What story should we tell? Issues of representation in quantitative and qualitative health psychology research


  • C. Kerry


This presentation will discuss issues involved in representing research findings from quantitative and qualitative research in health psychology. Most health psychology research is conducted quantitatively, from a hypothetico-deductive positivist perspective, seeking to uncover true relationships, and is based on a number of (taken-for-granted) epistemological and methodological assumptions, and specific notions of what constitutes theory. Findings are typically presented as objective, warranted through theoretical models and statistical analyses using agreed effect quantifiers (p values and effect sizes). This fosters the impression that the story told of the findings is factual, objective, real, and singular, and masks the many judgements and selection processes that frame and shape how and why a particular presentation of findings and conclusions is told. A growing minority of health psychology research is conducted qualitatively. This research, in contrast, works more inductively, with little agreement around epistemology and praxis, and therefore opens possibilities for presenting differing accounts of findings and conclusions. However, problematic issues arise for this research approach in terms of epistemological framings, generalizability, quality and interpretation, where tensions arise between reporting findings and conclusions drawn from participant accounts or researcher interpretation. These differing but parallel tensions in quantitative and qualitative research fuel the so-called ‘divide’ between these research approaches. Examination of these contentious issues allows us to find solutions and reflect more thoughtfully on the agendas of each research approach, on what stories should be told, and why different forms of story bring different, and valuable, forms of knowledge to the fore.