Of course, a structured scientific examination of the effects of specific interventions targeted at specific variables is extermely valuable.

But narrowly-focused studies often fail to shine a spotlight on unexpected and emergent data. Here, case studies come in very useful. Oftentimes, researchers set their eyes on a phenomenon and, when examining it closely with case studies, identify data and come to conclusions that are unprecedented, unforeseen, and outright surprising.

As Lars Meier (2009, p. 975) marvels, “where else can we become a part of foreign social worlds and have the chance to become aware of the unexpected?”


1. not usually generalizable.

Case studies are not generalizable because they tend not to look at a broad enough corpus of data to be able to infer that there is a trend across a population.

As Yang (2022) argues, “by definition, case studies can make no claims to be typical.”

Case studies focus on one specific instance of a phenomenon. They explore the context, nuances, and situational factors that have come to bear on the case study. This is really useful for bringing to light important, new, and surprising information, as I’ve already covered.

But , it’s not often useful for generating data that has validity beyond the specific case study being examined.

2. Subjectivity in interpretation

Case studies usually (but not always) use qualitative data which helps to get deep into a topic and explain it in human terms, finding insights unattainable by quantitative data.

But qualitative data in case studies relies heavily on researcher interpretation. While researchers can be trained and work hard to focus on minimizing subjectivity (through methods like triangulation), it often emerges – some might argue it’s innevitable in qualitative studies.

So, a criticism of case studies could be that they’re more prone to subjectivity – and researchers need to take strides to address this in their studies.

3. Difficulty in replicating results

Case study research is often non-replicable because the study takes place in complex real-world settings where variables are not controlled.

So, when returning to a setting to re-do or attempt to replicate a study, we often find that the variables have changed to such an extent that replication is difficult. Furthermore, new researchers (with new subjective eyes) may catch things that the other readers overlooked.

Replication is even harder when researchers attempt to replicate a case study design in a new setting or with different participants.

Comprehension Quiz for Students

Question 1: What benefit do case studies offer when exploring the experiences of marginalized groups?

a) They provide generalizable data. b) They help express the voices of often-ignored individuals. c) They control all variables for the study. d) They always start with a clear hypothesis.

Question 2: Why might case studies be considered ideal for situations where researchers cannot control all variables?

a) They provide a structured scientific examination. b) They allow for generalizability across populations. c) They focus on one specific instance of a phenomenon. d) They allow for deep immersion in real-life settings.

Question 3: What is a primary disadvantage of case studies in terms of data applicability?

a) They always focus on the unexpected. b) They are not usually generalizable. c) They support the generation of new theories. d) They provide a holistic understanding.

Question 4: Why might case studies be considered more prone to subjectivity?

a) They always use quantitative data. b) They heavily rely on researcher interpretation, especially with qualitative data. c) They are always replicable. d) They look at a broad corpus of data.

Question 5: In what situations are experimental designs, such as those conducted in labs, most valuable?

a) When there’s a need to study rare and unusual phenomena. b) When a holistic understanding is required. c) When determining cause-and-effect relationships. d) When the study focuses on marginalized groups.

Question 6: Why is replication challenging in case study research?

a) Because they always use qualitative data. b) Because they tend to focus on a broad corpus of data. c) Due to the changing variables in complex real-world settings. d) Because they always start with a hypothesis.

Lee, B., & Saunders, M. N. K. (2017). Conducting Case Study Research for Business and Management Students. SAGE Publications.

Meir, L. (2009). Feasting on the Benefits of Case Study Research. In Mills, A. J., Wiebe, E., & Durepos, G. (Eds.). Encyclopedia of Case Study Research (Vol. 2). London: SAGE Publications.

Tetnowski, J. (2015). Qualitative case study research design.  Perspectives on fluency and fluency disorders ,  25 (1), 39-45. ( Source )

Yang, S. L. (2022). The War on Corruption in China: Local Reform and Innovation . Taylor & Francis.

Yin, R. (2003). Case Study research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.


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Case Study Research Method in Psychology

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Case studies are in-depth investigations of a person, group, event, or community. Typically, data is gathered from various sources and by using several different methods (e.g., observations & interviews).

The case study research method originated in clinical medicine (the case history, i.e., the patient’s personal history). In psychology, case studies are often confined to the study of a particular individual.

The information is mainly biographical and relates to events in the individual’s past (i.e., retrospective), as well as to significant events which are currently occurring in his or her everyday life.

The case study is not itself a research method, but researchers select methods of data collection and analysis that will generate material suitable for case studies.

Case studies are widely used in psychology, and amongst the best known were the ones carried out by Sigmund Freud, including Anna O and Little Hans .

Freud (1909a, 1909b) conducted very detailed investigations into the private lives of his patients in an attempt to both understand and help them overcome their illnesses.

Even today, case histories are one of the main methods of investigation in abnormal psychology and psychiatry.

This makes it clear that the case study is a method that should only be used by a psychologist, therapist, or psychiatrist, i.e., someone with a professional qualification.

There is an ethical issue of competence. Only someone qualified to diagnose and treat a person can conduct a formal case study relating to atypical (i.e., abnormal) behavior or atypical development.

The procedure used in a case study means that the researcher provides a description of the behavior. This comes from interviews and other sources, such as observation.

The client also reports detail of events from his or her point of view. The researcher then writes up the information from both sources above as the case study and interprets the information.

The research may also continue for an extended period of time, so processes and developments can be studied as they happen.

Amongst the sources of data the psychologist is likely to turn to when carrying out a case study are observations of a person’s daily routine, unstructured interviews with the participant herself (and with people who know her), diaries, personal notes (e.g., letters, photographs, notes) or official document (e.g., case notes, clinical notes, appraisal reports).

The case study method often involves simply observing what happens to or reconstructing ‘the case history’ of a single participant or group of individuals (such as a school class or a specific social group), i.e., the idiographic approach .

The interview is also an extremely effective procedure for obtaining information about an individual, and it may be used to collect comments from the person’s friends, parents, employer, workmates, and others who have a good knowledge of the person, as well as to obtain facts from the person him or herself.

Most of this information is likely to be qualitative (i.e., verbal description rather than measurement), but the psychologist might collect numerical data as well.

The data collected can be analyzed using different theories (e.g., grounded theory, interpretative phenomenological analysis, text interpretation, e.g., thematic coding).

All the approaches mentioned here use preconceived categories in the analysis, and they are ideographic in their approach, i.e., they focus on the individual case without reference to a comparison group.

Interpreting the information means the researcher decides what to include or leave out. A good case study should always clarify which information is the factual description and which is an inference or the researcher’s opinion.

  • Provides detailed (rich qualitative) information.
  • Provides insight for further research.
  • Permitting investigation of otherwise impractical (or unethical) situations.

Case studies allow a researcher to investigate a topic in far more detail than might be possible if they were trying to deal with a large number of research participants (nomothetic approach) with the aim of ‘averaging’.

Because of their in-depth, multi-sided approach, case studies often shed light on aspects of human thinking and behavior that would be unethical or impractical to study in other ways.

Research that only looks into the measurable aspects of human behavior is not likely to give us insights into the subjective dimension of experience, which is important to psychoanalytic and humanistic psychologists.

Case studies are often used in exploratory research. They can help us generate new ideas (that might be tested by other methods). They are an important way of illustrating theories and can help show how different aspects of a person’s life are related to each other.

The method is, therefore, important for psychologists who adopt a holistic point of view (i.e., humanistic psychologists ).


  • Lacking scientific rigor and providing little basis for generalization of results to the wider population.
  • Researchers’ own subjective feeling may influence the case study (researcher bias).
  • Difficult to replicate.
  • Time-consuming and expensive.
  • The volume of data, together with the time restrictions in place, impacted the depth of analysis that was possible within the available resources.

Because a case study deals with only one person/event/group, we can never be sure if the case study investigated is representative of the wider body of “similar” instances. This means the conclusions drawn from a particular case may not be transferable to other settings.

Because case studies are based on the analysis of qualitative (i.e., descriptive) data , a lot depends on the psychologist’s interpretation of the information she has acquired.

This means that there is a lot of scope for observer bias , and it could be that the subjective opinions of the psychologist intrude in the assessment of what the data means.

For example, Freud has been criticized for producing case studies in which the information was sometimes distorted to fit particular behavioral theories (e.g., Little Hans ).

This is also true of Money’s interpretation of the Bruce/Brenda case study (Diamond, 1997) when he ignored evidence that went against his theory.

Diamond, M., & Sigmundson, K. (1997). Sex Reassignment at Birth: Long-term Review and Clinical Implications. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine , 151(3), 298-304

Freud, S. (1909a). Analysis of a phobia of a five year old boy. In The Pelican Freud Library (1977), Vol 8, Case Histories 1, pages 169-306

Freud, S. (1909b). Bemerkungen über einen Fall von Zwangsneurose (Der “Rattenmann”). Jb. psychoanal. psychopathol. Forsch ., I, p. 357-421; GW, VII, p. 379-463; Notes upon a case of obsessional neurosis, SE , 10: 151-318.

Further Information

  • Case Study Approach
  • Case Study Method
  • Enhancing the Quality of Case Studies in Health Services Research
  • “We do things together” A case study of “couplehood” in dementia
  • Using mixed methods for evaluating an integrative approach to cancer care: a case study

what is a case study in psychology advantages and disadvantages

Introduction to Psychology/Case Studies

Case study in psychology refers to the use of a descriptive research approach to obtain an in-depth analysis of a person, group, or phenomenon. A variety of techniques may be employed including personal interviews, direct-observation , psychometric tests , and archival records. The psychology case studies are mostly used in clinical research to describe rare events and conditions, which contradict well established principles in the field of psychology . [1] Case studies are generally a single-case design, but can also be a multiple-case design, where replication instead of sampling is the criterion for inclusion. [2] Like other research methodologies within psychology, the case study must produce valid and reliable results in order to be useful for the development of future research. Distinct advantages and disadvantages are associated with the case study in psychology.

  • 1 Advantages
  • 2 Disadvantages
  • 3 Famous case studies in psychology
  • 4 References

Advantages [ edit | edit source ]

One major advantage of the case study in psychology is the potential for the development of novel hypotheses for later testing. Second, the case study can provide detailed descriptions of specific and rare cases.

Disadvantages [ edit | edit source ]

The major disadvantages of the case study in psychology is the inability to draw cause and effect relationships or test hypotheses. Further, with the case study it is impossible to generalize the findings to a wider population. [1]

Famous case studies in psychology [ edit | edit source ]

  • Phineas Gage
  • Freud and Little Hans
  • John Money and the John/Joan case
  • Genie (feral child)
  • Piaget's studies
  • Washoe (sign language)

References [ edit | edit source ]

  • ↑ a b Christensen, L. B. (1994).“Experimental methodology"( 6th ed).,Simon & Schuster:Needham Heights, MA. ISBN 978-0-205-15506-4 .
  • ↑ Yin, R.(1994). “Case study research: Design and methods” (2nd ed.).Sage Publishing:Beverly Hills, CA. ISBN 978-0-7619-2553-8 .

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  • What Is a Case Study? | Definition, Examples & Methods

What Is a Case Study? | Definition, Examples & Methods

Published on May 8, 2019 by Shona McCombes . Revised on June 22, 2023.

A case study is a detailed study of a specific subject, such as a person, group, place, event, organization, or phenomenon. Case studies are commonly used in social, educational, clinical, and business research.

A case study research design usually involves qualitative methods , but quantitative methods are sometimes also used. Case studies are good for describing , comparing, evaluating and understanding different aspects of a research problem .

Table of contents

When to do a case study, step 1: select a case, step 2: build a theoretical framework, step 3: collect your data, step 4: describe and analyze the case, other interesting articles.

A case study is an appropriate research design when you want to gain concrete, contextual, in-depth knowledge about a specific real-world subject. It allows you to explore the key characteristics, meanings, and implications of the case.

Case studies are often a good choice in a thesis or dissertation . They keep your project focused and manageable when you don’t have the time or resources to do large-scale research.

You might use just one complex case study where you explore a single subject in depth, or conduct multiple case studies to compare and illuminate different aspects of your research problem.

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Once you have developed your problem statement and research questions , you should be ready to choose the specific case that you want to focus on. A good case study should have the potential to:

  • Provide new or unexpected insights into the subject
  • Challenge or complicate existing assumptions and theories
  • Propose practical courses of action to resolve a problem
  • Open up new directions for future research

TipIf your research is more practical in nature and aims to simultaneously investigate an issue as you solve it, consider conducting action research instead.

Unlike quantitative or experimental research , a strong case study does not require a random or representative sample. In fact, case studies often deliberately focus on unusual, neglected, or outlying cases which may shed new light on the research problem.

Example of an outlying case studyIn the 1960s the town of Roseto, Pennsylvania was discovered to have extremely low rates of heart disease compared to the US average. It became an important case study for understanding previously neglected causes of heart disease.

However, you can also choose a more common or representative case to exemplify a particular category, experience or phenomenon.

Example of a representative case studyIn the 1920s, two sociologists used Muncie, Indiana as a case study of a typical American city that supposedly exemplified the changing culture of the US at the time.

While case studies focus more on concrete details than general theories, they should usually have some connection with theory in the field. This way the case study is not just an isolated description, but is integrated into existing knowledge about the topic. It might aim to:

  • Exemplify a theory by showing how it explains the case under investigation
  • Expand on a theory by uncovering new concepts and ideas that need to be incorporated
  • Challenge a theory by exploring an outlier case that doesn’t fit with established assumptions

To ensure that your analysis of the case has a solid academic grounding, you should conduct a literature review of sources related to the topic and develop a theoretical framework . This means identifying key concepts and theories to guide your analysis and interpretation.

There are many different research methods you can use to collect data on your subject. Case studies tend to focus on qualitative data using methods such as interviews , observations , and analysis of primary and secondary sources (e.g., newspaper articles, photographs, official records). Sometimes a case study will also collect quantitative data.

