Using examples, discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the use of self-reports in psychology. One of the strengths of using self-reports as a method of data collection in psychology is that, if we are to believe the cognitive approach, this is the only way in which we can extract information about the way a person thinks. To clinically interview a person, such as in Ellis’ study on Rational Analysis as a means of treating an affective disorder can provide important information about the individual that otherwise cannot be seen, as the cognitive approach believes that mental processes, or cognitions, are hypothetical constructs and the only way we can establish reasons for behaviour is to ask the individual themselves.
Another strength of self-reports in psychology is that you can collect both quantitative and qualitative data from them. With the use of closed questions whereby predetermined answers are provided (multiple choice questionnaires, e.g. a Likert scale), researchers can collect quantified measurements of the number of people who chose a certain answer, like in Holmes & Rähe’s study of Life Changing Events, where the majority of participants rated the bereavement of a spouse/partner as the hardest thing to adjust to on the Social Readjustment Rating Scale (SRRS), giving in a collective rating of 100/100.
With open questions however, there is room for elaboration, meaning the participants can explain and illustrate reasons behind their decision to, for example, strongly agree/disagree with a statement the questionnaire makes, etc.
A weakness of the self report method however is the introduction of social desirability.
In almost all studies on medical adherence there is a worry of social desirability affecting the answers. In Becker’s study into providing empirical evidence for the support of his Health Belief Model, he conducted self-reports on the mothers of asthmatic children and whether they stuck to their child’s prescribed regimens. It could be argued here that the mothers may have lied about their adherence to the regimen in order to make themselves appear a responsible mother who, regardless of interferences, gave their child their prescribed regimen of asthma medication.
A further weakness of self-reports in psychology is that there is no real way of making self-reports ecologically valid as answering questionnaires about psychological research is not something humans regularly involve themselves with. In almost all studies, but particularly studies like Farrington, et al.’s into delinquent development, where ecological validity can be considered relatively high, the use of self-reports interviews during the participants development into an adult reduce the ecological validity as the participants had to be contacted and visited to conduct the interview, thus making self-reports’ ecological validity a limitation in psychology.