The time has come for psychology to stop treating qualitative data as an embarrassing secret

Masaryk, Radomír and Stainton Rogers, Wendy (2024). The time has come for psychology to stop treating qualitative data as an embarrassing secret. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 18(2), article no. e12938.



Despite the sustained flourishing—both in terms of quantity and quality—of qualitative research in psychology, psychology's establishment ‘gatekeepers’ seem to still be wedded to the dogma that only experimental research and quantitative data are sufficiently robust to be taken seriously. In this paper we make the case against this contempt and call for qualitative research and data to be recognized as valid and epistemologically sound in its own right. Given that its ontology is based upon constructionist assumptions about the nature of the social world, its power to provide nuanced insight into the complexity of humankind is not a problem, but its greatest strength. Our paper therefore starts with a brief review of the ontological and epistemological differences between the two approaches to demonstrate that they are complementary rather than competition. We then make our case, based on two key strategies: first by shedding light on the fact that many (perhaps even most) of psychology's classic experimental studies actually collected qualitative data (in the form of debriefing interviews and the like) and used it to understand what was going on; and then by recent studies that have expressly sought feedback about the hypothesis being purportedly tested. We then recognize the extent to which contemporary researchers are expressing their frustration at the way that they are being forced into a methodological straight jacket, by carrying out their research in ways they view as inauthentic. We end with a call to kerb the methodological dogma that has taken hold of psychology, and to move to a more inclusive approach.

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