Bulletin of the Centre for
Research in Human Development


Volume 5, Issue 3, Fall 2012 PDF Download Download this issue

The multi-disciplinary focus of the CRDH

Resolving our differences: Qualitative and quantitative research methods
By Christopher Cardoso and Matthew T. Keough

Crossing Borders - die Überfahrt von Grenzen
By Shireen Abuhatoum

Highlights of Interdisciplinary and Transdisciplinary Workshop
By Kierla Ireland

CRDH welcomes new Post-doctoral fellow
By Jackie Legacy

The trainee poster session reflects CRDH's diversity
By Melanie Mulligan-Pittarelli

Spotlight on Success
By Rami Nijjar

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Resolving Our Differences: Qualitative and Quantitative Research Methods

By Christopher Cardoso and Matthew T. Keough

An anthropologist and a psychologist walk into a bar.  The psychologist turns to the anthropologist and asks, “What kind of drink would you like?”  The anthropologist requests a cocktail with an ounce of vodka, five ounces of orange juice, a drop of grenadine and a spritz of lime juice.  “You mean a screwdriver?” the psychologist asks.  The anthropologist shakes his head with disapproval and replies, “That’s not what I said. You weren’t listening.”  The psychologist responds, “I’ll have you know I’m a great listener.  I have a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and I’ve received a number of honors and certifications for specialized treatment of mental health issues.”  To which the anthropologist quipped, “You mean you’re a shrink?”

There are a number of mental health professionals and the term “shrink” does not adequately describe any one of them.  The same goes for cocktails and the term “screwdriver”.  This story illustrates a common conflict in the social sciences.  Quantitative researchers like to classify information into neat, concrete categories that can be analyzed using statistical tests, much like the categories “screwdriver” and “shrink” above.  Qualitative researchers, on the other hand, like to collect information in a rich and open-ended way and the detailed information they mull over may not be amenable to traditional statistical analysis paradigms.  If you have ever taken a history class, you have had firsthand experience with qualitative research.
 “I thought of myself as a typical developmental psychologist. A quantitative researcher.” Says CRDH Researcher Dr. Nina Howe (Education, Concordia University).

 “I thought I didn’t know much about qualitative research, but then I had a bit of a revelation after starting to work in the Department of Education.  Many educational researchers employ qualitative rather than quantitative research designs and I came to realize that the way that I was developing coding schemes to understand children’s play and conversations was based on qualitative methods”.  Recently, Dr. Howe and co-investigator Ellen Jacobs (CRDH Member, & Distinguished Professor Emeritus), have been researching strategies for teaching inservice child care educators about constructivist curriculum— a way of teaching that emphasizes how children attach meaning to new information and that employs hands-on approaches to learning.

The intervention study was designed to compare different approaches to delivering inservice professional development to child care educators (i.e., individual mentoring vs. workshops).  Dr. Howe and Professor Jacobs anticipated that the classrooms receiving the individualized mentoring would benefit most from their intervention, however, the quantitative findings were not simple or clear (see Alberta Journal of Educational Research, 2012). The mentors had kept a journal regarding their work with each individual educator.  “We turned to the journals of the mentors. They were keeping detailed logs of their experiences with the intervention. There had to be an explanation” Dr. Howe said. She read the content of the journals, and realized things that promoted improvements in the classroom (e.g., reflection, analysis of practices) and barriers to change (i.e., resistance to new ideas, systemic problems) were things she did not consider in her quantitative analysis.  Currently, a paper focusing on case studies of six classrooms is in preparation.  “I think there is an idea out there that qualitative methods are somehow less rigorous than quantitative methods, but that’s not true.” Dr. Howe asserted.  “The very best journals in early childhood education use both. Mixed methods. There is value in both.”

Another proponent for the use of both methods in research is Dr. William M. Bill Bukowski (CRDH Director; Psychology, Concordia University).  “There’s a sense of warfare between people who use quantitative methods and people who use qualitative methods.  Ninety percent of us were trained only in quantitative methods.  Given the tendency to stick with what one knows and to void the unknown there has been an unfortunate tendency to stay away from qualitative approaches.”  Dr. Bukowski explained. In our discussion, he frequently cited graduate programs as entities that either widen or close the knowledge gap for the use of qualitative and quantitative research methods.  In his work on friendship during childhood and adolescence, Dr. Bukowski uses both methods in tandem. “Friendship is a great example of where there has been a mutually enriching association between qualitative and quantitative approaches.”  Dr. Bukowski and his colleagues typically ask children open-ended questions about their peers to capture the complexity and diversity of friendship experiences.  He suggests that qualitative and quantitative research questions can inform one another, and hopes to use this approach to better understand mental illness in childhood in forthcoming research projects.

Given that anthropologists and psychologists share many characteristics it is unfortunate that the differences between them can be magnified inacademic discourse.  While their approach to research differs in one important aspect, qualitative and quantitative research methods are complementary, not contradictory.  “I think that we have held a number of quantitative research workshops here at the CRDH in the past. Maybe we can have a look at qualitative approaches in the future as a way to narrow the gap.”  Dr. Howe suggested.  We agree with her.



CRDH is funded by the Programme des regroupements stratégiques


Kiran Vadaga

Associate Editors
Rami Nijjar
Shireen Abuhatoum


Christopher Cardoso
Jackie Legacy
Kierla Ireland
Matthew T. Keough
Melanie Mulligan-Pittarelli


Graphic Design
KAI Design & Communication

French Translation

Concordia, UQAM, McGill, U de Laval, UQTR, U de Montreal

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