Academic journal article Cognitie, Creier, Comportament

Q Methodology: The Investigation of Meaning Systems in Different Life-Conditions through Proverbs

Academic journal article Cognitie, Creier, Comportament

Q Methodology: The Investigation of Meaning Systems in Different Life-Conditions through Proverbs

Article excerpt


The present article has two major objectives. The first one is to present a brief review of the Q methodology with the descriptions of the major stages necessary for conducting a proper Q-method based investigation. Secondly, we offer two concrete exemplifications of investigations applying the Q-method, through which we try to inquire the major aspects of meaning systems in two different life-situations: normal life conditions and possible changes in global meaning systems after experiencing long-lasting severe stress in a population of patients diagnosed with diabetes.

KEYWORDS: Q-methodology, global meaning system, situational meaning system, proverbs.


Debates and long-running controversies regarding the advantages/strengths and disadvantages/weaknesses of qualitative and quantitative research have imposed their mark especially on the climate of psychological research, by establishing a kind of "relationship of hierarchy, where aspects of one methodology are alleged to be intrinsically superior to the other" (Shaw, 2003, p. 60). Lots of papers devoted to quantitative methodologies disregard qualitative inquiries and consider them as bringing a quite reduced amount of valid knowledge (Silverman, 2004). Nevertheless, regardless the imposed hierarchy, if appropriately used for the proper purpose, the two approaches are capable of bringing a considerable amounts of knowledge. In other words, the researcher is not posed to take inflexible, rigid decisions while opting for either qualitative or quantitative research - his/her decision in 'favor' of one or another method should only depend on the objectives, goals of the investigation, the available resources, and not of an ideological commitment to a paradigm (Hammersley, 1992; Silverman, 2004).

The Q method is a very important assessment tool that succeeds to successfully combine the qualitative and quantitative approach in research (van Exel & de Graaf, 2005). The basic, underlying idea of this procedure may be briefly put as: after eliciting subjective, individual-relevant aspects of the inquired topic, the obtained results are statistically processed and analyzed, resulting clusters of data specific to an individual or individuals sharing the same stance.

The Q methodology offers the opportunity of systematic inquiry of subjectivity, thus evincing point(s) of view, opinions, beliefs, attitudes, etc. (Brown, 1993). One of the great advantages of the Q methodology is that it does not need a large number of individuals to extract characteristic patterns of thought. Applying a large number of items, a relatively reduced number of individuals (the P-set) are presented a sample of statements relevant to some topic (the Q-set). During the process, people transfer their subjective meaning to the statements, thus revealing their personal, uninfluenced point(s) of view (Smith, 2001). Afterwards, the elicited points of view, opinions, etc. are correlated and factor analyzed, thus leading to commonalities between subjects, who afterwards may be compared against them. As Stephenson (1935) has put it, the Q-factor analysis is an inverted version of the conventional factor analysis, since instead of test scores, persons are correlated and then factor analyzed. Many authors consider that exactly in this resides the main distinction between classical research methods and the Q: it analyses (correlates) people instead of variables (as the R method does), thus building typologies (Boros, 2006; Stephenson, 1953).

The factors extracted from the Q analysis are considered to be rather functional than logical distinctions, imposed by the researcher. A very good analogy to this may be that of the emic and etic approaches. The emic approach intends to analyze phenomena appealing to the categories used by the investigated population in the conditions offered by their 'own culture' - simply put, emic studies are 'from within' investigations. …

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