Case Study Method in Psychology (2023)

By Dr. Saul McLeod, updated 2019

What is a case study research method?

Case studies are in-depth investigations of a single person, group, event or community. Typically, data are gathered from a variety of sources and by using several different methods (e.g. observations & interviews).

The case study research method originated in clinical medicine (the case history, i.e. the patient’s personal history). In psychology, case studies are often confined to the study of a particular individual.

The information is mainly biographical and relates to events in the individual's past (i.e. retrospective), as well as to significant events which are currently occurring in his or her everyday life.

The case study is not itself a research method, but researchers select methods of data collection and analysis that will generate material suitable for case studies.

What is an example of a case study in psychology?

Case studies are widely used in psychology and amongst the best known were the ones carried out by Sigmund Freud, including Anna O and Little Hans.

Freud (1909a, 1909b) conducted very detailed investigations into the private lives of his patients in an attempt to both understand and help them overcome their illnesses.Even today case histories are one of the main methods of investigation in abnormal psychology and psychiatry.

This makes it clear that the case study is a method that should only be used by a psychologist, therapist or psychiatrist, i.e. someone with a professional qualification.

There is an ethical issue of competence. Only someone qualified to diagnose and treat a person can conduct a formal case study relating to atypical (i.e. abnormal) behavior or atypical development.

(Video) Case Studies Research Method | When to do a Case Study?

How is a case study conducted?

The procedure used in a case study means that the researcher provides a description of the behavior. This comes from interviews and other sources, such as observation.

The client also reports detail of events from his or her point of view. The researcher then writes up the information from both sources above as the case study, and interprets the information.

The research may also continue for an extended period of time, so processes and developments can be studied as they happen.

Amongst the sources of data the psychologist is likely to turn to when carrying out a case study are observations of a person’s daily routine, unstructured interviews with the participant herself (and with people who know her), diaries, personal notes (e.g. letters, photographs, notes) or official document (e.g. case notes, clinical notes, appraisal reports).

The case study method often involves simply observing what happens to, or reconstructing ‘the case history’ of a single participant or group of individuals (such as a school class or a specific social group), i.e. the idiographic approach.

The interview is also an extremely effective procedure for obtaining information about an individual, and it may be used to collect comments from the person's friends, parents, employer, workmates and others who have a good knowledge of the person, as well as to obtain facts from the person him or herself.

Most of this information is likely to be qualitative (i.e. verbal description rather than measurement) but the psychologist might collect numerical data as well.

How to analyze case study data

The data collected can be analyzed using different theories (e.g. grounded theory, interpretative phenomenological analysis, text interpretation, e.g. thematic coding).

All the approaches mentioned here use preconceived categories in the analysis and they are ideographic in their approach, i.e. they focus on the individual case without reference to a comparison group.

Interpreting the information means the researcher decides what to include or leave out. A good case study should always make clear which information is the factual description and which is an inference or the opinion of the researcher.

Strengths of Case Studies

Strengths of Case Studies

  • Provides detailed (rich qualitative) information.
  • Provides insight for further research.
  • Permitting investigation of otherwise impractical (or unethical) situations.

Case studies allow a researcher to investigate a topic in far more detail than might be possible if they were trying to deal with a large number of research participants (nomothetic approach) with the aim of ‘averaging’.

(Video) CASE STUDY METHOD IN PSYCHOLOGY

Because of their in-depth, multi-sided approach case studies often shed light on aspects of human thinking and behavior that would be unethical or impractical to study in other ways.

Research which only looks into the measurable aspects of human behavior is not likely to give us insights into the subjective dimension to experience which is so important to psychoanalytic and humanistic psychologists.

Case studies are often used in exploratory research. They can help us generate new ideas (that might be tested by other methods). They are an important way of illustrating theories and can help show how different aspects of a person's life are related to each other.

The method is therefore important for psychologists who adopt a holistic point of view (i.e. humanistic psychologists).

Limitations of Case Studies

Limitations of Case Studies

  • Lacking scientific rigour and providing little basis forgeneralization of results to the wider population.
  • Researchers' own subjective feeling may influence the case study (researcher bias).
  • Difficult to replicate.
  • Time-consuming and expensive.
  • The volume of data,together with the time restrictions in place, impacted onthe depth of analysis that was possible within the available resources.

Because a case study deals with only one person/event/group we can never be sure if the case study investigated is representative of the wider body of "similar" instances. This means the the conclusions drawn from a particular case may not be transferable to other settings.

Because case studies are based on the analysis of qualitative (i.e. descriptive) data a lot depends on the interpretation the psychologist places on the information she has acquired.

This means that there is a lot of scope for observer bias and it could be that the subjective opinions of the psychologist intrude in the assessment of what the data means.

For example, Freud has been criticized for producing case studies in which the information was sometimes distorted to fit the particular theories about behavior (e.g. Little Hans).

This is also true of Money’s interpretation of the Bruce/Brenda case study (Diamond, 1997) when he ignored evidence that went against his theory.

