what is case study psychology

The Ultimate Guide to Qualitative Research - Part 1: The Basics

what is case study psychology

  • Introduction and overview
  • What is qualitative research?
  • What is qualitative data?
  • Examples of qualitative data
  • Qualitative vs. quantitative research
  • Mixed methods
  • Qualitative research preparation
  • Theoretical perspective
  • Theoretical framework
  • Literature reviews

Research question

  • Conceptual framework
  • Conceptual vs. theoretical framework

Data collection

  • Qualitative research methods
  • Focus groups
  • Observational research

What is a case study?

Applications for case study research, what is a good case study, process of case study design, benefits and limitations of case studies.

  • Ethnographical research
  • Ethical considerations
  • Confidentiality and privacy
  • Power dynamics
  • Reflexivity

Case studies

Case studies are essential to qualitative research , offering a lens through which researchers can investigate complex phenomena within their real-life contexts. This chapter explores the concept, purpose, applications, examples, and types of case studies and provides guidance on how to conduct case study research effectively.

what is case study psychology

Whereas quantitative methods look at phenomena at scale, case study research looks at a concept or phenomenon in considerable detail. While analyzing a single case can help understand one perspective regarding the object of research inquiry, analyzing multiple cases can help obtain a more holistic sense of the topic or issue. Let's provide a basic definition of a case study, then explore its characteristics and role in the qualitative research process.

Definition of a case study

A case study in qualitative research is a strategy of inquiry that involves an in-depth investigation of a phenomenon within its real-world context. It provides researchers with the opportunity to acquire an in-depth understanding of intricate details that might not be as apparent or accessible through other methods of research. The specific case or cases being studied can be a single person, group, or organization – demarcating what constitutes a relevant case worth studying depends on the researcher and their research question .

Among qualitative research methods , a case study relies on multiple sources of evidence, such as documents, artifacts, interviews , or observations , to present a complete and nuanced understanding of the phenomenon under investigation. The objective is to illuminate the readers' understanding of the phenomenon beyond its abstract statistical or theoretical explanations.

Characteristics of case studies

Case studies typically possess a number of distinct characteristics that set them apart from other research methods. These characteristics include a focus on holistic description and explanation, flexibility in the design and data collection methods, reliance on multiple sources of evidence, and emphasis on the context in which the phenomenon occurs.

Furthermore, case studies can often involve a longitudinal examination of the case, meaning they study the case over a period of time. These characteristics allow case studies to yield comprehensive, in-depth, and richly contextualized insights about the phenomenon of interest.

The role of case studies in research

Case studies hold a unique position in the broader landscape of research methods aimed at theory development. They are instrumental when the primary research interest is to gain an intensive, detailed understanding of a phenomenon in its real-life context.

In addition, case studies can serve different purposes within research - they can be used for exploratory, descriptive, or explanatory purposes, depending on the research question and objectives. This flexibility and depth make case studies a valuable tool in the toolkit of qualitative researchers.

Remember, a well-conducted case study can offer a rich, insightful contribution to both academic and practical knowledge through theory development or theory verification, thus enhancing our understanding of complex phenomena in their real-world contexts.

What is the purpose of a case study?

Case study research aims for a more comprehensive understanding of phenomena, requiring various research methods to gather information for qualitative analysis . Ultimately, a case study can allow the researcher to gain insight into a particular object of inquiry and develop a theoretical framework relevant to the research inquiry.

Why use case studies in qualitative research?

Using case studies as a research strategy depends mainly on the nature of the research question and the researcher's access to the data.

Conducting case study research provides a level of detail and contextual richness that other research methods might not offer. They are beneficial when there's a need to understand complex social phenomena within their natural contexts.

The explanatory, exploratory, and descriptive roles of case studies

Case studies can take on various roles depending on the research objectives. They can be exploratory when the research aims to discover new phenomena or define new research questions; they are descriptive when the objective is to depict a phenomenon within its context in a detailed manner; and they can be explanatory if the goal is to understand specific relationships within the studied context. Thus, the versatility of case studies allows researchers to approach their topic from different angles, offering multiple ways to uncover and interpret the data .

The impact of case studies on knowledge development

Case studies play a significant role in knowledge development across various disciplines. Analysis of cases provides an avenue for researchers to explore phenomena within their context based on the collected data.

what is case study psychology

This can result in the production of rich, practical insights that can be instrumental in both theory-building and practice. Case studies allow researchers to delve into the intricacies and complexities of real-life situations, uncovering insights that might otherwise remain hidden.

Types of case studies

In qualitative research , a case study is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Depending on the nature of the research question and the specific objectives of the study, researchers might choose to use different types of case studies. These types differ in their focus, methodology, and the level of detail they provide about the phenomenon under investigation.

Understanding these types is crucial for selecting the most appropriate approach for your research project and effectively achieving your research goals. Let's briefly look at the main types of case studies.

Exploratory case studies

Exploratory case studies are typically conducted to develop a theory or framework around an understudied phenomenon. They can also serve as a precursor to a larger-scale research project. Exploratory case studies are useful when a researcher wants to identify the key issues or questions which can spur more extensive study or be used to develop propositions for further research. These case studies are characterized by flexibility, allowing researchers to explore various aspects of a phenomenon as they emerge, which can also form the foundation for subsequent studies.

Descriptive case studies

Descriptive case studies aim to provide a complete and accurate representation of a phenomenon or event within its context. These case studies are often based on an established theoretical framework, which guides how data is collected and analyzed. The researcher is concerned with describing the phenomenon in detail, as it occurs naturally, without trying to influence or manipulate it.

Explanatory case studies

Explanatory case studies are focused on explanation - they seek to clarify how or why certain phenomena occur. Often used in complex, real-life situations, they can be particularly valuable in clarifying causal relationships among concepts and understanding the interplay between different factors within a specific context.

what is case study psychology

Intrinsic, instrumental, and collective case studies

These three categories of case studies focus on the nature and purpose of the study. An intrinsic case study is conducted when a researcher has an inherent interest in the case itself. Instrumental case studies are employed when the case is used to provide insight into a particular issue or phenomenon. A collective case study, on the other hand, involves studying multiple cases simultaneously to investigate some general phenomena.

Each type of case study serves a different purpose and has its own strengths and challenges. The selection of the type should be guided by the research question and objectives, as well as the context and constraints of the research.

The flexibility, depth, and contextual richness offered by case studies make this approach an excellent research method for various fields of study. They enable researchers to investigate real-world phenomena within their specific contexts, capturing nuances that other research methods might miss. Across numerous fields, case studies provide valuable insights into complex issues.

Critical information systems research

Case studies provide a detailed understanding of the role and impact of information systems in different contexts. They offer a platform to explore how information systems are designed, implemented, and used and how they interact with various social, economic, and political factors. Case studies in this field often focus on examining the intricate relationship between technology, organizational processes, and user behavior, helping to uncover insights that can inform better system design and implementation.

Health research

Health research is another field where case studies are highly valuable. They offer a way to explore patient experiences, healthcare delivery processes, and the impact of various interventions in a real-world context.

what is case study psychology

Case studies can provide a deep understanding of a patient's journey, giving insights into the intricacies of disease progression, treatment effects, and the psychosocial aspects of health and illness.

Asthma research studies

Specifically within medical research, studies on asthma often employ case studies to explore the individual and environmental factors that influence asthma development, management, and outcomes. A case study can provide rich, detailed data about individual patients' experiences, from the triggers and symptoms they experience to the effectiveness of various management strategies. This can be crucial for developing patient-centered asthma care approaches.

Other fields

Apart from the fields mentioned, case studies are also extensively used in business and management research, education research, and political sciences, among many others. They provide an opportunity to delve into the intricacies of real-world situations, allowing for a comprehensive understanding of various phenomena.

Case studies, with their depth and contextual focus, offer unique insights across these varied fields. They allow researchers to illuminate the complexities of real-life situations, contributing to both theory and practice.

what is case study psychology

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Understanding the key elements of case study design is crucial for conducting rigorous and impactful case study research. A well-structured design guides the researcher through the process, ensuring that the study is methodologically sound and its findings are reliable and valid. The main elements of case study design include the research question , propositions, units of analysis, and the logic linking the data to the propositions.

The research question is the foundation of any research study. A good research question guides the direction of the study and informs the selection of the case, the methods of collecting data, and the analysis techniques. A well-formulated research question in case study research is typically clear, focused, and complex enough to merit further detailed examination of the relevant case(s).

Propositions

Propositions, though not necessary in every case study, provide a direction by stating what we might expect to find in the data collected. They guide how data is collected and analyzed by helping researchers focus on specific aspects of the case. They are particularly important in explanatory case studies, which seek to understand the relationships among concepts within the studied phenomenon.

Units of analysis

The unit of analysis refers to the case, or the main entity or entities that are being analyzed in the study. In case study research, the unit of analysis can be an individual, a group, an organization, a decision, an event, or even a time period. It's crucial to clearly define the unit of analysis, as it shapes the qualitative data analysis process by allowing the researcher to analyze a particular case and synthesize analysis across multiple case studies to draw conclusions.

Argumentation

This refers to the inferential model that allows researchers to draw conclusions from the data. The researcher needs to ensure that there is a clear link between the data, the propositions (if any), and the conclusions drawn. This argumentation is what enables the researcher to make valid and credible inferences about the phenomenon under study.

Understanding and carefully considering these elements in the design phase of a case study can significantly enhance the quality of the research. It can help ensure that the study is methodologically sound and its findings contribute meaningful insights about the case.

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Conducting a case study involves several steps, from defining the research question and selecting the case to collecting and analyzing data . This section outlines these key stages, providing a practical guide on how to conduct case study research.

Defining the research question

The first step in case study research is defining a clear, focused research question. This question should guide the entire research process, from case selection to analysis. It's crucial to ensure that the research question is suitable for a case study approach. Typically, such questions are exploratory or descriptive in nature and focus on understanding a phenomenon within its real-life context.

Selecting and defining the case

The selection of the case should be based on the research question and the objectives of the study. It involves choosing a unique example or a set of examples that provide rich, in-depth data about the phenomenon under investigation. After selecting the case, it's crucial to define it clearly, setting the boundaries of the case, including the time period and the specific context.

Previous research can help guide the case study design. When considering a case study, an example of a case could be taken from previous case study research and used to define cases in a new research inquiry. Considering recently published examples can help understand how to select and define cases effectively.

Developing a detailed case study protocol

A case study protocol outlines the procedures and general rules to be followed during the case study. This includes the data collection methods to be used, the sources of data, and the procedures for analysis. Having a detailed case study protocol ensures consistency and reliability in the study.

The protocol should also consider how to work with the people involved in the research context to grant the research team access to collecting data. As mentioned in previous sections of this guide, establishing rapport is an essential component of qualitative research as it shapes the overall potential for collecting and analyzing data.

Collecting data

Gathering data in case study research often involves multiple sources of evidence, including documents, archival records, interviews, observations, and physical artifacts. This allows for a comprehensive understanding of the case. The process for gathering data should be systematic and carefully documented to ensure the reliability and validity of the study.

Analyzing and interpreting data

The next step is analyzing the data. This involves organizing the data , categorizing it into themes or patterns , and interpreting these patterns to answer the research question. The analysis might also involve comparing the findings with prior research or theoretical propositions.

Writing the case study report

The final step is writing the case study report . This should provide a detailed description of the case, the data, the analysis process, and the findings. The report should be clear, organized, and carefully written to ensure that the reader can understand the case and the conclusions drawn from it.

Each of these steps is crucial in ensuring that the case study research is rigorous, reliable, and provides valuable insights about the case.

The type, depth, and quality of data in your study can significantly influence the validity and utility of the study. In case study research, data is usually collected from multiple sources to provide a comprehensive and nuanced understanding of the case. This section will outline the various methods of collecting data used in case study research and discuss considerations for ensuring the quality of the data.

Interviews are a common method of gathering data in case study research. They can provide rich, in-depth data about the perspectives, experiences, and interpretations of the individuals involved in the case. Interviews can be structured , semi-structured , or unstructured , depending on the research question and the degree of flexibility needed.

Observations

Observations involve the researcher observing the case in its natural setting, providing first-hand information about the case and its context. Observations can provide data that might not be revealed in interviews or documents, such as non-verbal cues or contextual information.

Documents and artifacts

Documents and archival records provide a valuable source of data in case study research. They can include reports, letters, memos, meeting minutes, email correspondence, and various public and private documents related to the case.

what is case study psychology

These records can provide historical context, corroborate evidence from other sources, and offer insights into the case that might not be apparent from interviews or observations.

Physical artifacts refer to any physical evidence related to the case, such as tools, products, or physical environments. These artifacts can provide tangible insights into the case, complementing the data gathered from other sources.

Ensuring the quality of data collection

Determining the quality of data in case study research requires careful planning and execution. It's crucial to ensure that the data is reliable, accurate, and relevant to the research question. This involves selecting appropriate methods of collecting data, properly training interviewers or observers, and systematically recording and storing the data. It also includes considering ethical issues related to collecting and handling data, such as obtaining informed consent and ensuring the privacy and confidentiality of the participants.

Data analysis

Analyzing case study research involves making sense of the rich, detailed data to answer the research question. This process can be challenging due to the volume and complexity of case study data. However, a systematic and rigorous approach to analysis can ensure that the findings are credible and meaningful. This section outlines the main steps and considerations in analyzing data in case study research.

Organizing the data

The first step in the analysis is organizing the data. This involves sorting the data into manageable sections, often according to the data source or the theme. This step can also involve transcribing interviews, digitizing physical artifacts, or organizing observational data.

Categorizing and coding the data

Once the data is organized, the next step is to categorize or code the data. This involves identifying common themes, patterns, or concepts in the data and assigning codes to relevant data segments. Coding can be done manually or with the help of software tools, and in either case, qualitative analysis software can greatly facilitate the entire coding process. Coding helps to reduce the data to a set of themes or categories that can be more easily analyzed.

Identifying patterns and themes

After coding the data, the researcher looks for patterns or themes in the coded data. This involves comparing and contrasting the codes and looking for relationships or patterns among them. The identified patterns and themes should help answer the research question.

Interpreting the data

Once patterns and themes have been identified, the next step is to interpret these findings. This involves explaining what the patterns or themes mean in the context of the research question and the case. This interpretation should be grounded in the data, but it can also involve drawing on theoretical concepts or prior research.

Verification of the data

The last step in the analysis is verification. This involves checking the accuracy and consistency of the analysis process and confirming that the findings are supported by the data. This can involve re-checking the original data, checking the consistency of codes, or seeking feedback from research participants or peers.

Like any research method , case study research has its strengths and limitations. Researchers must be aware of these, as they can influence the design, conduct, and interpretation of the study.

Understanding the strengths and limitations of case study research can also guide researchers in deciding whether this approach is suitable for their research question . This section outlines some of the key strengths and limitations of case study research.

Benefits include the following:

  • Rich, detailed data: One of the main strengths of case study research is that it can generate rich, detailed data about the case. This can provide a deep understanding of the case and its context, which can be valuable in exploring complex phenomena.
  • Flexibility: Case study research is flexible in terms of design , data collection , and analysis . A sufficient degree of flexibility allows the researcher to adapt the study according to the case and the emerging findings.
  • Real-world context: Case study research involves studying the case in its real-world context, which can provide valuable insights into the interplay between the case and its context.
  • Multiple sources of evidence: Case study research often involves collecting data from multiple sources , which can enhance the robustness and validity of the findings.

On the other hand, researchers should consider the following limitations:

  • Generalizability: A common criticism of case study research is that its findings might not be generalizable to other cases due to the specificity and uniqueness of each case.
  • Time and resource intensive: Case study research can be time and resource intensive due to the depth of the investigation and the amount of collected data.
  • Complexity of analysis: The rich, detailed data generated in case study research can make analyzing the data challenging.
  • Subjectivity: Given the nature of case study research, there may be a higher degree of subjectivity in interpreting the data , so researchers need to reflect on this and transparently convey to audiences how the research was conducted.

Being aware of these strengths and limitations can help researchers design and conduct case study research effectively and interpret and report the findings appropriately.

what is case study psychology

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Case Study Research Method in Psychology

Saul Mcleod, PhD

Editor-in-Chief for Simply Psychology

BSc (Hons) Psychology, MRes, PhD, University of Manchester

Saul Mcleod, PhD., is a qualified psychology teacher with over 18 years of experience in further and higher education. He has been published in peer-reviewed journals, including the Journal of Clinical Psychology.

Learn about our Editorial Process

Olivia Guy-Evans, MSc

Associate Editor for Simply Psychology

BSc (Hons) Psychology, MSc Psychology of Education

Olivia Guy-Evans is a writer and associate editor for Simply Psychology. She has previously worked in healthcare and educational sectors.

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Case studies are in-depth investigations of a person, group, event, or community. Typically, data is gathered from various sources using several 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 that are currently occurring in his or her everyday life.

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

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.

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.

case study

 Famous Case Studies

  • Anna O – One of the most famous case studies, documenting psychoanalyst Josef Breuer’s treatment of “Anna O” (real name Bertha Pappenheim) for hysteria in the late 1800s using early psychoanalytic theory.
  • Little Hans – A child psychoanalysis case study published by Sigmund Freud in 1909 analyzing his five-year-old patient Herbert Graf’s house phobia as related to the Oedipus complex.
  • Bruce/Brenda – Gender identity case of the boy (Bruce) whose botched circumcision led psychologist John Money to advise gender reassignment and raise him as a girl (Brenda) in the 1960s.
  • Genie Wiley – Linguistics/psychological development case of the victim of extreme isolation abuse who was studied in 1970s California for effects of early language deprivation on acquiring speech later in life.
  • Phineas Gage – One of the most famous neuropsychology case studies analyzes personality changes in railroad worker Phineas Gage after an 1848 brain injury involving a tamping iron piercing his skull.