Example of a mixed methods case studyFor a case study of a wind farm development in a rural area, you could collect quantitative data on employment rates and business revenue, collect qualitative data on local people’s perceptions and experiences, and analyze local and national media coverage of the development.

The aim is to gain as thorough an understanding as possible of the case and its context.

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what is a case study in psychology advantages and disadvantages

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In writing up the case study, you need to bring together all the relevant aspects to give as complete a picture as possible of the subject.

How you report your findings depends on the type of research you are doing. Some case studies are structured like a standard scientific paper or thesis , with separate sections or chapters for the methods , results and discussion .

Others are written in a more narrative style, aiming to explore the case from various angles and analyze its meanings and implications (for example, by using textual analysis or discourse analysis ).

In all cases, though, make sure to give contextual details about the case, connect it back to the literature and theory, and discuss how it fits into wider patterns or debates.

If you want to know more about statistics , methodology , or research bias , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.

  • Normal distribution
  • Degrees of freedom
  • Null hypothesis
  • Discourse analysis
  • Control groups
  • Mixed methods research
  • Non-probability sampling
  • Quantitative research
  • Ecological validity

Research bias

  • Rosenthal effect
  • Implicit bias
  • Cognitive bias
  • Selection bias
  • Negativity bias
  • Status quo bias

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Case Studies

Last updated 22 Mar 2021

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Case studies are very detailed investigations of an individual or small group of people, usually regarding an unusual phenomenon or biographical event of interest to a research field. Due to a small sample, the case study can conduct an in-depth analysis of the individual/group.

Evaluation of case studies:

- Case studies create opportunities for a rich yield of data, and the depth of analysis can in turn bring high levels of validity (i.e. providing an accurate and exhaustive measure of what the study is hoping to measure).

- Studying abnormal psychology can give insight into how something works when it is functioning correctly, such as brain damage on memory (e.g. the case study of patient KF, whose short-term memory was impaired following a motorcycle accident but left his long-term memory intact, suggesting there might be separate physical stores in the brain for short and long-term memory).

- The detail collected on a single case may lead to interesting findings that conflict with current theories, and stimulate new paths for research.

- There is little control over a number of variables involved in a case study, so it is difficult to confidently establish any causal relationships between variables.

- Case studies are unusual by nature, so will have poor reliability as replicating them exactly will be unlikely.

- Due to the small sample size, it is unlikely that findings from a case study alone can be generalised to a whole population.

- The case study’s researcher may become so involved with the study that they exhibit bias in their interpretation and presentation of the data, making it challenging to distinguish what is truly objective/factual.

  • Case Studies

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  • 2.2 Approaches to Research
  • Introduction
  • 1.1 What Is Psychology?
  • 1.2 History of Psychology
  • 1.3 Contemporary Psychology
  • 1.4 Careers in Psychology
  • Review Questions
  • Critical Thinking Questions
  • Personal Application Questions
  • 2.1 Why Is Research Important?
  • 2.3 Analyzing Findings
  • 3.1 Human Genetics
  • 3.2 Cells of the Nervous System
  • 3.3 Parts of the Nervous System
  • 3.4 The Brain and Spinal Cord
  • 3.5 The Endocrine System
  • 4.1 What Is Consciousness?
  • 4.2 Sleep and Why We Sleep
  • 4.3 Stages of Sleep
  • 4.4 Sleep Problems and Disorders
  • 4.5 Substance Use and Abuse
  • 4.6 Other States of Consciousness
  • 5.1 Sensation versus Perception
  • 5.2 Waves and Wavelengths
  • 5.4 Hearing
  • 5.5 The Other Senses
  • 5.6 Gestalt Principles of Perception
  • 6.1 What Is Learning?
  • 6.2 Classical Conditioning
  • 6.3 Operant Conditioning
  • 6.4 Observational Learning (Modeling)
  • 7.1 What Is Cognition?
  • 7.2 Language
  • 7.3 Problem Solving
  • 7.4 What Are Intelligence and Creativity?
  • 7.5 Measures of Intelligence
  • 7.6 The Source of Intelligence
  • 8.1 How Memory Functions
  • 8.2 Parts of the Brain Involved with Memory
  • 8.3 Problems with Memory
  • 8.4 Ways to Enhance Memory
  • 9.1 What Is Lifespan Development?
  • 9.2 Lifespan Theories
  • 9.3 Stages of Development
  • 9.4 Death and Dying
  • 10.1 Motivation
  • 10.2 Hunger and Eating
  • 10.3 Sexual Behavior, Sexuality, and Gender Identity
  • 10.4 Emotion
  • 11.1 What Is Personality?
  • 11.2 Freud and the Psychodynamic Perspective
  • 11.3 Neo-Freudians: Adler, Erikson, Jung, and Horney
  • 11.4 Learning Approaches
  • 11.5 Humanistic Approaches
  • 11.6 Biological Approaches
  • 11.7 Trait Theorists
  • 11.8 Cultural Understandings of Personality
  • 11.9 Personality Assessment
  • 12.1 What Is Social Psychology?
  • 12.2 Self-presentation
  • 12.3 Attitudes and Persuasion
  • 12.4 Conformity, Compliance, and Obedience
  • 12.5 Prejudice and Discrimination
  • 12.6 Aggression
  • 12.7 Prosocial Behavior
  • 13.1 What Is Industrial and Organizational Psychology?
  • 13.2 Industrial Psychology: Selecting and Evaluating Employees
  • 13.3 Organizational Psychology: The Social Dimension of Work
  • 13.4 Human Factors Psychology and Workplace Design
  • 14.1 What Is Stress?
  • 14.2 Stressors
  • 14.3 Stress and Illness
  • 14.4 Regulation of Stress
  • 14.5 The Pursuit of Happiness
  • 15.1 What Are Psychological Disorders?
  • 15.2 Diagnosing and Classifying Psychological Disorders
  • 15.3 Perspectives on Psychological Disorders
  • 15.4 Anxiety Disorders
  • 15.5 Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders
  • 15.6 Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
  • 15.7 Mood and Related Disorders
  • 15.8 Schizophrenia
  • 15.9 Dissociative Disorders
  • 15.10 Disorders in Childhood
  • 15.11 Personality Disorders
  • 16.1 Mental Health Treatment: Past and Present
  • 16.2 Types of Treatment
  • 16.3 Treatment Modalities
  • 16.4 Substance-Related and Addictive Disorders: A Special Case
  • 16.5 The Sociocultural Model and Therapy Utilization

Learning Objectives

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Describe the different research methods used by psychologists
  • Discuss the strengths and weaknesses of case studies, naturalistic observation, surveys, and archival research
  • Compare longitudinal and cross-sectional approaches to research
  • Compare and contrast correlation and causation

There are many research methods available to psychologists in their efforts to understand, describe, and explain behavior and the cognitive and biological processes that underlie it. Some methods rely on observational techniques. Other approaches involve interactions between the researcher and the individuals who are being studied—ranging from a series of simple questions to extensive, in-depth interviews—to well-controlled experiments.

Each of these research methods has unique strengths and weaknesses, and each method may only be appropriate for certain types of research questions. For example, studies that rely primarily on observation produce incredible amounts of information, but the ability to apply this information to the larger population is somewhat limited because of small sample sizes. Survey research, on the other hand, allows researchers to easily collect data from relatively large samples. While this allows for results to be generalized to the larger population more easily, the information that can be collected on any given survey is somewhat limited and subject to problems associated with any type of self-reported data. Some researchers conduct archival research by using existing records. While this can be a fairly inexpensive way to collect data that can provide insight into a number of research questions, researchers using this approach have no control on how or what kind of data was collected. All of the methods described thus far are correlational in nature. This means that researchers can speak to important relationships that might exist between two or more variables of interest. However, correlational data cannot be used to make claims about cause-and-effect relationships.

Correlational research can find a relationship between two variables, but the only way a researcher can claim that the relationship between the variables is cause and effect is to perform an experiment. In experimental research, which will be discussed later in this chapter, there is a tremendous amount of control over variables of interest. While this is a powerful approach, experiments are often conducted in artificial settings. This calls into question the validity of experimental findings with regard to how they would apply in real-world settings. In addition, many of the questions that psychologists would like to answer cannot be pursued through experimental research because of ethical concerns.

Clinical or Case Studies

In 2011, the New York Times published a feature story on Krista and Tatiana Hogan, Canadian twin girls. These particular twins are unique because Krista and Tatiana are conjoined twins, connected at the head. There is evidence that the two girls are connected in a part of the brain called the thalamus, which is a major sensory relay center. Most incoming sensory information is sent through the thalamus before reaching higher regions of the cerebral cortex for processing.

Link to Learning

Watch this CBC video about Krista's and Tatiana's lives to learn more.

The implications of this potential connection mean that it might be possible for one twin to experience the sensations of the other twin. For instance, if Krista is watching a particularly funny television program, Tatiana might smile or laugh even if she is not watching the program. This particular possibility has piqued the interest of many neuroscientists who seek to understand how the brain uses sensory information.

These twins represent an enormous resource in the study of the brain, and since their condition is very rare, it is likely that as long as their family agrees, scientists will follow these girls very closely throughout their lives to gain as much information as possible (Dominus, 2011).

Over time, it has become clear that while Krista and Tatiana share some sensory experiences and motor control, they remain two distinct individuals, which provides invaluable insight for researchers interested in the mind and the brain (Egnor, 2017).

In observational research, scientists are conducting a clinical or case study when they focus on one person or just a few individuals. Indeed, some scientists spend their entire careers studying just 10–20 individuals. Why would they do this? Obviously, when they focus their attention on a very small number of people, they can gain a precious amount of insight into those cases. The richness of information that is collected in clinical or case studies is unmatched by any other single research method. This allows the researcher to have a very deep understanding of the individuals and the particular phenomenon being studied.

If clinical or case studies provide so much information, why are they not more frequent among researchers? As it turns out, the major benefit of this particular approach is also a weakness. As mentioned earlier, this approach is often used when studying individuals who are interesting to researchers because they have a rare characteristic. Therefore, the individuals who serve as the focus of case studies are not like most other people. If scientists ultimately want to explain all behavior, focusing attention on such a special group of people can make it difficult to generalize any observations to the larger population as a whole. Generalizing refers to the ability to apply the findings of a particular research project to larger segments of society. Again, case studies provide enormous amounts of information, but since the cases are so specific, the potential to apply what’s learned to the average person may be very limited.

Naturalistic Observation

If you want to understand how behavior occurs, one of the best ways to gain information is to simply observe the behavior in its natural context. However, people might change their behavior in unexpected ways if they know they are being observed. How do researchers obtain accurate information when people tend to hide their natural behavior? As an example, imagine that your professor asks everyone in your class to raise their hand if they always wash their hands after using the restroom. Chances are that almost everyone in the classroom will raise their hand, but do you think hand washing after every trip to the restroom is really that universal?

This is very similar to the phenomenon mentioned earlier in this chapter: many individuals do not feel comfortable answering a question honestly. But if we are committed to finding out the facts about hand washing, we have other options available to us.

Suppose we send a classmate into the restroom to actually watch whether everyone washes their hands after using the restroom. Will our observer blend into the restroom environment by wearing a white lab coat, sitting with a clipboard, and staring at the sinks? We want our researcher to be inconspicuous—perhaps standing at one of the sinks pretending to put in contact lenses while secretly recording the relevant information. This type of observational study is called naturalistic observation : observing behavior in its natural setting. To better understand peer exclusion, Suzanne Fanger collaborated with colleagues at the University of Texas to observe the behavior of preschool children on a playground. How did the observers remain inconspicuous over the duration of the study? They equipped a few of the children with wireless microphones (which the children quickly forgot about) and observed while taking notes from a distance. Also, the children in that particular preschool (a “laboratory preschool”) were accustomed to having observers on the playground (Fanger, Frankel, & Hazen, 2012).

It is critical that the observer be as unobtrusive and as inconspicuous as possible: when people know they are being watched, they are less likely to behave naturally. If you have any doubt about this, ask yourself how your driving behavior might differ in two situations: In the first situation, you are driving down a deserted highway during the middle of the day; in the second situation, you are being followed by a police car down the same deserted highway ( Figure 2.7 ).

A photograph shows two police cars driving, one with its lights flashing.

It should be pointed out that naturalistic observation is not limited to research involving humans. Indeed, some of the best-known examples of naturalistic observation involve researchers going into the field to observe various kinds of animals in their own environments. As with human studies, the researchers maintain their distance and avoid interfering with the animal subjects so as not to influence their natural behaviors. Scientists have used this technique to study social hierarchies and interactions among animals ranging from ground squirrels to gorillas. The information provided by these studies is invaluable in understanding how those animals organize socially and communicate with one another. The anthropologist Jane Goodall , for example, spent nearly five decades observing the behavior of chimpanzees in Africa ( Figure 2.8 ). As an illustration of the types of concerns that a researcher might encounter in naturalistic observation, some scientists criticized Goodall for giving the chimps names instead of referring to them by numbers—using names was thought to undermine the emotional detachment required for the objectivity of the study (McKie, 2010).

(a) A photograph shows Jane Goodall speaking from a lectern. (b) A photograph shows a chimpanzee’s face.

The greatest benefit of naturalistic observation is the validity , or accuracy, of information collected unobtrusively in a natural setting. Having individuals behave as they normally would in a given situation means that we have a higher degree of ecological validity, or realism, than we might achieve with other research approaches. Therefore, our ability to generalize the findings of the research to real-world situations is enhanced. If done correctly, we need not worry about people or animals modifying their behavior simply because they are being observed. Sometimes, people may assume that reality programs give us a glimpse into authentic human behavior. However, the principle of inconspicuous observation is violated as reality stars are followed by camera crews and are interviewed on camera for personal confessionals. Given that environment, we must doubt how natural and realistic their behaviors are.

