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Critically exploring psychology
Critically exploring psychology

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4.1 A positive or constructivist approach?

Continuing with the example of happiness, you’ll now think about how you might tackle the same topic under the two different frameworks you have looked at in this course.

A positivist approach would formulate a research question that aims to uncover key principles that govern behaviour. For example, one such question could be ‘What is the relationship between chocolate and happiness?’. Here researchers could draw on a survey study to measure the amount of chocolate eaten per day and measures of happiness. They would then look at the relationship between these responses among participants. They might find that more chocolate eaten is associated with higher levels of happiness.

A constructivist approach in turn would formulate a research question that is more open-ended. For example, one such question could be ‘How do individuals experience the feeling of happiness?’. Here researchers could choose to design an interview study with an interview guide (a set of questions) that would ask about their subjective experience of happiness, examining individuals causes and feelings experienced during happiness. After collecting 20 interviews and analysing them, they might find that there are a lot of varied ways through which individuals experience happiness, different causes of happiness, as well as feelings about not being happy but seeing others experience happiness when they are not.

The table below shows how these possible research scenarios correspond to the key definitions given in Section 3 in a study of happiness.

Table 2 One question from different approaches
Paradigm Positivist Constructivist
Ontology Single reality – chocolate causes happiness Reality is created by individuals – the experience of happiness
Epistemology This can be measured This is interpreted
Methodology Survey Discourse analysis*
Method Quantitative, measuring Qualitative
Data Statistics Text


*Discourse analysis is the analysis of language and text use in its context.

To determine which approach is used requires a research question. You will look at how to develop a research question next.