Clinical Case Studies

  • Studying the effectiveness of psychotherapy approaches with an individual patient
  • Assessing and treating mental illnesses like depression, anxiety disorders, PTSD
  • Neuropsychological cases investigating brain injuries or disorders

Child Psychology Case Studies

  • Studying psychological development from birth through adolescence
  • Cases of learning disabilities, autism spectrum disorders, ADHD
  • Effects of trauma, abuse, deprivation on development

Types of Case Studies

  • Explanatory case studies : Used to explore causation in order to find underlying principles. Helpful for doing qualitative analysis to explain presumed causal links.
  • Exploratory case studies : Used to explore situations where an intervention being evaluated has no clear set of outcomes. It helps define questions and hypotheses for future research.
  • Descriptive case studies : Describe an intervention or phenomenon and the real-life context in which it occurred. It is helpful for illustrating certain topics within an evaluation.
  • Multiple-case studies : Used to explore differences between cases and replicate findings across cases. Helpful for comparing and contrasting specific cases.
  • Intrinsic : Used to gain a better understanding of a particular case. Helpful for capturing the complexity of a single case.
  • Collective : Used to explore a general phenomenon using multiple case studies. Helpful for jointly studying a group of cases in order to inquire into the phenomenon.

Where Do You Find Data for a Case Study?

There are several places to find data for a case study. The key is to gather data from multiple sources to get a complete picture of the case and corroborate facts or findings through triangulation of evidence. Most of this information is likely qualitative (i.e., verbal description rather than measurement), but the psychologist might also collect numerical data.

1. Primary sources

  • Interviews – Interviewing key people related to the case to get their perspectives and insights. The interview is 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.
  • Observations – Observing behaviors, interactions, processes, etc., related to the case as they unfold in real-time.
  • Documents & Records – Reviewing private documents, diaries, public records, correspondence, meeting minutes, etc., relevant to the case.

2. Secondary sources

  • News/Media – News coverage of events related to the case study.
  • Academic articles – Journal articles, dissertations etc. that discuss the case.
  • Government reports – Official data and records related to the case context.
  • Books/films – Books, documentaries or films discussing the case.

3. Archival records

Searching historical archives, museum collections and databases to find relevant documents, visual/audio records related to the case history and context.

Public archives like newspapers, organizational records, photographic collections could all include potentially relevant pieces of information to shed light on attitudes, cultural perspectives, common practices and historical contexts related to psychology.

4. Organizational records

Organizational records offer the advantage of often having large datasets collected over time that can reveal or confirm psychological insights.

Of course, privacy and ethical concerns regarding confidential data must be navigated carefully.

However, with proper protocols, organizational records can provide invaluable context and empirical depth to qualitative case studies exploring the intersection of psychology and organizations.

  • Organizational/industrial psychology research : Organizational records like employee surveys, turnover/retention data, policies, incident reports etc. may provide insight into topics like job satisfaction, workplace culture and dynamics, leadership issues, employee behaviors etc.
  • Clinical psychology : Therapists/hospitals may grant access to anonymized medical records to study aspects like assessments, diagnoses, treatment plans etc. This could shed light on clinical practices.
  • School psychology : Studies could utilize anonymized student records like test scores, grades, disciplinary issues, and counseling referrals to study child development, learning barriers, effectiveness of support programs, and more.

How do I Write a Case Study in Psychology?

Follow specified case study guidelines provided by a journal or your psychology tutor. General components of clinical case studies include: background, symptoms, assessments, diagnosis, treatment, and outcomes. Interpreting the information means the researcher decides what to include or leave out. A good case study should always clarify which information is the factual description and which is an inference or the researcher’s opinion.

1. Introduction

  • Provide background on the case context and why it is of interest, presenting background information like demographics, relevant history, and presenting problem.
  • Compare briefly to similar published cases if applicable. Clearly state the focus/importance of the case.

2. Case Presentation

  • Describe the presenting problem in detail, including symptoms, duration,and impact on daily life.
  • Include client demographics like age and gender, information about social relationships, and mental health history.
  • Describe all physical, emotional, and/or sensory symptoms reported by the client.
  • Use patient quotes to describe the initial complaint verbatim. Follow with full-sentence summaries of relevant history details gathered, including key components that led to a working diagnosis.
  • Summarize clinical exam results, namely orthopedic/neurological tests, imaging, lab tests, etc. Note actual results rather than subjective conclusions. Provide images if clearly reproducible/anonymized.
  • Clearly state the working diagnosis or clinical impression before transitioning to management.

3. Management and Outcome

  • Indicate the total duration of care and number of treatments given over what timeframe. Use specific names/descriptions for any therapies/interventions applied.
  • Present the results of the intervention,including any quantitative or qualitative data collected.
  • For outcomes, utilize visual analog scales for pain, medication usage logs, etc., if possible. Include patient self-reports of improvement/worsening of symptoms. Note the reason for discharge/end of care.

4. Discussion

  • Analyze the case, exploring contributing factors, limitations of the study, and connections to existing research.
  • Analyze the effectiveness of the intervention,considering factors like participant adherence, limitations of the study, and potential alternative explanations for the results.
  • Identify any questions raised in the case analysis and relate insights to established theories and current research if applicable. Avoid definitive claims about physiological explanations.
  • Offer clinical implications, and suggest future research directions.

5. Additional Items

  • Thank specific assistants for writing support only. No patient acknowledgments.
  • References should directly support any key claims or quotes included.
  • Use tables/figures/images only if substantially informative. Include permissions and legends/explanatory notes.
  • 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’.

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 that only looks into the measurable aspects of human behavior is not likely to give us insights into the subjective dimension of experience, which is 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

  • Lacking scientific rigor and providing little basis for generalization of results to the wider population.
  • Researchers’ own subjective feelings 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 the 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 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 psychologist’s interpretation of the information she has acquired.

This means that there is a lot of scope for Anna O , 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 particular behavioral theories (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.

Breuer, J., & Freud, S. (1895).  Studies on hysteria . Standard Edition 2: London.

Curtiss, S. (1981). Genie: The case of a modern wild child .

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.

Harlow J. M. (1848). Passage of an iron rod through the head.  Boston Medical and Surgical Journal, 39 , 389–393.

Harlow, J. M. (1868).  Recovery from the Passage of an Iron Bar through the Head .  Publications of the Massachusetts Medical Society. 2  (3), 327-347.

Money, J., & Ehrhardt, A. A. (1972).  Man & Woman, Boy & Girl : The Differentiation and Dimorphism of Gender Identity from Conception to Maturity. Baltimore, Maryland: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Money, J., & Tucker, P. (1975). Sexual signatures: On being a man or a woman.

Further Information

  • Case Study Approach
  • Case Study Method
  • Enhancing the Quality of Case Studies in Health Services Research
  • “We do things together” A case study of “couplehood” in dementia
  • Using mixed methods for evaluating an integrative approach to cancer care: a case study

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Methodology

  • What Is a Case Study? | Definition, Examples & Methods

What Is a Case Study? | Definition, Examples & Methods

Published on May 8, 2019 by Shona McCombes . Revised on November 20, 2023.

A case study is a detailed study of a specific subject, such as a person, group, place, event, organization, or phenomenon. 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. Case studies are good for describing , comparing, evaluating and understanding different aspects of a research problem .

Table of contents

When to do a case study, step 1: select a case, step 2: build a theoretical framework, step 3: collect your data, step 4: describe and analyze the case, other interesting articles.

A case study is an appropriate research design when you want to gain concrete, contextual, in-depth knowledge about a specific real-world subject. It allows you to explore the key characteristics, meanings, and implications of the case.

Case studies are often a good choice in a thesis or dissertation . They keep your project focused and manageable when you don’t have the time or resources to do large-scale research.

You might use just one complex case study where you explore a single subject in depth, or conduct multiple case studies to compare and illuminate different aspects of your research problem.

Case study examples
Research question Case study
What are the ecological effects of wolf reintroduction? Case study of wolf reintroduction in Yellowstone National Park
How do populist politicians use narratives about history to gain support? Case studies of Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán and US president Donald Trump
How can teachers implement active learning strategies in mixed-level classrooms? Case study of a local school that promotes active learning
What are the main advantages and disadvantages of wind farms for rural communities? Case studies of three rural wind farm development projects in different parts of the country
How are viral marketing strategies changing the relationship between companies and consumers? Case study of the iPhone X marketing campaign
How do experiences of work in the gig economy differ by gender, race and age? Case studies of Deliveroo and Uber drivers in London

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what is case study psychology

Once you have developed your problem statement and research questions , you should be ready to choose the specific case that you want to focus on. A good case study should have the potential to:

  • Provide new or unexpected insights into the subject
  • Challenge or complicate existing assumptions and theories
  • Propose practical courses of action to resolve a problem
  • Open up new directions for future research

TipIf your research is more practical in nature and aims to simultaneously investigate an issue as you solve it, consider conducting action research instead.

Unlike quantitative or experimental research , a strong case study does not require a random or representative sample. In fact, case studies often deliberately focus on unusual, neglected, or outlying cases which may shed new light on the research problem.

Example of an outlying case studyIn the 1960s the town of Roseto, Pennsylvania was discovered to have extremely low rates of heart disease compared to the US average. It became an important case study for understanding previously neglected causes of heart disease.

However, you can also choose a more common or representative case to exemplify a particular category, experience or phenomenon.

Example of a representative case studyIn the 1920s, two sociologists used Muncie, Indiana as a case study of a typical American city that supposedly exemplified the changing culture of the US at the time.

While case studies focus more on concrete details than general theories, they should usually have some connection with theory in the field. This way the case study is not just an isolated description, but is integrated into existing knowledge about the topic. It might aim to:

  • Exemplify a theory by showing how it explains the case under investigation
  • Expand on a theory by uncovering new concepts and ideas that need to be incorporated
  • Challenge a theory by exploring an outlier case that doesn’t fit with established assumptions

To ensure that your analysis of the case has a solid academic grounding, you should conduct a literature review of sources related to the topic and develop a theoretical framework . This means identifying key concepts and theories to guide your analysis and interpretation.

There are many different research methods you can use to collect data on your subject. 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.

Example of a mixed methods case studyFor a case study of a wind farm development in a rural area, you could collect quantitative data on employment rates and business revenue, collect qualitative data on local people’s perceptions and experiences, and analyze local and national media coverage of the development.

The aim is to gain as thorough an understanding as possible of the case and its context.

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In writing up the case study, you need to bring together all the relevant aspects to give as complete a picture as possible of the subject.

How you report your findings depends on the type of research you are doing. Some case studies are structured like a standard scientific paper or thesis , with separate sections or chapters for the methods , results and discussion .

Others are written in a more narrative style, aiming to explore the case from various angles and analyze its meanings and implications (for example, by using textual analysis or discourse analysis ).

In all cases, though, make sure to give contextual details about the case, connect it back to the literature and theory, and discuss how it fits into wider patterns or debates.

If you want to know more about statistics , methodology , or research bias , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.

  • Normal distribution
  • Degrees of freedom
  • Null hypothesis
  • Discourse analysis
  • Control groups
  • Mixed methods research
  • Non-probability sampling
  • Quantitative research
  • Ecological validity

Research bias

  • Rosenthal effect
  • Implicit bias
  • Cognitive bias
  • Selection bias
  • Negativity bias
  • Status quo bias

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Psychology Dictionary

n. an in-depth assessment and investigation conducted on a target individual, family unit, or social group. It requires a researcher to collect multiple types of data that would prove to be useful in creating a complete biographical, psychological, physiological, and environmental background on the case.

What is a case study in psychology?

In psychology, a case study is a comprehensive, qualitative research of a single person or occasion that offers in-depth knowledge and insight into the subject's behavior, experiences, and thought processes. Observation, interviews, and the investigation of records, papers, and other artifacts are frequently used in case studies.

What is the purpose of a case study?

A case study in psychology is designed to produce rich, comprehensive data that can be utilized to comprehend a specific phenomenon or person in deeper detail. Researchers can use case studies to investigate the complexity of human behavior and mental processes, spot trends and themes, and develop hypotheses for more study. They are a useful tool for psychology teaching and learning because they may be used to demonstrate concepts or theories in a practical setting.

Types of psychology case studies

A case study is a method used in psychology to gather comprehensive data that would help researchers better understand a particular occurrence or individual. Case studies are a useful tool for researchers because they let them explore the complexity of human thought and behavior, identify patterns and themes, and provide hypotheses for further investigation. Because they can be used to demonstrate ideas or theories in a real-world situation, they are a helpful tool for psychology teaching and learning.

The following are the five main types of case studies in psychology:

  • Exploratory case studies: These case studies are designed to investigate new or under-researched areas within the field of psychology. The primary purpose of exploratory case studies is to generate hypotheses or initial theories, which can then be tested using more rigorous research methods .
  • Descriptive case studies: Descriptive case studies aim to provide a comprehensive account of a specific individual, event, or phenomenon.
  • Explanatory case studies: Explanatory case studies seek to identify the underlying causes or mechanisms responsible for a particular outcome or behavior. They often involve the analysis of relationships between various factors, with the goal of uncovering causal connections. These case studies may employ quantitative methods, such as statistical analyses or experiments, in addition to qualitative data collection techniques.
  • Intrinsic case studies: Intrinsic case studies focus on a unique, rare, or unusual case that is of particular interest to the researcher. The primary goal of this type of case study is to gain a deep understanding of the specific individual or event, rather than generalizing the findings to a broader population.
  • Instrumental case studies: Instrumental case studies use a specific case as a means to gain insight into a broader issue or to support or challenge a theory. In this type of case study, the focus is not on the individual case itself, but on the wider implications it has for understanding psychological phenomena.
  • Phineas Gage : Phineas Gage was a railroad construction worker who survived a catastrophic brain injury in 1848 and is a well-known case study in the history of psychology. His example has been utilized to examine the connection between brain make-up and personality as well as the function of the frontal lobes in social cognition and judgment.
  • Little Hans: Little Hans, a 5-year-old boy, was the subject of a psychoanalytic case study by Sigmund Freud in the early 20th century. The study aimed to explore the development of anxiety and phobias in children and provided support for some of Freud's theories on psychosexual development and the Oedipus complex.
  • Genie: Genie was a young girl who was discovered in 1970 after being locked in isolation for most of her life. Her case has been used to study the effects of extreme social isolation on cognitive and linguistic development, as well as the critical period hypothesis in language acquisition .

References:

Baxter, P., & Jack, S. (2008). Qualitative Case Study Methodology: Study Design and Implementation for Novice Researchers. The Qualitative Report, 13(4), 544-559. https://doi.org/10.46743/2160-3715/2008.1573

Creswell, J.W. and Poth, C.N. (2018) Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design Choosing among Five Approaches. 4th Edition, SAGE Publications, Inc., Thousand Oaks. https://www.scirp.org/(S(lz5mqp453edsnp55rrgjct55))/reference/ReferencesPapers.aspx?ReferenceID=2155979

Hollweck, T. (2016). Robert K. Yin. (2014). Case Study Research Design and Methods (5th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. 282 pages. The Canadian Journal of Program Evaluation , 30, 108. https://doi.org/10.3138/cjpe.30.1.108

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What Is a Case Study in Psychology?

Categories Research Methods

A case study is a research method used in psychology to investigate a particular individual, group, or situation in depth . It involves a detailed analysis of the subject, gathering information from various sources such as interviews, observations, and documents.

In a case study, researchers aim to understand the complexities and nuances of the subject under investigation. They explore the individual’s thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and experiences to gain insights into specific psychological phenomena. 

This type of research can provide great detail regarding a particular case, allowing researchers to examine rare or unique situations that may not be easily replicated in a laboratory setting. They offer a holistic view of the subject, considering various factors influencing their behavior or mental processes. 

By examining individual cases, researchers can generate hypotheses, develop theories, and contribute to the existing body of knowledge in psychology. Case studies are often utilized in clinical psychology, where they can provide valuable insights into the diagnosis, treatment, and outcomes of specific psychological disorders. 

Case studies offer a comprehensive and in-depth understanding of complex psychological phenomena, providing researchers with valuable information to inform theory, practice, and future research.

Table of Contents

Examples of Case Studies in Psychology

Case studies in psychology provide real-life examples that illustrate psychological concepts and theories. They offer a detailed analysis of specific individuals, groups, or situations, allowing researchers to understand psychological phenomena better. Here are a few examples of case studies in psychology: 

Phineas Gage

This famous case study explores the effects of a traumatic brain injury on personality and behavior. A railroad construction worker, Phineas Gage survived a severe brain injury that dramatically changed his personality.

This case study helped researchers understand the role of the frontal lobe in personality and social behavior. 

Little Albert

Conducted by behaviorist John B. Watson, the Little Albert case study aimed to demonstrate classical conditioning. In this study, a young boy named Albert was conditioned to fear a white rat by pairing it with a loud noise.

This case study provided insights into the process of fear conditioning and the impact of early experiences on behavior. 

Genie’s case study focused on a girl who experienced extreme social isolation and deprivation during her childhood. This study shed light on the critical period for language development and the effects of severe neglect on cognitive and social functioning. 

These case studies highlight the value of in-depth analysis and provide researchers with valuable insights into various psychological phenomena. By examining specific cases, psychologists can uncover unique aspects of human behavior and contribute to the field’s knowledge and understanding.

Types of Case Studies in Psychology

Psychology case studies come in various forms, each serving a specific purpose in research and analysis. Understanding the different types of case studies can help researchers choose the most appropriate approach. 

Descriptive Case Studies

These studies aim to describe a particular individual, group, or situation. Researchers use descriptive case studies to explore and document specific characteristics, behaviors, or experiences.

For example, a descriptive case study may examine the life and experiences of a person with a rare psychological disorder. 

Exploratory Case Studies

Exploratory case studies are conducted when there is limited existing knowledge or understanding of a particular phenomenon. Researchers use these studies to gather preliminary information and generate hypotheses for further investigation.

Exploratory case studies often involve in-depth interviews, observations, and analysis of existing data. 

Explanatory Case Studies

These studies aim to explain the causal relationship between variables or events. Researchers use these studies to understand why certain outcomes occur and to identify the underlying mechanisms or processes.

