Evaluation on the Use of Quantitative Research Methodologies in Social Sciences

2981 words (12 pages) Essay

18th May 2020 Sociology Reference this

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Introduction to quantitative research

In social research there are two different research strategy: quantitative and qualitative research. They are different approaches but both influenced by theory, epistemology, ontology, values and practical considerations as well. (Bryman,2012) The main difference between them is that quantitative methodology concentrates about a group whilst also trying to find trends and patterns, whereas the qualitative methodology focuses on the individual. In social research the deductive approach is typical of the quantitative methodology. It is based on an existing theory which is used for developing a hypothesis. To test the hypothesis the researcher then collects data to find out if the hypothesis is confirmed or rejected. The deductive approach helps generalising the research, measuring the quantitative data and can help to find the correlations between the variables. In quantitative research, researchers mainly use the natural science epistemology which is positivism. Positivism advocates the natural science methods to study social reality. The world what they study is what is visible so they can only study what is absorbable, comparable, measurable and quantifiable; as opposed to measurable data qualitative methodology which emphasises on individuals and their interaction with the social world. In my essay I will assess the quantitative methodology through two studies about domestic violence. Study A is:  Coping with an Abusive Relationship: How and why do women stay? (Bennett Herbert, Cohen Silver and Ellard, 1991). Study B is: Stay and leave decision making in battered women: Trauma, Coping and Self-Efficacy (Lerner and Thomas Kennedy, 2000)

The use of quantitative methodology in social research

  • Study A: Coping with an Abusive Relationship

Previous studies of domestic violence mainly focused on why women in abusive relationship fail to leave their partners.  There is empirical evidence which suggest that past researches adopted a negative view of approaching abusive relationships whereby not considering psychological perspectives and the ways of coping with stress. In contrast however Study A is trying to find answers to the question how women cope with abusive situations, what cognitive strategies they engage and how they stay with their abusive partners. To conduct the research, they recruited women who are or have been in an intimate relationship with a man where conflict or violence was experienced. Sampling in social survey is an important factor, because we can generalise the findings from the sample to the population. We can make observations and discover patterns within the society. In this case the researchers were specifically looking for women who had experienced verbal, emotional or physical abuse. The sampling process started with the respondents calling the researchers and being able to ask questions about the study, after which 130 women returned the completed questionnaire. The data of this study was collected from a 44-page questionnaire of psychological measures. The researchers wanted to make a difference between women who had left the abusive relationship and those who were still involved.  As previous studies documented that people who are distressed understand events and their surrounding differently from people who are not, it was an important point to make sure that any differences in understanding abusive relationships were not due to the distress levels between the two groups.

In quantitative research we use a basic unit which is the variable. Variables could refer to anything (person, place, phenomenon) the researcher is trying to measure. A variable could be dependent or independent.  The dependent variable depends other factors like independent variables, the independent variable remains unaffected by other variables.

This study used specific variables:

  1. Psychosocial adjustment:  To gather this information they used three different scales. The Social adjustment scales to measure how the women perform in functioning areas like relationship with extended family or as an employee. The Symptom Checklist to measure psychological distress and the Self-Esteem Scale to measure attitudes about the self.
  2. Positive aspects of the relationship: To study 16 items as positive features of the relationship.
  3. Downward comparisons: To investigate to which extent the abused women were involved in downward comparisons
  4. Attributions for positive behaviours: To study the features made for positive behaviours demonstrated by the partner.
  5. Negative change in relationship: To examine the negative change experienced in the relationship; like increases in the frequency of abuse or decreases in the love and affection shown.
  6. Attributions for abuse: To investigate an abused woman’s attributions for the abuse.
  7. Frequency and severity of abuse experienced: To gather information about the frequency of various kind of verbal, emotional and physical abuse
  8. Past experience with violence: To understand what kind of experience the abused woman had previously, like violence between her parents or earlier abusive relationships.
  9. Other variables: additional items like whether the woman was still in the abusive relationship, household income, whether the woman was employed or unemployed and demographic factors. There were further items for women who were still in an abusive relationship like the expectation that the abuse would stop, how ready they are to leave the relationship and the difficulty of being on their own if the abusive relationship would end.