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How to reference this article:

How to reference this article:

McLeod, S. A. (2019, August 03). Case study method. Simply Psychology. www.simplypsychology.org/case-study.html

(Video) Case Studies - Research Methods [ A Level Psychology ]

APA Style References

Diamond, M., & Sigmundson, K. (1997). Sex Reassignment at Birth: Long-term Review and Clinical Implications. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, 151(3), 298-304

Freud, S. (1909a). Analysis of a phobia of a five year old boy. In The Pelican Freud Library (1977), Vol 8, Case Histories 1, pages 169-306

Freud, S. (1909b). Bemerkungen über einen Fall von Zwangsneurose (Der "Rattenmann"). Jb. psychoanal. psychopathol. Forsch., I, p. 357-421; GW, VII, p. 379-463; Notes upon a case of obsessional neurosis, SE, 10: 151-318.

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(Video) Case Study Method(Research Methods in Psychology) Studying Psychology is Fun (SPF)،😇

How to reference this article:

How to reference this article:

McLeod, S. A. (2019, August 03). Case study method. Simply Psychology. www.simplypsychology.org/case-study.html

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FAQs

What is an example of case study method in psychology? ›

Types of Case Studies

Researchers might study a group of people in a certain setting or look at an entire community. For example, psychologists might explore how access to resources in a community has affected the collective mental well-being of those living there.

What is case studies method? ›

The case study method is a learning technique in which the student is faced a particular problem, the case. The case study facilitates the exploration of a real issue within a defined context, using a variety of data sources (Baxter et al., 2008).

What are the main features of a case study psychology? ›

Case studies involve simply recording what happens to - or reconstructing what has already happened to - single participant or group of individuals. This is called the ideographic approach in science - it doesn't test hypotheses, look for causes or try to uncover laws.

What is a case study definition in psychology? ›

an in-depth investigation of a single individual, family, event, or other entity. Multiple types of data (psychological, physiological, biographical, environmental) are assembled, for example, to understand an individual's background, relationships, and behavior.

What are the advantages of case study? ›

Advantages of Case Study

Ability to see a relationship between phenomena, context, and people. Flexibility to collect data through various means. Ability to capture the context and lived reality of participants. Flexibility to be used at various points in a research project, including pilot research.

What are the main types of case study? ›

Types of Case Studies
  • Illustrative Case Studies. These are primarily descriptive studies. ...
  • Exploratory (or pilot) Case Studies. ...
  • Cumulative Case Studies. ...
  • Critical Instance Case Studies. ...
  • Individual Theories. ...
  • Organizational Theories. ...
  • Social Theories. ...
  • Strengths.

What are the steps of case study method? ›

STEPS OF CASE STUDY METHOD

The research object would be a person, a program, an event or an entity. Select the cases - In this step the researcher decides on the number of cases to choose (single or multiple), the type of cases to choose (unique or typical) and the approach to collect, store and analyze the data.

Who is the father of case study method? ›

The case method in legal education was invented by Christopher Columbus Langdell, Dean of Harvard Law School from 1870 to 1895. Langdell conceived of a way to systematize and simplify legal education by focusing on previous case law that furthered principles or doctrines.

What are the 4 important parts of a case study? ›

4 Parts of an Effective Case Study
  • Ditch the norm. You've seen that tired, old case study template a million times: ...
  • Show the cost of inertia. A more useful approach is to spell out how much not solving their problem could eventually cost. ...
  • Prove your value. ...
  • Create a more effective format.
18 Mar 2016

What is the structure of a case study? ›

The way to write a case study is by strictly following the main idea of your thesis. You already know that a study's main body consists of an introduction, literature review, method, discussion, and conclusion sections. Thus, all that is left is to focus on these parts and understand how to make them perfect.

What is case study explain with example? ›

a case study can be defined as an intensive study about a person, a group of people or a unit, which is aimed to generalize over several units'.1 A case study has also been described as an intensive, systematic investigation of a single individual, group, community or some other unit in which the researcher examines in ...

Why is it called case study? ›

In social sciences, sometimes a life history is considered a case study as it is a detailed analysis of a single case. Case studies focus on the complexity, dynamics and circumstances of a single case (sometimes called a phenomenon). Multiple research methods are used.

Why is case study used in psychology? ›

Advantages of case studies

They allow researchers to observe and record information about rare, impractical, or unethical conditions and behaviours. They provide researchers with new evidence to support psychological theories. They help researchers develop hypotheses that others can study or add to in the future.

What are two limitations of the case study method? ›

Limitation: Case studies cannot be replicated and a single case study cannot be generalized to a wider population. Limitation: There is a potential risk for researcher bias in case studies, in that the researcher's own beliefs can influence the way the data are collected and analysed.

What is one disadvantage of a case study? ›

Case studies are generally on one person, but there also tends to only be one experimenter collecting the data. This can lead to bias in data collection, which can influence results more than in different designs. It is also very difficult to draw a definite cause/effect from case studies.