Explanatory case studies often involve comparing multiple cases to identify common patterns or factors. 

Instrumental Case Studies

Instrumental case studies focus on using a particular case to gain insights into a broader issue or theory. Researchers select cases that are representative or critical in understanding the phenomenon of interest.

Instrumental case studies help researchers develop or refine theories and contribute to the general knowledge in the field. 

By utilizing different types of case studies, psychologists can explore various aspects of human behavior and gain a deeper understanding of psychological phenomena. Each type of case study offers unique advantages and contributes to the overall body of knowledge in psychology.

How to Collect Data for a Case Study

There are a variety of ways that researchers gather the data they need for a case study. Some sources include:

  • Directly observing the subject
  • Collecting information from archival records
  • Conducting interviews
  • Examining artifacts related to the subject
  • Examining documents that provide information about the subject

The way that this information is collected depends on the nature of the study itself

Prospective Research

In a prospective study, researchers observe the individual or group in question. These observations typically occur over a period of time and may be used to track the progress or progression of a phenomenon or treatment.

Retrospective Research

A retrospective case study involves looking back on a phenomenon. Researchers typically look at the outcome and then gather data to help them understand how the individual or group reached that point.

Benefits of a Case Study

Case studies offer several benefits in the field of psychology. They provide researchers with a unique opportunity to delve deep into specific individuals, groups, or situations, allowing for a comprehensive understanding of complex phenomena.

Case studies offer valuable insights that can inform theory development and practical applications by examining real-life examples. 

Complex Data

One of the key benefits of case studies is their ability to provide complex and detailed data. Researchers can gather in-depth information through various methods such as interviews, observations, and analysis of existing records.

This depth of data allows for a thorough exploration of the factors influencing behavior and the underlying mechanisms at play. 

Unique Data

Additionally, case studies allow researchers to study rare or unique cases that may not be easily replicated in experimental settings. This enables the examination of phenomena that are difficult to study through other psychology research methods . 

By focusing on specific cases, researchers can uncover patterns, identify causal relationships, and generate hypotheses for further investigation.

General Knowledge

Case studies can also contribute to the general knowledge of psychology by providing real-world examples that can be used to support or challenge existing theories. They offer a bridge between theory and practice, allowing researchers to apply theoretical concepts to real-life situations and vice versa. 

Case studies offer a range of benefits in psychology, including providing rich and detailed data, studying unique cases, and contributing to theory development. These benefits make case studies valuable in understanding human behavior and psychological phenomena.

Limitations of a Case Study

While case studies offer numerous benefits in the field of psychology, they also have certain limitations that researchers need to consider. Understanding these limitations is crucial for interpreting the findings and generalizing the results. 

Lack of Generalizability

One limitation of case studies is the issue of generalizability. Since case studies focus on specific individuals, groups, and situations, applying the findings to a larger population can be challenging. The unique characteristics and circumstances of the case may not be representative of the broader population, making it difficult to draw universal conclusions. 

Researcher bias is another possible limitation. The researcher’s subjective interpretation and personal beliefs can influence the data collection, analysis, and interpretation process. This bias can affect the objectivity and reliability of the findings, raising questions about the study’s validity. 

Case studies are often time-consuming and resource-intensive. They require extensive data collection, analysis, and interpretation, which can be lengthy. This can limit the number of cases that can be studied and may result in a smaller sample size, reducing the study’s statistical power. 

Case studies are retrospective in nature, relying on past events and experiences. This reliance on memory and self-reporting can introduce recall bias and inaccuracies in the data. Participants may forget or misinterpret certain details, leading to incomplete or unreliable information.

Despite these limitations, case studies remain a valuable research tool in psychology. By acknowledging and addressing these limitations, researchers can enhance the validity and reliability of their findings, contributing to a more comprehensive understanding of human behavior and psychological phenomena. 

While case studies have limitations, they remain valuable when researchers acknowledge and address these concerns, leading to more reliable and valid findings in psychology.

Alpi, K. M., & Evans, J. J. (2019). Distinguishing case study as a research method from case reports as a publication type. Journal of the Medical Library Association , 107(1). https://doi.org/10.5195/jmla.2019.615

Crowe, S., Cresswell, K., Robertson, A., Huby, G., Avery, A., & Sheikh, A. (2011). The case study approach. BMC Medical Research Methodology , 11(1), 100. https://doi.org/10.1186/1471-2288-11-100

Paparini, S., Green, J., Papoutsi, C., Murdoch, J., Petticrew, M., Greenhalgh, T., Hanckel, B., & Shaw, S. (2020). Case study research for better evaluations of complex interventions: Rationale and challenges. BMC Medicine , 18(1), 301. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12916-020-01777-6

Willemsen, J. (2023). What is preventing psychotherapy case studies from having a greater impact on evidence-based practice, and how to address the challenges? Frontiers in Psychiatry , 13, 1101090. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2022.1101090

Yin, Robert K. Case Study Research and Applications: Design and Methods . United States, SAGE Publications, 2017.

psychology

Psychology Case Study Examples: A Deep Dive into Real-life Scenarios

Psychology Case Study Examples

Peeling back the layers of the human mind is no easy task, but psychology case studies can help us do just that. Through these detailed analyses, we’re able to gain a deeper understanding of human behavior, emotions, and cognitive processes. I’ve always found it fascinating how a single person’s experience can shed light on broader psychological principles.

Over the years, psychologists have conducted numerous case studies—each with their own unique insights and implications. These investigations range from Phineas Gage’s accidental lobotomy to Genie Wiley’s tragic tale of isolation. Such examples not only enlighten us about specific disorders or occurrences but also continue to shape our overall understanding of psychology .

As we delve into some noteworthy examples , I assure you’ll appreciate how varied and intricate the field of psychology truly is. Whether you’re a budding psychologist or simply an eager learner, brace yourself for an intriguing exploration into the intricacies of the human psyche.

Understanding Psychology Case Studies

Diving headfirst into the world of psychology, it’s easy to come upon a valuable tool used by psychologists and researchers alike – case studies. I’m here to shed some light on these fascinating tools.

Psychology case studies, for those unfamiliar with them, are in-depth investigations carried out to gain a profound understanding of the subject – whether it’s an individual, group or phenomenon. They’re powerful because they provide detailed insights that other research methods might miss.

Let me share a few examples to clarify this concept further:

  • One notable example is Freud’s study on Little Hans. This case study explored a 5-year-old boy’s fear of horses and related it back to Freud’s theories about psychosexual stages.
  • Another classic example is Genie Wiley (a pseudonym), a feral child who was subjected to severe social isolation during her early years. Her heartbreaking story provided invaluable insights into language acquisition and critical periods in development.

You see, what sets psychology case studies apart is their focus on the ‘why’ and ‘how’. While surveys or experiments might tell us ‘what’, they often don’t dig deep enough into the inner workings behind human behavior.

It’s important though not to take these psychology case studies at face value. As enlightening as they can be, we must remember that they usually focus on one specific instance or individual. Thus, generalizing findings from single-case studies should be done cautiously.

To illustrate my point using numbers: let’s say we have 1 million people suffering from condition X worldwide; if only 20 unique cases have been studied so far (which would be quite typical for rare conditions), then our understanding is based on just 0.002% of the total cases! That’s why multiple sources and types of research are vital when trying to understand complex psychological phenomena fully.

Number of People with Condition X Number Of Unique Cases Studied Percentage
1,000,000 20 0.002%

In the grand scheme of things, psychology case studies are just one piece of the puzzle – albeit an essential one. They provide rich, detailed data that can form the foundation for further research and understanding. As we delve deeper into this fascinating field, it’s crucial to appreciate all the tools at our disposal – from surveys and experiments to these insightful case studies.

Importance of Case Studies in Psychology

I’ve always been fascinated by the human mind, and if you’re here, I bet you are too. Let’s dive right into why case studies play such a pivotal role in psychology.

One of the key reasons they matter so much is because they provide detailed insights into specific psychological phenomena. Unlike other research methods that might use large samples but only offer surface-level findings, case studies allow us to study complex behaviors, disorders, and even treatments at an intimate level. They often serve as a catalyst for new theories or help refine existing ones.

To illustrate this point, let’s look at one of psychology’s most famous case studies – Phineas Gage. He was a railroad construction foreman who survived a severe brain injury when an iron rod shot through his skull during an explosion in 1848. The dramatic personality changes he experienced after his accident led to significant advancements in our understanding of the brain’s role in personality and behavior.

Moreover, it’s worth noting that some rare conditions can only be studied through individual cases due to their uncommon nature. For instance, consider Genie Wiley – a girl discovered at age 13 having spent most of her life locked away from society by her parents. Her tragic story gave psychologists valuable insights into language acquisition and critical periods for learning.

Finally yet importantly, case studies also have practical applications for clinicians and therapists. Studying real-life examples can inform treatment plans and provide guidance on how theoretical concepts might apply to actual client situations.

  • Detailed insights: Case studies offer comprehensive views on specific psychological phenomena.
  • Catalyst for new theories: Real-life scenarios help shape our understanding of psychology .
  • Study rare conditions: Unique cases can offer invaluable lessons about uncommon disorders.
  • Practical applications: Clinicians benefit from studying real-world examples.

In short (but without wrapping up), it’s clear that case studies hold immense value within psychology – they illuminate what textbooks often can’t, offering a more nuanced understanding of human behavior.

Different Types of Psychology Case Studies

Diving headfirst into the world of psychology, I can’t help but be fascinated by the myriad types of case studies that revolve around this subject. Let’s take a closer look at some of them.

Firstly, we’ve got what’s known as ‘Explanatory Case Studies’. These are often used when a researcher wants to clarify complex phenomena or concepts. For example, a psychologist might use an explanatory case study to explore the reasons behind aggressive behavior in children.

Second on our list are ‘Exploratory Case Studies’, typically utilized when new and unexplored areas of research come up. They’re like pioneers; they pave the way for future studies. In psychological terms, exploratory case studies could be conducted to investigate emerging mental health conditions or under-researched therapeutic approaches.

Next up are ‘Descriptive Case Studies’. As the name suggests, these focus on depicting comprehensive and detailed profiles about a particular individual, group, or event within its natural context. A well-known example would be Sigmund Freud’s analysis of “Anna O”, which provided unique insights into hysteria.

Then there are ‘Intrinsic Case Studies’, which delve deep into one specific case because it is intrinsically interesting or unique in some way. It’s sorta like shining a spotlight onto an exceptional phenomenon. An instance would be studying savants—individuals with extraordinary abilities despite significant mental disabilities.

Lastly, we have ‘Instrumental Case Studies’. These aren’t focused on understanding a particular case per se but use it as an instrument to understand something else altogether—a bit like using one puzzle piece to make sense of the whole picture!

So there you have it! From explanatory to instrumental, each type serves its own unique purpose and adds another intriguing layer to our understanding of human behavior and cognition.

Exploring Real-Life Psychology Case Study Examples

Let’s roll up our sleeves and delve into some real-life psychology case study examples. By digging deep, we can glean valuable insights from these studies that have significantly contributed to our understanding of human behavior and mental processes.

First off, let me share the fascinating case of Phineas Gage. This gentleman was a 19th-century railroad construction foreman who survived an accident where a large iron rod was accidentally driven through his skull, damaging his frontal lobes. Astonishingly, he could walk and talk immediately after the accident but underwent dramatic personality changes, becoming impulsive and irresponsible. This case is often referenced in discussions about brain injury and personality change.

Next on my list is Genie Wiley’s heart-wrenching story. She was a victim of severe abuse and neglect resulting in her being socially isolated until she was 13 years old. Due to this horrific experience, Genie couldn’t acquire language skills typically as other children would do during their developmental stages. Her tragic story offers invaluable insight into the critical periods for language development in children.

Then there’s ‘Little Hans’, a classic Freudian case that delves into child psychology. At just five years old, Little Hans developed an irrational fear of horses -or so it seemed- which Sigmund Freud interpreted as symbolic anxiety stemming from suppressed sexual desires towards his mother—quite an interpretation! The study gave us Freud’s Oedipus Complex theory.

Lastly, I’d like to mention Patient H.M., an individual who became amnesiac following surgery to control seizures by removing parts of his hippocampus bilaterally. His inability to form new memories post-operation shed light on how different areas of our brains contribute to memory formation.

Each one of these real-life psychology case studies gives us a unique window into understanding complex human behaviors better – whether it’s dissecting the role our brain plays in shaping personality or unraveling the mysteries of fear, language acquisition, and memory.

How to Analyze a Psychology Case Study

Diving headfirst into a psychology case study, I understand it can seem like an intimidating task. But don’t worry, I’m here to guide you through the process.

First off, it’s essential to go through the case study thoroughly. Read it multiple times if needed. Each reading will likely reveal new information or perspectives you may have missed initially. Look out for any patterns or inconsistencies in the subject’s behavior and make note of them.

Next on your agenda should be understanding the theoretical frameworks that might be applicable in this scenario. Is there a cognitive-behavioral approach at play? Or does psychoanalysis provide better insights? Comparing these theories with observed behavior and symptoms can help shed light on underlying psychological issues.

Now, let’s talk data interpretation. If your case study includes raw data like surveys or diagnostic tests results, you’ll need to analyze them carefully. Here are some steps that could help:

  • Identify what each piece of data represents
  • Look for correlations between different pieces of data
  • Compute statistics (mean, median, mode) if necessary
  • Use graphs or charts for visual representation

Keep in mind; interpreting raw data requires both statistical knowledge and intuition about human behavior.

Finally, drafting conclusions is key in analyzing a psychology case study. Based on your observations, evaluations of theoretical approaches and interpretations of any given data – what do you conclude about the subject’s mental health status? Remember not to jump to conclusions hastily but instead base them solidly on evidence from your analysis.

In all this journey of analysis remember one thing: every person is unique and so are their experiences! So while theories and previous studies guide us, they never define an individual completely.

Applying Lessons from Psychology Case Studies

Let’s dive into how we can apply the lessons learned from psychology case studies. If you’ve ever studied psychology, you’ll know that case studies offer rich insights. They shed light on human behavior, mental health issues, and therapeutic techniques. But it’s not just about understanding theory. It’s also about implementing these valuable lessons in real-world situations.

One of the most famous psychological case studies is Phineas Gage’s story. This 19th-century railroad worker survived a severe brain injury which dramatically altered his personality. From this study, we gained crucial insight into how different brain areas are responsible for various aspects of our personality and behavior.

  • Lesson: Recognizing that damage to specific brain areas can result in personality changes, enabling us to better understand certain mental conditions.

Sigmund Freud’s work with a patient known as ‘Anna O.’ is another landmark psychology case study. Anna displayed what was then called hysteria – symptoms included hallucinations and disturbances in speech and physical coordination – which Freud linked back to repressed memories of traumatic events.

  • Lesson: The importance of exploring an individual’s history for understanding their current psychological problems – a principle at the heart of psychoanalysis.

Then there’s Genie Wiley’s case – a girl who suffered extreme neglect resulting in impaired social and linguistic development. Researchers used her tragic circumstances as an opportunity to explore theories around language acquisition and socialization.

  • Lesson: Reinforcing the critical role early childhood experiences play in shaping cognitive development.

Lastly, let’s consider the Stanford Prison Experiment led by Philip Zimbardo examining how people conform to societal roles even when they lead to immoral actions.

  • Lesson: Highlighting that situational forces can drastically impact human behavior beyond personal characteristics or morality.

These examples demonstrate that psychology case studies aren’t just academic exercises isolated from daily life. Instead, they provide profound lessons that help us make sense of complex human behaviors, mental health issues, and therapeutic strategies. By understanding these studies, we’re better equipped to apply their lessons in our own lives – whether it’s navigating personal relationships, working with diverse teams at work or even self-improvement.

Challenges and Critiques of Psychological Case Studies

Delving into the world of psychological case studies, it’s not all rosy. Sure, they offer an in-depth understanding of individual behavior and mental processes. Yet, they’re not without their share of challenges and criticisms.

One common critique is the lack of generalizability. Each case study is unique to its subject. We can’t always apply what we learn from one person to everyone else. I’ve come across instances where results varied dramatically between similar subjects, highlighting the inherent unpredictability in human behavior.

Another challenge lies within ethical boundaries. Often, sensitive information surfaces during these studies that could potentially harm the subject if disclosed improperly. To put it plainly, maintaining confidentiality while delivering a comprehensive account isn’t always easy.

Distortion due to subjective interpretations also poses substantial difficulties for psychologists conducting case studies. The researcher’s own bias may color their observations and conclusions – leading to skewed outcomes or misleading findings.

Moreover, there’s an ongoing debate about the scientific validity of case studies because they rely heavily on qualitative data rather than quantitative analysis. Some argue this makes them less reliable or objective when compared with other research methods such as experiments or surveys.

To summarize:

  • Lack of generalizability
  • Ethical dilemmas concerning privacy
  • Potential distortion through subjective interpretation
  • Questions about scientific validity

While these critiques present significant challenges, they do not diminish the value that psychological case studies bring to our understanding of human behavior and mental health struggles.

Conclusion: The Impact of Case Studies in Understanding Human Behavior

Case studies play a pivotal role in shedding light on human behavior. Throughout this article, I’ve discussed numerous examples that illustrate just how powerful these studies can be. Yet it’s the impact they have on our understanding of human psychology where their true value lies.

Take for instance the iconic study of Phineas Gage. It was through his tragic accident and subsequent personality change that we began to grasp the profound influence our frontal lobes have on our behavior. Without such a case study, we might still be in the dark about this crucial aspect of our neurology.

Let’s also consider Genie, the feral child who showed us the critical importance of social interaction during early development. Her heartbreaking story underscores just how vital appropriate nurturing is for healthy mental and emotional growth.

Here are some key takeaways from these case studies:

  • Our brain structure significantly influences our behavior.
  • Social interaction during formative years is vital for normal psychological development.
  • Studying individual cases can reveal universal truths about human nature.

What stands out though, is not merely what these case studies teach us individually but collectively. They remind us that each person constitutes a unique combination of various factors—biological, psychological, and environmental—that shape their behavior.