The major downside of naturalistic observation is that they are often difficult to set up and control. In our restroom study, what if you stood in the restroom all day prepared to record people’s hand washing behavior and no one came in? Or, what if you have been closely observing a troop of gorillas for weeks only to find that they migrated to a new place while you were sleeping in your tent? The benefit of realistic data comes at a cost. As a researcher you have no control of when (or if) you have behavior to observe. In addition, this type of observational research often requires significant investments of time, money, and a good dose of luck.

Sometimes studies involve structured observation. In these cases, people are observed while engaging in set, specific tasks. An excellent example of structured observation comes from Strange Situation by Mary Ainsworth (you will read more about this in the chapter on lifespan development). The Strange Situation is a procedure used to evaluate attachment styles that exist between an infant and caregiver. In this scenario, caregivers bring their infants into a room filled with toys. The Strange Situation involves a number of phases, including a stranger coming into the room, the caregiver leaving the room, and the caregiver’s return to the room. The infant’s behavior is closely monitored at each phase, but it is the behavior of the infant upon being reunited with the caregiver that is most telling in terms of characterizing the infant’s attachment style with the caregiver.

Another potential problem in observational research is observer bias . Generally, people who act as observers are closely involved in the research project and may unconsciously skew their observations to fit their research goals or expectations. To protect against this type of bias, researchers should have clear criteria established for the types of behaviors recorded and how those behaviors should be classified. In addition, researchers often compare observations of the same event by multiple observers, in order to test inter-rater reliability : a measure of reliability that assesses the consistency of observations by different observers.

Often, psychologists develop surveys as a means of gathering data. Surveys are lists of questions to be answered by research participants, and can be delivered as paper-and-pencil questionnaires, administered electronically, or conducted verbally ( Figure 2.9 ). Generally, the survey itself can be completed in a short time, and the ease of administering a survey makes it easy to collect data from a large number of people.

Surveys allow researchers to gather data from larger samples than may be afforded by other research methods . A sample is a subset of individuals selected from a population , which is the overall group of individuals that the researchers are interested in. Researchers study the sample and seek to generalize their findings to the population. Generally, researchers will begin this process by calculating various measures of central tendency from the data they have collected. These measures provide an overall summary of what a typical response looks like. There are three measures of central tendency: mode, median, and mean. The mode is the most frequently occurring response, the median lies at the middle of a given data set, and the mean is the arithmetic average of all data points. Means tend to be most useful in conducting additional analyses like those described below; however, means are very sensitive to the effects of outliers, and so one must be aware of those effects when making assessments of what measures of central tendency tell us about a data set in question.

A sample online survey reads, “Dear visitor, your opinion is important to us. We would like to invite you to participate in a short survey to gather your opinions and feedback on your news consumption habits. The survey will take approximately 10-15 minutes. Simply click the “Yes” button below to launch the survey. Would you like to participate?” Two buttons are labeled “yes” and “no.”

There is both strength and weakness of the survey in comparison to case studies. By using surveys, we can collect information from a larger sample of people. A larger sample is better able to reflect the actual diversity of the population, thus allowing better generalizability. Therefore, if our sample is sufficiently large and diverse, we can assume that the data we collect from the survey can be generalized to the larger population with more certainty than the information collected through a case study. However, given the greater number of people involved, we are not able to collect the same depth of information on each person that would be collected in a case study.

Another potential weakness of surveys is something we touched on earlier in this chapter: People don't always give accurate responses. They may lie, misremember, or answer questions in a way that they think makes them look good. For example, people may report drinking less alcohol than is actually the case.

Any number of research questions can be answered through the use of surveys. One real-world example is the research conducted by Jenkins, Ruppel, Kizer, Yehl, and Griffin (2012) about the backlash against the US Arab-American community following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Jenkins and colleagues wanted to determine to what extent these negative attitudes toward Arab-Americans still existed nearly a decade after the attacks occurred. In one study, 140 research participants filled out a survey with 10 questions, including questions asking directly about the participant’s overt prejudicial attitudes toward people of various ethnicities. The survey also asked indirect questions about how likely the participant would be to interact with a person of a given ethnicity in a variety of settings (such as, “How likely do you think it is that you would introduce yourself to a person of Arab-American descent?”). The results of the research suggested that participants were unwilling to report prejudicial attitudes toward any ethnic group. However, there were significant differences between their pattern of responses to questions about social interaction with Arab-Americans compared to other ethnic groups: they indicated less willingness for social interaction with Arab-Americans compared to the other ethnic groups. This suggested that the participants harbored subtle forms of prejudice against Arab-Americans, despite their assertions that this was not the case (Jenkins et al., 2012).

Archival Research

Some researchers gain access to large amounts of data without interacting with a single research participant. Instead, they use existing records to answer various research questions. This type of research approach is known as archival research . Archival research relies on looking at past records or data sets to look for interesting patterns or relationships.

For example, a researcher might access the academic records of all individuals who enrolled in college within the past ten years and calculate how long it took them to complete their degrees, as well as course loads, grades, and extracurricular involvement. Archival research could provide important information about who is most likely to complete their education, and it could help identify important risk factors for struggling students ( Figure 2.10 ).

(a) A photograph shows stacks of paper files on shelves. (b) A photograph shows a computer.

In comparing archival research to other research methods, there are several important distinctions. For one, the researcher employing archival research never directly interacts with research participants. Therefore, the investment of time and money to collect data is considerably less with archival research. Additionally, researchers have no control over what information was originally collected. Therefore, research questions have to be tailored so they can be answered within the structure of the existing data sets. There is also no guarantee of consistency between the records from one source to another, which might make comparing and contrasting different data sets problematic.

Longitudinal and Cross-Sectional Research

Sometimes we want to see how people change over time, as in studies of human development and lifespan. When we test the same group of individuals repeatedly over an extended period of time, we are conducting longitudinal research. Longitudinal research is a research design in which data-gathering is administered repeatedly over an extended period of time. For example, we may survey a group of individuals about their dietary habits at age 20, retest them a decade later at age 30, and then again at age 40.

Another approach is cross-sectional research. In cross-sectional research , a researcher compares multiple segments of the population at the same time. Using the dietary habits example above, the researcher might directly compare different groups of people by age. Instead of studying a group of people for 20 years to see how their dietary habits changed from decade to decade, the researcher would study a group of 20-year-old individuals and compare them to a group of 30-year-old individuals and a group of 40-year-old individuals. While cross-sectional research requires a shorter-term investment, it is also limited by differences that exist between the different generations (or cohorts) that have nothing to do with age per se, but rather reflect the social and cultural experiences of different generations of individuals that make them different from one another.

To illustrate this concept, consider the following survey findings. In recent years there has been significant growth in the popular support of same-sex marriage. Many studies on this topic break down survey participants into different age groups. In general, younger people are more supportive of same-sex marriage than are those who are older (Jones, 2013). Does this mean that as we age we become less open to the idea of same-sex marriage, or does this mean that older individuals have different perspectives because of the social climates in which they grew up? Longitudinal research is a powerful approach because the same individuals are involved in the research project over time, which means that the researchers need to be less concerned with differences among cohorts affecting the results of their study.

Often longitudinal studies are employed when researching various diseases in an effort to understand particular risk factors. Such studies often involve tens of thousands of individuals who are followed for several decades. Given the enormous number of people involved in these studies, researchers can feel confident that their findings can be generalized to the larger population. The Cancer Prevention Study-3 (CPS-3) is one of a series of longitudinal studies sponsored by the American Cancer Society aimed at determining predictive risk factors associated with cancer. When participants enter the study, they complete a survey about their lives and family histories, providing information on factors that might cause or prevent the development of cancer. Then every few years the participants receive additional surveys to complete. In the end, hundreds of thousands of participants will be tracked over 20 years to determine which of them develop cancer and which do not.

Clearly, this type of research is important and potentially very informative. For instance, earlier longitudinal studies sponsored by the American Cancer Society provided some of the first scientific demonstrations of the now well-established links between increased rates of cancer and smoking (American Cancer Society, n.d.) ( Figure 2.11 ).

A photograph shows pack of cigarettes and cigarettes in an ashtray. The pack of cigarettes reads, “Surgeon general’s warning: smoking causes lung cancer, heart disease, emphysema, and may complicate pregnancy.”

As with any research strategy, longitudinal research is not without limitations. For one, these studies require an incredible time investment by the researcher and research participants. Given that some longitudinal studies take years, if not decades, to complete, the results will not be known for a considerable period of time. In addition to the time demands, these studies also require a substantial financial investment. Many researchers are unable to commit the resources necessary to see a longitudinal project through to the end.

Research participants must also be willing to continue their participation for an extended period of time, and this can be problematic. People move, get married and take new names, get ill, and eventually die. Even without significant life changes, some people may simply choose to discontinue their participation in the project. As a result, the attrition rates, or reduction in the number of research participants due to dropouts, in longitudinal studies are quite high and increases over the course of a project. For this reason, researchers using this approach typically recruit many participants fully expecting that a substantial number will drop out before the end. As the study progresses, they continually check whether the sample still represents the larger population, and make adjustments as necessary.

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Language: English | Spanish | French

Effectiveness studies: advantages and disadvantages

Estudios de eficacia: ventajas y desventajas, avantages et inconvénients des études d'efficacité, hans-jürgen möller.

Department of Psychiatry, Ludwig-Maximilians-University München, Munich, Germany

In recent years, so-called “effectiveness studies,” also called “real-world studies” or “pragmatic trials, ” have gained increasing importance in the context of evidencebased medicine. These studies follow less restrictive methodological standards than phase III studies in terms of patient selection, comedication, and other design issues, and their results should therefore be better generalizable than those of phase III trials. Effectiveness studies, like other types of phase IV studies, can therefore contribute to knowledge about medications and supply relevant information in addition to that gained from phase III trials. However, the less restrictive design and inherent methodological problems of phase IV studies have to be carefully considered. For example, the greater variance caused by the different kinds of confounders as well as problematic design issues, such as insensitive primary outcome criteria, unblinded treatment conditions, inclusion of chronic refractory patients, etc, can lead to wrong conclusions. Due to these methodological problems, effectiveness studies are on a principally lower level of evidence, adding only a complementary view to the results of phase III trials without falsifying their results.

En los últimos años los así llamados “estudios de eficacia”, tambien denominados “estudios del mundo real” o “ensayos praqmáticos” han qanado una importancia creciente en el contexto de la medicina basada en la evidencia, Esios estudios siguen estándares metodológicos menos restrictivos que los estudios de fase III en términos de la seleccíon de pacientes, la comedicación y otros temas del diseño, y por lo tanto sus resultados deben ser más generalizables que los de los ensayos de fase III, Los estudios de eficacia, como otros tipos de estudios de fase IV, pueden por lo tanto contribuir al conocimiento de los medicamentos y aportar información relevante además de la que se obtiene de los ensayos de fase III. Sin embargo, el diseño menos restrictivo y los problemas metodológicos inherentes a los estudios de fase IV tienen que ser considerados cuidadosamente. Por ejemplo, la mayor varianza causada por los diferentes tipos de confundentes así como los temas de diseños problemáticos, tales como los criterios para los resultados primarios indiferentes, las condiciones de tratamientos no ciegos, la inclusión de pacientes crónicos refractarios, etc. pueden llevar a conclusiones erróneas. Debido a estos problemas metodológicos, los estudios de eficacia se encuentran principalmente en un nivel de evidencia más bajo, agregando sólo una visión complementaria a los resultados de los estudios de fase III sin desmentir sus resultados,

Ces dernières années, les « études d'efficacité », aussi appelées « études en conditions réelles » ou « essais pragmatiques » ont acquis une importance croissante dans le contexte de la médecine basée sur les preuves. Ces études suivent des standards méthodologiques moins restrictifs que les études de phase 3 en termes deselection des patients, de traitement concomitant et d'autres problèmes de conception ; leurs résultats peuvent donc être plus facilement généralisés que ceux des études de phase 3. Les études d'efficacité, comme d'autres types d'études de phase 4, peuvent donc contribuer à la connaissance des traitements et fournir une information pertinente, s'ajouiantà celle des études de phase 3, il faut cependant soigneusement prendre en compte leur schéma moins restrictif, et les problèmes méthodologiques inhérents aux études de phase 4. Par exemple, une plus grande variance due à différentes sortes de variables confondantes et à des questions délicates de conception, comme des critères de jugement primaires non sensibles, des traitements qui n'ont pas été faits en aveugle, une inclusion de patients chroniques réfraciaires etc... peuvent conduire à des conclusions erronées. Les études d'efficacité, du fait de ces problèmes méthodologiques, sont d'un niveau de preuve nettement plus bas, n'apportant qu'un regard complémentaire sur les résultats des études de phase 3, sans les falsifier.

An the context of evidence-based medicine, 1 randomized control-group trials (RCTs) are considered to be the decisive level of scientifically proven evidence as far as therapeutic aspects are concerned. 2 Placebocontrolled trials, especially for certain psychiatric indications, are ranked higher in terms of evidence than active control-group studies. 3 Especially in terms of licensing perspectives, there is a demand from the European Medicines Agency and the Food and Drug Administration to demonstrate efficacy based on RCTs including a placebo control group lor obvious methodological reasons. The knowledge gained from noninterventional (observational) studies (NIS) as well as from single-case studies is only seen as being relevant when it is an addition to such studies or a replacement in indications where empirical studies ol a higher methodological degree are lacking. This view corresponds to the general methodological understanding of empirical research. Evidence graduation is geared to the fact that for methodological reasons certain study designs yield results that are more likely to be reliable. This corresponds with the rules of the methodology of empirical research. 4 , 5 Thus, randomized control-group studies have a higher value than nonrandomized or uncontrolled studies.

Do effectiveness studies tell us the truth?