In quantitative studies researchers try to find out whether or not there is any correlations between two quantitative variables. This means that an increase or decrease in one variable corresponds to an increase or decrease to another variable. This study shows that women who are still in the abusive relationship feel fewer negative relationship changes , use more downward comparisons , feel that their partner is less abusive , perceive their partner’s behaviours less manipulative , take credit for the their abuse  and experience less frequent physical and verbal abuse than those who are no longer in a relationship with the abuser. The variable which differentiate the two groups of women is the perception of positive aspects of the relationship, because women still involved with abusive partners see more positive aspects in their relationship than those who are no longer involved. Also, when they compared the results based on the 16 variables of a positive aspects of a relationship there were only two differences between women who were currently in abusive relationship with those who had left their partner previously but returned. The women who previously left and then returned experienced more frequent physical abuse and made more partner attributions than those who never left. There are also correlations between what type of abuse these women were experiencing and the positive aspects of the relationship. Despite the frequency of the physical abuse experienced some women were still able to see the positive aspects of the relationships. This however is different with verbal abuse. The more frequently the verbal abuse occurred, the women were less capable to appraise their relationships positively. The correlations of this study suggest that women employ cognitive strategies to cope and to be able to see the abusive relationship positively but those one who remain with their abusive partner still experience further psychological and physical victimization. The method of this research used enabled to identify the level of distress differences between women who were still in abusive relationship and those who had left. The results also show that women still in abusive relationship see their situation in a more positive way than outsiders with a more objective view.

  • Study B: Stay and Leave Decision Making in Battered Women

In this study the researchers were focusing on factors involved in the experiences for women in abusive relationships, demonstrating the variables relevant to abused women who either currently were in a violent relationship or had left a violent relationship. Earlier studies on domestic violence recognised that women who leave an abusive relationship return to their abusers an average of 3-4 times. This fact often leaves anyone including family, friends and even professionals who try to help these women frustrated and unable to do so. This research provides information about the specific needs of women who are in different stages in their stay or leave process, which could help professionals with their approaches and expectations. The sample of this study consists of 191 women between the ages of 18-58 years in a rural community. All of them experienced previously or presently violence in their relationship. This research has taken place in Montana, U.S and the participants were primarily Caucasian women and less than 10% were American Indian, Hispanic, African American or international. There were one important criteria for participation; four or more moderate incidents of physical violence or one severe incident of violence during a 12-month period of the relationship. The study assigned the participating women to five different groups according to their relationship status. There is one for women currently in an abusive relationship, women out of a violent relationship for less than 6 month, women out for 6 month to a year, women out for 1 year to 3 years, and for women out for more than 3 years.

The study used a 35 item semi-structured interview to gather information about each women’s own experience. Semi-structured interviews gave some flexibility to the researcher as they are not as rigid as structured interviews. However, the topics and questions of the interviews are pre-defined. In this research there was also a questionnaire with 10 questions ;7 of them inquiring about present experiences and 3 of them inquiring about characteristics of the violent relationship.

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One of the questionnaire was “The Ways of Coping Questionnaire”. It was to measure how women approached their current situation. It includes 66-item to measure these women behaviour and what kind of cognitive strategies they use in specific stressful situations. The problem-focused items were to find out the strategies for managing the source of the problem and the emotion-focused items to find out what kind of strategies they use to reduce and manage emotional distress. There were different instructions for women currently in a violent relationship to women who have left abusive relationship already. To measure the traumatic impact the researchers used “The Trauma Symptom Checklist”. There were five subscales of trauma symptoms: dissociation, anxiety, depression, post-sexual abuse trauma and sleep disturbance. The study also wanted to measure the self-efficacy for leaving a violent relationship. To be able to measure this they used a Confidence/Temptation scales which is a 36-item questionnaire. This measurement was focusing on the five main fields of functioning: autonomy, positive emotions, negative emotions, relational functioning and help and support-seeking. With the help of this questionnaire they found out that two variables are highly correlated. These are the confidence about leaving and the degree of temptation to stay or return. Although they correlate with each other they are not completely inverse.