One cannot overstate the significance of case studies in psychology—they are more than mere stories or isolated incidents; they’re windows into the complexities and nuances of human nature itself.

In wrapping up, I’d say that while statistics give us patterns and trends to understand groups, it’s these detailed narratives offered by case studies that help us comprehend individuals’ unique experiences within those groups—making them an invaluable part of psychological research.

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Case Study: Definition, Types, Examples and Benefits

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Jan 26, 2023 • 3 min read

Researchers, economists, and others frequently use case studies to answer questions across a wide spectrum of disciplines, from analyzing decades of climate data for conservation efforts to developing new theoretical frameworks in psychology. Learn about the different types of case studies, their benefits, and examples of successful case studies.

what is case study psychology

what is case study psychology

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Case Studies

Last updated 22 Mar 2021

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Case studies are very detailed investigations of an individual or small group of people, usually regarding an unusual phenomenon or biographical event of interest to a research field. Due to a small sample, the case study can conduct an in-depth analysis of the individual/group.

Evaluation of case studies:

- Case studies create opportunities for a rich yield of data, and the depth of analysis can in turn bring high levels of validity (i.e. providing an accurate and exhaustive measure of what the study is hoping to measure).

- Studying abnormal psychology can give insight into how something works when it is functioning correctly, such as brain damage on memory (e.g. the case study of patient KF, whose short-term memory was impaired following a motorcycle accident but left his long-term memory intact, suggesting there might be separate physical stores in the brain for short and long-term memory).

- The detail collected on a single case may lead to interesting findings that conflict with current theories, and stimulate new paths for research.

- There is little control over a number of variables involved in a case study, so it is difficult to confidently establish any causal relationships between variables.

- Case studies are unusual by nature, so will have poor reliability as replicating them exactly will be unlikely.

- Due to the small sample size, it is unlikely that findings from a case study alone can be generalised to a whole population.

- The case study’s researcher may become so involved with the study that they exhibit bias in their interpretation and presentation of the data, making it challenging to distinguish what is truly objective/factual.

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What Is A Case Study In Psychology?

When people think about psychology studies, they are most likely to think about studies involving several participants split across a number of experimental and control groups. Studies like this are a good way to investigate the effect of a certain treatment or activity, but they are not always the best option. For example, if a scientist is interested in a specific rare disease, they cannot always find enough people with that disease to participate in a useful study. Similarly, one cannot give a group of participants a rare disease (for obvious reasons) and compare them to a group of participants without that disease. For situations like this, there are case studies.

What is a case study?

A case study is, as the name suggests, a study of a single case. For example, if someone has an extremely rare disease, a group of scientists might conduct a case study of that disease rather than attempting to set up an experimental study. In that case study, the researchers might test the effectiveness of a certain drug in treating that disease and carefully document the response of that participant over time.

Of course, the results seen in that one participant will not necessarily apply to all people with that rare disease. However, if the case study shows promising results, that treatment can then be tested in a larger experimental study. If it does not, it indicates that the treatment is not necessarily effective, at least in people that are similar to the original participant in the case study.

Why are case studies useful in psychology?

When people are still learning about psychology, they might think that group studies showing group effects are always better than individual studies showing individual effects. Of course, there is some truth to this notion, as results obtained from a large number of people are likely to be more generalizable than results obtained from a single person. However, this does not mean that we should discount the importance of individual effects.

Consider the following: In studies looking solely at group effects, individual effects can be masked. In other words, certain statistical quirks can lead to the appearance of a group effect despite the fact that no single individual showed that effect. While this is rare, it is possible. For this reason, it is important to consider individual effects. That is why, even in experimental studies examining groups, it can be useful to examine individual effects within that group. This underlines the value of case studies.

Wrapping up

At the end of the day, there are many good reasons that experimental studies examining groups are the most common types of psychological studies. However, case studies are also extremely valuable, particularly when group experiments are less feasible. Just as psychology is a large topic encompassing a wide variety of factors, both case studies and experimental group studies should be used in the larger overall strategy of psychology research.

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what is case study psychology

  • > Critical Thinking in Psychology
  • > The Case Study Perspective on Psychological Research

what is case study psychology

Book contents

  • Frontmatter
  • List of Illustrations and Tables
  • List of Contributors
  • 1 The Nature and Nurture of Critical Thinking
  • 2 Evaluating Experimental Research
  • 3 Critical Thinking in Quasi-Experimentation
  • 4 Evaluating Surveys and Questionnaires
  • 5 Critical Thinking in Designing and Analyzing Research
  • 6 The Case Study Perspective on Psychological Research
  • 7 Informal Logical Fallacies
  • 8 Designing Studies to Avoid Confounds
  • 9 Evaluating Theories
  • 10 Not All Experiments Are Created Equal
  • 11 Making Claims in Papers and Talks
  • 12 Critical Thinking in Clinical Inference
  • 13 Evaluating Parapsychological Claims
  • 14 Why Would Anyone Do or Believe Such a Thing?
  • 15 The Belief Machine
  • 16 Critical Thinking and Ethics in Psychology
  • 17 Critical Thinking in Psychology
  • Author Index
  • Subject Index

6 - The Case Study Perspective on Psychological Research

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 June 2012

The case study approach has a rich history in psychology as a method for observing the ways in which individuals may demonstrate abnormal thinking and behavior, for collecting evidence concerning the circumstances and consequences surrounding such disorders, and for providing data to generate and test models of human behavior (see Yin, 1998, for an overview). Nevertheless, the most typical methods for scientifically studying human cognition involve testing groups of healthy people – typically, college undergraduates. In their statistics and research methods courses, psychology students are trained to study the effects of manipulations that are significant across groups of participants despite considerable variation at the level of the individual. They are trained to be skeptical of reasoning from an individual case that goes against the general trend, and to be suspicious of the compelling anecdote that may be introduced to defend some position about how cognition or social interactions might work. Given this state of affairs, are the practitioners of the case study approach misguided, or can valid conclusions be drawn from findings with one patient? Can case reports that detail a client's symptoms and reactions to psychotherapy constitute scientific data? What about case studies that investigate how brain damage affects particular cognitive processes? The goal of this chapter is to demonstrate how single-case-study approaches in clinical psychology and cognitive neuropsychology have contributed to the advancement of theories and models of human cognition and to address the common concerns that researchers often have about case study methodology.

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  • The Case Study Perspective on Psychological Research
  • By Randi Martin , Rice University, Rachel Hull , Rice University
  • Edited by Robert J. Sternberg , Yale University, Connecticut , Henry L. Roediger III , Washington University, St Louis , Diane F. Halpern , Claremont McKenna College, California
  • Book: Critical Thinking in Psychology
  • Online publication: 05 June 2012
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511804632.007

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Topics for Psychology Case Studies

Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

what is case study psychology

Cara Lustik is a fact-checker and copywriter.

what is case study psychology

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In one of your psychology classes, you might be asked to write a  case study  of an individual. What exactly is a case study? A case study is an in-depth psychological investigation of a single person or a group of people.

Case studies are commonly used in medicine and psychology. For example, these studies often focus on people with an illness (for example, one that is rare) or people with experiences that cannot be replicated in a lab.

Here are some ideas and inspiration to help you come up with a fascinating psychological case study.

What Should Your Case Study Be About?

Your instructor will give you directions and guidelines for your case study project. Make sure you have their permission to go ahead with your subject before you get started.

The format of your case study may vary depending on the class requirements and your instructor's expectations. Most psychological case studies include a detailed background of the person, a description of the problem the person is facing, a diagnosis, and a description of an intervention using one or more therapeutic approaches.

The first step in writing a case study is to select a subject. You might be allowed to conduct a case study on a volunteer or someone you know in real life, such as a friend or family member.

However, your instructor may prefer that you select a less personal subject, such as an individual from history, a famous literary figure, or even a fictional character.

Psychology Case Study Ideas

Want to find an interesting subject for your case study? Here are just a few ideas that might inspire you.

A Pioneering Psychologist

Famous or exceptional people can make great case study topics. There are plenty of fascinating figures in the history of psychology who would be interesting subjects for a case study.

Here are some of the most well-known thinkers in psychology whose interesting lives could make a great case study:

  • Sigmund Freud
  • Harry Harlow
  • Mary Ainsworth
  • Erik Erikson
  • Ivan Pavlov
  • Jean Piaget
  • Abraham Maslow
  • William James
  • B. F. Skinner

Examining these individuals’ upbringings, experiences, and lives can provide insight into how they developed their theories and approached the study of psychology.

A Famous Patient in Psychology

The best-known people in psychology aren’t always professionals. The people that psychologists have worked with are among some of the most fascinating people in the history of psychology.

Here are a few examples of famous psychology patients who would make great case studies:

  • Anna O.  (Bertha Pappenheim)
  • Phineas Gage
  • Genie (Susan Wiley)
  • Kitty Genovese
  • Little Albert
  • David Reimer
  • Chris Costner Sizemore (Eve White/Eve Black)
  • Dora (Ida Bauer)
  • Patient H.M. (Henry Molaison)

By taking a closer look at the lives of these psychology patients, you can gain greater insight into their experiences. You’ll also get to see how diagnosis and treatment were different in the past compared to today.

A Historical Figure

Historical figures—famous and infamous—can be excellent subjects for case studies. Here are just a few influential people from history that you might consider doing a case study on:

  • Eleanor Roosevelt
  • George Washington
  • Abraham Lincoln
  • Elizabeth I
  • Margaret Thatcher
  • Walt Disney
  • Benjamin Franklin
  • Charles Darwin
  • Howard Hughes
  • Catherine the Great
  • Pablo Picasso
  • Vincent van Gogh
  • Edvard Munch
  • Marilyn Monroe
  • Andy Warhol
  • Salvador Dali

You’ll need to do a lot of reading and research on your chosen subject's life to figure out why they became influential forces in history. When thinking about their psychology, you’ll also want to consider what life was like in the times that they lived.

A Fictional Character or a Literary Figure

Your instructor might allow you to take a more fun approach to a case study by doing a deep dive into the psychology of a fictional character.

Here are a few examples of fictional characters who could make great case studies:

  • Macbeth/Lady Macbeth
  • Romeo/Juliet
  • Sherlock Holmes
  • Norman Bates
  • Elizabeth Bennet/Fitzwilliam Darcy
  • Katniss Everdeen
  • Harry Potter/Hermione Granger/Ron Weasley/Severus Snape
  • Batman/The Joker
  • Atticus Finch
  • Mrs. Dalloway
  • Dexter Morgan
  • Hannibal Lecter/Clarice Starling
  • Fox Mulder/Dana Scully
  • Forrest Gump
  • Patrick Bateman
  • Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader
  • Ellen Ripley
  • Michael Corleone
  • Randle McMurphy/Nurse Ratched
  • Miss Havisham

The people who bring characters to life on the page can also be fascinating. Here are some literary figures who could be interesting case studies:

  • Shakespeare
  • Virginia Woolf
  • Jane Austen
  • Stephen King
  • Emily Dickinson
  • Sylvia Plath
  • JRR Tolkien
  • Louisa May Alcott
  • Edgar Allan Poe
  • Charles Dickens
  • Ernest Hemingway
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • George Orwell
  • Maya Angelou
  • Kurt Vonnegut
  • Agatha Christie
  • Toni Morrison
  • Daphne du Maurier
  • Franz Kafka
  • Herman Melville

Can I Write About Someone I Know?

Your instructor may allow you to write your case study on a person that you know. However, you might need to get special permission from your school's Institutional Review Board to do a psychological case study on a real person.

You might not be able to use the person’s real name, though. Even if it’s not required, you may want to use a pseudonym for them to make sure that their identity and privacy are protected.

To do a case study on a real person you know, you’ll need to interview them and possibly talk to other people who know them well, like friends and family.

If you choose to do a case study on a real person, make sure that you fully understand the ethics and best practices, especially informed consent. Work closely with your instructor throughout your project to ensure that you’re following all the rules and handling the project professionally.

APA. Guidelines for submitting case reports .

American Psychological Association.  Ethical principles of psychologists and code of conduct, including 2010 and 2016 amendments .

Rolls, G. (2019). Classic Case Studies in Psychology: Fourth Edition . United Kingdom: Taylor & Francis.

By Kendra Cherry, MSEd Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

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How to Write a Good Case Study in Psychology (A Step-by-Step Guide)

  • March 4, 2022
  • Teaching Kids

A case study psychology is a type of research that uses real-life examples to help understand psychological concepts. This type of research can be used in a variety of settings, such as business, health care, education, and social services.

Case studies are typically composed of three parts: the problem or issue, the intervention or treatment, and the outcome. The problem or issue is what caused the person to seek help, and the intervention or treatment is what was done to try to solve it. The outcome is how things changed after the intervention or treatment was implemented.

Step by step instructions on how to write an effective case study in Psychology

Writing Case Study in Psychology

1. Gain Knowledge About The Topic

To write a case study in psychology, you will need to do some research on the topic you are writing about. Make sure that you read journal articles, books, a case study example, and any other reliable sources in order to get a comprehensive understanding of the topic. You will also need to find a suitable example or examples of how psychological concepts have been applied in real-life situations. For example, a psychology student might interview a friend about how she balances her time between work and studies.

2. Research the Individual or Event

In this case, you can choose either a person or an event for your case study research. If you are writing about a specific event, look for past issues that relate to it and any ongoing ones that may have a connection to it.

You may choose to write about a specific problem or situation that affected the individual in some way, such as how it relates to their psychology. For example, you may want to study a man who has been in relationships with several women within the same time period and what effects this has on them.

If you are writing about a person, obtain biographical information and look for any psychological assessments that have been done on the individual.

3. Analyze The Information

Once you have gathered all the necessary information, it is time to go through it and identify important facts that will influence your paper.

This is where you use your skills of inductive and deductive reasoning, to analyze the information that you have gathered. You will usually look for patterns within this information and draw conclusions about how it has affected or contributed to their psychology.

Summarize each point in order to make note-taking easier later on when writing your case study.

4. Draft A Plan

Once you have gathered all the relevant information, it is time to start drafting a plan for your case study. This case study format should include an introduction, body, and conclusion.

The body of the case study should be divided into different sections that will discuss different aspects of the topic. Make sure that your argument is clear and concise, and that you use data to support your ideas, rather than simply stating them as facts or personal opinions.

5. Structure Your Work

As mentioned in the previous step, the body of the case study should be divided into different sections for effective writing. The introduction should include a short paragraph about what you plan to write in the study and what the case study method will be, while the conclusion should summarize your argument and leave the reader with a sense of closure. Each section in the body should have its own heading to help the reader follow your line of argument.

6. Write The Case Study

Now that you have a plan and structure for your case study, it is time to start writing!

Even if you are writing a case study on your own, break it down into small sections and make sure you include every aspect of the topic within each section. Think about how you will present your case study and what points are essential to make in the body.

Include details, quotes, infographics or numeric data that help support your arguments and overall conclusion. This is what makes a great case study: An overview of every aspect of the topic researched within it!

7. Write a Theoretical Introduction

In this section, you will introduce your topic and explain why it is significant in relation to the area of psychology that you are studying.

In the theoretical introduction, you will write about the basic principles of human psychology and growth, then explain how you think this situation relates to your study topic.

After explaining the theoretical part in detail, state why studying this particular aspect will help psychologists understand aspects of humanity within different areas such as sociology or anthropology.

8. Describe How The Individual or Event Was Studied

Researchers in psychology write case studies to gain an in-depth understanding of specific topics pertaining to their field. For this reason, you should explain how you came across your sources of information and why this was beneficial to your research.

In describing how the individual or event was studied, you may also include information about what you discovered through your research and why it is important.

9. Write a Conclusion

In this part of your essay, bring together all key points discussed in the course of writing the case study. You should summarize what you have written and state your own conclusions based on the research that you have conducted.

10. Edit And Proofread The Case Study

Once you have finished writing the case study, it is important to edit and proofread it carefully. This will help to correct any grammatical errors that may have slipped into the writing process, and will also ensure that you are producing an accurate document. You might find it helpful to seek advice from someone who has experience in this field before sending it off for submission.

11. Submit It To The Appropriate Sources

When submitting your case study, make sure that you are sending it to the correct journal or publication. Check the submission guidelines carefully to make sure that your case study meets all the requirements.

By following these steps, you can create a well-written case study that will provide readers with a clear understanding of the topic at hand. Remember to take your time while researching and writing, and to be as thorough as possible in order to produce a high-quality document. Good luck!

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Blog Beginner Guides 6 Types of Case Studies to Inspire Your Research and Analysis

6 Types of Case Studies to Inspire Your Research and Analysis

Written by: Ronita Mohan Sep 20, 2021

What is a Case Study Blog Header

Case studies have become powerful business tools. But what is a case study? What are the benefits of creating one? Are there limitations to the format?

If you’ve asked yourself these questions, our helpful guide will clear things up. Learn how to use a case study for business. Find out how cases analysis works in psychology and research.

We’ve also got examples of case studies to inspire you.

Haven’t made a case study before? You can easily  create a case study  with Venngage’s customizable case study templates .

Click to jump ahead:

What is a case study?

6 types of case studies, what is a business case study, what is a case study in research, what is a case study in psychology, what is the case study method, benefits of case studies, limitations of case studies, faqs about case studies.

A case study is a research process aimed at learning about a subject, an event or an organization. Case studies are use in business, the social sciences and healthcare.

A case study may focus on one observation or many. It can also examine a series of events or a single case. An effective case study tells a story and provides a conclusion.

Case Study Definition LinkedIn Post

Healthcare industries write reports on patients and diagnoses. Marketing case study examples , like the one below, highlight the benefits of a business product.

Bold Social Media Business Case Study Template

Now that you know what a case study is, let’s look at the six different types of case studies next.

There are six common types of case reports. Depending on your industry, you might use one of these types.

Descriptive case studies

Explanatory case studies, exploratory case reports, intrinsic case studies, instrumental case studies, collective case reports.

6 Types Of Case Studies List

We go into more detail about each type of study in the guide below.

