Just as correlational research allows us to study topics we can’t experimentally manipulate (e. g., whether you have a large or small income), there are other types of research designs that allow us to investigate these harder-to-study topics. Qualitative designs, including participant observation, case studies, and narrative analysis are examples of such methodologies. Although something as simple as “observation” may seem like it would be a part of all research methods, participant observation is a distinct methodology that involves the researcher embedding him- or herself into a group in order to study its dynamics. For example, Festinger, Riecken, and Shacter (1956) were very interested in the psychology of a particular cult. However, this cult was very secretive and wouldn’t grant interviews to outside members. So, in order to study these people, Festinger and his colleagues pretended to be cult members, allowing them access to the behavior and psychology of the cult. Despite this example, it should be noted that the people being observed in a participant observation study usually know that the researcher is there to study them.
Another qualitative method for research is the case study, which involves an intensive examination of specific individuals or specific contexts. Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, was famous for using this type of methodology; however, more current examples of case studies usually involve brain injuries. For instance, imagine that researchers want to know how a very specific brain injury affects people’s experience of happiness. Obviously, the researchers can’t conduct experimental research that involves inflicting this type of injury on people. At the same time, there are too few people who have this type of injury to conduct correlational research. In such an instance, the researcher may examine only one person with this brain injury, but in doing so, the researcher will put the participant through a very extensive round of tests. Hopefully what is learned from this one person can be applied to others; however, even with thorough tests, there is the chance that something unique about this individual (other than the brain injury) will affect his or her happiness. But with such a limited number of possible participants, a case study is really the only type of methodology suitable for researching this brain injury.
The final qualitative method to be discussed in this section is narrative analysis. Narrative analysis centers around the study of stories and personal accounts of people, groups, or cultures. In this methodology, rather than engaging with participants directly, or quantifying their responses or behaviors, researchers will analyze the themes, structure, and dialogue of each person’s narrative. That is, a researcher will examine people’s personal testimonies in order to learn more about the psychology of those individuals or groups. These stories may be written, audio-recorded, or video-recorded, and allow the researcher not only to study what the participant says but how he or she says it. Every person has a unique perspective on the world, and studying the way he or she conveys a story can provide insight into that perspective.