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What Is a Case Study?

An in-depth study of one person, group, or event

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

what is the meaning of case studies in psychology

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what is the meaning of case studies in psychology

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Benefits and Limitations

Types of case studies, how to write a case study.

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 various fields, including psychology, medicine, education, anthropology, political science, and social work.

The purpose of a case study is to learn as much as possible about an individual or group so that the information can be generalized to many others. Unfortunately, case studies tend to be highly subjective, and it is sometimes difficult to generalize results to a larger population.

While case studies focus on a single individual or group, they follow a format similar to other types of psychology writing. If you are writing a case study, it is important to follow the rules of APA format .  

A case study can have both strengths and weaknesses. Researchers must consider these pros and cons before deciding if this type of study is appropriate for their needs.

One of the greatest advantages of a case study is that it allows researchers to investigate things that are often difficult to impossible to replicate in a lab. Some other benefits of a case study:

  • Allows researchers to collect a great deal of information
  • Give researchers the chance to collect information on rare or unusual cases
  • Permits researchers to develop hypotheses that can be explored in experimental research

On the negative side, a case study:

  • Cannot necessarily be generalized to the larger population
  • Cannot demonstrate cause and effect
  • May not be scientifically rigorous
  • Can lead to bias

Researchers may choose to perform a case study if they are interested in exploring a unique or recently discovered phenomenon. The insights gained from such research can help the researchers develop additional ideas and study questions that might be explored in future studies.

However, it is important to remember that the insights gained from case studies cannot be used to determine cause and effect relationships between variables. However, case studies may be used to develop hypotheses that can then be addressed in experimental research.

Case Study Examples

There have been a number of notable case studies in the history of psychology. Much of  Freud's work and theories were developed through the use of individual case studies. Some great examples of case studies in psychology include:

  • Anna O : Anna O. was a pseudonym of a woman named Bertha Pappenheim, a patient of a physician named Josef Breuer. While she was never a patient of Freud's, Freud and Breuer discussed her case extensively. The woman was experiencing symptoms of a condition that was then known as hysteria and found that talking about her problems helped relieve her symptoms. Her case played an important part in the development of talk therapy as an approach to mental health treatment.
  • Phineas Gage : Phineas Gage was a railroad employee who experienced a terrible accident in which an explosion sent a metal rod through his skull, damaging important portions of his brain. Gage recovered from his accident but was left with serious changes in both personality and behavior.
  • Genie : Genie was a young girl subjected to horrific abuse and isolation. The case study of Genie allowed researchers to study whether language could be taught even after critical periods for language development had been missed. Her case also served as an example of how scientific research may interfere with treatment and lead to further abuse of vulnerable individuals.

Such cases demonstrate how case research can be used to study things that researchers could not replicate in experimental settings. In Genie's case, her horrific abuse had denied her the opportunity to learn language at critical points in her development.

This is clearly not something that researchers could ethically replicate, but conducting a case study on Genie allowed researchers the chance to study phenomena that are otherwise impossible to reproduce.

There are a few different types of case studies that psychologists and other researchers might utilize:

  • Collective case studies : These involve studying a group of individuals. Researchers might study a group of people in a certain setting or look at an entire community. For example, psychologists might explore how access to resources in a community has affected the collective mental well-being of those living there.
  • Descriptive case studies : These involve starting with a descriptive theory. The subjects are then observed, and the information gathered is compared to the pre-existing theory.
  • Explanatory case studies : These   are often used to do causal investigations. In other words, researchers are interested in looking at factors that may have caused certain things to occur.
  • Exploratory case studies : These are sometimes used as a prelude to further, more in-depth research. This allows researchers to gather more information before developing their research questions and hypotheses .
  • Instrumental case studies : These occur when the individual or group allows researchers to understand more than what is initially obvious to observers.
  • Intrinsic case studies : This type of case study is when the researcher has a personal interest in the case. Jean Piaget's observations of his own children are good examples of how an intrinsic cast study can contribute to the development of a psychological theory.

The three main case study types often used are intrinsic, instrumental, and collective. Intrinsic case studies are useful for learning about unique cases. Instrumental case studies help look at an individual to learn more about a broader issue. A collective case study can be useful for looking at several cases simultaneously.

The type of case study that psychology researchers utilize depends on the unique characteristics of the situation as well as the case itself.

There are also different methods that can be used to conduct a case study, including prospective and retrospective case study methods.

Prospective case study methods are those in which an individual or group of people is observed in order to determine outcomes. For example, a group of individuals might be watched over an extended period of time to observe the progression of a particular disease.

Retrospective case study methods involve looking at historical information. For example, researchers might start with an outcome, such as a disease, and then work their way backward to look at information about the individual's life to determine risk factors that may have contributed to the onset of the illness.

Where to Find Data

There are a number of different sources and methods that researchers can use to gather information about an individual or group. Six major sources that have been identified by researchers are:

  • Archival records : Census records, survey records, and name lists are examples of archival records.
  • Direct observation : This strategy involves observing the subject, often in a natural setting . While an individual observer is sometimes used, it is more common to utilize a group of observers.
  • Documents : Letters, newspaper articles, administrative records, etc., are the types of documents often used as sources.
  • Interviews : Interviews are one of the most important methods for gathering information in case studies. An interview can involve structured survey questions or more open-ended questions.
  • Participant observation : When the researcher serves as a participant in events and observes the actions and outcomes, it is called participant observation.
  • Physical artifacts : Tools, objects, instruments, and other artifacts are often observed during a direct observation of the subject.

Section 1: A Case History

This section will have the following structure and content:

Background information : The first section of your paper will present your client's background. Include factors such as age, gender, work, health status, family mental health history, family and social relationships, drug and alcohol history, life difficulties, goals, and coping skills and weaknesses.

Description of the presenting problem : In the next section of your case study, you will describe the problem or symptoms that the client presented with.

Describe any physical, emotional, or sensory symptoms reported by the client. Thoughts, feelings, and perceptions related to the symptoms should also be noted. Any screening or diagnostic assessments that are used should also be described in detail and all scores reported.

Your diagnosis : Provide your diagnosis and give the appropriate Diagnostic and Statistical Manual code. Explain how you reached your diagnosis, how the client's symptoms fit the diagnostic criteria for the disorder(s), or any possible difficulties in reaching a diagnosis.

Section 2: Treatment Plan

This portion of the paper will address the chosen treatment for the condition. This might also include the theoretical basis for the chosen treatment or any other evidence that might exist to support why this approach was chosen.

  • Cognitive behavioral approach : Explain how a cognitive behavioral therapist would approach treatment. Offer background information on cognitive behavioral therapy and describe the treatment sessions, client response, and outcome of this type of treatment. Make note of any difficulties or successes encountered by your client during treatment.
  • Humanistic approach : Describe a humanistic approach that could be used to treat your client, such as client-centered therapy . Provide information on the type of treatment you chose, the client's reaction to the treatment, and the end result of this approach. Explain why the treatment was successful or unsuccessful.
  • Psychoanalytic approach : Describe how a psychoanalytic therapist would view the client's problem. Provide some background on the psychoanalytic approach and cite relevant references. Explain how psychoanalytic therapy would be used to treat the client, how the client would respond to therapy, and the effectiveness of this treatment approach.
  • Pharmacological approach : If treatment primarily involves the use of medications, explain which medications were used and why. Provide background on the effectiveness of these medications and how monotherapy may compare with an approach that combines medications with therapy or other treatments.

This section of a case study should also include information about the treatment goals, process, and outcomes.

When you are writing a case study, you should also include a section where you discuss the case study itself, including the strengths and limitiations of the study. You should note how the findings of your case study might support previous research. 

In your discussion section, you should also describe some of the implications of your case study. What ideas or findings might require further exploration? How might researchers go about exploring some of these questions in additional studies?

Here are a few additional pointers to keep in mind when formatting your case study:

  • Never refer to the subject of your case study as "the client." Instead, their name or a pseudonym.
  • Read examples of case studies to gain an idea about the style and format.
  • Remember to use APA format when citing references .

A Word From Verywell

Case studies can be a useful research tool, but they need to be used wisely. In many cases, they are best utilized in situations where conducting an experiment would be difficult or impossible. They are helpful for looking at unique situations and allow researchers to gather a great deal of information about a specific individual or group of people.

If you have been directed to write a case study for a psychology course, be sure to check with your instructor for any specific guidelines that you are required to follow. If you are writing your case study for professional publication, be sure to check with the publisher for their specific guidelines for submitting a case study.

Simply Psychology. Case Study Method .

Crowe S, Cresswell K, Robertson A, Huby G, Avery A, Sheikh A. The case study approach . BMC Med Res Methodol . 2011 Jun 27;11:100. doi:10.1186/1471-2288-11-100

Gagnon, Yves-Chantal.  The Case Study as Research Method: A Practical Handbook . Canada, Chicago Review Press Incorporated DBA Independent Pub Group, 2010.

