Academic journal article Canadian Psychology

The Status and Role of Quantitative Methods in Psychology: Past, Present and Future Perspectives

Academic journal article Canadian Psychology

The Status and Role of Quantitative Methods in Psychology: Past, Present and Future Perspectives

Article excerpt

Abstract

There is now a substantial literature that has noted serious limitations in the quantitative component of the Psychology curricula. In particular, training in the areas of statistics, measurement, and research methods tends, largely, to be rooted in past traditions, rather than exemplifying current advancements in the area of quantitative methods. The purpose of this paper is to highlight salient weaknesses in our current training of graduate students, and to suggest ways by which these limitations may be addressed through a strengthening of the quantitative methods component of the curriculum.

Traditionally, psychologists have considered themselves as leaders among social science researchers in addressing statistical, measurement, and research design issues. However, recent research reported by Aiken, West, Sechrest, and Leno (1990) and others (e.g., Aftanas, 1994; Cone & Foster, 1991; Meier, 1993; Uleman & Weary, 1995) suggests that while this perception was likely quite accurate in the past, the same perception today may be somewhat dubious. In particular, they noted a failure on the part of psychologists to match advancements in their substantive areas with advancements in the areas of statistics, measurement, and research methods. Both the causes and the consequences of this finding can be linked to the current structure of education and training in Psychology. The intent of this paper is to highlight salient weaknesses in our current training of graduate students, and to suggest ways by which these limitations may be addressed through a strengthening of the quantitative methods component of the curriculum.

PAST PERSPECTIVES

In the 1960s and early 1970s, the quantitative component of most Psychology programs typically included the teaching of correlation/regression analysis, analysis of variance, and some factor analysis. In addition, the study of psychometric theory was generally required, and courses in attitude measurement, psychophysics, and scaling were offered. At that time, these courses were quite sufficient in providing students with the research skills necessary to address virtually any statistical, measurement, or methodological problem encountered in their particular research area.

Over the past two decades, however, important advancements in quantitative methods, as well as in the various substantive areas of Psychology have taken place. We turn first to the area of quantitative methods. In statistics, for example, we have witnessed the development of (a) path analysis (Duncan, 1975); (b) the analysis of covariance structures within the frameworks of both confirmatory factor analysis (Joreskog,1969) and structural equation modelling (Bentler, 1980; Joreskog & Sorbom, 1979); (c) discrete multivariate analysis that includes logic and probit regression models for use with categorical variables and correspondence analysis (Greenacre, 1984); and (d) time series analysis (Box & Jenkins, 1976). In measurement, there has been the development of (a) multidimensional scaling (e.g., Shepard, Romney, & Nerlove, 1972); (b) item response theory (e.g., Hambleton & Swaminathan, 1984; Lord, 1980); and (c) generalizability theory, (Cronbach, Gleser, Nanda, & Rajaratnam, 1972). Finally, the area of research methods has identified (a) new issues and designs capable of addressing problems inherent in large - scale research projects that involve social experiments (Riecken et al., 1974), longitudinal data (e.g., Nesselroade & Baltes, 1979), multilevel data (e.g., Burstein, 1980), and quasi - experimentation (Cook & Campbell, 1979); and (b) the development of meta - analysis (e.g., Glass, McGaw, & Smith, 1981) as a means to the quantification and statistical analysis of entire research literatures.

As noted by Aiken et al., (1990), however, most of this past development work in the area of quantitative methods has been advanced by social science researchers other than psychologists. …

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