Related:  15+ Professional Case Study Examples [Design Tips + Templates]

When you have an existing hypothesis, you can design a descriptive study. This type of report starts with a description. The aim is to find connections between the subject being studied and a theory.

Once these connections are found, the study can conclude. The results of this type of study will usually suggest how to develop a theory further.

A study like the one below has concrete results. A descriptive report would use the quantitative data as a suggestion for researching the subject deeply.

Lead generation business case study template

When an incident occurs in a field, an explanation is required. An explanatory report investigates the cause of the event. It will include explanations for that cause.

The study will also share details about the impact of the event. In most cases, this report will use evidence to predict future occurrences. The results of explanatory reports are definitive.

Note that there is no room for interpretation here. The results are absolute.

The study below is a good example. It explains how one brand used the services of another. It concludes by showing definitive proof that the collaboration was successful.

Bold Content Marketing Case Study Template

Another example of this study would be in the automotive industry. If a vehicle fails a test, an explanatory study will examine why. The results could show that the failure was because of a particular part.

Related: How to Write a Case Study [+ Design Tips]

An explanatory report is a self-contained document. An exploratory one is only the beginning of an investigation.

Exploratory cases act as the starting point of studies. This is usually conducted as a precursor to large-scale investigations. The research is used to suggest why further investigations are needed.

An exploratory study can also be used to suggest methods for further examination.

For example, the below analysis could have found inconclusive results. In that situation, it would be the basis for an in-depth study.

Teal Social Media Business Case Study Template

Intrinsic studies are more common in the field of psychology. These reports can also be conducted in healthcare or social work.

These types of studies focus on a unique subject, such as a patient. They can sometimes study groups close to the researcher.

The aim of such studies is to understand the subject better. This requires learning their history. The researcher will also examine how they interact with their environment.

For instance, if the case study below was about a unique brand, it could be an intrinsic study.

Vibrant Content Marketing Case Study Template

Once the study is complete, the researcher will have developed a better understanding of a phenomenon. This phenomenon will likely not have been studied or theorized about before.

Examples of intrinsic case analysis can be found across psychology. For example, Jean Piaget’s theories on cognitive development. He established the theory from intrinsic studies into his own children.

Related: What Disney Villains Can Tell Us About Color Psychology [Infographic]

This is another type of study seen in medical and psychology fields. Instrumental reports are created to examine more than just the primary subject.

When research is conducted for an instrumental study, it is to provide the basis for a larger phenomenon. The subject matter is usually the best example of the phenomenon. This is why it is being studied.

Take the example of the fictional brand below.

Purple SAAS Business Case Study Template

Assume it’s examining lead generation strategies. It may want to show that visual marketing is the definitive lead generation tool. The brand can conduct an instrumental case study to examine this phenomenon.

Collective studies are based on instrumental case reports. These types of studies examine multiple reports.

There are a number of reasons why collective reports are created:

  • To provide evidence for starting a new study
  • To find pattens between multiple instrumental reports
  • To find differences in similar types of cases
  • Gain a deeper understanding of a complex phenomenon
  • Understand a phenomenon from diverse contexts

A researcher could use multiple reports, like the one below, to build a collective case report.

Social Media Business Case Study template

Related: 10+ Case Study Infographic Templates That Convert

A business or marketing case study aims at showcasing a successful partnership. This can be between a brand and a client. Or the case study can examine a brand’s project.

There is a perception that case studies are used to advertise a brand. But effective reports, like the one below, can show clients how a brand can support them.

Light Simple Business Case Study Template

Hubspot created a case study on a customer that successfully scaled its business. The report outlines the various Hubspot tools used to achieve these results.

Hubspot case study

Hubspot also added a video with testimonials from the client company’s employees.

So, what is the purpose of a case study for businesses? There is a lot of competition in the corporate world. Companies are run by people. They can be on the fence about which brand to work with.

Business reports  stand out aesthetically, as well. They use  brand colors  and brand fonts . Usually, a combination of the client’s and the brand’s.

With the Venngage  My Brand Kit  feature, businesses can automatically apply their brand to designs.

A business case study, like the one below, acts as social proof. This helps customers decide between your brand and your competitors.

Modern lead Generation Business Case Study Template

Don’t know how to design a report? You can learn  how to write a case study  with Venngage’s guide. We also share design tips and examples that will help you convert.

Related: 55+ Annual Report Design Templates, Inspirational Examples & Tips [Updated]

Research is a necessary part of every case study. But specific research fields are required to create studies. These fields include user research, healthcare, education, or social work.

For example, this UX Design  report examined the public perception of a client. The brand researched and implemented new visuals to improve it. The study breaks down this research through lessons learned.

What is a case study in research? UX Design case study example

Clinical reports are a necessity in the medical field. These documents are used to share knowledge with other professionals. They also help examine new or unusual diseases or symptoms.

The pandemic has led to a significant increase in research. For example,  Spectrum Health  studied the value of health systems in the pandemic. They created the study by examining community outreach.

What is a case study in research? Spectrum healthcare example

The pandemic has significantly impacted the field of education. This has led to numerous examinations on remote studying. There have also been studies on how students react to decreased peer communication.

Social work case reports often have a community focus. They can also examine public health responses. In certain regions, social workers study disaster responses.

You now know what case studies in various fields are. In the next step of our guide, we explain the case study method.

In the field of psychology, case studies focus on a particular subject. Psychology case histories also examine human behaviors.

Case reports search for commonalities between humans. They are also used to prescribe further research. Or these studies can elaborate on a solution for a behavioral ailment.

The American Psychology Association  has a number of case studies on real-life clients. Note how the reports are more text-heavy than a business case study.

What is a case study in psychology? Behavior therapy example

Famous psychologists such as Sigmund Freud and Anna O popularised the use of case studies in the field. They did so by regularly interviewing subjects. Their detailed observations build the field of psychology.

It is important to note that psychological studies must be conducted by professionals. Psychologists, psychiatrists and therapists should be the researchers in these cases.

Related: What Netflix’s Top 50 Shows Can Teach Us About Font Psychology [Infographic]

The case study method, or case method, is a learning technique where you’re presented with a real-world business challenge and asked how you’d solve it.

After working through it independently and with peers, you learn how the actual scenario unfolded. This approach helps develop problem-solving skills and practical knowledge.

This method often uses various data sources like interviews, observations, and documents to provide comprehensive insights. The below example would have been created after numerous interviews.

Case studies are largely qualitative. They analyze and describe phenomena. While some data is included, a case analysis is not quantitative.

There are a few steps in the case method. You have to start by identifying the subject of your study. Then determine what kind of research is required.

In natural sciences, case studies can take years to complete. Business reports, like this one, don’t take that long. A few weeks of interviews should be enough.

Blue Simple Business Case Study Template

The case method will vary depending on the industry. Reports will also look different once produced.

As you will have seen, business reports are more colorful. The design is also more accessible . Healthcare and psychology reports are more text-heavy.

Designing case reports takes time and energy. So, is it worth taking the time to write them? Here are the benefits of creating case studies.

  • Collects large amounts of information
  • Helps formulate hypotheses
  • Builds the case for further research
  • Discovers new insights into a subject
  • Builds brand trust and loyalty
  • Engages customers through stories

For example, the business study below creates a story around a brand partnership. It makes for engaging reading. The study also shows evidence backing up the information.

Blue Content Marketing Case Study Template

We’ve shared the benefits of why studies are needed. We will also look at the limitations of creating them.

Related: How to Present a Case Study like a Pro (With Examples)

There are a few disadvantages to conducting a case analysis. The limitations will vary according to the industry.

  • Responses from interviews are subjective
  • Subjects may tailor responses to the researcher
  • Studies can’t always be replicated
  • In certain industries, analyses can take time and be expensive
  • Risk of generalizing the results among a larger population

These are some of the common weaknesses of creating case reports. If you’re on the fence, look at the competition in your industry.

Other brands or professionals are building reports, like this example. In that case, you may want to do the same.

Coral content marketing case study template

What makes a case study a case study?

A case study has a very particular research methodology. They are an in-depth study of a person or a group of individuals. They can also study a community or an organization. Case reports examine real-world phenomena within a set context.

How long should a case study be?

The length of studies depends on the industry. It also depends on the story you’re telling. Most case studies should be at least 500-1500 words long. But you can increase the length if you have more details to share.

What should you ask in a case study?

The one thing you shouldn’t ask is ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions. Case studies are qualitative. These questions won’t give you the information you need.

Ask your client about the problems they faced. Ask them about solutions they found. Or what they think is the ideal solution. Leave room to ask them follow-up questions. This will help build out the study.

How to present a case study?

When you’re ready to present a case study, begin by providing a summary of the problem or challenge you were addressing. Follow this with an outline of the solution you implemented, and support this with the results you achieved, backed by relevant data. Incorporate visual aids like slides, graphs, and images to make your case study presentation more engaging and impactful.

Now you know what a case study means, you can begin creating one. These reports are a great tool for analyzing brands. They are also useful in a variety of other fields.

Use a visual communication platform like Venngage to design case studies. With Venngage’s templates, you can design easily. Create branded, engaging reports, all without design experience.

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First ever photo of Phineas Gage holding a tamping iron

Psychology’s 10 Greatest Case Studies – Digested

These ten characters have all had a huge influence on psychology and their stories continue to intrigue each new generation of students.

27 November 2015

By Christian Jarrett

These ten characters have all had a huge influence on psychology and their stories continue to intrigue each new generation of students. What's particularly fascinating is that many of their stories continue to evolve – new evidence comes to light, or new technologies are brought to bear, changing how the cases are interpreted and understood. What many of these 10 also have in common is that they speak to some of the perennial debates in psychology, about personality and identity, nature and nurture, and the links between mind and body.

Phineas Gage

One day in 1848 in Central Vermont, Phineas Gage was tamping explosives into the ground to prepare the way for a new railway line when he had a terrible accident. The detonation went off prematurely, and his tamping iron shot into his face, through his brain, and out the top of his head. Remarkably Gage survived, although his friends and family reportedly felt he was changed so profoundly (becoming listless and aggressive) that "he was no longer Gage."

There the story used to rest – a classic example of frontal brain damage affecting personality. However, recent years have seen  a drastic reevaluation  of Gage's story in light of new evidence. It's now believed that he underwent significant rehabilitation and in fact began work as a horse carriage driver in Chile. A  simulation of his injuries  suggested much of his right frontal cortex was likely spared, and  photographic evidence  has been unearthed showing a post-accident dapper Gage. Not that you'll find this revised account in many psychology textbooks:  a recent analysis  showed that few of them have kept up to date with the new evidence.

See also Jim Horne's ' Blasts from the past ', looking back at similar accounts from the era.

Henry Gustav Molaison (known for years as H.M. in the literature to protect his privacy), who died in 2008, developed severe amnesia at age 27 after undergoing brain surgery as a form of treatment for the epilepsy he'd suffered since childhood. He was subsequently the focus of study by over 100 psychologists and neuroscientists and he's been mentioned in over 12,000 journal articles! Molaison's surgery involved the removal of large parts of the hippocampus on both sides of his brain and the result was that he was almost entirely unable to store any new information in long-term memory (there were some exceptions – for example, after 1963 he was aware that a US president had been assassinated in Dallas). The extremity of Molaison's deficits was a surprise to experts of the day because many of them believed that memory was distributed throughout the cerebral cortex.

Today, Molaison's legacy lives on: his brain was carefully sliced and preserved and turned into a 3D digital atlas and his life story is reportedly due to be turned into a feature film based on the book researcher Suzanne Corkin wrote about him:  Permanent Present Tense, The Man With No Memory and What He Taught The World .

See also 'Understanding amnesia - Is it time to forget H.M.?'

Victor Leborgne (nickname "Tan")

The fact that, in most people, language function is served predominantly by the left frontal cortex has today almost become common knowledge, at least among psych students. However, back in the early 19th century, the consensus view was that language function (like memory, see entry for H.M.) was distributed through the brain. An 19th century patient who helped change that was Victor Leborgne, a Frenchman who was nicknamed "Tan" because that was the only sound he could utter (besides the expletive phrase "sacre nom de Dieu").

In 1861, aged 51, Leborgne was referred to the renowned neurologist Paul Broca, but died soon after. Broca examined Leborgne's brain and noticed a lesion in his left frontal lobe – a segment of tissue now known as Broca's area. Given Leborgne's impaired speech but intact comprehension, Broca concluded that this area of the brain was responsible for speech production and he set about persuading his peers of this fact – now recognised as a key moment in psychology's history.

For decades little was known about Leborgne, besides his important contribution to science. However, in a paper published in 2013, Cezary Domanski at Maria Curie-Sklodowska University in Poland uncovered new biographical details, including the possibility that Leborgne muttered the word "Tan" because his birthplace of Moret, home to several tanneries.

See also ' Glimpsed at last ', and ' Using brain imaging to re-evaluate psychology's three most famous cases '.

Wild Boy of Aveyron

The "Wild boy of Aveyron" – named Victor by the physician Jean-Marc Itard – was found emerging from Aveyron forest in South West France in 1800, aged 11 or 12, where's it's thought he had been living in the wild for several years. For psychologists and philosophers, Victor became a kind of "natural experiment" into the question of nature and nurture. How would he be affected by the lack of human input early in his life?

Those who hoped Victor would support the notion of the "noble savage" uncorrupted by modern civilisation were largely disappointed: the boy was dirty and dishevelled, defecated where he stood and apparently motivated largely by hunger. Victor acquired celebrity status after he was transported to Paris and Itard began a mission to teach and socialise the "feral child". This programme met with mixed success: Victor never learned to speak fluently, but he dressed, learned civil toilet habits, could write a few letters and acquired some very basic language comprehension. Autism expert Uta Frith believes Victor may have been abandoned because he was autistic, but she acknowledges we will never know the truth of his background.

Victor's story inspired the 2004 novel  The Wild Boy  and was dramatised in the 1970 French film  The Wild Child .

Listen to an episode of 'The Mind Changers'.

Nicknamed 'Kim-puter' by his friends, Peek who died in 2010 aged 58, was the inspiration for Dustin Hoffman's autistic savant character in the multi-Oscar-winning film  Rain Man . Before that movie, which was released in 1988, few people had heard of autism, so Peek via the film can be credited with helping to raise the profile of the condition.

Arguably though, the film also helped spread the popular misconception that giftedness is a hallmark of autism (in one notable scene, Hoffman's character deduces in an instant the precise number of cocktail sticks – 246 – that a waitress drops on the floor). Peek himself was actually a non-autistic savant, born with brain abnormalities including a malformed cerebellum and an absent corpus callosum (the massive bundle of tissue that usually connects the two hemispheres). His savant skills were astonishing and included calendar calculation, as well as an encyclopaedic knowledge of history, literature, classical music, US zip codes and travel routes. It was estimated that he read more than 12,000 books in his life time, all of them committed to flawless memory. Although outgoing and sociable, Peek had coordination problems and struggled with abstract or conceptual thinking.

"Anna O." is the pseudonym for Bertha Pappenheim, a pioneering German Jewish feminist and social worker who died in 1936 aged 77. As Anna O. she is known as one of the first ever patients to undergo psychoanalysis and her case inspired much of Freud's thinking on mental illness. Pappenheim first came to the attention of another psychoanalyst, Joseph Breuer, in 1880 when he was called to her house in Vienna where she was lying in bed, almost entirely paralysed. Her other symptoms include hallucinations, personality changes and rambling speech, but doctors could find no physical cause.

For 18 months, Breuer visited her almost daily and talked to her about her thoughts and feelings, including her grief for her father, and the more she talked, the more her symptoms seemed to fade – this was apparently one of the first ever instances of psychoanalysis or "the talking cure", although the degree of Breuer's success has been disputed and some historians allege that Pappenheim did have an organic illness, such as epilepsy.

Although Freud never met Pappenheim, he wrote about her case, including the notion that she had a hysterical pregnancy, although this too is disputed. The latter part of Pappenheim's life in Germany post 1888 is as remarkable as her time as Anna O. She became a prolific writer and social pioneer, including authoring stories, plays, and translating seminal texts, and she founded social clubs for Jewish women, worked in orphanages and founded the German Federation of Jewish Women.

Kitty Genovese

Sadly, it is not really Kitty Genovese the person who has become one of psychology's classic case studies, but rather the terrible fate that befell her. In 1964 in New York, Genovese was returning home from her job as a bar maid when she was attacked and eventually murdered by Winston Mosely. What made this tragedy so influential to psychology was that it inspired research into what became known as the Bystander Phenomenon – the now well-established finding that our sense of individual responsibility is diluted by the presence of other people. According to folklore, 38 people watched Genovese's demise yet not one of them did anything to help, apparently a terrible real life instance of the Bystander Effect.

However, the story doesn't end there because historians have since established  the reality was much more complicated  – at least two people did try to summon help, and actually there was only one witness the second and fatal attack. While the main principle of the Bystander Effect has stood the test of time, modern psychology's understanding of the way it works has become a lot more nuanced. For example, there's evidence that in some situations people are more likely to act when they're part of a larger group, such as when they and the other group members all belong to the same social category (such as all being women) as the victim.

See also another angle , on false confessions.

Little Albert

"Little Albert" was the nickname that the pioneering behaviourist psychologist John Watson gave to an 11-month-old baby, in whom, with his colleague and future wife Rosalind Rayner, he deliberately attempted to instill certain fears through a process of conditioning. The research, which was of dubious scientific quality, was conducted in 1920 and has become notorious for being so unethical (such a procedure would never be given approval in modern university settings).

Interest in Little Albert has reignited in recent years as an academic quarrel has erupted over his true identity. A group led by Hall Beck at Appalachian University announced in 2011 that they thought Little Albert was actually Douglas Merritte, the son of a wet nurse at John Hopkins University where Watson and Rayner were based. According to this sad account, Little Albert was neurologically impaired, compounding the unethical nature of the Watson/Rayner research, and he died aged six of  hydrocephalus (fluid on the brain).

