Final blog?!?!

25 03 2012

Ok so for my big finale, I’m gonna write a blog on…………………………………………………………………………case studies.
Like I did with my last blog about sociometric tests, I’ll explain what a case study is, and go through the pros and cons of using them to collect data.

Case studies are basically the intense study of one individual. Their routines and life are deeply analysed so as to try and find an explanation for their behaviour. Freud used a lot of these while developing his work and theories. A famous example is the case of Little Hans, but I’ll talk about that later.

There are many different types of case study:

  • Explanatory-used to do causal investigations
  • Exploratory-a case study that is used as a prelude to more indepth research, which helps researchers gather more information to develop their research question
  • Descriptive-the case study is carried out after a research question has been proposed; data collected is compared to what the researchers expected to find
  • Intrinsic-a case study where the researcher has a personal interest in the case
  • Collective-a group of people are studied rather than one individual
  • Instrumental-the individual or group being studied allows the researchers to understand more than what can just be observed

Case studies can either be prospective or retrospective. Prospective case studies are when an individual or a group of people are observed over a period of time to determine outcomes, such as the progression of a disease. Retrospective case studies look at the history of an individual or group, to see what caused the disease for example.

There are many different ways to collect data in case studies. The most common method is direct observation of the participant(s), but they can also be interviewed, documents such as letters and newpaper articles and archival records such as census records can be looked at, as well as physical artifacts that the participant can be observed using. The researcher can also take part in participant observation, which is when the researcher is involved in serving as a participant in events and getting a true insight into what goes on.

One of the most famous case studies (and the favourite experiment that was taught at my college) is Freud’s of Little Hans. Little Hans had an irrational fear of horses, so his father wrote to Freud seeking help. Freud interviewed Little Hans, and received letters from his father describing his behaviour and dreams he was having. Freud explained that Little Hans was going through an Oedipus complex, and so feared his father, but because he didn’t WANT to fear his father, he displaced the fear onto horses, as they reminded him of his father.

Case studies can be very useful, as they can give us an insight into why an individual acts and behaves a certain way. Because we are able to only study one person, the data collected can be very indepth.

However, one of the aims of case studies is to generalise the results to other people, but this can be difficult when only studying a few, or even one person. It would not be possible to explain all phobias of horses as Oedipus/Electra complexes; someone may have been injured by a horse when they were younger etc.

The data collected is also very subjective, which could make it invalid. Freud’s data collection consisted of letters from Little Hans’ father, as well as a brief interview. It was said that Little Hans’ father was a huge fan of Freud, and so he would’ve been very excited to be in contact with him. This could also mean that he may have exaggerated or lied in his letters, to make his son’s case more interesting or impressive to Freud.

Overall, I think case studies are a very effective way to study people who are in a minor population, however I don’t think psychologists should be able to generalise their results; at the end of the day, everyone is different-individual differences.




12 responses

26 04 2012
Week 10 blogs « prpagjc

[…] everyone has really developed their critical thinking and used this to form some great comments. sinesofmadness makes a great point about how case studies can be used in popular research today; in the child of […]

18 04 2012
18 04 2012

You make some really good points in your post and the Little Hans example is great. Not only are case studies difficult to generalise they are also very time consuming (for both researcher and participant) and very expensive to run. When looking at the Frued example alone and the science we have for other methods of research I can’t help but wonder are they really worth the bother in today’s world? I did a bit of research and came across BBC’s documentary Child of our Time (I don’t watch much tv). The programme follows the development of a group of 25 children from a range of genetic, social, geographical and ethnic backgrounds since their birth in 2000. It was with this that I really saw the benefit of case studies. This in depth data is a once off as no one else will live through this time again. So because of that I completely agree with your view of the benefits of case studies. However I feel they are as much important in today’s world as they were in Freudian times.

18 04 2012
18 04 2012
18 04 2012

Case studies are open to all sorts of evaluation, positive and negative. As you stated earlier you cannot generalise them to the rest of the population and they have an inability to draw cause and effect relationships, which can develop further hypothesis. To best explain this consider enlarged ventricles in the brains of schizophrenic patients, are the ventricles a cause of schizophrenia or does schizophrenia cause the enlarged ventricles? the same principle applies to case studies. However a major advantage of case studies is that they allow us to gather and develop information which we may not have discovered without them, these ground breaking findings can often help us understand the systems of the brain better, and thus possibly leading to new medicines and treatments for illness’ affecting the same area of the brain. One example of such a case study would be phineas gage… a case study i’m sure we have all heard about so i’ll skip to my point, this study helped us realise what the role of the frontal lobe was in the brain. Without this knowledge it is hard to imagine where we would be today in terms of knowledge and understanding. This shows that case studies play a crucial role in furthering our knowledge and understanding.

18 04 2012

I think case studies are very beneficial to psychological research. Despite them being extremely time consuming and costly they provide a significant amount of insight into a particular area….more insight than any other type of research can do. Yes it isn’t generalisable however it can lead to theories being developed and then further, less time consuming research being done. It is also a good strategy to use when looking into rare phenomena. A well known case study was the study of Genie, a young girl who was shut off from society by her father and who experienced stunted developmental and physical growth. From this case study, researchers learnt a lot about the effects of isolation and these findings would never have been available if the case study had not happened. No experimenter would be able to create the environment and manipulate a child’s life to see what the effects of isolation have. Case studies are well worth the time and effort as they gain an extreme insight into particular areas of study.

16 04 2012
12 04 2012

This is a really good and thorough blog so its really hard to think of something to comment…but I ll have a go. I agree with you that although case studies do have problems of generalisation to the wider popultion they are also very good sources of information. Take the famous case study by John Martyn Harlow of the railroad constructor Phineas Gage for instance. Famous for having a iron rod driven all the way through his head, destroying much of his left frontal lobe. because his case was the first to suggest a link between brain trauma and personality change, and although subsequent studies using a larger number of partciapants have also shown this, it was the first. My suggestion is that once a case study has been conducted we then research the findings with many more subjects (prehaps in a lab settings) to see if the results are the same.

16 04 2012

The problem with studying further, however, is one of the reasons case studies are around. Case studies such as Phineas Gage are very unique. It would be very hard and unethical (let alone illegal) to go out and drive a railroad spike through someone’s brain. It occurred (relatively) naturally with Phineas, and so allowed testing. To test it further, you couldn’t go round removing little pieces of people’s brains. You would have to find more people with an existing condition. This would be hard, time consuming, costly and may not be successful. This is only for certain types of case study though. There are also many cases where I think that the richness of data from a case study can lead to many studies and theories. This link ( describes well how case study data can be used to generate theories. It makes a point of the fact that they must be tightly linked to data, but also points out the fact that the theories generated may be quite novel. This again is a huge positive, as it allows for the progression of science, and means it isn’t boring!

1 04 2012
Homework for my TA « psud63

[…] Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. […]

1 04 2012

Really well explained blog, well done!
Case studies are extremely useful, but as you mentioned psychologists do have to be cautious when generalising the findings from a single case study to the general population, as there may have been specific factors that led to the findings that are not necessarily found in the general population.
Another issue with case studies is that they can be based on retrospective data, which is not always the most accurate, as people may recall events differently.
And lastly,case studies are usually based upon extreme circumstances, therefore again can not always be generalised.

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