There is a general consensus that the results of phase III studies are not fully generalizable: they have a high internal validity but insufficient external validity. One of the reasons for this is the strict selection of patients according to various clinically relevant characteristics such as the exclusion of suicidally, comorbidity, etc. For this reason it has long been a tradition within clinical psychopharmacology to complement the phase III trial results with ones more strongly oriented towards everyday clinical practice and conditions, ie, studies in patients who better represent the “average” patients and treated under conditions as close as possible to “routine” care, eg, phase IV studies ( Figure 1 .) However, it has thereby always been stressed that because of many immanent methodological problems, eg, biases due to lack of double-blind conditions or any blinding, such as phase naturalistic observational studies (NIS), only deliver complementary knowledge and cannot falsify the results of phase III studies. 6

An external file that holds a picture, illustration, etc.
Object name is DialoguesClinNeurosci-13-199-g001.jpg

However, this strict rule can be weakened if the phase IV studies are performed, like phase III studies, as randomized control-group studies in an unblinded or even in blind or double-blind approach.

Some experts seem inclined to attach a greater importance to the results of these studies than to the methodologically stricter phase III studies. 7 This might in particular be the result from criticism arising from the increasingly common practice, especially in the USA, to include, in phase III studies, not “real” patients from care settings, but suitable persons found through advertisements. Of course, rather than this questionable approach, properly performed phase III studies in “real” patients should be advocated. Even so, some experts judge the “real- world approach” of effectiveness studies to be more valuable than phase III trials, at least in terms of clinical relevance.

Some methodological considerations on effectiveness studies

Effectiveness studies are intended to fill the gap between methodologically rigorous RCTs in the sense of phase III trials and naturalistic observational studies. As such, they are hybrids of the RCT methodology and naturalistic designs and are therefore termed “practical clinical trials.” 8 They are intentionally designed to evaluate the effectiveness of the treatments under real-world conditions and in patient samples representative of everydayclinical practice (Table I) . They can be performed as RCTs, but less demanding designs are also possible. If they use even a blind 9 or double-blind 10 RCT approach they come close to phase III trials considering design aspects, with the only difference being that patient selection is not that restrictive and that, eg, comorbidity or comedication are allowed.

In order to avoid guidelines completely losing their relationship with clinical reality by preferring study types with too little generalizability, greater emphasis should be placed on other empirical research approaches. A drug that has been evaluated in placebo-controlled studies with the selection problems described above should also be tested in studies with less restrictive methodology, eg, randomized control-group studies versus a standard drug; the results should at least show a tendency towards consistency. The 3-arm study design recommended by the European regulatory authority, EMEA/CPMP, 11 in which the experimental substance is compared with placebo and a standard drug, delivers more meaningful results but cannot avoid the problems associated with the extensive selection of patients since it still has a placebo group. Therefore, other types of studies traditionally considered to be phase IV should be part of the evaluation process.

It should be remembered that, traditionally, there was a demand for a psych opharmaceutical drug to be clinically evaluated in a phase model at various methodological levels of empirical research and with approaches of different methodological stringency. This means that evidence for efficacy and toierabiiity should additionally be obtained from phase IV studies, which are more closely oriented towards routine clinical care, 12 - 17 to complement the results of phase III studies with their strict methodology. In such a phase model of clinical/pharmacological evaluation, the evidence from each phase is seen to be complementary and part of the overall evidence. This idea can no longer be found in the systems currently used in guidelines to assess evidence, since evidence is rated according to the study design with the most demanding methodology for the respective therapy (eg, placebo-controlled studies) without ascertaining whether consistent results are available from less restrictive but more generalizable study types. A future grading of evidence that is more relevant for clinical reality should assess whether results are available from studies with both high internal (eg, controlgroup studies) and high external (eg, effectiveness studies, observational studies) validity and whether the results are principally congruent. So far, the current interest in effectiveness studies is principally positive. 10 , 18 , 19 However, the results of these effectiveness studies should not be overinterpreted due to their principal methodological limitations (as demonstrated, eg, for the Clinical Antipsychotic Trials of Intervention Effectiveness [CATIE] trial). 6

The inclusion of “confounders” (from the perspective of a phase III trial) such as comorbidity or comedication increases the variance and results in a reduced signalto-noise ratio, which makes it more difficult to find differences between two groups (β error problem), even if these factors are adequately considered in the statistical analysis. It might sometimes even be difficult to judge without placebo conditions whether there is a real drug effect, especially if the pre-post difference is unexpectedly low and if there are no differences between two active comparators. Given the fact that these pragmatic trials mostly compare two active compounds, it should be accepted on the basis of the traditional methodology of clinical psychopharmacological trials that only proof of superiority in the statistical sense counts, while the failure to demonstrate a statistically significant difference cannot be interpreted as showing that both treatments are comparable. 3 The latter conclusion is not permissible for principal methodological reasons.

A different statistical design is required to demonstrate equivalency: the so-called equivalency design. However, this methodological approach is also far from the unambiguity of superiority trials. For example, without a placebo control, which is characteristic for effectiveness studies; 20 - 23 one cannot be sure that the active drugs are being compared in a drug-sensitive sample (Table II) . 3 The worst-case scenario is that the drugs show no outcome difference because they are not effective at all in the respective sample. This is not as unlikely as some might believe. In the field of antidepressants, failed studies - in the sense that in a 3-arm study comparing an experimental drug with a standard comparator and placebo not even the standard comparator (internal validator) differs from placebo - are quite common. 24 In recent years there has even been an increasing number of failed studies, especially in the United States, not only in the field of antidepressants but also in the field of antipsychotics, although the antipsychotics generally have a larger effect size than antidepressants. Several factors are relevant in this context, such as low interrater reliability, especially in huge multicenter trials, inclusion of less responsive patients, more chronic patients with residual symptomatology or comorbid patients, no restriction of permitted comedications, etc. In discussing methodological aspects of effectiveness studies it should be questioned whether outcome criteria such as “nondiscontinuation,” or similar categorical end points like “level of caring,” preferably applied in some effectiveness studies, really are ideal outcome criteria, given the fact that they can easily be influenced by the investigators (who may be biased by their expectations if they are not blinded) and are of poorer psychometric value than dimensional ones.

It can be generally questioned whether “nondiscontinuation” really reflects only efficacy and toierabiiity aspects, or whether other parameters beyond drug effects are also involved, eg, confidence in the therapeutic concept. For example, therapeutic concepts like psychotherapy, herbal drug therapy, etc, might be more acceptable to a subgroup of patients, although they mayhave a lower level of efficacy. Different aspects of toierabiiity can have different effects on discontinuation, depending on the specific tolerability problems and on the time patterns of side effects. Thus, one can presume that severe extrapyramidal symptoms occurring right at the start of a study result in an early dropout, the slow development of weight gain rather a later dropout, and tardive dyskinesia (TD) or in most cases even metabolic disorder, a much later dropout. This means that a rough measurement like “discontinuation” or “time to discontinuation” causes a biased distortion per se with respect to the individual antipsychotics being evaluated. This becomes even worse if the transition from the pretreatment antipsychotic to the study antipsychotic is taken into consideration, in particular if it is direct, without a sufficiently long washout phase. Depending on the pharmacological profile of the respective pretreatment drug, for example in terms of D 2 potency, anticholinergic or antihistaminergic properties, and the related pharmacological profile of the study drug, several problems can appear immediately after transition/ 25 These can include reduced antipsychotic efficacy, discontinuation symptoms, hangover of side effects wrongly attributed to the study drug, pharmacodynamic interactions in terms of oversedation, histaminergic, or cholinergic rebound phenomena, etc. Thus, there are good and bad combinations of drugs for this transition process. Theoretically, the best transition is one in which the pretreatment and the studydrug are identical. There are also other critical issues that need to be considered in this context. 26 , 27

Quality of life

Another preferred measure of global outcome used as a primary outcome criterion in some effectiveness studies is “quality of life.” There is no doubt that this is an important outcome criterion which reflects the subjective dimension of the patient's experience. 28 - 30 The classical approach in quality of life research assesses quality of life using a self-rating scale in order to guarantee the subjective perspective. The SF36 31 , 32 is particularly widelyused in psychiatry as well as in other fields of medicine, but there are also several other scales to assess this dimension. 33 - 35 This leads to the general problem of selfrating approaches for the assessment of the primary outcome, if they are not complemented by an observer rating approach. For example, the Sequenced Treatment Alternatives to Relieve Depression (STAR*D) study 18 widely relies on self-rating results to assess outcome in terms of depression severity. 9

Generally, there are pros and cons for the use of self-rating scales. They give a complementary view to the observerrating of the same construct/dimension. 36 , 37 The correlation between the observer ratings and self-ratings might not be high and may be quite changeable, depending on the psychopathological state in terms of severity and type of symptoms. 38 It is often unclear exactly what self-ratings of quality of life reflect; severity of the psychopathological state in the global sense, certain dimensions of the psychopathological state, eg, depression, current mood more than real depressive symptoms, side effects of drugs, or the psychosocial situation. 29 , 39 - 43 If such a scale is used as the primary outcome criterion of a study, it is doubtful whether it is sensitive enough to detect intergroup differences in treatment-induced changes, given the high variance of selfrating in general and of self-ratings of quality of life in particular. For example, not many of the studies on antipsychotics that used a quality of life scale as a secondary outcome criterion found significant intergroup differences. 29 , 29 Thus, the use of a quality of life scale carries a high risk of not finding significant differences between two drugs, especially if both are active drugs.

Do effectiveness studies generally fulfil their claim of treating less selective samples of patients than phase III studies? At least some apparently do not. For example, in the effectiveness study comparing olanzapine and haloperidol in the treatment of schizophrenia, 44 of the 4386 patients assessed for eligibility, only 309 were included in the study (7.0%). This rate is even somewhat lower than the usual rate of 10% to 15% in phase III studies: 45 Some effectiveness studies appear to have a different kind of selection of patients than phase III trials. Often, patients with milder and more chronic symptoms may be selected than is the case in phase III studies, thus making it more difficult per se to demonstrate drug effects and in particular differences between drug effects, because a relevant subgroup of patients might be partially unresponsive to a drug. The data from the Cost Utility of the Latest Antipsychotics in Severe Schizophrenia (CUtLASS) study serve as an example here. In this study, the pre-post changes in the Positive And Negative Symptom Scale (PANSS) positive score after 52 weeks amounted to only 2.0 in the first-generation antipsychotic (FGA) arm and 1.5 in the second generation antipsychotic (SGA) arm; these changes are extremely low, even when one takes into account that this study was not an acute treatment study but rather a switch study in partially improved/stabilized patients. Also CATIE 46 and STAR*D 47 patients seem to be more on the chronic and even partially refractory pole.

In order to understand some of the methodological problems of “effectiveness” studies in more detail, the respective review by Möller on effectiveness studies in the field of antipsychotics 6 should be taken into consideration. It is interesting that some of these studies were published in high-ranking journals, although some of them have considerable methodological shortcomings which mean that the conclusions drawn are not tenable, especially not when they are used to falsify the results of phase III studies. Most of these studies arrived at the result that SGAs were generally not superior to FGAs and are thus faced with the comment that not proving superiority does not mean equivalence. The EUFEST study was the only able to demonstrate superiority of SGAs vs haloperidol. A finding of superiority is, for principal methodological reasons (see above) more valid, especially when considering the increased number of confounders in effectiveness studies, than the finding of no statistical differences, which is always difficult to interpret.

The CATIE study

The most famous of effectiveness studies on antipsychotics is the CATIE study. 10 There is no doubt that the CATIE study is an important study when one considers, for example, the large sample size (N=1493 in 57 centers), the complex design with several parallel treatment arms, the 18-month duration of treatment of the first phase, inclusion of sequential treatment phases, etc (phase 1 of the study was published in 2005 10 ). Also, the double-blind conditions of this study and the sophisticated and comprehensive statistical analysis of the extensive database are appealing. Hie study has received a lot of publicity, particularly in the general press, where it was portrayed as showing that SGAs are for the most part not better, but much more expensive, than FGAs. This conclusion is not tenable because of the methodological failings described above and elsewhere. 6 , 48 , 49 However, to end on a more positive note, many other results not only from phase 1 but also phase 2 and 3 are of relevance for clinicians, eg, on different side-effect patterns of individual SGAs, on metabolic issues, on meaningful sequences of antipsychotic treatment in case of partial nonresponse, on the unique efficacy of clozapine in refractory patients, etc. 46 , 50

In the field of antidepressants there are not so many effectiveness studies. To mention one there is the “Texas Algorithm Study“ which tried to demonstrate the superiority of the algorithm approach in treating depressive patients by comparing treatment outcome of depressive patients from two different hospitals. The outcome was more advantageous in the hospital where the algorithm had been applied. However, the weakness of this study was the baseline differences in the two samples, indicating that the patients in the algorithm sample probablyhad a more positive prognosis. Two other studies which evaluated the algorithm approach in a ”real-world“ RCT could confirm the superiority of the treatment strategy. 51 , 52

The most famous effectiveness study in the field of depression treatment is the STAR*D study. 53 Even more than the CATIE study, this study was a gigantic endeavor in terms of sample size, complexity in design, etc. It investigated under unblinded conditions two different sequential treatment approaches in depressive outpatients, who were randomized at baseline to two different groups. At each level of the complex treatment algorithm the outcome difference between the different groups were evaluated. The methodological problems of this study include the low Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HAMD) inclusion criteria (HAMD >14), the recruitment of more or less chronic patients in poor psychosocial conditions, overly optimistic power calculations with the consequence that latest for level 3 and 4 the study did not have the necessary power to detect clinically relevant differences. None of the different drug treatment approaches on each level of the sequential treatment algorithm was statistically superior to any of the others; at most some showed a numerical degree of superiority. This “real-world” study reached no clear efficacy results due to inherent methodological problems. From a statistical point of view it does not seem unproblematic that eg, the STAR*D study data were used to generate about 100 publications answering different questions, each of which reporting results based on multiple testings. Given all these problems it has to be questioned whether many really clinically relevant conclusions can be drawn from this study.

