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‘A case study involves an in-depth investigation of a single case.’ – (Advanced Psychology, Child Development, Perspectives and Methods).
Case studies are used widely across the field of psychology. They are used in branches such as clinical psychology, educational psychology, cognitive psychology and occupational psychology. Case studies do not always have to be the study of an individual person, the case could be a department within a business, however they are normally used to get a detailed analysis of one particular individual.
Case studies provide in-depth analyses into the case through its use of questionnaires, structured interviews and observational methods. As a result of these methods, qualitative data can be collected which can be more useful in aiming to find new evidence to support or disprove a theory, as it provides information in greater detail. Case studies can also be longitudinal which allows information to be gathered over a period of time and can therefore show changes in behaviour or thoughts over the set period. Many psychological approaches use case studies in their research, such as in the Psychodynamic approach, Behaviourist approach and the Humanistic approach. In the Psychodynamic approach, Sigmund Freud who was the founder of the approach, is known for using many case studies in his research. One case study he used was ‘Rat Man’ where the patient was being treated by Freud for an obsessive fantasy where his close relatives would suffer horrific punishments involving rats. Freud concluded that the patients thoughts were due to his conflicting feelings of love and aggression towards these particular relatives which stemmed from punishments for the patient’s sexual experiences in infancy.
Although the case study provided a lot of information and insight into the case, it is argued that the published findings were greatly manipulated by Freud to support his theory. This is a known problem with case studies, as the researcher can become particularly biased toward the case as they are working with the patient usually for months, and therefore can publish biased results based on whether or not they like the patient and whether or not the findings support the theory. Another issue with case studies is that replication is extremely difficult as the information given in the original study will never directly match that in a follow up study. This makes the results unreliable and so they cannot be generalised to the wider target population.
Case studies are extremely useful in order to gain very detailed accounts from individual cases which are important in psychology. The detailed information within the case studies is invaluable for contributing to support or disprove theories within the field of psychology. Although they cannot be replicated or generalised, the results are valid and they provide greater information for further research to try and expand upon.
Pennington, McLoughlin, Smithson, Robinson, Boswell (2003) Advanced Psychology – Child Development, Perspectives and Methods: Hodder Arnold.
psychology.about.com – http://psychology.about.com/od/cindex/g/casestudy.htm