A short introduction to quantitative and qualitative research. For using art as research the term performative research is used. For qualitative research, a hypothesis or numerical prediction is made about the material world and research tests to see if it is true. Qualitative research looks for patterns, often of behaviours, that may give insight into how these patterns may give generalisations. Performative research assumes that the individual’s actions are part of the research findings.
By Anabelle Bernard Fournier 6 min
In the social sciences, an unresolved question remains whether or not we can measure things like love or racism the same way we can measure temperature or the weight of a star. Social phenomena–things that happen because of and through human behavior–are especially difficult to grasp with typical scientific models.
This is why psychology is often derided as an “almost-science”: aside from brain scanning methods, can we really measure psychological things when we have no direct access to them? Psychologists rely on a few things to measure behavior, attitudes, and feelings: self-reports (like surveys or questionnaires), observation (often used in experiments or field work) and implicit attitude tests (the sort of test that measures your timing in responding to prompts).
Most of these are quantitative methods: the result is a number that can be compared to other numbers to make assessments about differences between groups.
But here’s the problem: most of these methods are static (such as survey instruments), inflexible (you can’t change a question because a participant doesn’t understand it), and provide a “what” rather than a “why”.
But sometimes, researchers are more interested in the “why” and the “how”. That’s where qualitative methods come in. Qualitative methods are about speaking to people directly and hearing their words. They are grounded in the philosophy that the social world is ultimately unmeasurable, that no measure is truly ever “objective”, and that how humans make meaning is just as important as how much they score on a standardized test.
Let’s take a deeper look at each approach.