A self report is any method which involves asking a participant about their feelings, attitudes, beliefs and so on. Examples of self reports are questionnaires and interviews but note that self reports are often used as a way of gaining participants responses in observational studies and experiments.
Questionnaires and interviews
Questionnaires are a type of self report method which consist of a set of questions usually in a highly structured written form. Questionnaires can contain both open questions and closed questions and participants record their own answers.
Interviews are a type of spoken questionnaire where the interviewer records the responses. Interviews can be structured whereby there is a predetermined set of questions or unstructured whereby no questions are decided in advance.
Strengths of Self-Report
+ They allow participants to describe their own experiences rather than inferring this from observing participants.
+ Questionnaires and interviews are often able to study large samples of people and fairly easy and quickly. This allows the researchers to analyse the data and compare participants to see how they are similar or different.
+ They are able to examine a large number of variables and can ask people to reveal behaviour and feelings which have been experienced in real situations.
Weaknesses of Self-Report
– Participants may not respond truthfully, either because they cannot remember or because they wish to present themselves in a socially acceptable manner. Social desirability bias can be a big problem with self report measures as participants often answer in a way to portray themselves in a good light.
– Questions are not always clear and we do not know if the respondent has really understood the question, therefore the findings may lack validity.
– If questionnaires are send out, say via email or through tutor groups, response rate can be very low.
– Questions can often be leading. That is, they may be unwittingly forcing the respondent to give a particular reply.
Unstructured interviews can be very time consuming and difficult to carry out whereas structured interviews can restrict the respondents’ replies. Therefore psychologists often carry out semi-structured interviews which consist of some pre-determined questions and followed up with further questions which allow the respondent to develop their answers.
Open and closed questions.
Questionnaires and interviews can use open or closed questions or both.
Closed questions are questions which provide a limited choice, for example a participant’s age or their favourite type of cheese. Such questions provide quantitative data which is easy to analyse. However these questions do not allow the participant to give such in-depth insights.
Open questions are those questions which invite the respondent to provide their own answers and provide qualitative data. Although these type of questions are more difficult to analyse they can produce more in-depth responses relating to what the participant actually thinks rather than being restricted by categories.
One of the most common rating scales is the Likert scale. A statement is used and the participant decides how strongly they agree or disagree with the statements. For example the participant decides whether they strongly agree/ agree/ undecided/ disagree/ strongly disagree that Mozzarella cheese is great.
- A strength of Likert type scales is that they can give us an idea about how strongly a participant feels about something. This therefore gives more detail than a simple yes no answer.A further strength is that the data are quantitative data which are easy to analyse statistically.
- However there is a tendency with Likert scales for people to respond towards the middle of the scale perhaps to make them look less extreme. As with any questionnaire participants may provide the answers that they feel they should and importantly as the data is quantitative it does not provide in depth replies.
Fixed Choice questions
Fixed choice questions are phrased so that the respondent has to make a fixed choice answer usually ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
- This type of questionnaire is easy to measure and quantify. It also forces a participant to not choose a middle option.However respondents may not feel that their desired response is available and of course the answers are not in-depth.
There are a number of ways to improve the reliability of self-report techniques. For example ambiguous questions could be clarified or in the case of interviews the interviewers could be given training.
Validity refers to whether a study measures or examines what it claims to measure or examine.
Questionnaires are said to often lack validity for a number of reasons. Participants may lie; give answers that are desired and so on. It is argued that qualitative data is more valid than quantitative data.
A way of assessing the validity of self report measures is to compare the results of the self report with another self report on the same topic. (This is called concurrent validity). For example if an interview is used to investigate sixth form students attitudes to smoking the scores could be compared with a questionnaire of sixth formers attitudes to smoking.
There are a number of ways to improve the validity of self report techniques. For example leading questions could be avoided, open questions could be added to allow respondents to expand upon their replies and confidentiality could be reinforced to allow respondents to give more truthful responses.