Often qualitative research is seen as second-best to quantitative research. It doesn’t give us numbers that we can analyse and compare. It does not translate well into headlines. It is more complex, more time consuming to analyse and results may be more ambiguous. However, this is where I see the power of quantitative research to inform and lead in psychology.
Step into the shoes of others
As a psychologist, I am fascinated by why people do certain behaviours. What was their rationale, their motivating force and what are their beliefs? This is where the field of qualitative research is a super tool, it enables us to discover the answers to these questions. Qualitative research allows us to step into the shoes of the people we are working with, to understand the world from their perspective.
By using open questions that allow people to respond in their own unique way we can gain insight into novel and unexpected phenomena. I consider this to be a privilege. Often qualitative research is conducted through in-depth interviews that may last one to two hours or more. This gives the interviewees time to relax and time to go into detail about their own experiences and perceptions. Through people sharing their thoughts and experiences in this way, it can help research expand in unexpected directions as subtleties and nuances are illuminated.
Where will these shoes take us?
Now we’ve stepped into other people’s shoes, where will these new insights take us? When Covid hit, the world was dealing with so many unknowns and yet certain functions carried on regardless, such as the progression of pregnancy. Soon to be parents were not able to have check-ups and support during pregnancy in the way that they had expected. Prenatal care was disrupted and soon to be parents had all the typical worries and concerns as well as those that stemmed from Covid.
So how best to allay these worries and provide support? Well, the first step is to find out what the worries and concerns are such as in the research conducted by Eman et al (2022). Then tailored strategies and support can be put in place to reassure and minimise fear. If we assume we know what is going through the mind of others, we can miss the opportunity to provide the very thing they need, the thing that will support them the most.
Wearing these shoes can give us a new outlook
Qualitative research can also help us to re-imagine long-held concepts, let’s take passion as an example. Often in society, we are encouraged to view passion as a strong emotion that we have about someone or something. Qualitative research by Halonen & Lomas (2014) has proposed an alternative model of passion.
One in which ‘passion is a way of being, or a quality, that the individual holds, rather than passion being a strong desire towards a specific activity’ (p24). This idea of passion as a way or being may be helpful for those people who feel daunted because they do not have a passion for a particular thing. This makes passion more accessible, it is not related to a specific activity and we can be passionate about multiple things, we do not need to have a single passion that defines us.
Where will qualitative research take us next? I am excited that I do not know the answer to this. There are so many possibilities and opportunities.
Eman A. Abu Sabbah, Sondos B. Eqylan, Dua’ Yousef Al-Maharma, Fida Thekrallah & Reema R. Safadi (2022) Fears and uncertainties of expectant mothers during the COVID-19 pandemic: trying to reclaim control, International Journal of Qualitative Studies on Health and Well-being, 17:1.
Halonen, S. M. & Lomas, T. (2014) A passionate way of being: A qualitative study revealing the passion spiral. International Journal of Psychological research, 7, (2), 17-2.
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