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

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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  • 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 June 22, 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.

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what is the meaning of case studies in psychology

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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 .


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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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 the meaning of case studies in psychology

Are you intrigued by the ways psychologists investigate the multifaceted human mind? One of their crucial tools is case studies, particularly when studying rare or unusual phenomena, or processes unfolding over time. In this exploration, we'll guide you through what case studies are in psychology, illustrate them with distinct examples, and outline the detailed methodology behind them. Finally, we'll evaluate…

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Are you intrigued by the ways psychologists investigate the multifaceted human mind? One of their crucial tools is case studies, particularly when studying rare or unusual phenomena, or processes unfolding over time. In this exploration, we'll guide you through what case studies are in psychology, illustrate them with distinct examples, and outline the detailed methodology behind them. Finally, we'll evaluate their effectiveness.

What are Case Studies Psychology?

Some of the most famous studies in psychology are case studies, which we will cover in this explanation. First, let's fully define what we mean by case studies. According to the American Psychological Association¹, case studies are:

A case study in psychology is an in-depth investigation of a single individual, family, event, or other entity. Multiple types of data (psychological, physiological, biographical, environmental) are assembled, for example, to understand an individual’s background, relationships , and behaviour

Case studies are a common research method used when exploring new research areas, as researchers want a detailed understanding of a new phenomenon. Case studies are occasionally used to form new theories, hypotheses or research questions.

Case Studies Examples in Psychology Research

Phineas Gage is a famous example of a case study. Researchers wanted to understand the effects of the accident on his cognitive functions and behaviours. Not many people survive such an injury, so this was an opportunity to examine how the brain deals with significant damage.

Phineas had an accident at work where a metal rod went through his skull and pierced through his frontal lobe (front part of the brain ).

After the accident, Gage was observed and completed several cognitive and psychometric tests over a long time. The case study aimed to see if and how damage to the frontal lobe may cause behavioural changes.

The case study results showed that Gage initially had a decline in cognitive abilities. However, over time these started to increase. The researchers noted that Gage's intelligence returned to a 'normal level'. Gage's friends stated that his personality had changed and that he was no longer the same person; he became vulgar and aggressive.

This is an important finding in psychology. It shows that other brain areas may take over and compensate for deficiencies caused by brain damage. But, there may be a limit to how much or what skills and attributes can be compensated for.

As Phineas Gage's case was unique and his conditions could not be replicated using the experimental method (against ethical standards of research), a case study was the only appropriate method to use. The research was also explorative as little was known about the frontal lobe's function. Therefore, it may have been difficult to form hypotheses.

Hypotheses are formed based on existing knowledge; researchers cannot randomly make a hypothesis based on what they think will happen. Researchers do not believe that this is a scientific way to theorise research.

Case Study Methodology

When conducting a case study, the first step is forming a hypothesis. These hypotheses aim to identify research areas and concepts that the researcher is interested in.

This is different to experimental research as experimental research tends to define and state expected results. In contrast, the case study's hypotheses may be broader.

Next, the researcher will identify the best method that should be used to measure the variables that the researcher is interested in. When doing case studies, sometimes multiple research methods can be used.

This concept is known as triangulation.

A case study may use questionnaires and interviews when researching mental health in indigenous people.

As with all forms of research, the next stage is data analysis once the research has been conducted. As case studies may use various research methods , the type of analysis used depends on which method is used. The case studies aim to provide in-depth knowledge. Therefore, case studies favour qualitative research, such as unstructured interviews and observations. Open-ended questions allow for further exploration, as is used in qualitative research.

Case studies also sometimes use quantitative research methods. Therefore statistical analyses may also be used in case studies.

Case Studies Psychology, hand holding magnifying glass looking at various forms of data, Vaia

The final stage of the case study methodology is to report the data. Case studies usually produce qualitative data.

Qualitative data is non-numerical, detailed findings.

Case studies are usually written in the form of detailed reports. The report should include all the findings found throughout the study and how these were measured.

Evaluation of Using Case Studies

Let's now discuss the advantages and disadvantages of using case studies in research.

Advantages of using case studies

The advantages of case studies are:

  • It provides detailed qualitative data that allows researchers to understand phenomena. This can help researchers uncover new concepts that can be later investigated in controlled environments (the experimental method).
  • It is typically considered explorative research. For example, when researchers do not know much about a phenomenon, a case study is used to help derive hypotheses that will be used in later research.
  • it can be used to research unique situations which are usually gatekept by ethical issues.

Researchers cannot physically harm participants to observe what happens to them. Case studies are useful to investigate this.

Phineas Gage suffered brain damage due to an accident, presenting an opportunity to researchers to investigate the effects of such damage on the brain. This would otherwise be impossible, as researchers cannot damage a person's brain intentionally to find out what happens as a result (fortunately for us!)

Disadvantages of using case studies

The disadvantages of using case studies are:

  • They are extremely difficult to replicate. So, it is difficult to compare the results from a case study to another study; therefore, this research design has low reliability.
  • It uses a small, selective sample the results are usually not generally representative of the population. Therefore, the results tend to be non-generalisable.
  • It can be quite time-consuming to carry out and analyse case studies.

Case Studies Psychology - Key Takeaways

  • Case studies are a type of research design that is used when a researcher is investigating a single person, group or event/phenomenon.
  • A case study in psychology is Phineas Gage; a case study was used because his conditions were unique and could not be replicated due to ethical issues. In addition, little was still known about the research area.
  • Case studies can be used to collect both qualitative and quantitative data, however, they are quite useful for qualitative research.
  • researchers can get an in-depth understanding, it can be used to help direct future research and it can be used to research unique situations or characteristics of people that cannot be replicated.
  • they lack reliability and generalisability and are time-consuming and expensive.

1. VandenBos, G. R. (2007). APA dictionary of psychology . American Psychological Association.

Frequently Asked Questions about Case Studies Psychology

--> what is a case study.

Case studies are a type of research design that is used when a researcher is investigating a single person, group or event/phenomenon. 

--> What are some examples of case studies?

Some examples of case studies that are famous in psychology are:

  • Patient H.M (brain damage and memory)
  • Phineas Gage (brain damage and personality and cognitive skills) 
  • Genie (deprivation and development) 

--> What are case studies used for?

Case studies are used to get in-depth information about a phenomenon. It is usually used as a design when doing explorative research such as trying to form theories, hypotheses or, research questions.

--> What is the most famous case study in psychology?

An infamous case study is Phineas Gage. He had an accident in which a rod went through his frontal lobe (front part of the brain). He survived the accident but he showed a decline in cognitive abilities and his personality changed. 

--> Why are case studies important in research?

Case studies are important in research because: 

  • can gather data from multiple people and get differing perspectives 
  • allows in-depth understanding that may be difficult to find in quantitative research 
  • researchers can investigate unique situations that may not be able to be replicated because of ethical issues 

Final Case Studies Psychology Quiz

Case studies psychology quiz - teste dein wissen.

What is a case study? 

Show answer

Case studies are a type of research design that is used when a researcher is investigating a single person, group or event/phenomenon. This research method collects in-depth data on either of these. 

Show question

Which of the following are reasons that case studies are used in research?

They are always better than laboratory settings 

Why was a case study used to investigate Phineas Gage? 

As Phineas Gage's case was unique and his conditions could not be replicated using the experimental method (against ethical standards of research) a case study was the only appropriate method to use. As little was known about the function of the frontal lobe the research was also explorative. Therefore, it may have been difficult to form hypotheses.

Typically case studies use various methods to collect data, true or false?

What is triangulation? 

Triangulation is when researchers use multiple methods to collect data. 

What type of data do case studies favour? 


What is a typical structure that case studies use for writing reports?

A structure that researchers may follow to report a case study is that they may identify key themes or findings. Then, evidence of this is included such as an extract from a transcribed interview as evidence. 

The data will likely include quantitative statistical data too 

Case studies can use what forms of analysis?

Content analysis

Thematic analysis

What are the advantages of using case studies? 

The advantages of using case studies are:

  • researchers can get an in-depth understanding
  • it can be used to help direct future research
  • it can be used to research unique situations or characteristics of people that cannot be replicated

What are the disadvantages of using case studies? 

  • they lack reliability
  • they lack generalisability
  • it is time-consuming 
  • it can be expensive

Case studies collect qualitative data, true or false?

Case studies only investigate one person. Is this statement true? 

No, sometimes it can be done on a group of people who share a trait. 

Case studies are an                 investigation of a single individual, family, event, or other entity. 

Case studies are considered                 explorative in nature.


