Self-Report Data: “To use or not to use. That is the question.”

[Note: The following was inspired by and benefited from Rob Hoskin’s post at http://www.sciencebrainwaves.com/the-dangers-of-self-report/]Penguins

If you want to know what someone thinks or feels, you ask them, right?

The same is true in research, but it is good to know the pros and cons of using the “self-report method” of collecting data in order to answer a research question.  Most often self-report is done in ‘paper & pencil’ or SurveyMonkey form, but it can be done by interview.

Generally self-report is easy and inexpensive, and sometimes facilitates research that might otherwise be impossible.  To answer well, respondents must be honest, have insight into themselves, and understand the questions.  Self-report is an important tool in much behavioral research.

But, using self-report to answer a research question does have its limits. People may tend to answer in ways that make themselves look good (social desirability bias), agree with whatever is presented (social acquiescence bias), or answer in either extreme terms (extreme response set bias) or always pick the non-commital middle Hypothesisnumbers.  Another problem will occur if the reliability  and validity of the self-report questionnaire is not established.  (Reliability is consistency in measurement and validity is the accuracy of measuring what it purports to measure.) Additionally, self-reports typically provide only a)ordinal level data, such as on a 1-to-5 scale, b) nominal data, such as on a yes/no scale, or c) qualitative descriptions in words without categories or numbers.  (Ordinal data=scores are in order with some numbers higher than others, and nominal data = categories. Statistical calculations are limited for both and not possible for qualitative data unless the researcher counts themes or words that recur.)

Gold_BarsAn example of a self-report measure that we regard as a gold standard for clinical and research data = 0-10 pain scale score.   An example of a self-report measure that might be useful but less preferred is a self-assessment of knowledge (e.g., How strong on a 1-5 scale is your knowledge of arterial blood gas interpretation?)  The use of it for knowledge can be okay as long as everyone understands that it is perceived level of knowledge.

Critical Thinking: What was the research question in this study? Malaria et al. (2016) Pain assessment in elderly with behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease as posted on PubMed.gov questionat http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26757042 with link to full text.  How did the authors use self-report to answer their research question?  Do you see any of the above strengths & weaknesses in their use?

For more information: Be sure to check out Rob Hoskins blog: http://www.sciencebrainwaves.com/the-dangers-of-self-report/

 

 

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