The alternative to observing someone's behaviour is to ask them about it. Any technique used to get information from people directly is termed a self-report. The simplest sort of self-report is a conversation, with one person asking questions and another person answering them. This is how we find out what someone wants for tea, what time the next bus runs or whether the pretty girl will go out with you. Of course, you can't always trust people's answers - as anyone who's been stood up on a date will tell you.
The principles and problems with self-reports are coming up with the right way of asking the question and finding some way to check that the answer you get is trustworthy.
Self-reports fall into two main categories: interviews and questionnaires. Both involve getting the RESPONDENT to answer questions, but with an interview the respondent is answering directly to the interviewer, whereas questionnaires can be completed without the researcher's supervision. You get a lot more data from an interview, because you can also take into account tone of voice, hesitations, eye contact and body language. However, there's no denying that questionnaires are a cheaper and faster way for surveying big groups of people.
Some studies are entirely based around self-reports. The core study by Freud is an example of this kind of research. Freud was studying a 5-year-old boy with phobias and asked the boy's father to interview his son every day about his childish games, dreams and feelings about his family.
More frequently researchers use self-report techniques as a way of recording behaviour as part of an experiment. The core study by Reicher & Haslam on the prison simulation is an example of this. Every day the prisoners and the guards filled in questionnaires measuring how they felt about belonging to their group, their attitudes to the prison rules and things like depression. These sort of questionnaires that give a number score to mental states are called PSYCHOMETRIC TESTS. Other examples of psychometric tests include: an IQ test, a personality quiz and a driving theory test. A different sort of test was used by Thigpen & Cleckley, who asked their patient who suffered from multiple personalities to look at inkblots and say what shapes she saw in them. Her answers revealed things about her deepest feelings and fears. This is a PROJECTIVE TEST because the respondent projects heir own feelings onto the picture.
Unlike observations, self-reports are almost always DISCLOSED - people usually know when they are being interviewed or filling out a questionnaire. This makes self-reports vulnerable to RESPONSE BIAS, which means people don't give honest answers. There are various ways of dealing with this problem. One solution is using "distracter" questions that disguise the true purpose of the self-report (making it LESS TRANSPARENT). However, distracter questions can end up making self-reports too long and boring for the respondent. Another solution is "lie" questions. These are questions which only have one honest answer, so anything else must be a lie. For example: "Have you ever been late for a meeting or appointment?" The only honest answer is "Yes", since everyone's been late some time, even if through no fault of their own. Each respondent gets a "lie score" at the end and, if the lie score is too high, the researcher knows to ignore that person's self-report.
|Strengths of questionnaires||Limitations of questionnaires |
Now download this slideshow about the different types of self-reports used in Psychology.
If the same questionnaire or interview or psychological test is repeated with the same person it should produce the same outcome. Reliability may be affected if different interviewers ask different questions in different ways or the same interviewer behaves differently on different occasions.
Reliability can be demonstrated using the TEST-RETEST method, ie. giving participants a test/questionnaire/interview and then giving the same participants the same test a while later (so they have a chance to forget it) to see if the same result is obtained. The two sets of scores can be compared by calculating a correlation coefficient.
Another test of reliability is INTERNAL RELIABILITY. This involves checking to see that respondents gave consistent answers. For example, a questionnaire on people's social lives might have three questions on spending time on social networking websites. If someone answered saying they "hardly ever" use social networking sites like Facebook, but later on says they log on to Facebook for over 12 hours a week, then you know something is wrong.
Reliability can be improved in the case of interviews by training interviewers. In the case of other self-report measures, inconsistency may be due to questions which are unclear so that the answers vary from occasion to occasion. Therefore question clarity should be checked. The best approach is to run a PILOT STUDY with your questionnaire or interview, testing it out on some practice respondents so you can spot the questions that need rewording.
The validity of a questionnaire or interview concerns whether it really measures what the researcher intended to measure. One way to measure this is CONCURRENT VALIDITY. This can be established by comparing the current questionnaire/interview with a previously established one on the same topic. For example, comparing scores on two different IQ tests. Participants take both tests and then their scores on both are compared using correlation. Another means of establishing validity is FACE VALIDITY. The items on a questionnaire/test/interview should look like they are measuring what you intend to measure - this is the test of common sense.
If the scores are not similar then the test should be revised by changing some of the questions. Researchers identify which questions are suspect by removing some questions to see if this improves the correlation with the existing measure. Then they can assume that these questions are not relevant.
Two factors commonly reduce the validity of self-reports. DEMAND CHARACTERISTICS is the tendency for people to try to work out what the self-report is measuring, then give the sort of answers they think the researcher is looking for. They're only being helpful, but it messes up the results. A similar problem is SOCIAL DESIRABILITY BIAS, which is the tendency for people to give answers that they think make them look good.
Private Study activities
Evaluate the "Twilight" questionnaire
You are going to be collecting data from people directly. Before you do this, try out the questionnaire based on the Twilight books and films..
Conduct your own survey
Now design a questionnaire of your own with 6 questions to measure people’s suitability to become a character in your favourite TV show, book, video game or film. This should include:
Next you will need a coding scheme. Some responses might be worth lots of points, some responses might actually deduct points. Be prepared to justify why you weighted some questions they way you did.
Finally, test out your questionnaire on 5 other students.