Case studies can be used to research unique situations which are usually gatekept by            issues.

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Psychology is an interesting subject. You cannot deny the fun of learning how minds work. The subject needs special attention to detail. You cannot neglect the various lessons of the subject. A case study  in psychology needs serious attention. These tasks are used to study and analyze a person, group or phenomenon. You need to properly understand the subject and analyze the case well to solve them. There are various methods to solve such cases. You need to be a good observer and choose the proper method to solve the case.

To understand what is a case study in psychology, you need to dig deep into the subject and understand the significance of the same. The following few sections will help you understand and work on them properly.

Searching for high-quality Case Study help?

Understanding case study in psychology:, why are they so important.

Case studies are all about analyzing particular cases to understand the subject better. You cannot deny the essence of case studies in any subject. Now, you might like to know why are case studies so important in psychology. The subject that studies the human mind needs a lot of references. You cannot understand the human mind or the various aspects if you don't look into various examples.

Students pursuing the subject are always in search of answers. It is not only about the theories presented by famous psychologists. If you dig deep into it, you will see these psychologists have come to a conclusion after going through several cases. A   case study in psychology helps describe a situation and better understand the human mind. You will be unable to do so just by knowing the theories.

If you have ever visited a psychologist, you will see that the person considers various things to understand your problem. Understanding the underlying problems of the mind is what psychologists do. If you want to be a good psychologist, you need to know the various ways of treating a patient. It will be impossible for you to understand the problems if you don't make a habit of solving case studies.

The case studies help you take a descriptive approach and understand a person from various aspects. Hence, don’t ignore case studies while pursuing the subject. It will do you no good. While working on the tasks, you need to be cautious. It is essential to follow the correct format to obtain suitable grades. The following section will help you understand a case study in psychology format.

What is the Case Study Format in Psychology?

You need to follow a specific format while writing case studies like all other tasks. The subject can open a lot of opportunities. Therefore, it is essential to take the task seriously and solve it correctly. You need to know and write the case study in psychology format correctly. Here’s what you need to do:

Gather accurate information to create a profile

The case study must have relevant data about the subject you are working on. Use any form of sources to gather the most appropriate data. It will help you create a good profile. It is something you need to do before deciding on the research methods. You can check for information from previous case studies on the same subject. Check these sources after going through the previous cases:

  • Official or government records
  • Personal items
  • Observations

Select a case study method

The next step is to select and explain the method you will follow for the case. It is an integral part of the task. The readers must understand and relate to the same. You must understand what is being asked in the case and select the correct research method.

Gather and present background information on the subject

When you start writing the case study, ensure to provide some background information on the subject. It will help the readers understand the subject better and relate to your suggestions and advice. Ensure to collect the following information:

  • Employment status
  • Health status
  • Family members
  • Relationship status
  • Family health history
  • Drug and alcohol history
  • Challenges in life
  • Coping skills

Explain the symptoms or problems of the subject

You cannot analyze a subject without knowing the problems or symptoms. Your readers need to know the same as well. Therefore, you must include the symptoms or problems of the subject in your case study. You can include any emotional, physical or sensory symptoms the subject might be experiencing in this part.

Analyze data and suggest the best diagnosis

In the next section, analyze the data carefully, and suggest the best diagnosis for the subject. You must have a clear understanding of the problems before doing so. The students often fail to convince the readers in this section. Take help from your teachers before working on this section.

Once you have analyzed the data and have suggested the best diagnosis, move on to the three concluding sections, namely:

  • Choosing the proper treatment approach
  • Explaining treatment goals and processes
  • Discussion section

It is not easy, but if you know the right case study writing tips, you will sail through them quickly.

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Case Study Writing Tips for Students

Knowing the correct ways to write a psychology case study is essential. Here are a few case study writing tips for students:

  • Remember and use the rules of the formatting style as suggested by your instructor
  • Use fictitious names for the patients or clients
  • Refer to previous case studies and understand the correct formatting methods and follow the same
  • Proofread and edit before submitting the paper

You will be able to write a flawless case study if you follow the tips mentioned above.

Various Types of Case Study in Education

Case studies can be of various types. You need to understand the type before solving them.

Here are the various types for your reference:

  • Illustrative case studies
  • Cumulative case studies
  • Exploratory (or pilot) case studies
  • Critical instance case studies

Understand the various types of case studies in education before working on the same.

Go through the Case Study Examples for Students for Better Understanding

You cannot dive into the subject without knowing the correct approach. It is essential to go through some case study examples for students before working on the tasks. It will help you understand the proper writing methods and solve the case studies quickly.

Refer to the various websites or scholarly articles to properly understand case studies.

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Blog Beginner Guides

What is a Case Study? [+6 Types of Case Studies]

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 templates.


Click to jump ahead:

What is a case study, what is the case study method, benefits of case studies, limitations of case studies, types of case studies, faqs about case studies.

Case studies are research methodologies. They examine subjects, projects, or organizations to tell a story.

Case Study Definition LinkedIn Post


Numerous sectors use case analyses. The social sciences, social work, and psychology create studies regularly.

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, we explain how case reports are used in three different industries.

What is a business case study?

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]

What is a case study in psychology?

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]

What is a case study in research?

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.

Return to Table of Contents

A case analysis is a deep dive into a subject. To facilitate this case studies are built on interviews and observations. 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.

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

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.

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

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.

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.

Psychology Case Study Examples

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. 

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. 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 a list of the most ground-breaking 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.

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 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 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. 

The" Wild Boy" Of Aveyron 

Another study done on a child that 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

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 situations 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 looking at a case study 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 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. 

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case study method in psychology

Case Study Method In Psychology: Meaning, Pros, and Cons

Page Contents

What is Case Study Method?

The case study method is the in-depth study of any event, person, or problem in a given situation. It strives to get out the root causes of a given spot. Also, referred to as case history or clinical method.

The case study is one of the oldest research methods used particularly to reveal depths for the diagnosis and treatment of behavior disorders in psychology . The psychologist Sigmund Freud, constructed his theory of personality from case studies. Jean Piaget, the most influential observer of children formulated many cognitive theories on children from case studies.

The case study involves making observations for a particular period of time to find the cause and development of a particular behavior pattern. The case record includes information on family background, home life, neighborhood activities, experience at school, health, past life, and so on.

This method is based on the idea that the more we know about individuals, the better we will be able to understand and help them. While using case study the investor uses, tests, checklists, questionnaires, interviews, etc. It can be done at home, school, or work situations.

For example, A child who is problematic at school may be referred to a guidance clinic, where a detailed case history is compiled using all the possible diagnostic testing with personality inventories, intelligence test, psychoanalytic procedures, etc. so that it will be helpful in understanding the child’s problems to provide him with a remedial plan.

The case study method may also be based on a longitudinal study. A longitudinal study follows a study over an extended period of time, with the measurement at periodic intervals. The researchers have to choose one that suits them the best while doing research.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Case Study Method


  • It is very beneficial to know about the social behavioral pattern of the individual in-depth. It provides the perception of inner strivings, tensions, and motivations into one’s life directly.
  • It enables the researchers to trace out the relationship of an individual’s inner self with social forces and surroundings for careful historical analysis of the past life.
  • The case study method is quite useful for diagnosis, therapy, and other practical case problems.


  • In the case of history, the information usually comes from parents, teachers, and other associations of the individual being studied, the subjectivity of the researcher may hamper the report that is needed.
  • The danger of false generalizations is always there because no set of rules are followed in the collection of the information and only a few units are studied.
  • It consumes more time, effort, and money to go through studying the behavior.
  • The case study method can be used in a limited sphere, it is not possible to use for a big number.

Despite its limitations, the case study method is a widely used systematic field research technique in social sciences these days. A wide range of private experiences, informal factors, and personal feelings can not experiment directly. In such cases, the case history method proves to be a valuable technique. It proves more useful in the diagnosis and treatment of problem children, neurotics, socially and emotionally maladjusted persons, delinquents, criminals, etc.

Child psychology uses this method to study juvenile delinquency. Similarly, anthropologists, historians, management technicians, novelists, etc. also have used this method extensively. Its use is increasing day by day.

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Definition of case study

Example sentences.

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'case study.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

1914, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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what is the meaning of case studies in psychology

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Case Study Definition in Psychology

A case study is a detailed examination of an individual, a group of people or a particular occurrence.

Case studies comprise of a one-on-one interview, questionnaires among other data collection forms. A case study involves studying a person’s life and experience to determine the cause of certain behaviors.

Case Studies in Psychology

In psychology, examiners record a person’s way of tackling different problems. They also consider a person’s attitude towards a particular thing. Most case studies are used in performing clinical research mainly to explain certain rare conditions.Usually, psychologists study a single case, but in other instances, a group of people is also applicable.

