Qualitative and Quantitative Paradigms in Sport Psychology

Martens has suggested a shift in paradigm in sport psychology research from quantitative to qualitative. The quantitative paradigm attempts to find common properties through the discovery of cause-effect relationships or correlations between independent and dependent variables. It is traditionally found in laboratory experiment methodology.

Orthodox science paradigm holds the following assumptions:

    1. Cognitive processes are individualistic, static, and passive
    2. Cognitive processes can be broken down into elements
    3. The elements can be conceived and investigated in their pure form, unaffected by other elements.

Qualitative and Quantitative Paradigms in Sport Psychology

A high internal validity and objectivity can be achieved with the quantitative paradigm. Cause and effect relationships may be identified, if strict qualitative scientific methods are upheld, although biases affect most experiments and their interpretation, despite the ideology of the scientific method (Martens 1987).

The quantitative method, as applied to psychological phenomenon, can take many decades to derive practical information. External validity generally suffers when strict scientific guidelines are implemented in the design of the study. In many cases, strict scientific methodology is not practical. In which case, external validity may be improved, but again, cause and effect certainty will be sacrificed. The quantitative method is probably too limited to the study of human behavior, since it does not allow us to understand the person as a whole. Psychology is not tangible like physiological phenomenon. Finally, statistical insignificance can camouflage practical significance (Martens 1987).

The qualitative paradigm has been described as objective observation. Within this paradigm, scientists work with clues that can mean a variety of things to a scientist depending greatly on their experiences (Martens 1987).

The qualitative, or heuristic paradigm holds the following assumptions (Martens 1987):

    1. Cognitive processes are social, developing, and active
    2. Cognitive processes are whole that cannot be broken down into discrete elements
    3. Cognitive processes can only be studied in their relationship to one another

The qualitative paradigm can allow a scientist greater freedom exercise intuition or rely on tacit knowledge in decision making and theory development. Qualitative research has typically higher external validity, generalizations can be made about more readily. The qualitative paradigm does not rely on reductionism allowing us to better understand the person. In addition, scientists can generally make sense of greater information than that is practical with qualitative methodology.

The qualitative methodology typically has lower internal validity, meaning that any number of extraneous variables may have affected experiment. Results may be altered simply because subject may have behaved or responded differently in different situations. The qualitative methodology may not be respected by some academias and may impair publishability in some journals.

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