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Social Processes: Methodology · Types of test

Q Methodology is a research method used in psychology and other social sciences to study people's "subjectivity" -- that is, their viewpoint. Q was developed by psychologist William Stephenson. It has been used both in clinical settings for assessing patients, as well as in research settings to examine how people think about a topic.

The name "Q" comes from the form of factor analysis that is used to analyze the data. Normal factor analysis, called "R method," involves finding correlations between variables (say, height and age) across a sample of subjects. Q, on the other hand, looks for correlations between subjects across a sample of variables. Q factor analysis reduces the many individual viewpoints of the subjects down to a few "factors," which represent shared ways of thinking. It is sometimes said that Q factor analysis is R factor analysis with the data table turned sideways. While helpful as a heuristic for understanding Q, this explanation may be misleading, as most Q methodologists argue that for mathematical reasons no one data matrix would be suitable for analysis with both Q and R.

The data for Q factor analysis comes from a series of "Q sorts" performed by one or more subjects. A Q sort is a ranking of variables -- typically presented as statements printed on small cards -- according to some "condition of instruction." For example, in a Q study of people's views of George W. Bush, a subject might be given statements like "He is a deeply religious man" and "He is a liar," and asked to sort them "from most like how I think about George W. Bush, to least like how I think about George W. Bush." The use of ranking, rather than asking subjects to rate their agreement with statements individually, is meant to capture the idea that people think about ideas in relation to other ideas, rather than in isolation.

The sample of statements for a Q sort is drawn from a "concourse" -- the sum of all things people say or think about the issue being investigated. Since concourses do not have clear membership lists (as would be the case in the population of subjects), statements cannot be drawn randomly. Commonly Q methodologists use a structured sampling approach in order to ensure that they include the full breadth of the concourse.

One salient difference between Q and other social science research methodologies, such as surveys, is that it typically uses many fewer subjects. This can be a strength, as Q is sometimes used with a single subject. In such cases, a person will rank the same set of statements under different conditions of instruction. For example, someone might be given a set of statements about personality traits and then asked to rank them according to how well they describe herself, her ideal self, her father, her mother, etc.

In studies of intelligence, Q factor analysis can generate Consensus based assessment (CBA) scores as direct measures. Alternatively, the unit of measurement of a person in this context is his factor loading for a Q-sort he or she performs. Factors represent norms with respect to schemata. The individual who gains the highest factor loading on an Operant factor is the person most able to conceive the norm for the factor. What the norm means is a matter , always, for conjecture and refutation (Popper). It may be indicative of the wisest solution, or the most responsible, the most important, or an optimized-balanced solution. These are all matters for future determination.

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External linksEdit

  • Q Methodology page Includes more information on Q, including tutorials, as well as free software for conducting a Q factor analysis.
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