When examining more than one person, sampling has to be done first. For a case study to qualify as a study focus in future research, it must provide reliable and significant results. Do you need anatomy and physiology case study help ?

Famous Psychology Case Studies

Different researchers carried out psychology case studies with the aim of investigating people’s personality, identity, upbringing and the forces of nature.

Henry Molaison

After her rescue, she eventually learned how to speak and walk but never progressed to good quality language skills. Genie’s case showed the importance of social acceptance and involvement. The psychologist concluded that mental stimulation at a young age helps in the development of motor and sensory skills.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Case Studies in Psychology

Case studies show their significance to researchers and psychology students. The following are the strengths and weaknesses of case studies in psychology.Advantages:

  • It gives an opportunity for innovation.
  • They provide great ideas about people’s behavior.
  • They reveal more information than other research methods.
  • They help in carrying out scientific experiments.
  • A platform is offered to challenge some perceptions.
  • Case studies help in discovery of rare conditions.


  • Case studies do not offer accurate conclusions.
  • They are subject to bias since the researcher’s opinion is the only one that matters.
  • Information gathered from case studies cannot be generalized to the entire population.
  • It is very hard to come up with an exact cause of effect of a particular condition from one individual.

Evaluation of Case Studies in Psychology

When evaluating case studies, the following criteria are essential:

  • A detailed description of your research topic.
  • Hypothesis or inquiry questions.
  • Methods and equipment to use during your study.
  • A collection of data, description, and analysis.
  • Conclusions and presentation of information.

Case Study Methods in Psychology

  • Prospective Case Study Methods. This method of study is whereby examiners observe the target group or individual to determine certain factors. This process usually takes some time to obtain valid results. A researcher may scrutinize the behavior of a person for a lengthy period to determine possible causes of his actions.

Types of Case Studies in Psychology

Below are the different sorts of case studies researchers may use:

  • Explanatory Case Studies. This form of case study involves investigations following a precise cause. They explain why something happens in a particular way.
  • Descriptive Case Studies. This form focuses on a pre-existing theory about a phenomenon or behavior. Researchers carry out case studies to determine the relationship between gathered information and facts in the existing information.
  • Instrumental Case Studies. This case study type allows researchers to interact more with the individual or group. Researchers gather information that is not readily observable to them by persuading the case study.

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  • Open Access
  • Published: 25 August 2023

Application of case-based learning in psychology teaching: a meta-analysis

  • Fanghui Wu 1 ,
  • Tao Wang 1 ,
  • Danxu Yin 1 ,
  • Xiaoxiao Xu 1 ,
  • Cancan Jin 1 ,
  • Nan Mu 1 &
  • Qingrong Tan 1  

BMC Medical Education volume  23 , Article number:  609 ( 2023 ) Cite this article

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Case-based learning (CBL) has been found to be effective for many subjects, but there is currently a lack of evidence regarding its utility in psychology education. The present study investigated whether CBL pedagogy can improve students’ academic performance in psychology courses compared to the traditional teaching methods.

A systematic review and meta-analysis were conducted to investigate the effectiveness of CBL in psychology teaching. Databases including PubMed, Embase, Web of Science, China National Knowledge Infrastructure (CNKI) , the VIP database , and Wanfang data were searched to find eligible randomized controlled trials. Pooled effect estimates were calculated using Hedges’ g under the random effects model, and a subgroup analysis was carried to investigate the heterogeneity among studies.

Fifteen studies with 2172 participants, 1086 in the CBL group and 1086 in the traditional lecture-based teaching group, were included in the meta-analysis. Students in the CBL group scored significantly higher on exams than those in the lecture-based group [Hedges’ g = 0.68, 95%CI (0.49, 0.88), p  < 0.00]. Relatively high heterogeneity was noted among the included studies. Publication bias was examined by the funnel plot and Egger’s test, but did not significantly influence the stability of the results. A subsequent evaluation using the trim-and-fill method confirmed that no single study was skewing the overall results. A qualitative review of the included studies suggested that most students in the CBL group were satisfied with the CBL teaching mode.


This meta-analysis indicated that the CBL pedagogy could be effective in psychology education, and might help increase students’ academic scores, while encouraging a more engaging and cooperative learning environment. At present, the application of CBL in psychology education is in its initial stage. Problems related to the curriculum itself, research methodology, and challenges faced by both teachers and learners have confined its practice. Fully tapping into the strengths of CBL in psychology teaching will require additional work and advancing research.

Peer Review reports

Case-based learning (CBL), also known as case-based teaching or case-based instruction, is a student-centered pedagogy that requires students’ active participation in analyzing and discussing cases provided by the teacher. Although no standardized definition has been acknowledged, the teaching method is thought to have been systematically introduced by the Harvard Law School in the early twentieth century, and is a signature teaching format in the Harvard Business School. Their website claims that under the CBL method curriculum, students need to “put themselves in the shoes of actual decision-makers” to solve the problem by using what they have learned in advance [ 1 ]. The successful application of CBL in the fields of law and business has promoted its application in other types of professional education, such as medicine, dentistry, and science education, as an active and important pedagogy.

Compared with traditional lecture-based strategies, CBL has some special advantages and characteristics. The CBL approach has previously been described in terms of its aim(s), content, and processes. In brief, the primary aim of CBL is to prepare students for professional practice [ 2 ]. That is, the use of cases empowers students to apply theoretical knowledge to contextual situations, and thus facilitates knowledge transfer, as well as problem-solving and critical thinking skills [ 2 , 3 ]. Authentic and effective teaching cases are the key content of CBL. The achievement of CBL objectives largely depends on the case construction and facilitation. Kim et al. [ 4 ] proposed a conceptual framework wherein cases must be relevant, realistic, engaging, challenging, and instructional to be effective. Moreover, cases are often situation-based, and can be delivered in multiple ways such as the text (the most common way), the computer or web assisted format, and the real-life simulation. Some have stressed on the combined use of case-based method and the situation-based learning in diverse forms such as role play [ 5 ], while we believe that case analyses shall be the core in the teaching process. Inquiry-based learning is regarded as the best instruction process for this type of case-based learning [ 2 ], but this may be done in different ways. In general, group discussion is the most common application. It has been pointed out [ 6 , 7 ] that case discussion is the most important part as the process, because engaging and debriefing in case discussions can help students obtain new knowledge, connect new knowledge to experience, and build their knowledge structure [ 2 ]. Therefore, CBL excels in linking theory to practice since students are exposed to and then asked to solve the real or simulated cases deliberately composed by the teaching team. Another method of inquiry-based education, problem-based learning (PBL), is often compared with CBL. What distinguish CBL are that CBL format requires students’ prior knowledge to solve specific problems in the profession, the process of which is under the guidance of the trained teachers. By comparison, when using PBL, learning occurs during solving the problem with little previous knowledge or the teacher’s control of the whole class, and thus there would be more “unfocused tangents” [ 8 ]. In this perspective, CBL is more structured, effective, and accepted by students and the teaching faculty especially at the undergraduate education. Moreover, case-based instruction benefits both students and teachers in that it stimulates the students’ learning motivation and enthusiasm, and it urges teachers to constantly refresh their professional knowledge and boost innovation [ 9 ]. In this regard, applying CBL in teaching brings challenges and higher expectations to both teachers and students.

Psychology is an applied discipline, which includes educational psychology, clinical psychology, organizational psychology, and others. As an important component of medicine and health systems, psychology is essential for both psychology majors and future clinicians. Graduates are expected to use psychological knowledge to deal with the relationship between doctors and patients, provide health care suggestions and prescribe psychotherapies if necessary. At the same time, the subject features strong theoretical bases that are intricate to understand. However, traditional lecture-based teaching is somewhat an indoctrination of theories, while CBL gives attention to both theory and application. In this case, a growing number of teaching teams have realized the advantages of using case-based instruction to teach psychology.

Since the 1990s, CBL has been increasingly implemented in psychology courses, including educational psychology, clinical psychology, introductory psychology and so on. Research on the application of CBL in teaching psychology has mainly focused on the content and processes related to using it, such as course planning, case construction and facilitation, and in endeavors to more efficiently implement CBL. From the teaching perspective, it is critical to ensure the optimal development and best use psychological cases. Based on the overall aims and requirements of the course syllabus, the instructor or teaching team may emphasize the construction of the content and structure of the case, utilizing mature cases or creating specific model cases to support and bridge the gap between theory and practice [ 10 , 11 , 12 , 13 ]. Meanwhile, the strategy, concrete methods and steps required to utilize cases in psychology courses is another vital topic, especially for prospective teachers in the training program and as teaching practice included in various professional courses [ 14 , 15 ].