Of special methodological interest is the finding that the outcome difference between an a posteriori defined efficacy sample and an effectiveness sample was not as huge as hypothesized. 54 This finding was supported by the results of a naturalistic study on about 1000 depressive inpatients where a similar approach of subdividing the sample a posteriori had been applied. 55 These findings underline that although there are differences in the sample characteristics of phase III trials and “real-world” trials, 56 the relevance for a different outcome does not have to be as huge as anticipated. Thus, phase III studies are apparently more than only “proof of concept” studies, but have some, although limited, generalizability for real-world patients.

Summary and conclusions

Effectiveness studies can contribute to our knowledge about the use and effectiveness of medications. They help to understand that even novel/expensive drugs have their limitations and that it may not be possible to demonstrate consistently their hypothesized superiority in terms of efficacy, safety, compliance, quality of life, etc under “real-world” conditions in chronic, partially refractory, or comorbid patients. In general they can also supply interesting data on dosing issues, sequences of drugs in case of partial response and side-effect patterns. Altogether, the effectiveness studies seem to have a lot of methodological problems, making it difficult to interpret their results. Given the fact that increased variance due to the inclusion of chronic/poorly responsive/comorbid patients, insensitive or problematic outcome parameters, and inadequate sample size increase the risk of a β-error (failure to detect a difference although there is one), and that unblinded designs can induce different kinds of biases. Caution has to be applied when interpreting the results of trials with such problems.

In addition, it is questionable whether some effectiveness studies really do represent the real-world treatment situation better than classical acute and long-term phase III studies, as some of them obviously also recruit a selective patient sample, although the selection is of a different kind than in phase III studies. Effectiveness studies can therefore give only a complementary and not a superior picture of reality. Effectiveness studies, especially those with an inadequate experimental design, are definitely not suitable to cast doubt on the results of the methodologically much stricter phase III studies.

Home » Pros and Cons » 12 Case Study Method Advantages and Disadvantages

12 Case Study Method Advantages and Disadvantages

A case study is an investigation into an individual circumstance. The investigation may be of a single person, business, event, or group. The investigation involves collecting in-depth data about the individual entity through the use of several collection methods. Interviews and observation are two of the most common forms of data collection used.

The case study method was originally developed in the field of clinical medicine. It has expanded since to other industries to examine key results, either positive or negative, that were received through a specific set of decisions. This allows for the topic to be researched with great detail, allowing others to glean knowledge from the information presented.

Here are the advantages and disadvantages of using the case study method.

List of the Advantages of the Case Study Method

1. it turns client observations into useable data..

Case studies offer verifiable data from direct observations of the individual entity involved. These observations provide information about input processes. It can show the path taken which led to specific results being generated. Those observations make it possible for others, in similar circumstances, to potentially replicate the results discovered by the case study method.

2. It turns opinion into fact.

Case studies provide facts to study because you’re looking at data which was generated in real-time. It is a way for researchers to turn their opinions into information that can be verified as fact because there is a proven path of positive or negative development. Singling out a specific incident also provides in-depth details about the path of development, which gives it extra credibility to the outside observer.

3. It is relevant to all parties involved.

Case studies that are chosen well will be relevant to everyone who is participating in the process. Because there is such a high level of relevance involved, researchers are able to stay actively engaged in the data collection process. Participants are able to further their knowledge growth because there is interest in the outcome of the case study. Most importantly, the case study method essentially forces people to make a decision about the question being studied, then defend their position through the use of facts.

4. It uses a number of different research methodologies.

The case study method involves more than just interviews and direct observation. Case histories from a records database can be used with this method. Questionnaires can be distributed to participants in the entity being studies. Individuals who have kept diaries and journals about the entity being studied can be included. Even certain experimental tasks, such as a memory test, can be part of this research process.

5. It can be done remotely.

Researchers do not need to be present at a specific location or facility to utilize the case study method. Research can be obtained over the phone, through email, and other forms of remote communication. Even interviews can be conducted over the phone. That means this method is good for formative research that is exploratory in nature, even if it must be completed from a remote location.

6. It is inexpensive.

Compared to other methods of research, the case study method is rather inexpensive. The costs associated with this method involve accessing data, which can often be done for free. Even when there are in-person interviews or other on-site duties involved, the costs of reviewing the data are minimal.

7. It is very accessible to readers.

The case study method puts data into a usable format for those who read the data and note its outcome. Although there may be perspectives of the researcher included in the outcome, the goal of this method is to help the reader be able to identify specific concepts to which they also relate. That allows them to discover unusual features within the data, examine outliers that may be present, or draw conclusions from their own experiences.

List of the Disadvantages of the Case Study Method

1. it can have influence factors within the data..

Every person has their own unconscious bias. Although the case study method is designed to limit the influence of this bias by collecting fact-based data, it is the collector of the data who gets to define what is a “fact” and what is not. That means the real-time data being collected may be based on the results the researcher wants to see from the entity instead. By controlling how facts are collected, a research can control the results this method generates.

2. It takes longer to analyze the data.

The information collection process through the case study method takes much longer to collect than other research options. That is because there is an enormous amount of data which must be sifted through. It’s not just the researchers who can influence the outcome in this type of research method. Participants can also influence outcomes by given inaccurate or incomplete answers to questions they are asked. Researchers must verify the information presented to ensure its accuracy, and that takes time to complete.

3. It can be an inefficient process.

Case study methods require the participation of the individuals or entities involved for it to be a successful process. That means the skills of the researcher will help to determine the quality of information that is being received. Some participants may be quiet, unwilling to answer even basic questions about what is being studied. Others may be overly talkative, exploring tangents which have nothing to do with the case study at all. If researchers are unsure of how to manage this process, then incomplete data is often collected.

4. It requires a small sample size to be effective.

The case study method requires a small sample size for it to yield an effective amount of data to be analyzed. If there are different demographics involved with the entity, or there are different needs which must be examined, then the case study method becomes very inefficient.

5. It is a labor-intensive method of data collection.

The case study method requires researchers to have a high level of language skills to be successful with data collection. Researchers must be personally involved in every aspect of collecting the data as well. From reviewing files or entries personally to conducting personal interviews, the concepts and themes of this process are heavily reliant on the amount of work each researcher is willing to put into things.

These case study method advantages and disadvantages offer a look at the effectiveness of this research option. With the right skill set, it can be used as an effective tool to gather rich, detailed information about specific entities. Without the right skill set, the case study method becomes inefficient and inaccurate.

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Case Study Method – 18 Advantages and Disadvantages

The case study method uses investigatory research as a way to collect data about specific demographics. This approach can apply to individuals, businesses, groups, or events. Each participant receives an equal amount of participation, offering information for collection that can then find new insights into specific trends, ideas, of hypotheses.

Interviews and research observation are the two standard methods of data collection used when following the case study method.

Researchers initially developed the case study method to develop and support hypotheses in clinical medicine. The benefits found in these efforts led the approach to transition to other industries, allowing for the examination of results through proposed decisions, processes, or outcomes. Its unique approach to information makes it possible for others to glean specific points of wisdom that encourage growth.

Several case study method advantages and disadvantages can appear when researchers take this approach.

List of the Advantages of the Case Study Method

1. It requires an intensive study of a specific unit. Researchers must document verifiable data from direct observations when using the case study method. This work offers information about the input processes that go into the hypothesis under consideration. A casual approach to data-gathering work is not effective if a definitive outcome is desired. Each behavior, choice, or comment is a critical component that can verify or dispute the ideas being considered.

Intensive programs can require a significant amount of work for researchers, but it can also promote an improvement in the data collected. That means a hypothesis can receive immediate verification in some situations.

2. No sampling is required when following the case study method. This research method studies social units in their entire perspective instead of pulling individual data points out to analyze them. That means there is no sampling work required when using the case study method. The hypothesis under consideration receives support because it works to turn opinions into facts, verifying or denying the proposals that outside observers can use in the future.

Although researchers might pay attention to specific incidents or outcomes based on generalized behaviors or ideas, the study itself won’t sample those situations. It takes a look at the “bigger vision” instead.

3. This method offers a continuous analysis of the facts. The case study method will look at the facts continuously for the social group being studied by researchers. That means there aren’t interruptions in the process that could limit the validity of the data being collected through this work. This advantage reduces the need to use assumptions when drawing conclusions from the information, adding validity to the outcome of the study over time. That means the outcome becomes relevant to both sides of the equation as it can prove specific suppositions or invalidate a hypothesis under consideration.

This advantage can lead to inefficiencies because of the amount of data being studied by researchers. It is up to the individuals involved in the process to sort out what is useful and meaningful and what is not.

4. It is a useful approach to take when formulating a hypothesis. Researchers will use the case study method advantages to verify a hypothesis under consideration. It is not unusual for the collected data to lead people toward the formulation of new ideas after completing this work. This process encourages further study because it allows concepts to evolve as people do in social or physical environments. That means a complete data set can be gathered based on the skills of the researcher and the honesty of the individuals involved in the study itself.

Although this approach won’t develop a societal-level evaluation of a hypothesis, it can look at how specific groups will react in various circumstances. That information can lead to a better decision-making process in the future for everyone involved.

5. It provides an increase in knowledge. The case study method provides everyone with analytical power to increase knowledge. This advantage is possible because it uses a variety of methodologies to collect information while evaluating a hypothesis. Researchers prefer to use direct observation and interviews to complete their work, but it can also advantage through the use of questionnaires. Participants might need to fill out a journal or diary about their experiences that can be used to study behaviors or choices.

Some researchers incorporate memory tests and experimental tasks to determine how social groups will interact or respond in specific situations. All of this data then works to verify the possibilities that a hypothesis proposes.

6. The case study method allows for comparisons. The human experience is one that is built on individual observations from group situations. Specific demographics might think, act, or respond in particular ways to stimuli, but each person in that group will also contribute a small part to the whole. You could say that people are sponges that collect data from one another every day to create individual outcomes.

The case study method allows researchers to take the information from each demographic for comparison purposes. This information can then lead to proposals that support a hypothesis or lead to its disruption.

7. Data generalization is possible using the case study method. The case study method provides a foundation for data generalization, allowing researches to illustrate their statistical findings in meaningful ways. It puts the information into a usable format that almost anyone can use if they have the need to evaluate the hypothesis under consideration. This process makes it easier to discover unusual features, unique outcomes, or find conclusions that wouldn’t be available without this method. It does an excellent job of identifying specific concepts that relate to the proposed ideas that researchers were verifying through their work.

Generalization does not apply to a larger population group with the case study method. What researchers can do with this information is to suggest a predictable outcome when similar groups are placed in an equal situation.

8. It offers a comprehensive approach to research. Nothing gets ignored when using the case study method to collect information. Every person, place, or thing involved in the research receives the complete attention of those seeking data. The interactions are equal, which means the data is comprehensive and directly reflective of the group being observed.

This advantage means that there are fewer outliers to worry about when researching an idea, leading to a higher level of accuracy in the conclusions drawn by the researchers.

9. The identification of deviant cases is possible with this method. The case study method of research makes it easier to identify deviant cases that occur in each social group. These incidents are units (people) that behave in ways that go against the hypothesis under consideration. Instead of ignoring them like other options do when collecting data, this approach incorporates the “rogue” behavior to understand why it exists in the first place.

This advantage makes the eventual data and conclusions gathered more reliable because it incorporates the “alternative opinion” that exists. One might say that the case study method places as much emphasis on the yin as it does the yang so that the whole picture becomes available to the outside observer.

10. Questionnaire development is possible with the case study method. Interviews and direct observation are the preferred methods of implementing the case study method because it is cheap and done remotely. The information gathered by researchers can also lead to farming questionnaires that can farm additional data from those being studied. When all of the data resources come together, it is easier to formulate a conclusion that accurately reflects the demographics.

Some people in the case study method may try to manipulate the results for personal reasons, but this advantage makes it possible to identify this information readily. Then researchers can look into the thinking that goes into the dishonest behaviors observed.

List of the Disadvantages of the Case Study Method

1. The case study method offers limited representation. The usefulness of the case study method is limited to a specific group of representatives. Researchers are looking at a specific demographic when using this option. That means it is impossible to create any generalization that applies to the rest of society, an organization, or a larger community with this work. The findings can only apply to other groups caught in similar circumstances with the same experiences.

It is useful to use the case study method when attempting to discover the specific reasons why some people behave in a specific way. If researchers need something more generalized, then a different method must be used.

2. No classification is possible with the case study method. This disadvantage is also due to the sample size in the case study method. No classification is possible because researchers are studying such a small unit, group, or demographic. It can be an inefficient process since the skills of the researcher help to determine the quality of the data being collected to verify the validity of a hypothesis. Some participants may be unwilling to answer or participate, while others might try to guess at the outcome to support it.

Researchers can get trapped in a place where they explore more tangents than the actual hypothesis with this option. Classification can occur within the units being studied, but this data cannot extrapolate to other demographics.

3. The case study method still offers the possibility of errors. Each person has an unconscious bias that influences their behaviors and choices. The case study method can find outliers that oppose a hypothesis fairly easily thanks to its emphasis on finding facts, but it is up to the researchers to determine what information qualifies for this designation. If the results from the case study method are surprising or go against the opinion of participating individuals, then there is still the possibility that the information will not be 100% accurate.

Researchers must have controls in place that dictate how data gathering work occurs. Without this limitation in place, the results of the study cannot be guaranteed because of the presence of bias.

4. It is a subjective method to use for research. Although the purpose of the case study method of research is to gather facts, the foundation of what gets gathered is still based on opinion. It uses the subjective method instead of the objective one when evaluating data, which means there can be another layer of errors in the information to consider.

Imagine that a researcher interprets someone’s response as “angry” when performing direct observation, but the individual was feeling “shame” because of a decision they made. The difference between those two emotions is profound, and it could lead to information disruptions that could be problematic to the eventual work of hypothesis verification.

