Are case studies a valid method in Psychology?
Case studies have been used throughout psychological theories and they are in-depth studies on one person or a small group of people. Like all methods, it has its advantages and disadvantages.
An advantage is that the research is highly detailed and this means that unusual cases can shed light on situations that are unethical or impractical to study in other ways. Also the research has high ecological validity, as it can tell us a lot about real-life behaviour and how the participant will really act. Case studies can be the only suitable method when researching very rare cases, for example a case of multiple personality. Also case studies are useful when the study is assessing a child or a group of children. Other methods may be unethical for children to be involved in and case studies can get more detailed information on disorders as one person is studied over a long period of time. Studies with large samples do not allow this kind of detailed information.
Case studies also have their disadvantages. The individual who is partaking in the study may not be representative of the whole population and therefore no cause and effect can be legitimately established. Also, it is difficult to replicate and could mean that the method has a lower reliability. Case studies are time consuming and expensive and the results cannot be applied to the rest of the population. I don’t think that a method has much validity if it cannot be replicated and studied further. Case studies lack generalisability to the rest of the population due to having a very small and very unrepresentative sample. Observer bias can occur during case studies and this is due to the subjective nature of the case study method.
Freud used many case studies throughout his psychological work, for example Rat Man, Anna O and Little Hans. Many people have criticised Freud’s methods of case studies, saying that the results are far too specific to just a few subjects and therefore the outcome have less meaning in the psychological field. I agree with this to some extent, I think that if case studies could be replicated quickly and efficiently then they would be a more useful method.