With regard to the students’ learning, improvements in academic performance and the development of self-teaching, clinical reasoning, and satisfaction in learning are the core concerns [ 11 , 16 ]. Some positive and valuable feedback about the effectiveness of CBL in psychology teaching have been obtained in previous studies [ 11 , 16 ]. However, several challenges associated with applying CBL in psychology teaching also exist, such as the lack of viable cases, insufficient time for successful implementation, students’ lack of readiness to utilize the new information, and so on. Moreover, the effects of CBL on academic performance (as indicated by exam scores) are still being debated because the method is often unstructured and subjective compared to the traditional lecture-based teaching [ 10 ], some students appreciated the lecture-based method in helping them prepare for a written exam [ 17 ]. Although several studies have proved its effectiveness, some research showed that there were no significant differences in the final exam scores between students in a CBL group and a traditional lecture-based group [ 18 ], so additional work is needed on this topic. Therefore, this study applied a meta-analysis to determine the effectiveness of CBL in teaching psychology courses, and to identify the factors influencing the efficacy of the method, so as to have a more thorough understanding of the strategy and to better support subsequent studies of the use of CBL in psychology teaching.

Study design

The meta-analysis adhered to the guidelines of the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta Analyses (PRISMA statements) [ 19 ].

Literature search

The research data were collected from open-access journals from both China and abroad. To be specific, the literature search was carried out in the PubMed, Embase, Web of Science, China National Knowledge Infrastructure (CNKI) , and VIP databases , and using Wanfang data from the earliest publication date (in December of 1976) to August 29th, 2022.

The key terms used in search were as follows: “case-based learning”, “case-based”, or “CBL” and “psychology”. Filters were used to seek out target randomized controlled trials.

Inclusion and exclusion criteria

The study adopted the following inclusion criteria: (1) randomized controlled trials with an experimental group involving the CBL pattern and a controlled group receiving traditional lectures in psychology-related courses; (2) participants were undergraduates or vocational school students; (3) students’ academic performance was quantified by the exam score that was reported with a mean and standard deviation. Studies were excluded when (1) different research methods (other than RCTs) were used; (2) the study was missing data; (3) the publication was a review or meta-analysis. For missing data, we meant that studies did not report the number of participants, the exam scores with a mean and standard deviation nor could these indices be calculated, or any other data that were essential for data synthesis.

For the quality evaluation of the included studies, all of them were first graded by 2 authors according to the standards of the Jadad scale [ 20 ] concerning randomization, double blinding, and withdrawals and dropouts, which is normally applied for clinical experimental research studies. Specifically, for randomization, if words such as randomly, random , or randomization were used, the study was given 1 point, and 1 additional point was given for specifying the method and it being used in an appropriate way. Double blinding also increased the total score by 2 points, 1 for mentioning the method, and an additional 1 point for the adequacy and specific description of the method. For withdrawals and dropouts, 1 point was given if there were no withdrawals/drop-outs, or if it was clearly stated that there were participants who withdrew or dropped out of the study. The highest possible full score was 5, so a total score of 1–2 indicated a low-quality article while a score of 3–5 refers to a high-quality article.

However, some scholars have put forward different opinions [ 21 , 22 ] about the use of randomized experiments in education research, and suggested that blinding both the teacher and the student could be impossible [ 23 ]. For this reason, the scores of the Jadad scale may not adequately indicate the quality of the studies included in the meta-analysis. To our knowledge, no evaluation tool has been developed specifically to assess the quality of these types of studies in the educational field.

Data extraction and literature screening

All the searched articles were managed with the EndnoteX9 software. Two researchers worked independently for record screening and data extraction under the guidance of the inclusion and exclusion criteria. If there were controversies during the screening process, the studies were discussed until the two researchers reached a consensus. For the qualified papers, information concerning the author, publication year, sample size, majors of participants, teaching methods used, courses taught, and outcome data were collected. The outcome data comprised quantitative statistics of the students’ academic scores, as well as their satisfaction and evaluation of CBL if this information was available.

Statistical analysis

Statistical analyses were conducted using the STATA 16.0 software. Continuous variables were demonstrated as the standardized mean difference (SMD), and the results were based on the 95% confidence interval (CI). First, the effects of CBL on the participants’ academic performance was examined by pooling the extracted data together using the effect size of Hedges’ g. The heterogeneity of the data was investigated using the I 2 value. If I 2 < 50% and p  > 0.1, a fixed effects model would be used, otherwise a random effects model would be chosen for the meta-analysis. In addition to heterogeneity testing, subgroup analyses were performed and a Galbraith plot was generated. Lastly, publication bias was evaluated by conducting the Egger’s test and using a funnel plot. If publication bias was detected, a trim and fill method would be applied to see whether the bias related to a specific publication would influence the results.

Study characteristics

The systematic search of the literature identified 763 relevant articles from online databases (Fig.  1 ). Specifically, 143 records were obtained from CNKI , 191 records from Wanfang Data , 105 records from VIP databases , 152 records from PubMed , 134 records from Embase , 36 records from the Web of Science , and 2 additional records were obtained from other sources. The EndNoteX9 tool helped remove 169 duplicate records automatically, and 47 additional duplicates were excluded manually. After screening the titles and abstracts to exclude irrelevant studies, 50 records were kept for further review. Of the 50 articles, 35 studies were removed after the full-text was read for various reasons: 27 studies did not follow the design of randomized controlled trials, five studies reported insufficient data and data mismatch, two studies were reviews, and the full text version of one study could not be retrieved.

Finally, 15 studies [ 11 , 16 , 18 , 24 , 25 , 26 , 27 , 28 , 29 , 30 , 31 , 32 , 33 , 34 , 35 ] in total were included in the meta-analysis and further discussions, and the characteristics of each study are shown in Table  1 . The 15 studies comprised 2172 participants, 1086 in CBL groups and 1086 in control groups. Among them, five studies compared the effects of CBL with traditional lectures in medical psychology courses, five studies involved trials in teaching nursing psychology, and the other five studies were carried out in teaching management psychology, the instruction for a clinical internship, experimental psychology, introductory psychology, and the psychology of adjustment. Although these courses are fundamental in psychology education, each type of curriculum follows a different pattern. We predict that there would be a certain level of heterogeneity due to the variety of courses, and subgroup analyses were done based on the different course types.

The risk of bias for the included randomized controlled trials was assessed according to the Jadad score [ 20 ], and the results are presented in Table  2 . In terms of randomization, nine studies complying with a randomization process without explaining the specific methods used received a score of one, and one study [ 32 ] using lot drawing was scored two. No study applied double-blinding methodology in the design. No withdrawals or dropouts were seen in any of the trials, so all were given a score of one. Thus, one study scored three points, nine scored two points, and the other five scored one point in the quality assessment.

Regarding outcome variables, besides academic performance (indicated by means and standard deviations), seven studies also investigated CBL’s effects through questionnaires such as teaching evaluations, self-assessments of learning abilities, psychological scales, and so on. Generally, students expressed positive attitudes towards the case-based approach and provided positive feedback. More details can be seen in Table  1 .

figure 1

The PRISMA flow chart for the selection of studies included in the meta-analysis

Quantitative analysis of pooled effects

A statistically significant pooled effect size (Hedges’ g) was observed when comparing students’ academic scores based on whether they had CBL or traditional lecture-based teaching. As shown in the forest plot (Fig.  2 ), the total effect of CBL yielded better results than lecture-based learning [Hedges’ g = 0.68, 95%CI (0.49, 0.88), p  < 0.00]. The heterogeneity was relatively high ( I 2 = 78.90%, p  < 0.00), suggesting that a random effects model should be applied.

figure 2

Forest plot showing the impact of CBL on students’ academic performance compared with conventional LBL under the random effects model

Investigation of heterogeneity

Due to a high heterogeneity across the meta-analysis, a subgroup analysis was conducted to explore the source of the heterogeneity. We considered that the characteristics of the different courses may have resulted in high heterogeneity. Thus, we divided the 15 studies into two categories based on the different course types: basic theory courses (n = 2) [ 11 , 35 ] and applied courses (n = 13) [ 16 , 18 , 24 , 25 , 26 , 27 , 28 , 29 , 30 , 31 , 32 , 33 , 34 ]. The results presented in Fig.  3 suggest that in basic theory courses, the students in the CBL group had significantly higher exam scores than did those in the control group [Hedges’ g = 0.61, 95%CI (0.33, 0.89), p  < 0.00]. Likewise, in the applied psychological courses, the exam scores in the CBL group were obviously higher than those in the traditional lecture group [Hedges’ g = 0.69, 95%CI (0.47, 0.92), p  < 0.00]. Hence, the results of the subgroup analysis suggested that CBL led to significant improvements in scores related to teaching both types of psychology courses. After this sub-grouping, the heterogeneity in the basic theory group became non-significant ( I 2  = 0.00%, p  = 0.64), while it remained high in the applied course group ( I 2  = 81.80%, p  = 0.00), suggesting that the different course types may not be the source of heterogeneity. This finding led us to further investigate the studies using a Galbraith plot (Fig.  4 ).

