Case studies

March 20, 2012 at 4:31 pm (Uncategorized)

Ok, so basically, a case study is where information is gathered in detail about a specific person or group of people. (ideographic research). They are often longitudinal or can also be retrospective and contain details of what happened to that particular group or individual in the past. But how useful are they in scientific research?

Well, they have many advantages, such as the fact that it can produce rich quantitative data. Look, for example, at Little Albert. For those of you who don’t know about him, here is a link: There is so much we learned about human conditioning based on Pavlov’s work just by looking at Albert. Another benefit is that because you are studying people in their natural environment over a long period of time, there is high levels of ecological validity.

However, there are some negatives to case studies, the main one being generalisability (validity). If it is based on one person or only a few people, how do we know how generalisable it is to everybody else? Reliability is another issue to address. It is extremely hard to replicate accurately a case study as it occurs over time and involves a particular person. It is extremely hard to keep all of the variables the same when replicating. Finally, researcher bias can be extremely high. Imagine you are looking at one person’s life for several years, it is hard not to become emotionally involved in the experiment, and if you’ve spent ten years conducting an experiment, maybe due to not wanting to waste that many years of your life you might be likely to see an effect even when there isnt one, which can call into question the credibility of some case studies.

Although there are many cons to a case study, i also believe that there are multiple pros and the information gained can be extremely valuable to psychological research and is an important part of it.



  1. stefftevs said,

    Found your blog easy to read and also very informative. As you mentioned, case studies are an intense and in-depth investigation on a single person or group, and case studies produce very rich data. Another example of a famous case study in the field of memory and neuroscience and was studied on a person called H.M and this research provided a great amount of description and detail in the field. The research on H/M suggests that you can learn a lot from one case and this can lead to many more research questions developed in the future. However the main flaw of a case study is that the information collected cannot be generalized to others.

  2. Final comments for Wendy | stefftevs said,

  3. roisin07m said,

    good blog! Case studies are extremely useful when wanting to study specific types of people for various reasons. They contribute massively to localising function in the brain by studying people who have suffered injuries or lesions. What can’t they do now that they could do before? Examples such as H.M, Clive Wearing and Phineas Gage are very famous case studies and without them we wouldn’t know as much about how memory and personality can be affected by brain trauma. But as you have stated there are many drawbacks. Perhaps the use of single case designs would be a better method because they are sensitive to individual differences because each subject acts as their own control.

  4. emily2904 said,

    I agree with you totally that case studies are great in depth way to gain information and knowledge, as you state they do have their downsides. Case studies were also used by Freud, and although his research and patients gave us quite a insightful look into how the human mind can work. It is often overlooked when it comes to the similarities in his patients. He reported findings of around 17 case studies, and majority of these were cases relating to neurotic women. So to generalise his results was highly unreliable due to the fact that he had a limited amount of case studies and not enough variability.
    There is obviously the other argument that he provided the world of psychology with a lot, even still some argue that this is not the case.

    “Freud based his theories on case studies, not controlled experimentation. His theories lack scientific support and rely on a database of unreliable, unreplicable behavioral relationships” (Stanovich, 2007).

    Stanovich, K. (2007). How To Think Straight About Psychology 8th Edition. Boston, MA: Pearson.

  5. tomwall39 said,

    Great blog this week (month, whatever :)). I very much agree with what you have said on the uses of case studies in psychology. They are a fantastic source of information even if the generality is always going to be an issue you will never get round.

    They mainly come into there own on disorder work, when participants can be observed over a very long period of time. Plus much of our current knowledge of psychology is based on famous case studies such as clive wearing and HM.

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