The aim of this research was to find out about the differences in coping, trauma and self-efficacy within each relationship status group. To be able to do this they were focusing on the interrelationships among the following variables: trauma symptoms, emotion-focused and problem-focused coping and self-efficacy. Within trauma symptoms the depression, dissociation and sleep disturbance variables did show significant differences between different relationship status groups. In the group of women who were out of a relationship for less than 6 month, the researchers found a consistent pattern of higher endorsement of trauma symptoms. Furthermore, this group of women (out of a relationship for less than 6 month) reported more symptoms of dissociation than any other group. The sleep disturbance variable also displayed differences in group of women who were out of the relationship for a year or more. They reported considerably less sleep disturbance.

The “Confidence and Temptation Scales” indicated the variables in self-efficacy. It showed that women’s confidence for leaving an abusive relationship was importantly higher for those women who were out of the relationship for 6 month or more compared to those who were still in a relationship with the abuser. Temptation to stay or return was noticeably higher for women in violent relationships, than for women who were already left the abuser. Overall in this study the most variables were different for women who just recently left a violent relationship (less than 6 month) from any other groups.  They reported the highest level of trauma symptoms like sleep disturbance, depression and dissociation. These findings indicate that the first 6 month after leaving an abusive relationship are the most difficult times, leaving women in the most vulnerable position. The study suggests further investigation to get a better picture of the stay or leave decision making.  Additional data would be helpful for a more detailed analysis as there is no mention of what kind of contact the abused victim has with the abuser, or if there was a continuity in the abuse even after they left the relationship. Also, the sampling could benefit from including more Native American women; given that they form 6% of the Montana population.

Conclusion

In quantitative research we examine the relationship between the variables and try to find the correlations.  In order to do this, we need to collect quantifiable data. We need to analyse the collected data so we will be able to develop statistics which can either prove our theory or deny it. In Study A they were trying to find answers to the question how women cope with emotional and physical abuse in a relationship using a questionnaire. They focused on two different groups: women still in abusive relationship and women who are out of an abusive relationship. Their findings suggest that psychological variables are more important than objective relationship variables. However, we can think of the result being speculative. The reason for this is that the answers given by the women out of the abusive relationship might have had the impact of time on their memory. They might have bias to remember details of the violent relationship which obviously alters the result. Also, the result is generalizing the abused women experiences as a whole. The sample on the other hand might be inadequate because amongst the women who did not respond to the recruitment process could be the ones who do not realise that they are in an abusive relationship; the ones who are to frightened of the consequence if they participate or those who are out of a violent relationship and try to forget their experiences. The research of Study B was demonstrating the multiple variables which are relevant to women who are either in a violent relationship or who had left the relationship already. The researchers examined five different relationship status groups. After conducting the survey, the result shows that women who left a violent relationship within the previous six month reported the highest level of trauma symptoms. This finding suggests that the first six months after leaving an abusive relationship is the most intense time and the victims are in the most vulnerable position. Although the study used five different relationship groups (four of them were groups where women were out of the relationship) they did not take into consideration if the victims had any contact with  the abuser after they have ended the abusive relationship, which could alter the results of the study. Study B was conducted in Montana, US which has the highest American Indian population in the country, which is about 6.5% of the population.  Despite of this, the sample of the study only included 1.6% of them, focusing primarily on Caucasian women. This is one of the disadvantage of quantitative research: the improper representation of the population.  Other disadvantages could be that it is only useful for measurable phenomena and that for an accurate result it needs a large number of the population. However, quantitative methodology in social research is still a really useful tool if we want to find out about patterns and trends in society and if our focus is on the collective rather than on the individual.

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