figure 3

Forest plot for the subgroup analysis based on different course types

figure 4

Galbraith plot of the 15 studies

As shown in Fig.  4 , four studies [ 18 , 26 , 32 , 33 ] outside the parallel lines were considered to be the potential sources of heterogeneity. After removing them, no obvious heterogeneity was found across studies ( I 2 = 21.50%, p  = 0.24). However, even after removing these four studies, a forest plot (Fig.  5 ) indicated that the total examination scores of students in the CBL group were still significantly higher than those in the control group [Hedges’ g = 0.65, 95% CI (0.54, 0.76), p  < 0.00].

figure 5

Forest plot after removing four studies [ 18 , 26 , 32 , 33 ]

Sensitivity analysis

A sensitivity analysis was performed by omitting studies one-by-one to see whether any single study could affect the statistical significance of the results in the meta-analysis. Figure  6 shows that the point estimate of pooled effects after removing each study always stayed within the confidence interval, suggesting that the results were stable.

figure 6

Sensitivity analysis of the pooled studies

Publication bias

To further assess the data, a funnel plot was generated. The funnel plot (Fig.  7 ) appears to be somewhat asymmetrical. Egger’s test was also performed as a reference, and the findings suggested that there was slight publication bias in the meta-analysis ( t  = 2.21; p  = 0.046).

figure 7

Funnel plot of the studies included in the meta-analysis

Due to the publication bias indicated by Egger’s test, a trim-and-fill method was applied to test whether the bias could affect the results. Figure  8 indicated that after hypothetically filling five missing studies, the funnel plot would become visually symmetrical, wherein no publication bias would exist. Notably, the new pooled effect under the random effects model was still significant [Hedges’ g = 1.69, 95%CI (1.41, 2.04), p  < 0.00], indicating that the existence of publication bias did not significantly influence the robustness of the meta-analysis.

figure 8

Results of trim-and-fill method

Qualitative evaluation of the effectiveness of CBL

Eleven studies reported results from questionnaires and open-ended surveys that investigated the students’ evaluation of and attitudes towards CBL after experiencing the whole teaching process. Table  1 displays these descriptions in detail. All eleven studies reported that CBL was beneficial for students, and its beneficial effects included: (1) aroused learning interests [ 16 , 24 , 28 , 30 , 33 ]; (2) enhanced self-study abilities [ 16 , 18 ]; (3) improved communication and cooperation [ 16 , 28 , 34 ]; and (4) improved problem-solving capabilities [ 30 , 33 ].

Students studying psychology often find themselves in a dilemma since they are expected to apply what they have learned in their future career or in real life to settle problems and make decisions, while the abstract theories they have learned are divorced from reality. It is difficult to provide these skills via only traditional lectures. CBL has been proposed as a method to fix this gap. Based on a literature search, we found that most of the published studies were qualitative, and there have been only a few quantitative studies designed to examine the strengths of CBL in psychology education, and there have been even fewer studies with high-quality experimental designs. Among the limited RCT studies, the CBL teaching mode was more often implemented in applied courses, especially in medical psychology and nursing psychology. The two courses are interdisciplinary that applies psychological theories and techniques into clinical and health-care practice. Thus, CBL is more often practiced in teaching these applied psychological courses. Evidences of CBL’s effectiveness in other psychology courses are fewer. That is to say, the application of cases-based method in teaching psychology is still in its early stages. Thus, we aim to gather data from the existing literature to investigate whether CBL could be useful in psychology education by meta-analysis. To our knowledge, this is the first meta-analysis conducted to investigate the effectiveness of CBL in psychology education. Our results support the idea that CBL could be beneficial in teaching psychology and may be superior to traditional lecture-based learning. Students in the CBL group acquired higher scores in examinations and improved their problem-solving and critical thinking, which is in agreement with other studies in clinical medicine education [ 36 ] and dental education [ 37 ].

Several factors may affect the efficacy of CBL in psychology teaching. For instance, the way the teaching team organize the cases, the quality of the teaching staff, the duration of case analysis, and many others may affect the successful implementation of CBL. Importantly, the quality of the case is critical for eliciting the students’ interest [ 10 ], thus promoting substantive case discussions [ 13 ]. The cases from the included studies were from clinical practice or fictional, but few provided this information, so the importance of whether the case was ‘real’ and many other details about the case could not be analyzed. While we believe fictional cases can be as effective as true clinical cases for CBL, it is necessary to ensure that the fictional cases are believable and indistinguishable from real cases.

The strategy that the instructor uses in facilitating and debriefing class discussions is also important [ 10 ]. The comparative research reported by Engle and Faux [ 13 ] suggests that a higher percentage of contribution to case discussions was observed in the classes where more authority was offered to the student by the instructor, while more structured instruction could facilitate the stronger use of psychological theory. It is difficult to determine which strategy is superior, since each instructor has his or her own style and customs, and student learning styles also vary. However, regardless of the teaching style, it is important that instructors receive training in CBL teaching before its implementation to ensure their professionalism and to increase efficacy of the case instruction. Students’ responses also affect the instructor’s implementation of CBL. One study on students’ stress levels found that the students’ stress escalated when they changed to a CBL environment from traditional teaching [ 38 ]. A study by Baeten et al. [ 39 ] suggested that gradually introducing students to CBL is important for their autonomous motivation and academic achievement. Thus, it is suggested that instructors should keep an eye on students’ feelings and obtain timely feedback during the implementation of case instruction.

The meta-analysis showed relatively high heterogeneity among the studies. The subgroup analysis showed that different course types did not appear to account for this heterogeneity. However, we believe that this result could offer some implications. Psychology curriculum is broad and extensive that courses vary from each other. Just as the saying goes, one man’s meat maybe another man’s poison, we wondered whether CBL could still be statistically more effective than traditional LBL in different types of psychology courses especially in those theory-oriented courses. The results supported that CBL could be more effective than LBL on improving students’ academic scores whenever teaching the courses of the basic theories or the application content. Nevertheless, the basic theory courses group only comprised two courses, indicating that CBL is more often practiced in those application-oriented courses. It suggests that we could make the effort to use case-based method in theory-oriented psychology courses in the future.

To further investigate the source of heterogeneity and whether it will influence the stability and reliability of the result, a Galbraith plot was drawn. It helped identify four studies [ 18 , 26 , 32 , 33 ] that may have contributed most to the heterogeneity. The heterogeneity may be related to differences in the research design, the implementation of the intervention as discussed above, as well as the characteristics of participants. For instance, Song et al. [ 33 ] applied CBL to teach the mental outpatient internship that students learnt from hands-on cases by observing the process of psychotherapy at the scene, and after the observation, students would hold a discussion and try to simulate the scene under the guidance of the instructor. This first-hand experience of cases differs from the in-class discussion that not only students’ previous knowledge would be recalled, but also their emotions and feelings would be elicited. It is in line with the Constructivist views of learning that it is essentially social in nature [ 10 ]. This diverse type of case-based teaching mode might cause heterogeneity statistically, but we think it is worth trying in other applied psychology courses teaching in the future. It is difficult to analyze all of these elements using the limited information offered by each article, but we tried to elaborate on the methodology of the included RCTs. Specifically, the participants in the study of Su et al. [ 32 ] all knew the information about the trial which may cause biases since the students in the CBL group might feel that they were paid special attention. Likewise, Song [ 26 ] used non-probability sampling which might cause heterogeneity. There are different views regarding the use of controlled experiments when performing education research. Some have stressed the importance of diversity in educational research methods, believing that double-blinding is hard to follow even in the simpler experiments performed outside the educational setting [ 21 ]. Moreover, randomization may also be difficult to achieve because the student participants had been streamed beforehand based on different programs. It is recommended that in the education field, evaluators should rely more on ethnographic methods with more descriptive information [ 22 ], such as that obtained by observing or videotaping. Nevertheless, an RCT may still be possible in the education field. However, it is necessary to design more effective trials or experiments to balance the internal and external validity with regard to the unique characteristics of education research.

The qualitative evidence drawn from questionnaires and surveys of the 11 studies suggests that a large percentage of students were more strongly motivated to learn when CBL was applied. Overall, the students’ subjective evaluations suggested that CBL helped their learning reach a deeper level, which means that they had a better and more extensive understanding of the theoretical knowledge being taught in the course. Additionally, because CBL is a team effort, the students’ communication and cooperation skills would noticeably be strengthened during the class, based on both interactions between teacher and student and interactions between and among students.