However, this account was challenged by a different group of scholars led by Russell Powell at MacEwan University in 2014. They established that Little Albert was more likely William A Barger (recorded in his medical file as Albert Barger), the son of a different wet nurse. Earlier this year, textbook writer Richard Griggs weighed up all the evidence and concluded that the Barger story is the more credible, which would mean that Little Albert in fact died 2007 aged 87.

Chris Sizemore

Chris Costner Sizemore is one of the most famous patients to be given the controversial diagnosis of multiple personality disorder, known today as dissociative identity disorder. Sizemore's alter egos apparently included Eve White, Eve Black, Jane and many others. By some accounts, Sizemore expressed these personalities as a coping mechanism in the face of traumas she experienced in childhood, including seeing her mother badly injured and a man sawn in half at a lumber mill.

In recent years, Sizemore has described how her alter egos have been combined into one united personality for many decades, but she still sees different aspects of her past as belonging to her different personalities. For example, she has stated that her husband was married to Eve White (not her), and that Eve White is the mother of her first daughter. Her story was turned into a movie in 1957 called  The Three Faces of Eve  (based on a book of the same name written by her psychiatrists). Joanne Woodward won the best actress Oscar for portraying Sizemore and her various personalities in this film. Sizemore published her autobiography in 1977 called  I'm Eve . In 2009, she appeared on the BBC's  Hard Talk  interview show.

David Reimer

One of the most famous patients in psychology, Reimer lost his penis in a botched circumcision operation when he was just 8 months old. His parents were subsequently advised by psychologist John Money to raise Reimer as a girl, "Brenda", and for him to undergo further surgery and hormone treatment to assist his gender reassignment. Money initially described the experiment (no one had tried anything like this before) as a huge success that appeared to support his belief in the important role of socialisation, rather than innate factors, in children's gender identity.

In fact, the reassignment was seriously problematic and Reimer's boyishness was never far beneath the surface. When he was aged 14, Reimer was told the truth about his past and set about reversing the gender reassignment process to become male again. He later campaigned against other children with genital injuries being gender reassigned in the way that he had been. His story was turned into the book  As Nature Made Him, The Boy Who Was Raised As A Girl  by John Colapinto, and he is the subject of two BBC Horizon documentaries. Tragically, Reimer took his own life in 2004, aged just 38.

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Psychology Case Study Examples

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Experiments are often used to help researchers understand how the human mind works. There have been many famous examples in psychology over the years. Some have shown how phenomena like memory and personality work. Others have been disproven over time. Understanding the research design, content, and analytical approach of case studies is important to verifying the validity of each study.

In considering case studies, researchers continuously test and reevaluate the conclusions made by past psychologists to continue offering the most up-to-date and effective care to modern clients. Prospective case studies are continually being developed based on previous findings and multiple case studies done in one area can lend credence to the findings. Learning about the famous psychology case studies can help you understand how research continues to shape what psychologists know about the human experience and mind. 

Examples of the most famous case study in psychology

Hundreds of thousands of case studies have been done in psychology, and narrowing them down to a list of the most groundbreaking case studies can be challenging. However, the following seven case studies present findings that have defied expectations, achieved positive outcomes for humanity, and launched further research into existing knowledge gaps within the niche.

Phineas Gage

The case of Phineas Gage is perhaps the  most cited study  in psychology. This famous case study showed how different areas of the brain affect personality and cognitive ability. While working as a construction foreman on a railroad, Phineas Gage was involved in an accident in which a rod was pushed through his cheek and brain. He survived, but because of the accident, both his personality and his ability to learn new skills were affected.

Although the case is frequently cited and referenced in psychology, relatively little information about Gage's life before and after the accident is known. Researchers have discovered that the last two decades of his life were spent in his original job, which may have been unlikely to have been possible if the extent of his injuries were as severe as initially believed. Still, his case was a starting point for psychology research on how memory and personality work in the brain, and it is a seminal study for that reason.

Genie the "feral child"

Although an outdated term, "feral children" referred to children raised without human interaction, often due to abuse or neglect. One famous case study of a neglected child was done with a child known as Genie. She was raised in a single bedroom with little human interaction. She never gained the cognitive ability of an average adult, even though she was found at age 13. Later in life, she regressed and stopped speaking altogether. Her case has been studied extensively by psychologists who want to understand how enculturation affects cognitive development. It's one of many  cognitive psychology examples  that have had an impact on this field.

Henry Molaison

The  case study  of Henry Molaison has helped psychologists understand memory. It is one of the most famous case studies in neuroscience. Henry Molaison was in a childhood accident that left him with debilitating seizures. Doctors could stop the seizures by removing slivers of his brain's hippocampus, though they did not fully understand what they were doing at the time. As a result, scientists learned how important the hippocampus is to forming long-term memories. After the surgery, Molaison could no longer form long-term memories, and his short-term memory was brief. The case study started further research into memory and the brain.

Jill Price had one of a few documented cases of hyperthymesia, a term for an overactive memory that allowed her to remember such mundane things as what she had for dinner on an average day in August 20th years previously. Her  case study  was used as a jumping-off point to research how memory works and why some people have exceptional memories. 

However, through more research, it was discovered that her overall memory was not exceptional. Rather, she only remembered details of her own life. She was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), with memories being part of her obsession. This case study research is still relevant because it has helped modern psychologists understand how mental illness affects memory.

In the John/Joan  case study , a reputable sexologist tested his theory that nurture, not nature, determined gender. The case study has been cited extensively and laid the groundwork for other research into gender identity. However, the case study approach was not legitimate. In this study, Dr. John Money performed surgery on an infant whose genitals were damaged during circumcision. 

The boy was raised as a girl; however, he never identified as female and eventually underwent gender-affirming surgery as an adult. Because Dr. Money didn't follow up with the patient appropriately and did not report adverse findings, the case study is still often cited as successful.

Anna O. was the pseudonym given to a German woman who was one of the first to undergo psychoanalysis. Her case inspired many of the theories of Freud and other prominent psychologists of the time. It was determined at the time that Anna's symptoms of depression were eliminated through talk therapy. More recently, it has been suggested that Anna O. had another illness, such as epilepsy, from which she may have recovered during the therapy. This  case study  is still cited as a reason psychologists believe that psychotherapy, or talk therapy, can be helpful to many patients. 

Victor the "wild boy" of Aveyron

Another case study done on a child who had grown up without parents was done with a boy named "Victor" who had been found wandering in the wilderness and was thought to have been living alone for years. The boy could not speak, use the bathroom, or connect with others. However, through the study of his condition, he was able to learn bathroom habits, how to dress, writing, and primary language. Psychologists today speculate that he may have been autistic. 

Ethical concerns for doing a case study

While case studies can provide valuable details and information from  psychology experiments  and inspire further research, they are not definitive proof of a theory. Case examples must be used ethically and legitimately. They can be used to support theories, but the research must be sound to be accepted by modern psychology.

When case studies are flawed through not having enough information or having the wrong information, they can be harmful. Valuable research hours and other resources can be wasted while theories are used for inappropriate treatment. Case studies can therefore cause as much harm as benefit, and psychologists are often careful about how and when they are used.

Those who are not psychologists and are interacting with studies can also practice caution. Psychologists and doctors often disagree on how case studies should be applied. In addition, people without education in psychology may struggle to know whether a case study is built on a faulty premise or misinformation. It can also be possible to generalize case studies to real world situations to which they do not apply. If you think a case study might apply to your case or that of a loved one, consider asking a therapist for guidance. 

Case studies are descriptions of real people. The individuals in the studies are studied intensively and often written about in medical journals and textbooks. While some clients may be comfortable being studied for science, others may not have consented due to the inability or lack of consent laws at the time. In addition, some subjects may not have been treated with dignity and respect. 

When considering case study content and findings from psychology, it can be helpful to think of the cases as stories of real individuals. When you strip away the science and look at the case as a whole person in a unique situation, you may get more out of the study than if you look at it as research that proves a theory. 

Therapeutic implications of a case study

Case examples are sometimes used in therapy to determine the best course of treatment. If a typical case study from psychology aligns with your situation, your therapist may use the treatment methods outlined in the study. Psychiatrists and other mental health professionals also use case examples to understand mental illness and its treatment.

Researchers have reviewed the role of case studies in counseling and psychotherapy. In one study, the authors discussed how reading case studies benefits therapists, providing a conceptual guide for clinical work and an understanding of the theory behind the practice. They also stressed the importance of teaching psychotherapy trainees to do better case study research. They encouraged practitioners to publish more case studies documenting the methods they use in their practice.

How a case study is used in counseling

If you want to meet with a psychologist, counseling may benefit you. Therapists often use theories behind popular case studies and can discuss their implications with you. In addition, you may be able to participate in case studies in your area, as psychologists and psychiatrists often perform clinical trials to understand treatments on a deeper level.

Online therapy can also be beneficial if you cannot find a therapist in your area. Through a platform like BetterHelp, you can get matched with a provider meeting your needs and choose between phone, video, or live chat sessions. When experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition, it can sometimes be hard to leave home for therapy. You can use many online therapy platforms from the comfort and safe space of your own home. 

Therapy is a personal experience; not everyone will go into it seeking the same outcomes. Keeping this in mind may ensure you get the most out of online therapy, regardless of your specific goals. If you're interested in learning more about the effectiveness of online therapy, you can look into various clinical studies that have shown it can be as effective, if not more effective, than in-person options. 

BetterHelp therapist reviews

“Amanda provides an excellent balance of warmth, accountability, and reliability. She keeps you on-topic while actively listening and providing guidance as needed. Her credentials and expertise are well applied to our sessions and I am so grateful for her.”

“She’s been amazing, helped me process my feelings and work on the things I needed to heal to grow stronger and be content with my life. She was available every day, I managed to connect with her deeply, she was supportive. I never expected to meet someone who’d have such a big positive effect on my life. I want to continue my journey with her and I trust the lessons I’ve learned from her will continue to be useful for my present and future.”

Out of the thousands of clinical studies that have been done in the realm of psychology, a few typical case studies are often mentioned above the rest. Consider reading through these types of case studies to learn more about how they worked and how psychology has changed over the years. You can also reach out to a therapist for further guidance and support in a specific mental health area.

Therapy is a personal experience, and not everyone may go into it seeking the same things. Keeping this in mind can ensure that you get the most out of online therapy, regardless of what your specific goals are. If you’re still studying if  therapy  is right for you and how much therapy costs, please contact us at  [email protected] . BetterHelp specializes in online therapy to help address all types of mental health concerns. If you’re interested in trying individual online therapy or learning more about studies, reach out today to get started.

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BRIEF RESEARCH REPORT article

Emotionally-oriented design in museums: a case study of the jewish museum berlin.

\r\nZhihui Zhang

  • 1 Escola Tècnica Superior d'Arquitectura de Barcelona, Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain
  • 2 Faculty of Architecture and City Planning, Kunming University of Science and Technology, Kunming, Yunnan, China
  • 3 The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, Hong Kong SAR, China

Objective: This study examines the intricate interplay between architectural design and visitor emotional responses at the Jewish Museum Berlin, focusing on how specific spatial elements such as the Holocaust Tower, Garden of Exile, The Voids, and The Axis elicit varied affective experiences. The research aims to extend the discourse on environmental psychology and architectural empathy, particularly within the context of memorial museums.

Method: Employing a non-intrusive approach, the study gathered emotional response data using the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS) from 113 museum visitors, with 102 valid responses analyzed. Environmental conditions such as light, sound, and spatial design were quantitatively measured to correlate with emotional responses captured at the end of visitors' tours across the designated museum spaces.

Results: Findings revealed that architectural elements significantly influence emotional responses. High levels of negative emotions like fear and anxiety were markedly evident in the Holocaust Tower due to its minimal lighting and stark concrete structure. Conversely, the Garden of Exile induced more positive emotions through its use of natural light and greenery, emphasizing the role of biophilic design in enhancing emotional well-being. Statistical analysis supported these observations, with variations in emotional impact across different spaces demonstrating the profound effect of architectural design on visitor experiences.

Conclusion: This study confirms that a variety of design elements and spatial strategies not only facilitate the presentation of historical narratives but also actively sculpt the emotional involvement and experiences of visitors. Our findings highlight the efficacy of emotionally-oriented architectural design in deepening the impact and engagement of museum visitors, emphasizing the transformative power of these environments in shaping visitor perceptions and interactions.

1 Introduction

Emotions, as complex psychological states involving subjective experiences, physiological responses, and behavioral expressions, are central to the human experience. They play a critical role in how we perceive, interact with, and remember our environments. In architectural contexts, emotions can range from awe and tranquility to anxiety and discomfort, influenced by elements such as spatial proportions, lighting, acoustics, and material finishes ( Bower et al., 2019 ; Li, 2019 ; Shemesh et al., 2021 ; Zhang et al., 2022 , 2023b ). Understanding these emotional responses is crucial for creating spaces that not only serve functional needs but also foster well-being and meaningful experiences.

The interplay between architectural design and human emotion is a profound and complex subject that sits at the heart of environmental psychology and design studies. Architecture, transcending its utilitarian functions, wields the power to evoke a spectrum of emotions, shape behaviors, and create lasting memories. It is a tangible expression of culture and history, one that communicates and influences at a visceral level. Theoretical explorations in this domain affirm that the manipulation of light, volume, texture, and materiality in built environments can significantly sway individuals' mood states and psychological well-being ( Webb, 2006 ; Ergan et al., 2018 ; Jafarian et al., 2018 ; Jiang et al., 2021 ; Zhang et al., 2022 ; Kim and Hong, 2023 ).

Consider the poignant role of memorial museums, where architectural design is tasked with the delicate balance of embodying historical narratives and facilitating reflective experiences. The Jewish Museum Berlin, designed by Daniel Libeskind, serves as a prime exemplar of how spatial design is intricately woven with emotional narrative ( Sodaro, 2013 ; Tzortzi, 2017 ). This institution houses a confluence of spaces–The Axis, Garden of Exile, Holocaust Tower, and The Voids–each architecturally orchestrated to invoke distinct emotional responses from its visitors. The design embodies a dialogue between the stark realities of history and the potential for hope and renewal, leveraging the emotive capacity of architectural cues to guide visitors through a journey of collective memory and individual introspection ( Feldman and Peleikis, 2014 ).

Given this context, the Jewish Museum Berlin was selected as a case study due to Libeskind's unique architectural vision. His design deliberately creates spaces intended to evoke both positive and negative emotions, which represents a significant departure from conventional architectural goals that typically prioritize comfort and positivity. This approach provides an ideal context for investigating how architectural elements shape emotional responses. By challenging visitors to engage with historical narratives on a deeply emotional level, Libeskind's design makes the Jewish Museum Berlin a compelling subject for studying the impact of architectural empathy.

The Axis, a metaphorical intersection of pathways, not only directs physical movement but also choreographs the emotional pacing of the visitor experience. The Garden of Exile, with its forest of pillars and disorienting angles, contrasts against the Holocaust Tower's imposing walls and constrained slivers of light, illustrating how light manipulation can be a powerful affective tool ( Edensor, 2017 ; Zhang et al., 2022 ). The Voids, silent and resonant, offer a multisensory engagement that is as much about the presence of sound as it is about the voids of silence, echoing research that highlights the deep connection between sensory environments and emotional states ( Henshaw and Mould, 2013 ; Fiebig et al., 2020 ; Algargoosh et al., 2022 ).

To effectively measure these emotional responses, various psychometric tools have been developed. One such tool is the Profile of Mood States (POMS), which assesses transient, distinct mood states through a series of adjectives rated by the respondent ( McNair et al., 1971 ). Another is the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS), which evaluates positive and negative affective states and is widely recognized for its reliability and validity in diverse settings ( Watson et al., 1988 ). Additionally, tools like the Self-Assessment Manikin (SAM) provide a non-verbal pictorial assessment of emotional response, particularly useful in environments where verbal articulation may be challenging ( Bradley and Lang, 1994 ).

Within this architectural milieu, the present study seeks to quantitatively investigate the emotional impact of these spaces on visitors. It draws upon the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS) scale, a widely recognized metric for assessing affective dimensions ( Watson et al., 1988 ). By grounding the subjective in the empirical, this research aims to contribute substantively to the dialogue on the empathetic capacity of architectural environments. It posits that designed spaces, particularly within the context of memorial museums, can function as catalysts for empathy, eliciting a range of emotions from contemplative sorrow to uplifting tranquillity ( Watson, 2015 ; Golańska, 2015 ; Oren et al., 2022 ).

In synthesizing the PANAS findings with theoretical discourse, the study will explore how architectural form and content can act synergistically to enhance visitor engagement. It will address the interplay of memory, emotion, and place, offering insights into how spatial narratives can be thoughtfully constructed to resonate with visitors on an emotional and cognitive level. Such insights are anticipated to extend the current frameworks for architectural and environmental psychology, providing nuanced understandings of how spaces can be crafted to not just house experiences, but to actively shape and define them ( Manzo, 2003 ; Shin, 2016 ).

Through this exploration, the study underscores the dynamic role of architecture in emotional storytelling within museum contexts. It is poised to offer valuable implications for design practices that seek to engage visitors beyond the visual, delving into the affective realm where architecture meets emotion, memory, and meaning ( Lukas, 2012 ; Tolia-Kelly et al., 2017 ).

2.1 Participants

This study adopted a non-intrusive method of data collection with visitors at the Jewish Museum Berlin, ensuring the authenticity of the emotional responses ( Webb et al., 1999 ). Data were gathered from museum-goers at the conclusion of their visit to the Holocaust Tower, Garden of Exile, the “The Voids”, and the Axis spaces designed to provoke a range of emotional experiences. Research staff approached visitors at the exit of the museum, inviting those who had completed their tour to participate in the study. This strategy prioritized capturing the spontaneous emotional reactions of visitors, rather than pre-selected volunteers, thereby preserving the natural behavior and experiences within the museum environment.

