Self-Report Data

Self-report data is often collected using questionnaires. Self-report data is not only used to study personality theories, but also other studies too, for example, Keen (2000) studied ‘anger management programmes’ and found that “the feedback from the individuals completing the course indicates that they have increased their awareness of their anger management difficulties and have increased their capacity to exercise self-control”.

An advantage of using self report data is that studies involving large numbers of people can be done fairly quickly and easily and participants can describe their experiences in their own words (open questions), this gives more detailed and in-depth data. However, open questions are more difficult to analyse and in doing so, researcher bias could affect the findings as the participant’s answers could be open to interpretation. To avoid researcher bias and to increase the objectivity of the study, closed questions could be used as they are easier to analyse, but only using closed questions limits the response from the participant, possibly reducing validity. Participant’s answers may be affected if leading questions are used or if the participant hasn’t understood the question properly. This would reduce the validity of the study as the researcher would no longer be studying something that they set out to measure. Another disadvantage is ‘social-desirability bias’ where the participant may answer questions not truthfully to portray themselves as socially acceptable. This too affects the validity of the study.

In conclusion, despite there being many advantages and disadvantages (with a few mentioned above), valuable data is often collected when using self-report methods as no other method would collect the same detailed, in-depth data/ results.


Angles on Applied Psychology p 158/159
Julia Russell, Matt Jarvis, Craig Roberts, Diana Dwyer, Dave Putwain

Psychology (Eighth Edition) p 594
Henry Glritman, James Gross, Daniel Reisberg

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6 thoughts on “Self-Report Data

  1. In light of reading noodleybean.wordpress I would conclude that the limitations of self report methods outweigh the strengths. The popularisation of such methods began around the mid- eighteenth century which coincided with the movement of introspection (Wihelm Wundt 1832 – 1920). This structuralist viewpoint is outdated and no longer held by the majority of psychologists today as the methods are often seen as unscientific, subjective and open to bias. This being said, it could be argued that self report methods are being re-popularised again due to the positive psychology movement and the humanistic approach.

    New, more objective technology could be used to replace self report methods in the future. Scientists in the University of California have developed a type of MRI scanner that can objectify thoughts onto a computer screen by measuring neural activity. This is an intesting prospect that could have mind-blowing effects in the world of psychology. (“Mind Reading Machine”, The Telegraph, 8th September 2010)

  2. Although closed-ended questions allow for statistical analysis of the results, it can be argued that the findings they obtain are inaccurate. For example, where fixed choice questions are concerned, participants are required to select a response from a predetermined list of answers. This can reduce the validity of the results because the participant may not agree with any of the possible choices; therefore incorrect conclusions could be drawn, because participants would be forced to select an answer that does not accurately reflect their opinions or feelings. Such lack of choice is a particular problem with ‘Yes/No’ questions; as participants may not have an opinion either way, yet they are forced to agree with either extreme. Consequently, it can be difficult to generalise the findings from closed-ended questions, because the limited amount of choice they provide can heavily bias the results.

  3. Bennett Levy and Marteau (1984) used self-reported questionnaires to investigate peoples’ fears of animals. It could be argued that participants lie about their true feelings when using self-reported techniques due to demand characteristics. It has also been suggested that people may not answer honestly because, particularly for this study, they do not know their true levels of fear after reading a question with no visual/ living prompt to help them gage their sensitivity to certain animals. On an ethical level, could self-reported techniques not provoke fears or phobias which people are not helped with using this method of research? It would appear that the costs outweigh the benefits of self-reported techniques.

  4. Agreeing with the above comments, self-reports do create some demand characteristics, as many participants may give socially desirable answers rather than the truth about themselves. Also, in some health questionnaires, if a participant was asked to rate their level of obesity, then many participants may lie as they are uncomfortable with the question asked and so may give a false answer. This therefore does not give accurate and valid results, and so the way questions are worded on questionnaires should be carefully planned. Questionnaires do however allow people to take their time when answering them, as many questionnaires are answered in the participants own time. This is useful as the participants may not feel rushed to give an answer and may answer more truthfully if the questionnaire is done in privacy without a researcher standing around them waiting for them to finish. Self-report data can be very insightful, however the way in which it is collected must be carefully planned to achieve reliable and valid results.

  5. Self-report data can be useful in order to get personal, in-depth data; however there can also be many issues surrounding it. For example, by using self-report data, participants can lie or exaggerate the truth and the researcher wouldn’t know, causing the results to become inaccurate, therefore lacking reliability. Self-report methods can also rely on retrospective data, which can be problematic due to the participants inability to remember things accurately or they may cognitively misinterpret feelings.

  6. Groves et al (1992) asked respondents the closed-ended question, ’Would you say your own health, in general, is excellent, good, fair or poor?’ 43% of the men and 28% of the women rated their health condition as ’ excellent’. When respondents were asked via an follow-up question whether they had compared their own health to that of others, it turned out that 12% said ’yes’ and 88% said ’no’. Asked whether they had combined their health now to an earlier age, 43% said ’yes’, and 56% said ’no’. These answers show that people evaluated their health condition from at least two different perspectives, which makes their answers incomparable. We might say that if researchers would have used open-questions instead, then we would have more valid results. Even though open-ended questions are considered to be subjected, the results still retain their value.

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