Nevertheless, some limitations exist in this study. First, few studies were included in the meta-analysis, resulting in a relatively small sample size. We adopted the inclusion criteria used for randomized-controlled trials, leading to the exclusion of qualitative studies and any study with another design. In addition, education research may be inevitably subject to biases caused by the implementation of blinding and randomization [ 22 ]. It is suggested that the type of educational intervention, control environment and the instructors’ training experiences, which are not assessed as part of the Jadad score, should be investigated when evaluating the reliability of education research [ 22 ]. Educational research is currently very diverse, which is why we wished to collect and synthesize more evidence to provide more reliable results using a meta-analysis. Second, the effectiveness of CBL was mainly quantified based on the academic score, which is simple to use, but shows only short-term results, which may be relatively subjective. The efficacy of CBL should also be evaluated using other educational indicators, such as motivation and interest, and it should be tracked in the long-term. Third, the study only compared the effects of CBL with LBL. In the future, CBL should be compared with other new teaching methods to further investigate its strengths and weaknesses.

In general, the present meta-analysis indicates that CBL is more effective than LBL in improving students’ academic scores in psychology, and was a method welcomed and appreciated by the students. CBL features the combination of theories and practice, makes the classroom more engaging and encourages more cooperation and communication among students and teachers. In this way, the students’ learning interest would be stimulated, and their problem-solving and critical thinking skills could be better practiced. However, the application of CBL in psychology education is still in its initial stage, and there are no systematic standards or acknowledged rules to follow. Quantitative research on this area is still limited, with a lack of appropriate methods to control for probable biases to reach better decisions about the effectiveness of CBL in teaching psychology. Hence, the application of CBL in psychology teaching must be the subject of further research and exploration.

Data Availability

The datasets used and analyzed during the current study are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.


  • Case-based learning

Lecture-based learning

Team-based learning

Problem-based learning

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This study was supported by a grant from the Chongqing Higher Education Teaching Reform Research Program (No.212167) and the supporting plan of Army Medical University (No.410301060177).

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Wu, F., Wang, T., Yin, D. et al. Application of case-based learning in psychology teaching: a meta-analysis. BMC Med Educ 23 , 609 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12909-023-04525-5

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what is the meaning of case studies in psychology

Mindfulness Supervision

What is case study in psychology?

November 5, 2022

Why is case study used in psychology?

They allow researchers to observe and record information about rare, impractical, or unethical conditions and behaviours . They provide researchers with new evidence to support psychological theories. They help researchers develop hypotheses that others can study or add to in the future.

What are examples of case studies?

Types of Case Studies

Researchers might study a group of people in a certain setting or look at an entire community . For example, psychologists might explore how access to resources in a community has affected the collective mental well-being of those living there.

What is case study method?

The case study method is a learning technique in which the student is faced a particular problem, the case . The case study facilitates the exploration of a real issue within a defined context, using a variety of data sources (Baxter et al., 2008).

What is case study in psychology? – Related Questions

What are the 3 methods of case study?

He has helpfully characterised three main types of case study: intrinsic, instrumental and collective [8]. An intrinsic case study is typically undertaken to learn about a unique phenomenon.

What are the main features of case study?

  • Arriving at generalizations.
  • Presenting a detailed case history.
  • Developing an in-depth understanding of the case.
  • Helping solve the problem of the case.

What is case method with example?

As an example of the case method group activity, a faculty member teaching an industrial/organizational psychology course divided the students into groups based on time zones and created a discussion forum for each group . They completed a learning team charter to establish their group covenant.

What is case study short answer?

A case study is a scenario in a particular professional context which students are expected to analyse and respond to, guided by specific questions posed concerning the situation . In many cases, the scenario or case study involves a number of issues or problems that must be dealt with in a professional workplace.

What are the steps of case study method?

  • Determine and define research questions.
  • Select cases and determine data collection and analysis techniques.
  • Preparation for data collection.
  • Collection of data in the field.
  • Evaluate and analyze data.
  • Prepare the report.

What are the 4 most important parts of case study?

  • Start with a Compelling Title and Summary.
  • Share Background Information About Your Customer.
  • Explain the Challenge Your Customer Faced.
  • Discuss Your Customer’s Decision Process.
  • Explain the Solution and Implementation.
  • Share the End Results.
  • Include Supporting Visuals and Quotes.

How do you prepare for a case study?

  • Listen to the interviewer and ask questions.
  • Structure the problem and form a framework.
  • Think before speaking.
  • Focus on high-impact issues.
  • Generate a hypothesis and explore options creatively.
  • Demonstrate business judgment.
  • Make quick and accurate calculations.

How do you start a case study?

  • Introduce the topic area of the report.
  • Outline the purpose of the case study.
  • Outline the key issue(s) and finding(s) without the specific details.
  • Identify the theory used.
  • Summarise recommendations.

How many steps are in a case study?

It discusses the seven steps employed in a case study approach, namely: (1) Justification for the research paradigm and research methodology, (2) Justification for the case study method, (3) Criteria for judging the quality of case study design (4) Designing the case study, (5) Criteria for selecting a case design, (6)

What is another word for case study?

What are the 7 steps to write a convincing case study.

  • Don’t have over expectations about your case studies.
  • Find something interesting to engage readers.
  • Make your case study for the target audience.
  • Follow the right structure in your document.
  • Use relevant data in your case study.
  • Draw your company or service as a helping hand.

What are the 6 parts of case study in order?

  • Preparation. Just like with any study, it’s important to first prepare to conduct the case analysis.
  • Introduction.
  • Background information.
  • Proposed solutions.
  • Recommendations.

How long should a case study be?

While the guidelines and template contain much detail, your finished case study should be only 500 to 1,500 words in length.

Is there a format for case study?

Writing a Case Study Draft. Your draft should contain at least 4 sections: an introduction; a body where you should include background information, an explanation of why you decided to do this case study, and a presentation of your main findings; a conclusion where you present data; and references.

What is the best format for a case study?

Downloadable PDF is the most common study case format, but it could be shared as a website page section, a video, or a slide presentation. Although the content itself is more important than the appearance, some rules could organize ideas to make reading more attractive and fluid.

What is the fastest way to memorize a case study?

A case study on one side

Condensing information onto one side of A4 or A3 is a really useful way of streamlining the case study and making it easier for a student to memorise. Writing out the notes forces the student to read (and hopefully process) the material which reinforces learning.

Related posts:

  • What does shadow mean in psychology?
  • WHO emphasized unconscious thought processes?
  • What are the 5 theories of dreams?
  • Which one of the following is not the goal of psychology?

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what is the meaning of case studies in psychology

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What Is Narcissism? Science Confronts a Widely Misunderstood Phenomenon

Researchers debate whether grandiosity always masks vulnerability

  • By Diana Kwon  on  September 1, 2023 Scientific American September 2023 Issue

What Is Narcissism? Science Confronts a Widely Misunderstood Phenomenon

C an you think of a narcissist? Some people might picture Donald Trump, perhaps, or Elon Musk, both of whom are often labeled as such on social media. Or maybe India's prime minister, Narendra Modi, who once wore a pinstripe suit with his own name woven in minute gold letters on each stripe over and over again.

But chances are you've encountered a narcissist, and they looked nothing like Trump, Musk or Modi. Up to 6 percent of the U.S. population, mostly men, is estimated to have had narcissistic personality disorder during some period of their lives. And the condition manifests in confoundingly different ways. People with narcissism “may be grandiose or self-loathing, extraverted or socially isolated, captains of industry or unable to maintain steady employment, model citizens or prone to antisocial activities,” according to a review paper on diagnosing the disorder.

Clinicians note several dimensions on which narcissists vary. They may function extremely well, with successful careers and vibrant social lives, or very poorly. They may (or may not) have other disorders, ranging from depression to sociopathy. And although most people are familiar with the “grandiose” version of narcissism—as displayed by an arrogant and pompous person who craves attention—the disorder also comes in a “vulnerable” or “covert” form, where individuals suffer from internal distress and fluctuations in self-esteem. What these seeming opposites have in common is an extreme preoccupation with themselves.

Most psychologists who treat patients say that grandiosity and vulnerability coexist in the same individual, showing up in different situations. Among academic psychologists, however, many contend that these two traits do not always overlap. This debate has raged for decades without resolution, most likely because of a conundrum: vulnerability is almost always present in a therapist's office, but individuals high in grandiosity are unlikely to show up for treatment. Psychologist Mary Trump deduces, from family history and close observation, that her uncle, Donald Trump, meets the criteria for narcissistic as well as, probably, antisocial personality disorder, at the extreme end of which is sociopathy. But “coming up with an accurate and comprehensive diagnosis would require a full battery of psychological and neuropsychological tests that he'll never sit for,” she notes in her book on the former president.

