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The "error" in psychology: An analysis of quantitative and qualitative approaches in the pursuit of accuracy

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Thesis type
(Thesis) Ph.D.
Date created
The concept of “error” is central to the development and use of statistical tools in psychology. Yet, little work has focused on elucidating its conceptual meanings and the potential implications for research practice. I explore the emergence of uses of the “error” concept within the field of psychology through a historical mapping of its uses from early observational astronomy, to the study of social statistics, and subsequently to its adoption under 20th century psychometrics. In so doing, I consider the philosophical foundations on which the concepts “error” and “true score” are built and the relevance of these foundations for its usages in psychology. Given the recent surge in interest in qualitative research methods in psychology, I also investigate whether a notion of “error” is relevant to qualitative research practice. In particular, I conduct a content analysis of usages of the term “reliability” within the qualitative methodological literature as a proxy for the concept of “error” within the qualitative research domain. Finally, I compare my explorations of discourse around quantitative and qualitative methods. I conclude that although researchers using methodological tools from these two traditions may hold opposing views on knowledge and truth, they also share a common aim of accuracy. Implications for research practice and education in psychology are discussed.
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Copyright is held by the author.
This thesis may be printed or downloaded for non-commercial research and scholarly purposes.
Scholarly level
Supervisor or Senior Supervisor
Thesis advisor: Slaney, Kathleen
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