Upon exiting, participants were asked to complete the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS), a questionnaire that assesses a spectrum of emotional states triggered by the architectural and environmental attributes of the spaces visited. In addition to the PANAS, demographic data such as age, gender, and nationality were collected to facilitate a demographic breakdown of the emotional responses. The study engaged a total of 113 participants. After processing, 102 questionnaires were considered valid for analysis, with 11 discarded due to incompleteness. The demographics of the sample were diverse, with 59.46% identifying as female and 40.54% as male. The age distribution was as follows: 18–30 years old (33 participants), 31–40 years old (32 participants), 41–50 years old (31 participants), and over 50 years old (17 participants). All participants provided informed consent, ensuring ethical research practice.

2.2 Architectural space description

The Jewish Museum Berlin, designed by Daniel Libeskind, is a striking example of contemporary memorial architecture. The museum comprises several distinctive spaces, each with its unique architectural features intended to evoke a range of emotional responses ( Figure 1 ). Below is a comprehensive description of these spaces, encompassing their spatial dimensions and design solutions.

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Figure 1 . (A) Schematic Overview of the Jewish Museum Berlin: the four main architectural spaces explored in this study–Holocaust Tower, Garden of Exile, The Axis, and The “Voids.”, (B) Plan of the Jewish Museum Berlin.

The Axis is a series of intersecting corridors that connect different parts of the museum. These pathways are designed to create a sense of direction and movement, guiding visitors through the museum's narrative. The walls are adorned with exhibits that provide context to the historical events commemorated by the museum. The Garden of Exile is an outdoor space featuring 49 concrete stelae, each 6 meters high, arranged in a grid pattern. The ground is tilted, creating a sense of disorientation and confusion, symbolizing the experience of exile. The stelae are filled with earth from Berlin and Jerusalem, emphasizing the connection between the past and the present. The Holocaust Tower is a tall, narrow, and empty space, measuring 24 meters in height with a small slit at the top allowing minimal natural light. The space is designed to evoke feelings of isolation, confinement, and introspection. The concrete walls and the stark, cold atmosphere contribute to the somber experience intended by the architect. The Voids are a series of empty spaces that run vertically through the building. These voids are intended to represent the absence of Jews in Berlin following the Holocaust. The largest of these voids, the Memory Void, contains an installation called “Shalekhet” (Fallen Leaves) by artist Menashe Kadishman, consisting of thousands of metal faces spread across the floor.

Libeskind's design employs sharp angles, irregular forms, and voids to convey the complexity and trauma of Jewish history. The use of materials such as concrete and steel, along with the interplay of light and shadow, enhances the emotional impact of the spaces. These architectural solutions are not merely aesthetic but are deeply symbolic, intended to engage visitors on both an intellectual and emotional level.

2.3 Measures

The Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS) was used to assess participants' emotional responses. PANAS is a widely recognized scale that measures two dimensions of affect: Positive Affect (PA) and Negative Affect (NA). Each dimension consists of 10 items. Participants rate the extent to which they feel each emotion on a scale from 1 (very slightly or not at all) to 5 (extremely). The Positive Affect items include interested, excited, strong, enthusiastic, proud, alert, inspired, determined, attentive, and active. The Negative Affect items include distressed, upset, guilty, scared, hostile, irritable, ashamed, nervous, jittery, and afraid ( Watson et al., 1988 ).

2.4 Environmental measurements

In the Jewish Museum Berlin, comprehensive environmental and acoustic measurements were gathered from four distinct spaces using a suite of instruments: a sound level meter (Smart sensor AS804), light meter (UNI-T UT383), temperature and humidity meter (UNI-T UT333), audio recorder (Tascam DR-100MK III), and spectrometer (Sekonic C-700). These instruments were employed to collect precise data, as shown in Figure 2 .

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Figure 2 . Comparative Environmental Measurements across Four Spaces of the Jewish Museum Berlin: (A) Holocaust Tower, (B) The Voids, (C) The Axis, and (D) Garden of Exile. Each panel presents light and sound spectra, accompanied by temperature, humidity, and decibel range data.

The purpose of presenting the data about color temperature, light intensity, sound levels, temperature, and humidity is to provide a detailed environmental context for each space within the museum. These environmental factors are known to significantly influence human emotional and psychological responses ( De Rojas and Camarero, 2008 ). By measuring and documenting these parameters, the study aims to explore how specific environmental conditions may influence the emotional responses reported by visitors, thereby offering a more comprehensive understanding of how architectural elements affect visitor experiences ( Goulding, 2000 ; Bigné et al., 2005 ; Halpenny, 2010 ).

For example, in the Holocaust Tower, illumination ranged from 2.7 to 5.7 Lux, with a natural spectrum color temperature of 4918K. The low lighting and cooler color temperature contribute to the overall somber and reflective atmosphere of the space. The temperature was recorded at 16.3 °C, and humidity at 46.3%, with sound levels varying between 39 and 84 decibels. The significant height of the space, 21 meters, created an echo effect, intensifying the auditory experience and potentially heightening feelings of isolation and introspection.

The Garden of Exile was illuminated much more variably, between 2,940 and 18,400 Lux, with natural light color temperatures from 5986 to 6234K, temperature at 16.6 °C, and humidity at 37.4%. Sound levels here ranged from 43.7 to 71.5 decibels, with ambient sounds such as bird calls enriching the outdoor environment. The variation in light intensity and the presence of natural elements like vegetation are intended to evoke feelings of confusion, displacement, but also a sense of connection to nature, promoting reflection and contemplation.

In “The Voids”, indoor natural light levels were measured from 279 to 429 Lux and color temperatures between 5716 to 5914K. The space was warmer at 19.7 °C and more humid at 58.7%, with sound levels reaching up to 98.2 decibels due to the presence of art installations and specific architectural acoustics. These environmental characteristics contribute to a complex sensory experience that engages visitors on multiple levels.

Finally, The Axis, defined as a pathway, recorded illumination levels from 67.5 to 115 Lux and cooler color temperatures of 3056 to 3081K. The temperature there was around 22 °C and humidity at 36.7%. Sound levels, affected by visitor interactions, reached up to 77.8 decibels, with LED lighting that limited the depth of sensory engagement.

The time frame used for measuring the sound spectrum in each space was standardized to a continuous 10-minute interval during peak visiting hours. This period was selected to capture the typical ambient noise levels and visitor interactions within each environment. The audio recordings were analyzed to determine the average and peak decibel levels, as well as the frequency distribution of sounds, ensuring a comprehensive acoustic profile of each space.

By presenting these environmental measurements, the study aims to explore how the physical characteristics of each space may influence the emotional reactions they elicit. This approach provides a nuanced understanding of how specific environmental conditions might contribute to the overall emotional impact of architectural design in a museum setting.

2.5 Analysis strategy

The study utilized the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS) to measure emotional responses after visitors explored four distinct sections of the Berlin Jewish Museum: the Holocaust Tower, The Axis, The Voids, and the Garden of Exile. Data processing was meticulously carried out using Python, leveraging libraries such as Pandas for data manipulation and NumPy for numerical operations. This ensured the precision of the PANAS scores, which are crucial for assessing the immediate impact of each spatial design on visitors' emotions ( Hovy, 2022 ).

Statistical analyses were conducted using independent samples t-tests to evaluate emotional variances across different spatial elements, with 'The Axis' serving as a baseline comparison. This analysis was facilitated by the SciPy library, a tool integral to executing statistical tests in Python. Additionally, the effect sizes were computed using Cohen's d, providing insights into the magnitude of emotional responses elicited by each architectural element ( Howell, 1992 ).

The Axis was selected as the baseline for comparison due to its transitional nature and relative neutrality in emotional design. Unlike the Holocaust Tower, The Voids, and the Garden of Exile, which are explicitly designed to evoke strong emotional responses, The Axis serves primarily as a connective pathway linking different parts of the museum. Additionally, The Axis features exhibits along its sides, embodying characteristics typical of a standard museum exhibition space. This makes it an ideal reference point for measuring variations in emotional impact across more emotionally charged spaces. By using The Axis as a baseline, the study can more accurately isolate and identify the specific emotional influences of the other architectural elements.

The entire analysis was conducted and documented using a Jupyter Notebook, which facilitates the integration of live code with narrative text, enhancing the clarity and reproducibility of the research. We adhered to a conventional significance threshold of p < 0.05 throughout our analyses to ensure the statistical validity of our findings. The use of the SciPy library was central to our statistical analysis, allowing us to perform robust t-tests and calculate effect sizes efficiently. This, along with other Python tools such as Pandas for data manipulation, greatly streamlined the process and enhanced our ability to manipulate and visualize data effectively ( Virtanen et al., 2020 ; McKinney, 2022 ).

By employing robust statistical tools and a reliable data analysis environment, the study effectively quantified the emotional impacts of architectural design, setting a precedent for future research in the domain of emotional architecture.

3.1 Emotional responses across different spaces

This study conducted a comprehensive analysis of emotional responses to the architectural spaces within the Berlin Jewish Museum, namely the Holocaust Tower, The Axis, The Voids, and the Garden of Exile. Data extracted from Table 1 , which displays the average PANAS (Positive and Negative Affect Schedule) scores for each space, reveals nuanced patterns in emotional engagement.

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Table 1 . Average PANAS scores for emotional responses across architectural spaces at the Jewish Museum Berlin: the table delineates the intensity of each emotion reported by visitors in the Holocaust Tower, The Axis, The Voids, and the Garden of Exile.

Low affect emotions: Emotions such as guilt (Guilty) and shame (Ashamed) consistently scored low across all spaces, with average scores of 1.97, 1.70, 1.93, and 1.38 for Guilty and 1.57, 1.54, 1.43, and 1.45 for Ashamed in the Holocaust Tower, The Axis, The Voids, and Garden of Exile respectively. These low scores suggest that the museum's exhibits are less likely to evoke feelings of personal responsibility or embarrassment, likely reflecting the thematic elements focused more on historical reflection than on personal culpability.

Stable affect emotions: Emotions such as alertness (Alert) and activeness (Active) manifested moderately across all spaces, indicating a general state of engagement. For example, Alert scores were 4.13, 2.99, 3.72, and 2.44, while Active scores were 2.12, 2.64, 2.67, and 4.02 across the Holocaust Tower, The Axis, The Voids, and Garden of Exile respectively. These scores indicate that the museum's design consistently engages visitors, maintaining their attention and physical activity throughout the exhibits.

Highly variable emotions: Within the Berlin Jewish Museum, thematic and design differences had a pronounced impact on emotional responses in specific spaces. The Holocaust Tower exhibit, for instance, significantly elicited higher levels of distress-related emotions, with fear (Afraid) and anxiety (Nervous) scoring 3.80 and 3.94 respectively. These heightened scores likely reflect the intense historical context that the exhibit aims to convey. In stark contrast, the Garden of Exile area proved to be a space that fostered positive emotional states, achieving scores of 3.59 for inspiration (Inspired) and 4.06 for interest (Interested). These results highlight the Garden of Exile's effectiveness in evoking feelings of reflection and positive engagement, showcasing how different environmental themes can distinctly influence visitor emotions.

Positive emotions:

Active ( Figure 3E ): Among the positive emotions, the feeling of activeness showed the largest variance across the spaces. The scores for Active were 2.12 in the Holocaust Tower, 2.64 in The Axis, 2.67 in The Voids, and significantly higher at 4.02 in the Garden of Exile. This results in a maximum difference of 1.90, indicating that the Garden of Exile notably enhances visitors' feelings of activeness compared to the other spaces.

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Figure 3 . Emotional profiles and distributions in the Jewish Museum Berlin's architectural spaces: (A) Positive emotions radar chart. (B) Negative emotions radar chart. (C) Box plot of the distribution of positive emotion PANAS scores across different spaces. (D) Box plot of the distribution of negative emotion PANAS scores across different spaces. (E) Violin plot comparison for active across spaces. (F) Violin plot comparison for afraid across spaces. (G) Violin plot comparison for attentive across spaces. (H) Violin plot comparison for ashamed across spaces. Asterisks denote significance levels ( * p < 0.05, ** p < 0.01, *** p < 0.001).

Attentive ( Figure 3G ): In contrast, the emotion of attentiveness exhibited the smallest variance among the positive emotions. Scores were 2.98 in the Holocaust Tower, 2.73 in The Axis, 3.95 in The Voids, and 3.96 in the Garden of Exile, with a maximum difference of 1.23. This suggests a relatively consistent level of attentiveness across all exhibits, with slightly higher engagement in the latter two spaces.

Negative emotions:

Afraid ( Figure 3F ): For negative emotions, the feeling of fear (Afraid) showed the greatest variance. Scores were 3.80 in the Holocaust Tower, 2.10 in The Axis, 3.33 in The Voids, and 1.56 in the Garden of Exile, resulting in a maximum difference of 2.24. This indicates that the Holocaust Tower significantly elicits higher levels of fear compared to the other spaces, reflecting its intense historical context.

Ashamed ( Figure 3H ): Conversely, the emotion of shame (Ashamed) exhibited the smallest variance among negative emotions. The scores were 1.57 in the Holocaust Tower, 1.54 in The Axis, 1.43 in The Voids, and 1.45 in the Garden of Exile, with a minimal maximum difference of 0.14. These consistently low scores suggest that the museum's exhibits are less likely to evoke feelings of personal responsibility or embarrassment, likely due to their focus on historical reflection rather than personal culpability.

3.2 T-test results of emotional responses

Drawing on data visualized in the radar charts ( Figures 3A , B ) and the box plots ( Figures 3C , D ), this study offers an in-depth examination of the emotional responses to different spatial environments within the Berlin Jewish Museum: Holocaust Tower, The Axis, The Voids, and Garden of Exile. The Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS) scores provide a nuanced exploration of how each space influences visitors' emotional states.

From the radar charts, it's evident that certain spaces amplify specific emotions. The Holocaust Tower exhibit, as shown in Figure 3B , registers pronounced distress-related responses, particularly fear and anxiety, while the Garden of Exile, depicted in Figure 3A , facilitates positive emotions such as inspiration and interest.

The box plots in Figures 3C , D quantify these observations:

• Holocaust Tower vs. The Axis: While the Holocaust Tower space did not significantly differ from the Axis in terms of positive emotional responses (t-statistic of -0.997; p-value of 0.320; Cohen's d of -0.14), it markedly elevated negative emotions (t-statistic of 6.625; p -value of 3.15 × 10 −10 ; Cohen's d of 0.93), as Figure 3D illustrates.

• The Voids vs. The Axis: Figure 3C reveals that The Voids space engendered a significant increase in positive emotions compared to the Axis (t-statistic of 3.555; p -value of 4.74 × 10 −4 ; Cohen's d of 0.50). Figure 3D reflects a similar trend in negative emotions (t-statistic of 3.849; p-value of 1.60 × 10 −4 ; Cohen's d of 0.54).

• Garden of Exile vs. The Axis: As the most positively impactful environment, the Garden of Exile's influence on positive emotions is statistically significant (t-statistic of 9.376; p -value of 1.48 × 10 −17 ; Cohen's d of 1.31). Conversely, it substantially reduces negative emotions (t-statistic of -8.174; p -value of 4.24 × 10 −14 ; Cohen's d of -1.14), reinforcing its restorative role as seen in Figure 3D .

These detailed results, grounded in statistical analysis and visual evidence, underscore the profound and varied emotional impacts that architectural elements have on museum visitors, highlighting the importance of thoughtful spatial design in influencing visitor experience.

4 Discussion

The findings of this study provide a comprehensive analysis of the influence of architectural design on emotional responses, as illustrated by the experiences of visitors to the Jewish Museum Berlin. The statistical data from the PANAS questionnaires, along with the radar charts ( Figures 3A , B ) and box plots ( Figures 3C , D ), provided a multidimensional view of how each distinct space within the museum evoked varying emotional states among the participants.

4.1 Interpretation of findings

The results of this study, particularly the heightened negative emotional responses in the Holocaust Tower exhibit, suggest a complex interplay of environmental factors rather than solely the impact of low lighting on mood. Contrary to the expected calming effects of low lighting identified in studies by de Ruyter and van Dantzig (De Ruyter and Van Dantzig, 2019) , Kombeiz ( Kombeiz et al., 2017 ), and others, the Holocaust Tower's unique combination of minimal natural light, the stark, cold concrete architecture, and the towering voids, uniquely contributed to visitors' feelings of fear and anxiety ( Campens, 2017 ). This distinct atmosphere, characterized by its chilling austerity and vast, empty spaces, was effectively aligned with the exhibit's thematic intent to invoke deep reflection on a dark period in history.

Conversely, the Garden of Exile leverages the principles of biophilic design through its integration of natural light and vegetation, echoing Evensen et al.'s assertion of nature's positive effects on human emotion ( Dash, 2017 ; Evensen et al., 2017 ). This space consistently evoked feelings of inspiration and interest among visitors, suggesting that biophilic elements in architectural design can significantly contribute to the promotion of positive emotional states.

Furthermore, the auditory experience provided by “The Voids” sound installations played a crucial role in shaping the museum's emotional atmosphere, substantiating DeNora's findings on the emotive power of sound ( DeNora, 2000 ; Ebbensgaard, 2017 ; Tavakoli et al., 2017 ). This multisensory approach appears to have been successful in enhancing visitors' emotional engagement, underpinning the significance of considering auditory elements within architectural spaces.

This study extends the current discourse on environmental psychology by empirically demonstrating the differential emotional impacts elicited by distinct architectural elements within a museum context. The substantial variance in emotional responses to each space underlines the potential for architecture to serve not merely as a backdrop for exhibits but as an active participant in the storytelling process of a museum. These insights offer valuable contributions to the field, suggesting that architectural design, when thoughtfully executed, has the power to evoke a deeply emotional narrative and profoundly affect the visitor experience.

4.2 Implications for architectural design

The quantitative findings of this research underscore the complex role that architectural spaces play as dynamic mediators of emotional experience within museums. The design of the Axis in the Jewish Museum Berlin, acting as a connector between the various thematic spaces, effectively sets the stage for an emotional transition, thereby heightening the contrast in affective responses as visitors move from one space to another.