5. The processes required by the case study method are not useful for everyone. The case study method uses a person’s memories, explanations, and records from photographs and diaries to identify interactions on influences on psychological processes. People are given the chance to describe what happens in the world around them as a way for researchers to gather data. This process can be an advantage in some industries, but it can also be a worthless approach to some groups.

If the social group under study doesn’t have the information, knowledge, or wisdom to provide meaningful data, then the processes are no longer useful. Researchers must weigh the advantages and disadvantages of the case study method before starting their work to determine if the possibility of value exists. If it does not, then a different method may be necessary.

6. It is possible for bias to form in the data. It’s not just an unconscious bias that can form in the data when using the case study method. The narrow study approach can lead to outright discrimination in the data. Researchers can decide to ignore outliers or any other information that doesn’t support their hypothesis when using this method. The subjective nature of this approach makes it difficult to challenge the conclusions that get drawn from this work, and the limited pool of units (people) means that duplication is almost impossible.

That means unethical people can manipulate the results gathered by the case study method to their own advantage without much accountability in the process.

7. This method has no fixed limits to it. This method of research is highly dependent on situational circumstances rather than overarching societal or corporate truths. That means the researcher has no fixed limits of investigation. Even when controls are in place to limit bias or recommend specific activities, the case study method has enough flexibility built into its structures to allow for additional exploration. That means it is possible for this work to continue indefinitely, gathering data that never becomes useful.

Scientists began to track the health of 268 sophomores at Harvard in 1938. The Great Depression was in its final years at that point, so the study hoped to reveal clues that lead to happy and healthy lives. It continues still today, now incorporating the children of the original participants, providing over 80 years of information to sort through for conclusions.

8. The case study method is time-consuming and expensive. The case study method can be affordable in some situations, but the lack of fixed limits and the ability to pursue tangents can make it a costly process in most situations. It takes time to gather the data in the first place, and then researchers must interpret the information received so that they can use it for hypothesis evaluation. There are other methods of data collection that can be less expensive and provide results faster.

That doesn’t mean the case study method is useless. The individualization of results can help the decision-making process advance in a variety of industries successfully. It just takes more time to reach the appropriate conclusion, and that might be a resource that isn’t available.

The advantages and disadvantages of the case study method suggest that the helpfulness of this research option depends on the specific hypothesis under consideration. When researchers have the correct skills and mindset to gather data accurately, then it can lead to supportive data that can verify ideas with tremendous accuracy.

This research method can also be used unethically to produce specific results that can be difficult to challenge.

When bias enters into the structure of the case study method, the processes become inefficient, inaccurate, and harmful to the hypothesis. That’s why great care must be taken when designing a study with this approach. It might be a labor-intensive way to develop conclusions, but the outcomes are often worth the investments needed.

What Is A Case Study In Psychology?

When people think about psychology studies, they are most likely to think about studies involving several participants split across a number of experimental and control groups. Studies like this are a good way to investigate the effect of a certain treatment or activity, but they are not always the best option. For example, if a scientist is interested in a specific rare disease, they cannot always find enough people with that disease to participate in a useful study. Similarly, one cannot give a group of participants a rare disease (for obvious reasons) and compare them to a group of participants without that disease. For situations like this, there are case studies.

What is a case study?

A case study is, as the name suggests, a study of a single case. For example, if someone has an extremely rare disease, a group of scientists might conduct a case study of that disease rather than attempting to set up an experimental study. In that case study, the researchers might test the effectiveness of a certain drug in treating that disease and carefully document the response of that participant over time.

Of course, the results seen in that one participant will not necessarily apply to all people with that rare disease. However, if the case study shows promising results, that treatment can then be tested in a larger experimental study. If it does not, it indicates that the treatment is not necessarily effective, at least in people that are similar to the original participant in the case study.

Why are case studies useful in psychology?

When people are still learning about psychology, they might think that group studies showing group effects are always better than individual studies showing individual effects. Of course, there is some truth to this notion, as results obtained from a large number of people are likely to be more generalizable than results obtained from a single person. However, this does not mean that we should discount the importance of individual effects.

Consider the following: In studies looking solely at group effects, individual effects can be masked. In other words, certain statistical quirks can lead to the appearance of a group effect despite the fact that no single individual showed that effect. While this is rare, it is possible. For this reason, it is important to consider individual effects. That is why, even in experimental studies examining groups, it can be useful to examine individual effects within that group. This underlines the value of case studies.

Wrapping up

At the end of the day, there are many good reasons that experimental studies examining groups are the most common types of psychological studies. However, case studies are also extremely valuable, particularly when group experiments are less feasible. Just as psychology is a large topic encompassing a wide variety of factors, both case studies and experimental group studies should be used in the larger overall strategy of psychology research.

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case study method in psychology

Case Study Method In Psychology: Meaning, Pros, and Cons

Page Contents

What is Case Study Method?

The case study method is the in-depth study of any event, person, or problem in a given situation. It strives to get out the root causes of a given spot. Also, referred to as case history or clinical method.

The case study is one of the oldest research methods used particularly to reveal depths for the diagnosis and treatment of behavior disorders in psychology . The psychologist Sigmund Freud, constructed his theory of personality from case studies. Jean Piaget, the most influential observer of children formulated many cognitive theories on children from case studies.

The case study involves making observations for a particular period of time to find the cause and development of a particular behavior pattern. The case record includes information on family background, home life, neighborhood activities, experience at school, health, past life, and so on.

This method is based on the idea that the more we know about individuals, the better we will be able to understand and help them. While using case study the investor uses, tests, checklists, questionnaires, interviews, etc. It can be done at home, school, or work situations.

For example, A child who is problematic at school may be referred to a guidance clinic, where a detailed case history is compiled using all the possible diagnostic testing with personality inventories, intelligence test, psychoanalytic procedures, etc. so that it will be helpful in understanding the child’s problems to provide him with a remedial plan.

The case study method may also be based on a longitudinal study. A longitudinal study follows a study over an extended period of time, with the measurement at periodic intervals. The researchers have to choose one that suits them the best while doing research.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Case Study Method


  • It is very beneficial to know about the social behavioral pattern of the individual in-depth. It provides the perception of inner strivings, tensions, and motivations into one’s life directly.
  • It enables the researchers to trace out the relationship of an individual’s inner self with social forces and surroundings for careful historical analysis of the past life.
  • The case study method is quite useful for diagnosis, therapy, and other practical case problems.


  • In the case of history, the information usually comes from parents, teachers, and other associations of the individual being studied, the subjectivity of the researcher may hamper the report that is needed.
  • The danger of false generalizations is always there because no set of rules are followed in the collection of the information and only a few units are studied.
  • It consumes more time, effort, and money to go through studying the behavior.
  • The case study method can be used in a limited sphere, it is not possible to use for a big number.

Despite its limitations, the case study method is a widely used systematic field research technique in social sciences these days. A wide range of private experiences, informal factors, and personal feelings can not experiment directly. In such cases, the case history method proves to be a valuable technique. It proves more useful in the diagnosis and treatment of problem children, neurotics, socially and emotionally maladjusted persons, delinquents, criminals, etc.

Child psychology uses this method to study juvenile delinquency. Similarly, anthropologists, historians, management technicians, novelists, etc. also have used this method extensively. Its use is increasing day by day.

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Case Study Method in Psychology Advantages and Disadvantages

what is a case study in psychology advantages and disadvantages

Case Study Method in Psychology Advantages and Disadvantages.

The case study method is a research technique used in psychology and other social sciences to study an individual or a group of individuals in great detail. The advantages and disadvantages of the case study method are discussed below:

Case Study Method in Psychology Advantages and Disadvantages

Advantages of Case Study Method in Psychology  :

1) In-depth analysis: 

The case study method allows researchers to gather detailed information about the subject of study, which can be difficult to obtain through other research methods. Researchers can obtain a deep understanding of the subject’s experiences, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and this information can be used to develop theories and hypotheses.

2) Flexibility: The case study method is a flexible research method that can be used to study a wide range of phenomena, including rare and unusual conditions. Researchers can adapt the method to fit the unique needs of the study, and this can lead to new insights and discoveries.

3) Source of hypotheses: Case studies can be used to generate new hypotheses or to test existing ones. Researchers can use the information gathered from the case study to develop hypotheses, which can then be tested using other research methods.

4) Validity: The case study method allows for the collection of rich, detailed data that is often more valid than data obtained through other research methods. This is because the researcher is able to gather data directly from the subject, rather than relying on second-hand accounts or self-report measures.

Read Also : Mind-blowing Psychological Facts about Studying

Disadvantages of Case Study Method in Psychology :

1) Limited generalizability: 

The findings from a case study cannot be generalized to other individuals or groups. The unique nature of the subject and the specific context in which the study was conducted make it difficult to apply the findings to other situations.

2) Subjectivity:  

The case study method is subject to the biases and preconceptions of the researcher. The researcher’s own beliefs, values, and experiences can influence the way in which they interpret the data.

3) Time-consuming:  

The case study method is a time-consuming research method that requires a significant investment of time and resources. It can take months or even years to collect and analyze the data.

4) Ethical issues:  

The case study method can raise ethical issues, particularly when studying vulnerable populations. Researchers must take steps to ensure that the study does not harm the subject or infringe upon their rights and privacy.

Case study method is a valuable research method that can provide rich, detailed data that is often difficult to obtain through other research methods.

Benefits of Case Study for Students

There are several benefits of case studies for students, including:

  • Real-world application: Case studies provide students with an opportunity to apply theoretical knowledge to real-world situations. This can help students better understand how concepts and theories can be applied in practice.
  • Problem-solving skills: Case studies often present complex and challenging problems, which can help students develop their problem-solving skills. By analyzing the case and identifying potential solutions, students can learn to think critically and creatively.
  • Active learning: Case studies are an interactive form of learning that requires students to actively engage with the material. This can help students retain information more effectively than passive forms of learning.
  • Collaborative learning: Case studies often require students to work in groups, which can help them develop collaboration and teamwork skills.
  • Exposure to different perspectives: Case studies often present multiple perspectives on a problem or situation, which can help students understand different viewpoints and develop empathy and cultural competence.
  • Preparation for the workforce: Case studies can help prepare students for the workforce by providing them with experience analyzing real-world problems and developing solutions.

Case studies can be a valuable tool for students to develop critical thinking skills, problem-solving skills, and prepare for their future careers.

Case Study Strengths And Weaknesses

Case studies are a research method that involves in-depth analysis of a particular case or phenomenon. Like any research method, case studies have both strengths and weaknesses.

Case Study Strengths:

  • In-depth analysis: Case studies allow for a thorough and detailed analysis of a particular case or phenomenon. This can provide a rich and nuanced understanding of the topic.
  • Real-world context: Case studies are often conducted in real-world settings, which allows for a more accurate representation of the phenomena being studied.
  • Multiple sources of data: Case studies often involve multiple sources of data, including interviews, observations, and documents. This can help to provide a more comprehensive understanding of the case.
  • Unique cases: Case studies often focus on unique cases that are not easily replicable in a laboratory setting. This can provide valuable insights that may not be obtained through other research methods.

Case Study Weaknesses:

  • Limited generalizability: The findings from a case study may not be generalizable to other cases or populations. This is because case studies often focus on a specific case or phenomenon, which may not be representative of other cases or phenomena.
  • Bias: The researcher conducting the case study may have preconceived notions or biases that can affect the interpretation of the data.
  • Subjectivity: Case studies often involve subjective interpretation of data, which can lead to differing conclusions depending on the researcher's perspective.
  • Time-consuming: Case studies can be very time-consuming and resource-intensive, which can limit the number of cases that can be studied.

Overall, case studies can be a valuable research method for gaining a detailed understanding of a particular case or phenomenon. However, researchers should be aware of the potential limitations of this method and take steps to minimize bias and subjectivity.

Case Study Method in Psychology Advantages and Disadvantages

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This describes several advantages and disadvantages of the case...

This describes several advantages and disadvantages of the case study research method, which are listed below:


A Source of Ideas about Behavior

An Opportunity for Clinical Innovation

A Method to Study Rare Phenomena

A Method for Challenging to Theoretical Assumptions

A Method for Providing Tentative Support for a Psychological Theory


Difficulty of Drawing Cause-Effect Conclusions

Potential Sources of Bias

Problems of Generalizing from a Single Individual

explain one (1) advantage and (1) disadvantage of case study research that you found in this particular case. In your future career, if you were going to conduct a case study in psychology, what would your topic be and who would you study? Explain the use of self-management training (SMT), a therapeutic strategy which capi- talizes on the advantages of brief therapies, while at the same time reducing the danger of leaving too many tasks not fully accomplished. . . . The essence of this approach involves teaching the client how to be his or her own behavior therapist. The client is taught how to assess problems along behavioral dimensions and to develop speciic tactics, based on existing treatment techniques, for overcoming problems. As this process occurs, the traditional client-therapist relationship is al- tered considerably. The client takes on the dual role of client and therapist, while the therapist takes on the role of supervisor. The case of Susan: 

Susan, a 28-year-old married woman, entered therapy complaining that she suffered from a deicient memory, low intelligence, and lack of self-conidence. The presumed deiciencies "caused" her to be inhibited in a number of so- cial situations. She was unable to engage in dis- cussions about ilms, plays, books, or magazine articles "because" she could not remember them well enough. She often felt that she could not understand what was being said in a conversa- tion and that this was due to her low intelligence. She attempted to hide her lack of comprehen- sion by adopting a passive role in these interac- tions and was fearful lest she be discovered by being asked for more of a response. She did not trust her own opinions and, indeed, sometimes doubted whether she had any. She felt depen- dent on others to provide opinions for her to adopt. Administering a Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS), I found her to have a verbal IQ of about 120, hardly a subnormal score. Her digit span indicated that at least her short-term memory was not deicient. The test conirmed what I had already surmised from talking with her: that there was nothing wrong with her level of intelligence or her memory. After discussing this conclusion, I suggested that we investigate in greater detail what kinds of things she would be able to do if she felt that her memory, intel- ligence, and level of self-conidence were sufi- ciently high. In this way, we were able to agree upon a list of behavioral goals, which included such tasks as stating an opinion, asking for clari- ication, admitting ignorance of certain facts, etc. During therapy sessions, I guided Susan through overt and covert rehearsals of anxiety-arousing situations . . . structured homework assignments which constituted successive approximations of her behavioral goals, and had her keep records of her progress. In addition, we discussed negative statements which she was making to herself and which were not warranted by the available data (e.g., "I'm stupid"). I suggested that whenever she noticed herself making a statement of this sort, she counter it by intentionally saying more appro- priate, positive statements to herself (e.g., "I'm not stupid—there is no logical reason to think that I am"). During the ifth session of therapy, Susan re- ported the successful completion of a presum- ably dificult homework assignment. Not only had she found it easy to accomplish, but, she reported, it had not aroused any anxiety, even on the irst trial. . . . It was at this point that the nature of the therapeutic relationship was altered. During future sessions, Susan rated her progress during the week, determined what the next step should be, and devised her own homework as- signments. My role became that of a supervisor of a student therapist, reinforcing her successes and drawing attention to factors which she might be overlooking. After the ninth therapy session, direct treat- ment was discontinued. During the following month, I contacted Susan twice by phone. She reported feeling conident in her ability to achieve her goals. In particular, she reported feeling a new sense of control over her life. My own impressions are that she had successfully adopted a behav- ioral problem-solving method of assessment and had become fairly adept at devising strategies for accomplishing her goals.

