Academic journal article The Psychological Record

Q-Methodology in the Study of Child Phenomenology

Academic journal article The Psychological Record

Q-Methodology in the Study of Child Phenomenology

Article excerpt

When it began in the second half of the nineteenth century, scientific psychology was remarkable in that its aim was to apply scientific methods to mentality. Within a few decades, this aspiration was all but crushed. Numerous forms of behavioristic psychology evolved, leaving issues raised by mentality and related topics largely in the hands of an extrascientific community (Baars & Banks, 1992). At present we are in the midst of a resurgence of interest in mind on the part of psychologists and related specialists that gives no sign of abating.

Undoubtedly, phenomenologists such as Merleau-Ponty (1942/1963), Sartre (1956), and Giorgi (1970) helped keep alive the flame of mind in psychology during years of domination by methodological behaviorism. Phenomenology has long been and remains a variegated philosophy and psychology (Kockelmans, 1971). Although those claiming to follow phenomenology differ on many issues, all phenomenologists who trace their thinking back to Edmund Husserl, nurturer of contemporary phenomenological psychology (Kockelmans, 1971), take human experience as their fundamental subject of study. The phenomenological perspective leads one to view as promising several attempts in cognitive psychology and in cognitive science to open up experience to observation, including thought listing (Cacioppo & Petty, 1981), protocol analysis (Ericsson & Simon, 1984), and content analysis (Kulkarni & Simon, 1988).

Still needed are research methods that faithfully reflect experience from the point of view of the person studied (Brown, 1980; Kuiken, Schopflocher, & Wild, 1989). The basic problem with cognitive methods to date is their use of researcher-derived categories and scales, the result being that the investigator has already determined what individuals' responses will mean before they have had an opportunity to respond (Brown, 1980). Regardless of how the individual responds to scales derived ahead of time, we have no assurance that the data are telling us more about the individual's experience than the researcher's. Even worse, when the investigator decides in advance that a response to a particular scale reflects a particular construct, the subject's response vivifies the construct and provides it with a spurious existence (Brown, 1980).

Kuiken et al. (1989) addressed the need for methods that yield quantitative data on experience as it is given to the experiencer. Their methodology centered on the application of cluster analysis (Everitt, 1974) to representative verbal statements that participants made in unrestricted descriptions of their experiences. When the investigators examined the derived clusters for their relatively characteristic properties, they found three distinct classes of experiences under the common conditions to which they exposed all participants. Our interests lie in child phenomenology, and the work of Kuiken et al. (1989) is important for us because it suggests that it is possible to rigorously describe aspects of individuals' personal experiences by beginning with participant-centered data and then incorporating multivariate techniques and phenomenological interpretation.

Researchers are giving increasing attention to the development of conscious experience in very young children. Studies have shown that children as young as 24 months are able to use words that express their own feelings and desires (Brown & Dunn, 1991). Although language-in-use is symbolic and self-referential (Brown, 1980; Wittgenstein, 1971), it can also be limiting, especially with very young children who may lack the requisite language skills to faithfully communicate their experiences. Verbo-vocal reports can only describe experience from the point of view of the person studied if that person has the language skills with which to communicate the experience. Fortunately, individuals need not rely on verbo-vocal reports to describe their experiences insofar as they can use objects, pictures, and gestures as symbolic and self-referent forms of communication (Stephenson, 1980). …

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