This relational dynamic between the spaces suggests that the emotional impact of a museum visit is not solely dependent on the artefacts displayed but is significantly influenced by the journey the architecture curates. The Axis, therefore, serves a pivotal role in the emotional narrative of the museum, underpinning the importance of considering the sequence of spatial experiences in museum design. It is an interesting and essential aspect that architects and designers need to deliberate upon–the emotional interplay between successive spaces and its cumulative effect on visitor engagement.

The empirical evidence from this study supports the argument for a holistic approach to museum architecture, one that includes the intentional use of varying architectural elements to evoke and modulate emotions throughout the visitor's journey. The affective dimension of spatial design, as observed in the Jewish Museum Berlin, is a testament to the capacity of thoughtful architectural planning to not only showcase exhibits but also to elicit a spectrum of emotions that enrich the overall narrative and experience.

4.3 Limitations and future research

The present study, while offering valuable insights, has several limitations that warrant mention. The timing of the questionnaires was not synchronized with the measurement of environmental factors, which may affect the accuracy of capturing visitors' immediate emotional responses, particularly in the Garden of Exile space. As an outdoor area, the Garden is subject to environmental and weather variations, making it challenging to ensure a consistent experience for all visitors. This variability was not controlled for in the study and represents a potential confound in interpreting the emotional impact of this space.

The discrepancy in timing between the visitors' experiences and the administration of the PANAS questionnaire could lead to recall bias, where participants may not accurately remember or may reinterpret their emotional states after the fact. Cultural backgrounds and the age of participants were also not factored into the analysis, which could influence the interpretation of the emotional responses elicited by the museum's spaces. Additionally, the possibility of repeat visits by participants was not a consideration in the study's design, potentially affecting the novelty of the experience and subsequent emotional responses.

To address these limitations, future research could consider employing virtual reality (VR) technology to simulate the museum environment under controlled conditions, ensuring uniformity in visitors' experiences regardless of external factors such as weather. VR technology allows for the control of environmental variables, providing a consistent and replicable experience for all participants. Additionally, VR can facilitate the collection of physiological measures of emotional responses, such as galvanic skin response or heart rate variability, providing a more objective and nuanced understanding of the emotional effects of architectural spaces. Moreover, VR technology can be used to capture and analyze facial expressions to quantify emotions, adding another layer of emotional data. This method, as demonstrated in previous research ( Zhang et al., 2023a ), can provide real-time insights into participants' emotional states, offering a more comprehensive assessment of their experiences. Further investigation with a larger and more diverse sample, taking into account cultural and age differences, would also be beneficial in enhancing the generalizability of the findings to other commemorative architectural contexts. This approach would ensure that the emotional impacts of architectural design are understood across a broad spectrum of visitors, contributing to more inclusive and effective design strategies.

5 Conclusions

This study tentatively suggests that architectural elements such as lighting, vegetation, and sound may have a significant impact on the emotional responses of visitors to the specific spaces analyzed within the Jewish Museum Berlin. The findings indicate that minimal lighting in the Holocaust Tower likely intensified visitor experiences of sombre reflection, while the use of natural light and greenery in the Garden of Exile might have enhanced feelings of inspiration and interest. Similarly, sound installations in The Voids appear to have deepened the emotional engagement of the visitors.

These preliminary observations propose that the thoughtful integration of architectural and environmental factors can potentially enrich the visitor experience in commemorative spaces, offering a nuanced approach to museum design that goes beyond traditional exhibit presentation. However, it is important to note that this study focused solely on four specific spaces within the museum and did not include the exhibition spaces. Therefore, while our findings provide valuable insights, further research is necessary to confirm these observations and to explore their applicability in other settings within memorial museums.

Data availability statement

The original contributions presented in the study are included in the article/supplementary material, further inquiries can be directed to the corresponding author.

Ethics statement

The studies involving humans were approved by Universitat Politécnica de Catalunya Ethics Committee. The studies were conducted in accordance with the local legislation and institutional requirements. The participants provided their written informed consent to participate in this study.

Author contributions

ZZ: Conceptualization, Data curation, Formal analysis, Investigation, Methodology, Validation, Visualization, Writing – original draft, Writing – review & editing. JL: Funding acquisition, Methodology, Resources, Validation, Visualization, Writing – original draft, Writing – review & editing. XZ: Conceptualization, Funding acquisition, Investigation, Methodology, Visualization, Writing – original draft, Writing – review & editing.

The author(s) declare that no financial support was received for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

Publisher's note

All claims expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of their affiliated organizations, or those of the publisher, the editors and the reviewers. Any product that may be evaluated in this article, or claim that may be made by its manufacturer, is not guaranteed or endorsed by the publisher.

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Keywords: emotionally-oriented design, emotional architecture, museum design, architectural psychology, visitor experience, environmental psychology

Citation: Zhang Z, Lu J and Zhang X (2024) Emotionally-oriented design in museums: a case study of the Jewish Museum Berlin. Front. Psychol. 15:1423466. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2024.1423466

Received: 25 April 2024; Accepted: 18 June 2024; Published: 05 July 2024.

Reviewed by:

Copyright © 2024 Zhang, Lu and Zhang. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY) . The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

*Correspondence: Jing Lu, lujing@ymcc1993.com

Disclaimer: All claims expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of their affiliated organizations, or those of the publisher, the editors and the reviewers. Any product that may be evaluated in this article or claim that may be made by its manufacturer is not guaranteed or endorsed by the publisher.

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  • Positive Psychology

Reviewed by Psychology Today Staff

Positive psychology is a branch of psychology focused on the character strengths and behaviors that allow individuals to build a life of meaning and purpose—to move beyond surviving to flourishing. Theorists and researchers in the field have sought to identify the elements of a good life. They have also proposed and tested practices for improving life satisfaction and well-being.

  • Positive Psychology Basics
  • Applying Positive Psychology

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Positive psychology emphasizes meaning and deep satisfaction, not just on fleeting happiness . Martin Seligman, often regarded as the father of positive psychology, has described multiple visions of what it means to live happily, including the Pleasant Life (Hollywood’s view of happiness), the Good Life (focused on personal strengths and engagement), and the Meaningful Life. Positive psychologists have explored a range of experiences and behaviors involved in different versions of positive living, including specific positive emotions, "flow" states, and sense of meaning or purpose.

Proponents of positive psychology have also sought to catalog character strengths and virtues. The 2004 book Character Strengths and Virtues proposed the categories of Wisdom and Knowledge, Courage, Humanity, Justice, Temperance, and Transcendence (including strengths such as gratitude , hope, and humor ).

While there is plenty of overlap, positive psychology has been described as different from other areas of psychology due to its primary interest in identifying and building mental assets , as opposed to addressing weaknesses and problems. 

Major proponents of positive psychology include psychologists Martin Seligman (who promoted the concept as president of the American Psychological Association in 1998), Christopher Peterson, and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. But many others have developed the subfield, and it echoes earlier work by humanistic psychologists such as Abraham Maslow, who used the term “positive psychology” in the 1950s.

Though there are many elements of well-being and fulfillment studied by positive psychologists, five are among Martin Seligman’s proposed building blocks of well-being , called the PERMA model: positive emotions, engagement (with a project, for instance), positive relationships, meaning, and accomplishment/achievement. (PERMA is not the first or only model of well-being.)

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Identifying one’s character strengths (such as courage, humanity, or justice) is considered an important step on the road to the good and meaningful life envisioned by positive psychologists. There are also positive psychology practices one can try at home to promote well-being. For example, gratitude exercises have been studied by psychologists as a way to increase happiness over time. Just what the name sounds like, these involve such simple actions as writing down each day three things for which one is grateful.

Although the focus of positive psychology is on happiness and fulfillment, it is important to understand that this does not mean people are advised to push away their negative emotions altogether. People who are flourishing make room in their lives for such inevitable states of mind.

Practices associated with positive psychology such as gratitude interventions can boost social and emotional well-being , studies suggest. Positive psychology has also led to explorations of how developing certain character strengths, positive emotions like awe , and other qualities, such as a sense of meaning and purpose in life, might contribute to positive life outcomes.

Measures of meaning in life have been found to relate to other positive life outcomes. For example, research suggests that older adults who consider their lives worthwhile tend to have better physical and mental health. Other studies suggest potential well-being benefits of having a sense of purpose in life.

“Flow” is the term coined by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi to describe a rewarding state of immersion in an activity, such as when people create art or play a sport they are passionate about. It has been proposed by proponents of positive psychology as one factor that contributes to a happy life.

Among the critiques of positive psychology are that it has focused on positive experiences at the expense of essential “negative” ones and that certain concepts (such as character strengths ) may insufficiently well-defined or re-describe existing scientific concepts.

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The New Rules of Marketing Across Channels

  • Joshua Bowers,
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  • Qiong Wang,
  • Danny McRae,
  • Francisco Guzmán,
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what is case study psychology

Strategies for navigating a new kind of communication landscape: the “echoverse.”

The Internet and AI tools are transforming marketing communications within a complex, interactive landscape called the echoverse. While marketing has evolved since the proliferation of the Internet, in the echoverse, a diverse network of human and nonhuman actors — consumers, brands, AI agents, and more — continuously interact, influence, and reshape messages across digital platforms. Traditional one-way and two-way communication models give way to omnidirectional communication. The authors integrated communication theory and theories of marketing communications to create a typology of marketing communication strategies consisting of three established strategies — 1) promotion marketing, 2) relationship marketing, and 3) customer engagement marketing — and their proposed strategy, 4) echoverse marketing. The authors also recommend three strategies for marketers to make the shift from leading messaging to guiding messaging: 1) Enable co-creation and co-ownership, 2) Create directed learning opportunities, and 3) Develop a mindset of continuous learning.

Today, companies must navigate a new kind of communication landscape: the “ echoverse .” This new terrain is defined by a complex web of feedback loops and reverberations that are created by consumers, brands, news media, investors, communities, society, and artificial intelligence (AI) agents. This assemblage of actors continuously interact, influence, and respond to each other across a myriad of digital channels, platforms, and devices, creating a dynamic where messages circulate and echo, being amplified, modified, or dampened by ongoing interactions.

what is case study psychology

  • JB Joshua Bowers is Co-CEO of Pavilion Intelligence, a marketing science consultancy and upcycled timber operation. He has a Ph.D. in Marketing from the University of Oklahoma and is a leader in new product development for enterprise and marketing technology.
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  • QW Qiong Wang is the Ruby K. Powell Professor of Marketing and Associate Professor of Marketing and Supply Chain at the University of Oklahoma’s Price College of Business. Her research focuses on the processes and boundaries of inter-organizational issues, including the development and management of strategic partnerships, marketing strategies, and supply chain management.
  • DM Danny McRae is a technology professional with over 20 years of experience in information architecture.
  • FG Francisco Guzmán is Professor of Marketing at the University of North Texas’ G. Brint Ryan College of Business. His research focuses on how brands can drive social transformation.
  • MB Mark Bolino is the David L. Boren Professor and the Michael F. Price Chair in International Business at the University of Oklahoma’s Price College of Business. His research focuses on understanding how an organization can inspire its employees to go the extra mile without compromising their personal well-being.

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  1. Case Study: Definition, Examples, Types, and How to Write

    A case study is an in-depth study of one person, group, or event. In a case study, nearly every aspect of the subject's life and history is analyzed to seek patterns and causes of behavior. Case studies can be used in many different fields, including psychology, medicine, education, anthropology, political science, and social work.

  2. What is a Case Study?

    A case study protocol outlines the procedures and general rules to be followed during the case study. This includes the data collection methods to be used, the sources of data, and the procedures for analysis. Having a detailed case study protocol ensures consistency and reliability in the study.

  3. Case Study Research Method in Psychology

    Case studies are in-depth investigations of a person, group, event, or community. Typically, data is gathered from various sources using several 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 ...

  4. What Is a Case Study?

    A case study is a detailed study of a specific subject, such as a person, group, place, event, organization, or phenomenon. 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.

  5. Case Study Methodology of Qualitative Research: Key Attributes and

    A case study is one of the most extensively used strategies of qualitative social research. Over the years, its application has expanded by leaps and bounds, and is now being employed in several disciplines of social science such as sociology, management, anthropology, psychology and others.

  6. What is CASE STUDY? definition of CASE STUDY (Psychology Dictionary)

    A case study is a method used in psychology to gather comprehensive data that would help researchers better understand a particular occurrence or individual. Case studies are a useful tool for researchers because they let them explore the complexity of human thought and behavior, identify patterns and themes, and provide hypotheses for further ...

  7. What Is a Case, and What Is a Case Study?

    Résumé. Case study is a common methodology in the social sciences (management, psychology, science of education, political science, sociology). A lot of methodological papers have been dedicated to case study but, paradoxically, the question "what is a case?" has been less studied.

  8. Case study (psychology)

    Case studies are generally a single-case design, but can also be a multiple-case design, where replication instead of sampling is the criterion for inclusion. Like other research methodologies within psychology, the case study must produce valid and reliable results in order to be useful for the development of future research.

  9. Case Study

    Case studies are conducted to: Investigate a specific problem, event, or phenomenon. Explore unique or atypical situations. Examine the complexities and intricacies of a subject in its natural context. Develop theories, propositions, or hypotheses for further research. Gain practical insights for decision-making or problem-solving.

  10. What Is a Case Study in Psychology?

    A case study is a research method used in psychology to investigate a particular individual, group, or situation in depth. It involves a detailed analysis of the subject, gathering information from various sources such as interviews, observations, and documents. In a case study, researchers aim to understand the complexities and nuances of the ...

  11. Psychology Case Study Examples: A Deep Dive into Real-life Scenarios

    One notable example is Freud's study on Little Hans. This case study explored a 5-year-old boy's fear of horses and related it back to Freud's theories about psychosexual stages. Another classic example is Genie Wiley (a pseudonym), a feral child who was subjected to severe social isolation during her early years.

  12. Case Study: Definition, Types, Examples and Benefits

    Researchers, economists, and others frequently use case studies to answer questions across a wide spectrum of disciplines, from analyzing decades of climate data for conservation efforts to developing new theoretical frameworks in psychology. Learn about the different types of case studies, their benefits, and examples of successful case studies.

  13. How To Write a Psychology Case Study in 8 Steps (Plus Tips)

    A psychology case study is a thorough study of a single person, community or event that relies on observations, facts and experiments to gather information. Psychologists collect information for a case study through psychometric testing, observation, interviews, experiments and case study archives.

  14. What Is a Case Study in Psychology? (With Methods and Steps)

    First, a case study allows a researcher to illustrate or test a specific theory. Many psychologists use case studies as exploratory research to develop treatments and confirm diagnoses. Third, the data gathered provides empirical research for others to study and expand on their theories and hypotheses.

  15. Case Studies

    Case studies are very detailed investigations of an individual or small group of people, usually regarding an unusual phenomenon or biographical event of interest to a research field. ... - Studying abnormal psychology can give insight into how something works when it is functioning correctly, such as brain damage on memory (e.g. the case study ...

  16. What Is A Case Study In Psychology?

    What is a case study? A case study is, as the name suggests, a study of a single case. For example, if someone has an extremely rare disease, a group of scientists might conduct a case study of that disease rather than attempting to set up an experimental study. In that case study, the researchers might test the effectiveness of a certain drug ...

  17. 6

    The case study approach has a rich history in psychology as a method for observing the ways in which individuals may demonstrate abnormal thinking and behavior, for collecting evidence concerning the circumstances and consequences surrounding such disorders, and for providing data to generate and test models of human behavior (see Yin, 1998, for an overview).

  18. Topic Suggestions for Psychology Case Studies

    A case study is an in-depth psychological investigation of a single person or a group of people. Case studies are commonly used in medicine and psychology. For example, these studies often focus on people with an illness (for example, one that is rare) or people with experiences that cannot be replicated in a lab.

  19. How to Write a Good Case Study in Psychology (A Step-by-Step Guide)

    A case study psychology is a type of research that uses real-life examples to help understand psychological concepts. This type of research can be used in a variety of settings, such as business, health care, education, and social services.

  20. Case Study in Psychology

    A case study meaning in psychology is a qualitative research method that seeks to understand a phenomenon in a real-life setting. A researcher will use a case study if they want to answer the how ...

  21. 6 Types of Case Studies to Inspire Your Research and Analysis

    A case study is a research process aimed at learning about a subject, an event or an organization. Case studies are use in business, the social sciences and healthcare. A case study may focus on one observation or many. It can also examine a series of events or a single case. An effective case study tells a story and provides a conclusion.

  22. Psychology's 10 Greatest Case Studies

    Kitty Genovese. Sadly, it is not really Kitty Genovese the person who has become one of psychology's classic case studies, but rather the terrible fate that befell her. In 1964 in New York, Genovese was returning home from her job as a bar maid when she was attacked and eventually murdered by Winston Mosely.

  23. Psychology Case Study Examples

    The case of Phineas Gage is perhaps the most cited study in psychology. This famous case study showed how different areas of the brain affect personality and cognitive ability. While working as a construction foreman on a railroad, Phineas Gage was involved in an accident in which a rod was pushed through his cheek and brain.

  24. EDUC11044 Case Study Assignment 30% (docx)

    Psychology document from Kenyatta University, 3 pages, EDUC11044: Case Study Assignment 30% DUE: April 6th, 2023, BEFORE class starts Purpose The purpose of this assignment is for students to gain an understanding of human development by analyzing a child's profile and creating a case study to interpret the c

  25. Emotionally-oriented design in museums: a case study of the Jewish

    The interplay between architectural design and human emotion is a profound and complex subject that sits at the heart of environmental psychology and design studies. Architecture, transcending its utilitarian functions, wields the power to evoke a spectrum of emotions, shape behaviors, and create lasting memories.

  26. Positive Psychology

    Positive psychology is a branch of psychology focused on the character strengths and behaviors that allow individuals to build a life of meaning and purpose—to move beyond surviving to flourishing.

  27. The New Rules of Marketing Across Channels

    Today, companies must navigate a new kind of communication landscape: the "echoverse."This new terrain is defined by a complex web of feedback loops and reverberations that are created by ...