Follow-up Five months after termination of treatment, I con- tacted Susan and requested information on her progress. She reported that she talked more than she used to in social situations, was feeling more comfortable doing things on her own (i.e., without her husband), and that, in general, she no longer felt that she was stupid. She summarized by say- ing: "I feel that I'm a whole step or level above where I was." I also asked her which, if any, of the tech- niques we had used in therapy she was continu- ing to use on her own. . . . Finally, she reported that on at least three separate occasions during the 5-month period following termination of treat- ment, she had told another person: "I don't un- derstand that—will you explain it to me?" This was a response which she had previously felt she was not capable of making, as it might expose her "stupidity" to the other person. Three months after the follow-up interview, I received an unsolicited letter from Susan (I had moved out of state during that time), in which she reminded me that "one of [her] imaginary exer- cises was walking into a folk dancing class and feeling comfortable; well, it inally worked."  

Answer & Explanation

Advantage: A case study in psychology can provide a great source of ideas about behavior, an opportunity for clinical innovation, a method to study rare phenomena, and a method for challenging theoretical assumptions.

Disadvantage: The main disadvantage of case study research is difficulty of drawing cause-effect conclusions and potential sources of bias, as well as problems of generalizing from a single individual.

If I were to conduct a case study in psychology, my topic would be the use of self-management training (SMT) to help individuals with low self-confidence. I would study a single individual, Susan, who entered therapy complaining of a deficient memory, low intelligence, and lack of self-confidence.

 Through observing her progress over the course of the study, I would be able to assess the effectiveness of SMT as a therapeutic strategy for individuals with similar issues.

Case Study Research in Psychology

Case study research is an important component of psychological research. It allows researchers to gain an in-depth understanding of individual behavior, psychological processes, and potential treatment strategies.

 This type of research is often used to explore rare phenomena, challenge existing theoretical assumptions, and provide tentative support for psychological theories. In order to better understand the advantages and disadvantages of conducting a case study, it is helpful to take a closer look at the case of Susan.

Advantages of the Case Study

The case of Susan highlights several advantages of case study research. First and foremost, the case study provides a source of ideas about behavior. In the case of Susan, the researcher was able to gain insight into the causes of her low self-confidence, as well as potential strategies for improving it. The case study also provides an opportunity for clinical innovation. In this case, the researcher was able to develop a new therapeutic strategy, self-management training (SMT), which capitalizes on the advantages of brief therapies while avoiding the risks of leaving too many tasks unaccomplished. 

Finally, the case study can be used to study rare phenomena, such as Susan's specific problem. The case study also gives the researcher an opportunity to challenge theoretical assumptions. For example, the researcher in this case was able to disprove the assumption that Susan's problems were due to a deficient memory or low intelligence.

Disadvantages of the Case Study

The case of Susan also highlights several disadvantages of case study research. First and foremost, it can be difficult to draw cause-effect conclusions from a single individual. This is because a single case study cannot provide insight into the causes of a behavior or the effects of a treatment. 

The case study also has the potential to be biased. For example, the researcher in this case was likely biased in their assessment of Susan's intelligence and memory due to their prior assumptions about her. Furthermore, it can be difficult to generalize from a single individual. This is because the findings from a single case study may not be representative of an entire population.

In conclusion, case study research is an important component of psychological research. It can provide a great source of ideas about behavior, an opportunity for clinical innovation, a method to study rare phenomena, and a method for challenging theoretical assumptions. However, it is important to keep in mind the potential disadvantages of case study research, such as difficulty of drawing cause-effect conclusions, potential sources of bias, and problems of generalizing from a single individual.

 If I were to conduct a case study in psychology, my topic would be the use of self-management training (SMT) to help individuals with low self-confidence. I would study a single individual, Susan, who entered therapy complaining of a deficient memory, low intelligence, and lack of self-confidence. Through observing her progress over the course of the study, I would be able to assess the effectiveness of SMT as a therapeutic strategy for individuals with similar issues.

By conducting a case study of Susan, I would be able to gain an in-depth understanding of how SMT can be used to help individuals with low self-confidence. Through our observations, we would be able to identify the specific techniques that Susan employed to improve her self-confidence, as well as the strategies that were most effective.

 This information could then be used to develop a treatment plan that could be used to help other individuals with similar issues. Additionally, by studying Susan's progress over the course of the study, we would be able to identify any potential sources of bias or problems of generalization. In doing so, we could ensure that our conclusions are accurate and reliable.

case study research can be a powerful tool for gaining an in-depth understanding of individual behavior, psychological processes, and potential treatment strategies. By conducting a case study of Susan, I would be able to gain valuable insight into the use of self-management training (SMT) as a therapeutic strategy for individuals with low self-confidence. In doing so, I would also be able to identify potential sources of bias and problems of generalization, ensuring that my findings are accurate and reliable.

Case study research is a valuable tool for gaining an in-depth understanding of individual behavior, psychological processes, and potential treatment strategies. In the case of Susan, the researcher was able to gain insight into the causes of her low self-confidence and develop a new therapeutic strategy, self-management training (SMT), which capitalizes on the advantages of brief therapies while avoiding the risks of leaving too many tasks unaccomplished. By observing Susan's progress over the course of the study, the researcher was able to assess the effectiveness of SMT as a therapeutic strategy for individuals with similar issues.

However, it is important to keep in mind the potential disadvantages of case study research. For example, it can be difficult to draw cause-effect conclusions from a single individual, and there is the potential for bias and problems of generalization. In order to ensure that the findings from a case study are reliable and accurate, the researcher must take steps to minimize these potential sources of error. This can include collecting data from multiple sources, such as interviews and surveys, and gathering information from other people who know the individual. Additionally, the researcher must be mindful of potential sources of bias and take steps to minimize them.

In conclusion, case study research is a valuable tool for gaining an in-depth understanding of individual behavior, psychological processes, and potential treatment strategies. However, it is important to keep in mind the potential sources of error, such as difficulty of drawing cause-effect conclusions, potential sources of bias, and problems of generalizing from a single individual. By taking steps to minimize these potential sources of error, the researcher can ensure that the findings from their case study are reliable and accurate.

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The Use of Self-Report Data in Psychology

  • Disadvantages
  • Other Data Sources

How to Create a Self-Report Study

In psychology, a self-report is any test, measure, or survey that relies on an individual's own report of their symptoms, behaviors, beliefs, or attitudes. Self-report data is gathered typically in paper-and-pencil or electronic format or sometimes through an interview.

Self-reporting is commonly used in psychological studies because it can yield valuable and diagnostic information to a researcher or a clinician.

This article explores examples of how self-report data is used in psychology. It also covers the advantages and disadvantages of this approach.

Examples of Self-Reports

To understand how self-reports are used in psychology, it can be helpful to look at some examples. Some many well-known assessments and inventories rely on self-reporting to collect data.

One of the most commonly used self-report tools is the  Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) for personality testing . This inventory includes more than 500 questions focused on different areas, including behaviors, psychological health, interpersonal relationships, and attitudes. It is often used as a mental health assessment, but it is also used in legal cases, custody evaluations, and as a screening instrument for some careers.

The 16 Personality Factor (PF) Questionnaire

This personality inventory is often used as a diagnostic tool to help therapists plan treatment. It can be used to learn more about various individual characteristics, including empathy, openness, attitudes, attachment quality, and coping style.

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)

The MBTI is a popular personality measure that describes personality types in four categories: introversion or extraversion, sensing or intuiting, thinking or feeling, and judging or perceiving. A letter is taken from each category to describe a person's personality type, such as INTP or ESFJ.

Personality inventories and psychology assessments often utilize self-reporting for data collection. Examples include the MMPI, the 16PF Questionnaire, and the MBTI.

Advantages of Self-Report Data

One of the primary advantages of self-reporting is that it can be easy to obtain. It is also an important way that clinicians diagnose their patients—by asking questions. Those making the self-report are usually familiar with filling out questionnaires.

For research, it is inexpensive and can reach many more test subjects than could be analyzed by observation or other methods. It can be performed relatively quickly, so a researcher can obtain results in days or weeks rather than observing a population over the course of a longer time frame.

Self-reports can be made in private and can be anonymized to protect sensitive information and perhaps promote truthful responses.

Disadvantages of Self-Report Data

Collecting information through a self-reporting has limitations. People are often biased when they report on their own experiences. For example, many individuals are either consciously or unconsciously influenced by "social desirability." That is, they are more likely to report experiences that are considered to be socially acceptable or preferred.

Self-reports are subject to these biases and limitations:

  • Honesty : Subjects may make the more socially acceptable answer rather than being truthful.
  • Introspective ability : The subjects may not be able to assess themselves accurately.
  • Interpretation of questions : The wording of the questions may be confusing or have different meanings to different subjects.
  • Rating scales : Rating something yes or no can be too restrictive, but numerical scales also can be inexact and subject to individual inclination to give an extreme or middle response to all questions.
  • Response bias : Questions are subject to all of the biases of what the previous responses were, whether they relate to recent or significant experience and other factors.
  • Sampling bias : The people who complete the questionnaire are the sort of people who will complete a questionnaire. Are they representative of the population you wish to study?

Self-Report Info With Other Data

Most experts in psychological research and diagnosis suggest that self-report data should not be used alone, as it tends to be biased. Research is best done when combining self-reporting with other information, such as an individual’s behavior or physiological data.

This “multi-modal” or “multi-method” assessment provides a more global, and therefore more likely accurate, picture of the subject.

The questionnaires used in research should be checked to see if they produce consistent results over time. They also should be validated by another data method demonstrating that responses measure what they claim they measure. Questionnaires and responses should be easy to discriminate between controls and the test group.

If you are creating a self-report tool for psychology research, there are a few key steps you should follow. First, decide what type of data you want to collect. This will determine the format of your questions and the type of scale you use. 

Next, create a pool of questions that are clear and concise. The goal is to have several items that cover all the topics you wish to address. Finally, pilot your study with a small group to ensure it is valid and reliable.

When creating a self-report study, determine what information you need to collect and test the assessment with a group of individuals to determine if the instrument is reliable.

Self-reporting can be a useful tool for collecting data. The benefits of self-report data include lower costs and the ability to collect data from a large number of people. However, self-report data can also be biased and prone to errors.

Levin-Aspenson HF, Watson D. Mode of administration effects in psychopathology assessment: Analyses of gender, age, and education differences in self-rated versus interview-based depression . Psychol Assess. 2018;30(3):287-295. doi:10.1037/pas0000474

Tarescavage AM, Ben-Porath YS. Examination of the feasibility and utility of flexible and conditional administration of the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory-2-Restructured Form . Psychol Assess. 2017;29(11):1337-1348. doi:10.1037/pas0000442

Warner CH, Appenzeller GN, Grieger T, et al. Importance of anonymity to encourage honest reporting in mental health screening after combat deployment . Arch Gen Psychiatry . 2011;68(10):1065-1071. doi:10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2011.112

Devaux M, Sassi F. Social disparities in hazardous alcohol use: Self-report bias may lead to incorrect estimates . Eur J Public Health . 2016;26(1):129-134. doi:10.1093/eurpub/ckv190

Althubaiti A. Information bias in health research: Definition, pitfalls, and adjustment methods . J Multidiscip Healthc . 2016;9:211-217. doi:10.2147/JMDH.S104807

Hopwood CJ, Good EW, Morey LC. Validity of the DSM-5 Levels of Personality Functioning Scale-Self Report . J Pers Assess. 2018;100(6):650-659. doi:10.1080/00223891.2017.1420660

By Kristalyn Salters-Pedneault, PhD  Kristalyn Salters-Pedneault, PhD, is a clinical psychologist and associate professor of psychology at Eastern Connecticut State University.

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Social Media

Benefits and challenges of social media use for teens, what do teens themselves say they gain from social media.

Updated November 19, 2023 | Reviewed by Hara Estroff Marano

PictureYouth / Wikimedia Commons Free to Use

This is the second of two posts devoted to the contentious issue of social media use by teens. Some researchers have reported negative correlations between social media use and indices of mental health in teens, especially for girls, and this has led some to propose that teens should be restricted from social media. Such reports motivated me to spend many hours delving into the research literature relevant to questions of social media and teen mental health.

In my last post I focused on reviews of studies aimed at determining whether there is an overall correlation between time spent on social media and indices of mental health in teens. The general finding, supported by essentially all the reviews, is that, taken as a whole, research suggests a very small negative correlation between social media use and teens’ mental well-being. Reviewer after reviewer, however, points out that the effect is too small—for either boys or girls or both combined—to account for a meaningful portion of the variance among teens in mental well-being.