What tools are used in case study? ›

A Range of Tools to Lend Efficiencies to Case Study Assignments
  • Paperity. This is an indispensable tool for a research part of working on a case study. ...
  • Zotero. This tool can be indispensable at the research stage. ...
  • Quetext – Plagiarism Checker. ...
  • Producteev. ...
  • MindMapple. ...
  • Wordstorm. ...
  • Self Control. ...
  • Grammarly.
3 Nov 2016

Where is case study commonly used? ›

Case studies are commonly used in social, educational, clinical, and business research. A case study research design usually involves qualitative methods, but quantitative methods are sometimes also used.

What are the 6 parts of case study? ›

6 parts of a case analysis
  • Preparation. Just like with any study, it's important to first prepare to conduct the case analysis. ...
  • Introduction. ...
  • Background information. ...
  • Proposed solutions. ...
  • Recommendations. ...
  • Review.

What are the 3 types of case? ›

Types of Cases
  • Criminal Cases. Criminal cases involve enforcing public codes of behavior, which are codified in the laws of the state. ...
  • Civil Cases. Civil cases involve conflicts between people or institutions such as businesses, typically over money. ...
  • Family Cases.

What are the three characteristics of case study? ›

Characteristics of Case Study

It is qualitative as well as quantitative. It covers sufficient wide cycle of time. It has continuity in nature.

How many types of case study are there? ›

There are generally five different types of case studies, and the subjects that they address. Every case study, whether explanatory or exploratory, or intrinsic or instrumental, fits into one of these five groups.

What are the five steps to write a case study? ›

Writing a Case Study Analysis
  • Read and Examine the Case Thoroughly. Take notes, highlight relevant facts, underline key problems.
  • Focus Your Analysis. Identify two to five key problems. ...
  • Uncover Possible Solutions/Changes Needed. ...
  • Select the Best Solution.

Who defined case study? ›

What Is a Case Study? Mitchell (1983) defined a case study as a “detailed examination of an event (or series of related events) which the analyst believes exhibits (or exhibit) the operation of some identified general theoretical principles” (p. 192).

Who used first case study in psychology? ›

Breuer & Freud (1895) - Anna O.

When was case study method first used? ›

It is generally believed that the case-study method was first introduced into social science by Frederic Le Play in 1829 as a handmaiden to statistics in his studies of family budgets.

What is case study in one word? ›

A case study is an in-depth, detailed examination of a particular case (or cases) within a real-world context.

What is the most famous case study in psychology? ›

7 Famous Psychology Experiments
  • The Little Albert Experiment, 1920. ...
  • Stanford Prison Experiment, 1971. ...
  • The Asch Conformity Study, 1951. ...
  • The Bobo Doll Experiment, 1961, 1963. ...
  • The Learned Helplessness Experiment, 1965. ...
  • The Milgram Experiment, 1963. ...
  • The Halo Effect Experiment, 1977. ...
  • How Experiments Have Impacted Psychology Today.
16 Oct 2018

What are the 3 types of case studies? ›

He has helpfully characterised three main types of case study: intrinsic, instrumental and collective[8]. An intrinsic case study is typically undertaken to learn about a unique phenomenon. The researcher should define the uniqueness of the phenomenon, which distinguishes it from all others.

What are 2 methods used in a case study? ›

Case studies tend to focus on qualitative data using methods such as interviews, observations, and analysis of primary and secondary sources (e.g. newspaper articles, photographs, official records). Sometimes a case study will also collect quantitative data.

What are the 4 types of case study? ›

What Are The Types Of Case Study?
  • Illustrative Case Study.
  • Exploratory Case Study.
  • Cumulative Case study.
  • Critical Instance Case Study.
24 Nov 2021

What are the different types of case studies? ›

Types of Case Studies
  • Illustrative Case Studies. These are primarily descriptive studies. ...
  • Exploratory (or pilot) Case Studies. ...
  • Cumulative Case Studies. ...
  • Critical Instance Case Studies. ...
  • Individual Theories. ...
  • Organizational Theories. ...
  • Social Theories. ...
  • Strengths.

What are the 4 most important parts of case study? ›

4 Parts of an Effective Case Study
  • Ditch the norm. You've seen that tired, old case study template a million times: ...
  • Show the cost of inertia. A more useful approach is to spell out how much not solving their problem could eventually cost. ...
  • Prove your value. ...
  • Create a more effective format.
18 Mar 2016

Who is the father of case study? ›

The first case studies in the social sciences were likely conducted by Pierre Guillaume Frédéric Le Play, a 19th-century French sociologist and economist who studied family budgets. The method has been used in sociology, psychology, and anthropology since the early 20th century.

Who is the father of case study in psychology? ›

Case studies are widely used in psychology and amongst the best known were the ones carried out by Sigmund Freud, including Anna O and Little Hans. Freud (1909a, 1909b) conducted very detailed investigations into the private lives of his patients in an attempt to both understand and help them overcome their illnesses.

What are the main parts of a case study? ›

The case study format is typically made up of eight parts:
  • Executive Summary. Explain what you will examine in the case study. ...
  • Background. Provide background information and the most relevant facts. ...
  • Case Evaluation. ...
  • Proposed Solutions. ...
  • Conclusion. ...
  • Implementation. ...
  • References.
8 Mar 2022

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