Gathering data for
The participant as agent
Ethics and practicality
In this chapter, we will be looking at some of the issues which arise when we are aiming to gather data from human beings. These issues range from the problems of sampling groups of research participants, to looking at the kinds of problems which occur because our participants are thinking, co-operative human beings, to looking at the ethical considerations which need to be addressed in modern psychology.
As we will be seeing in the next few chapters, there are a number of different techniques that psychologists use to gather data, ranging from experiments to case studies and diary methods. Sometimes we use these as idiographic techniques, which means, as we saw in the last chapter, that their focus is on describing individuality – the distinctive characteristics of one person or one particular group. More often, though, psychological research is nomothetic – that is, it is trying to look at what groups of people have in common, in the hope that this will allow us to identify general principles, or laws, about human behaviour. In that type of research, it is vitally important that the group of people who are being studied are reasonably typical of other people too. And that brings us into the extremely important area of sampling.
Sampling is the process of collecting the set of research participants who will provide the data for a psychological research project. You might wonder why we refer to such a collection of people as a sample, rather than as a 'set', or 'group', or any other such word. But there is