Moreover, researchers regularly point out that whatever negative correlations are found could be the result of depression or anxiety causing increased use of social media (perhaps as a way of coping with distress) rather than the reverse. I also, in that post, reviewed attempts to determine the direction of causation of such correlations through longitudinal studies and experiments and concluded that no studies to date provide compelling evidence that social media use causes a reduction in teens’ mental well-being.

In today’s post my focus is on what teens themselves say about their use of social media and on studies that look at the immediate effects of social media use on teens’ moods. Why do teens spend so much time on social media? What do they get out of it? What do they see as the positive and negative effects it has on their mental health? What individual differences exist among teens in the mental health consequences of social media use? And, finally, what precautions might teens (and the rest of us) take to use social media safely and reduce or remove risks?

Why Do Teens Spend So Much Time on Social Media?

Teenagers have always been attracted to public spaces where they can hang out with friends, find new friends, and talk endlessly with peers about matters that concern them, away from parents and other authority figures. This has always been true, across cultures and across time. It seems to be an essential part of growing up.

In recent decades, however, teens, as well as younger children, have been increasingly deprived of opportunities to get together in physical space away from direct adult surveillance and interference. Increasingly, their time is taken up with adult-directed activities and their freedom to join peers away from adults outside the home is restricted by fearful parents and, increasingly, by security guards at places such as shopping malls where teens gathered in decades past. (I described forces that have led to such changes here .)

Under these conditions, social media is a saving grace. It provides a substitute means for teens to keep in touch with one another. Through their smartphones they can share their thoughts and feelings even when not allowed to gather physically, and they can do so during free moments even when they are kept busy with adult-directed activities. Cyberspace is the new public space for teens. If we took that away from them, they would have no space—no way to engage in the intense and private (private from adults) communication that teens have always sought and needed as part of growing up.

The first thorough study I’ve found of why teens use social media so much was conducted by danah boyd (who spells her name without capitals) rather early in the social media era, a bit more than a decade ago, and published as a book (boyd, 2014). She interviewed 166 teens across the country and across ethnic groups. When she asked why they used social media so much, the regular answer she received was to keep in touch with friends. When she asked why they didn’t get together with their friends in person rather than over the Internet, they regularly told her they would much rather get together in person but had little opportunity to do so because of restrictions on their and their friends’ time and freedom.

Teens also told her that it was important to them to keep their communications with peers away from the prying eyes and ears of parents and other authority figures. In boyd’s words, “ They want the right to be ignored by the people they see as being ‘in their business.’… They wish to avoid paternalistic adults who use safety and protection as an excuse to monitor their everyday sociality. ” Further, boyd wrote, “ In 2012, when I asked teens who were early adopters of Twitter, Tumbler, and Instagram why they prefer these services to Facebook, I heard a near-uniform response: ‘Because my parents don’t know about it. ”

what is a case study in psychology advantages and disadvantages

In more recent studies, teens continue to say they use social media primarily to keep in touch with friends. In a study by the Pew Research Center (Anderson & Jiang, 2018), researchers asked 743 teens, ages 13 to 17, why they use social media instead of getting together with friends in person. The most common response (by 41%) was that they had too many obligations (too many scheduled activities) to find time to hang out with friends. In addition, 34% said their friends were too busy with their own obligations, 32% cited the difficulty of finding transportation, and 33% noted that it is just easier to connect with friends online than to try to connect with them physically.

What Do Teens Consider to Be the Pluses and Minuses of Social Media Use?

A large recent study by the nonprofit organization Common Sense (Nesi, Mann, & Robb, 2023) focused specifically on girls ages 11 to 15, because this is the demographic considered by some to be the most vulnerable to possible negative effects of social media. The survey included more than 1,300 girls.

In one set of questions the girls were asked whether the effect on their mood of using various social media platforms was primarily positive, negative, or neutral. For every platform, more girls said the effect was positive than negative. For TikTok, 43% said positive, 26% negative, and the rest neutral. For Instagram, these numbers were 38% positive, 19% negative; for Snapchat. 32% positive, 26% negative; for messaging apps 50% positive, 10% negative; and for YouTube, 65% positive, 5% negative.

In another set of questions the girls were asked if their life would be better, worse, or the same if they didn’t have access to specific social media platforms. For each platform, far more said that removing the platform would make their life worse than said it would make it better, though many said it would make no difference. For example, only 9% said life would be better without messaging apps, while 43% said life would be worse. For TikTok, 16% said life would be better without it, while 34% said worse.

So, all in all, girls using social media are much more likely to feel it is good for their well-being than to feel it is harmful.

Why, according to teens, does social media improve their well-being? In the Pew study (Anderson & Jiang, 2018), cited earlier, 81% of teens said social media makes them feel more connected to what’s going on in their friends’ lives, and roughly two-thirds said such communication makes them feel they have people who will support them through tough times. In line with that, 71% said social media makes them feel included, compared to 25% saying it makes them feel excluded, and 69% said it makes them feel confident, compared to 26% saying it makes them feel insecure. All this is consistent with the idea that teens gain social support through social media.

On the possibly negative side, in the Pew study, many said they at least sometimes feel pressure to post only content that makes them look good (43%) or will get lots of likes or comments (37%). Moreover, 45% said they at least sometimes feel overwhelmed by the drama, and many in that group said they had digitally disconnected from some others because of too much drama.

The Pew researchers also analyzed their data separately for boys and girls and for each age group (ages 13 to 17) and found no large differences. They concluded that boys and girls and older and younger teens generally view their social media use in similar ways. They also found that teens at the time of their study rarely posted “selfies,” unlike teens of a decade or more earlier. The decline in posting of selfies may help explain why recent studies have revealed less anxiety among teens about their physical appearance, deriving from social media, than may have been true in the past.

Experience Sampling Studies of Effects of Social Media on Mood

One approach to understanding short-term effects of social media use on teens’ moods is to signal them at various times and, at each signal, have them report on their use of social media within some period (typically an hour) before the signal and their current mood.

In one such study, Ine Beyens and colleagues (2020) tested the hypothesis that passive social media use (where the person is just browsing and not posting) may have negative effects on mood. This hypothesis is generally founded on the belief that when one is just looking at others posts they feel socially excluded and envious of the others’ experiences.

The results failed to support that hypothesis. In fact, the researchers found that 46% of the teens tested over many such sampling trials felt better, on average, after such browsing and only 10% felt worse. The rest, on average, felt neither better nor worse. A very similar finding has since been reported in another study (Valkenburg et al., 2021)—which also showed that only a small percentage of teens felt worse after passive browsing; most either felt better or were unaffected. Beyens and colleagues also found, as had others, that active use of social media—that is, sending messages, posting or sharing on social media—regularly produced a boost in teens’ feelings of well-being.

In another study, Jessica Hamilton and her colleagues (2021) tested the hypothesis that teens who are depressed and have had suicidal thoughts may be at particular risk for harmful effects of social media. They conducted their study with 100 teens who were enrolled in an intensive outpatient program for depression and suicidality . At weekly visits to the clinic, over the course of a month, the teens reported on their use of social media over the past week and were assessed with measures of depression and suicidal ideation. The results were the opposite of what some might predict. Those who used social media more showed greater improvement in mental health—less depression and fewer suicidal thoughts—than those who used it less or not at all. The researchers concluded that “ among adolescents who are at high risk for suicide, social media may be indicative of adaptive or healthy social engagement. ”

In another longitudinal study, Stephanie Fredrick and colleagues (2022) sampled social media use and depression at four time points over two years for 800 teens who were 13 to 15 years old at the start of the study. The findings were complex, but one finding that stood out was that for girls, more than for boys, higher levels of active social media use predicted lower levels of depression. This finding runs counter to the belief that social media is especially bad for girls. In this study it seemed to be especially good for girls.

Sensible Advice for Social Media Use

All in all, the research indicates that teens today gain much more than they lose through social media. Cyberspace may not be as great a place to hang with friends as physical space, but in a world that makes it very difficult for teens to get together physically, social media is much better than nothing. Teens themselves say they would be worse off psychologically without social media, and to me it seems obvious they are right. We must strive to change the world in ways that enable teens to get together physically much more than they currently can, but, for now, taking social media away from them would be cruel.

Yet, as teens themselves admit, there can be downsides to social media use. It would not be a bad idea, I think, for all teens—and adults too!—to take a short course on safe use of social media. I’m not the expert to design such a course, but here are some thoughts that come to mind about precautions.

Time management

Teens regularly admit, when questioned, that they sometimes spend more time with social media than they would like. They acknowledge being drawn into it and becoming so engrossed that they lose track of time, which may cause harm by subtracting from the time they can spend on other activities.

A problem is that the smartphone is always with us (I’m including all of us, not just teens), regularly alerting us that some interesting message may be coming through, and once we get involved with any given message it may be hard to leave. This is what leads some to use the word “ addiction ” to describe the result, but I hate that word in this context. It implies pathology rather than something quite normal.

We all (and especially teens) like to communicate with others, and we are all quite naturally curious about what might lie in that next message. I (like boyd) much prefer to call it a time- management problem. “Addiction” sounds like something that would be hard to cure, but “time management” sounds like something we should all be able to handle if we wish. Spending lots of time on social media is not in itself bad, but it may take away from time that would be better spent on other endeavors.

It would be useful for most of us, teens included, to put some breaks on our smartphone use. Choose deliberately times of day when the phone will be on and when it will be off. For starters, off at dinner time—off for everyone at dinner, not just the kids—so the family can be together and communicate in person. Similarly, when you really are together with friends, outside the family, turn the phone off so you can be fully present with your friends, not distracted by the phone.

And then off at bedtime. In fact, keep it in another room at bedtime. One of the worst effects of smartphone use is sleep loss when teens (or any of us) use it late into the night or let its beeping wake us.

Beyond that, there may be other times when we want the phone off. I turn mine off whenever I’m writing something I value because I hate interruption. Each person can decide for themselves what activities are important enough to them that they don’t want to be interrupted, and the phone can be turned off at those times. Teens might worry that their friends will think they don’t care about them if they don’t respond immediately to a message, but that can be remedied by a message to all friends saying something like this: “ Please know there are times when I keep my phone turned off. If you send a message then, I will respond later. If you want an immediate response, message me between the hours of ­­___ and ___, when I will most likely have my phone on. ”

Cyberbullying and drama

In her interviews with teens, boyd found that they did not think bullying online was as big a problem as adults considered it to be. They felt that bullying in person, at school, was a bigger problem. Online you can just turn the bully off, which is not so easy when a bully confronts you in a hallway at school. It’s good to remember this. If someone is really bothering you online, ignore them. Spend time with friends, not with bullies. You have nothing to gain by engaging them.

Boyd also found, however, that much of what adults call bullying is not really bullying. Some of it is a sort of verbal horseplay, which may be crude and insulting; and some of it may be exaggerated, even histrionic complaints, which the kids refer to as drama. Some teens enjoy such horseplay or drama and deliberately produce or provoke it, and some don’t. The best advice for those who don’t is to disengage from those who provoke it, which, according to the Pew study, is exactly what many teens do.

Boyd and others have noted that teens use social media partly to keep their communications with one another private, away from parents and other adults who may (usually with good intentions) interfere in their lives. However, they sometimes forget that what they send out on the Internet to a friend might, in some way, get out more publicly. It is good to distinguish between public and private platforms, but keep in mind that even messages in private platforms can make their way out publicly. A good rule to keep in mind is don’t send anything into the Internet that you wouldn’t want a future potential employer to see.

Concluding Thoughts

Throughout history, with every new form of communication—from the written word, to the printed page, to radio, to television, to computers, to the internet—we go through a certain amount of growing pains. The new generation tends to glom on to the new and the older generation is suspicious and thinks it will be the ruination of the next generation. Let’s try to avoid that. Let’s listen to the kids and not judge them based on our prejudices.

Some adults are appalled by the amount of time kids spend with other kids on social media, but, as one group of evolutionary thinkers have pointed out (Katiyar et al., 2023), kids in the past regularly spent many hours every day—often all day--hanging out with other kids. They’re still doing that, but now because of our restrictions they do it on social media rather than in person.

Well, that’s it. I’m done writing about social media unless there are a bunch of questions you want me to address. In my next post I plan to expand on the idea I introduced here , that the sharp increase in anxiety, depression, and suicides in teens since about 2008 is caused in large part by increased pressure for academic performance and increased fears about their future. Keep tuned.

As always, I welcome your thoughts and questions. Psychology Today does not allow comments, so I have posted this on a different platform where you can comment. I invite you to comment here .

Anderson, M., & Jiang, J. (2018). Teens’ Social Media Habits and Experiences Pew Research Center, November, 2018.

Beyens, I., et al., (2020). The effect of social media on well‐being differs from adolescent to adolescent. Nature Research Scientific Reports . | .

boyd, d.(2014). It’s complicated: The social lives of networked teens . Yale University Press.

Hamilton, J.L. et al . (2021). Social media use and prospective suicidal thoughts and behaviors among adolescents at high risk for suicide. Suicide Life Threat Behav. 51, 1203–1212.

Nesi, J., Mann, S., & Robb, M. (2023). Teens and mental health: How girls really feel about social media. San Francisco, CA: Common Sense.

Katiyar, T., et al . (2023). An antidote to overpathologizing computer-mediated communication: An evolutionary perspective on mixed effects of mismatch. Pre-Print available at .

Valkenburg, P.M., et al, (2021). Social media browsing and adolescent well-being: challenging the “passive social media use hypothesis.” Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 00, 1–19.

Peter Gray Ph.D.

Peter Gray, Ph.D. , is a research professor at Boston College, author of Free to Learn and the textbook Psychology (now in 8th edition), and founding member of the nonprofit Let Grow.

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