What Can We Learn from Case Studies? More than Most Psychologists Realize
Keywords:case studies, hypothesis-testing investigations, evaluating theories, context sensitivity
AbstractStiles (2009) was on target when he argued that theory-building case studies have much more to offer than most psychologists realize. In this analysis of Stiles’ position, I focus on comparisons he drew between theory-building case studies and hypothesis-testing investigations with regard to (a) sensitivity to context, and (b) evaluating theories. Stiles’ suggestion that case studies are context-sensitive whereas hypothesis-testing studies are not misses some of the actual complexity of that issue because some hypothesis-testing studies reflect genuine appreciation of context. I identify specific differences that exist between the two research approaches with respect to sensitivity to context, including particular ways in which case studies are better with respect to this concern. Stiles’ comments about how case studies can contribute to evaluating theories are novel, convincing, and very important. The key point Stiles developed is that case-study research is especially well suited for theory evaluation because it allows investigators to compare observations to the multiple tenets of a theory at the same time, whereas hypothesis-testing studies test single tenets of theories against observations. I illustrate Stiles’ model with an example from a set of case studies of my own on the theory of interpersonal defense.
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