Now brain science is contributing to a better understanding of narcissism. It's unlikely to resolve the debate, but preliminary studies are coming down on the side of the clinicians: vulnerability indeed seems to be the hidden underside of grandiosity.

Fantasy or Reality?

Tessa, a 25-year-old who now lives in California, has sometimes felt on top of the world. “I would wake up every day and go to college believing I was going to be a famous singer and that my life was going to be fantastic,” she recalls. “I thought I could just keep perfecting myself and that someday I would end up as this amazing person surrounded by this amazing life.”

But she also hit severe emotional lows. One came when she realized that the fabulous life she imagined might never come to be. “It was one of the longest periods of depression I've ever gone through,” Tessa tells me. “I became so bitter, and I'm still working through it right now.”

That dissonance between fantasy and reality has spilled into her relationships. When speaking to other people, she often finds herself bored—and in romantic partnerships, especially, she feels disconnected from both her own and her partner's emotions. An ex-boyfriend, after breaking up, told her she'd been oblivious to the hurt she caused him by exploding in rage when he failed to meet her expectations. “I told him, ‘Your suffering felt like a cry in the wind—I didn't know you were feeling that way’ … all I could think about was how betrayed I felt,” she says. It upset her to see him connect with other people; she reacted by degrading his friends and trying to stop him from meeting them. And she hated him admiring other people because it made her question whether he'd continue to see her as admirable.

Not being able to live the idealized versions of herself—which include visions of being surrounded by friends and fans who love and idolize her for her beauty and talent—leaves Tessa profoundly distressed. “Sometimes I simultaneously feel above everything, above life itself, and also like a piece of trash on the side of the road,” she says. “I feel like I'm constantly trying to hide and cover things up. I'm constantly stressed and exhausted. I'm also constantly trying to build an inner self so I don't have to feel that way anymore.” After her parents suggested therapy, Tessa was diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) in 2023.

What makes narcissism particularly complex is that it may not always be dysfunctional. “Being socially dominant, being achievement-striving and focused on improving one's own lot in life by themselves are not all that problematic and tend to be valued by Western cultures,” notes Aidan Wright, a psychologist at the University of Michigan.

Elsa Ronningstam, a clinical psychologist at McLean Hospital in Massachusetts, says the relatively functional variety of narcissism includes having, when things are going well, a positive view of oneself and a drive to preserve one's own well-being, while still being able to maintain close relationships with others and tolerate divergences from an idealized version of oneself. Then there is “pathological” narcissism, characterized by an inability to maintain a steady sense of self-esteem. Those with this condition protect an inflated view of themselves at the expense of others and—when that view is threatened—experience anger, shame, envy and other negative emotions. They can go about living relatively normal lives and act out only in certain situations. Narcissistic personality disorder is a subtype of pathological narcissism in which someone has persistent, long-term issues. It often occurs along with other conditions, such as depression, bipolar disorder, borderline personality or antisocial personality disorder .

The 21st-century Narcissus

In the ancient Greek tale of Narcissus, a young hunter, admired for his unmatched beauty, spurns many who love and pursue him. Among them is Echo, an unfortunate nymph—who, after pulling a trick on one of the gods, has lost her ability to speak except for words already spoken by another. Though initially entranced by a voice that mirrored his own, Narcissus ultimately rejects Echo's embrace.

The god Nemesis then curses Narcissus, causing him to fall in love with his own reflection in a pool of water. Narcissus becomes hopelessly infatuated with his own image, which he believes to be another beautiful being, and becomes distraught when he finds it cannot reciprocate his affection. In some versions of the story, he wastes away before his own likeness, dying of thirst and starvation.

In the 1960s and 1970s psychoanalysts Heinz Kohut and Otto Kernberg sketched what's now known as the “mask model” of narcissism. It postulated that grandiose traits such as arrogance and assertiveness conceal feelings of insecurity and low self-esteem. The 1980 edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the main reference used by clinicians in the U.S., reflected this insight by including vulnerable features in its definition of NPD, although it emphasized the grandiose ones. But some psychiatrists contended that the vulnerability criteria overlapped too much with those of other personality disorders. Borderline personality disorder (BPD), in particular, shares with NPD characteristics of vulnerability such as difficulty managing emotions, sensitivity to criticism, and unstable relationships. Subsequent versions of the DSM therefore placed even more weight on grandiose features—such as an exaggerated sense of self-importance, a preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success and power, an excessive need for admiration and a lack of empathy.

In the early 2000s Aaron Pincus, a clinical psychologist at Pennsylvania State University, noticed that this focus on grandiosity did not accurately represent what he was seeing in narcissistic patients. “It was completely ignoring what typically drives patients to come to therapy, which is vulnerability and distress,” Pincus says. “That got me on a mission to get us more calibrated in the science.” In a 2008 review , Pincus and his colleagues discovered enormous variability in how mental health practitioners were conceptualizing NPD, with dozens of labels for the ways in which narcissism expressed itself. But there was also a common thread: descriptions of both grandiose and vulnerable ways in which the disorder showed up.

Since then, researchers have found that both dimensions of narcissism are linked to what psychologists call “antagonism,” which includes selfishness, deceitfulness and callousness. But grandiosity is associated with being assertive and attention seeking, whereas vulnerability tends to involve neuroticism and suffering from anxiety, depression and self-consciousness. Vulnerable narcissism also more often goes along with self-harm (which can include hairpulling, cutting, burning and related behaviors that are also found in people with BPD) and risk of suicide than the grandiose form.

The two manifestations of narcissism are also linked to different kinds of problems in relationships. In grandiose states, people with NPD may be more vindictive and domineering toward others, whereas in vulnerable phases they may be more withdrawn and exploitable.

Self-Esteem Juice

Jacob Skidmore, a 23-year-old with NPD who runs accounts as The Nameless Narcissist on several social media platforms, says he often flips from feeling grandiose to vulnerable, sometimes multiple times a day. If he's getting positive attention from others or achieves his goals, he experiences grandiose “highs” when he feels confident and secure. “It's almost a euphoric feeling,” he says. But when these sources of ego boosts—something he refers to as “self-esteem juice”—dry up, he finds himself slipping into lows when an overwhelming feeling of shame might stop him from even leaving his home. “I'm afraid to go outside because I feel like the world is going to judge me or something, and it's painful,” Skidmore says. “It feels like I'm being stabbed in the chest.”

The desire to fill up on self-esteem has driven many of Skidmore's more grandiose behaviors—whether it was making himself the de facto leader of multiple social groups where he referred to himself as “the Emperor” and punished those who angered him or forging relationships purely for the sake of boosting his self-esteem. Skidmore hasn't always presented himself in grandiose ways: when he was younger, he was much more outwardly sensitive and insecure. “I remember looking in the mirror and thinking about how disgusting I was and how much I hated myself,” he tells me.

Clinicians' evaluations, as well as studies in the wider population, support the idea that narcissists oscillate between these two states. In recent surveys, Wright and his graduate student Elizabeth Edershile asked hundreds of undergraduate students and community members to complete assessments that measured their levels of grandiosity and vulnerability multiple times a day over several days. They found that whereas vulnerability and grandiosity do not generally coexist in the same moment, people who are overall more grandiose also undergo periods of vulnerability—whereas those who are generally more vulnerable don't experience much grandiosity. Some studies suggest that the overlap may depend on the severity of the narcissism: clinical psychologist Emanuel Jauk of the Medical University of Graz in Austria and his colleagues found in surveys that vulnerability may be more likely to appear in highly grandiose individuals.

Graphic shows where narcissistic grandiosity and vulnerability fall along spectra of various approach-oriented (bold) and avoidance-oriented (reactive) traits, from strongest possible negative to strongest possible positive correlation.

To Diana Diamond, a clinical psychologist at the City University of New York, such findings suggest that the mask model is too simple. “The picture is much more complex—vulnerability and grandiosity exist in dynamic relation to each other, and they fluctuate according to what the individual is encountering in life, the stage of their own development.”

But Josh Miller, a psychologist at the University of Georgia, and others entirely reject the idea that grandiose individuals are concealing a vulnerable side. Although grandiose people may sometimes feel vulnerable, that vulnerability isn't necessarily linked to insecurities, Miller argues. “I think they feel really angry because what they cherish more than anything is a sense of superiority and status—and when that's called into question, they're going to lash back,” he adds. Psychologist Donald Lynam of Purdue University agrees: “I think people can be jerks for lots of reasons—they could simply think they're better than others or be asserting status or dominance—it's an entirely different motivation, and I think that motivation has been neglected.”

These differences in perspective may arise because different types of psychologists are studying different populations. In a 2017 study, researchers surveyed 23 clinical psychologists and 22 social and/or personality psychologists (who do not work with patients) and found that although both groups viewed grandiosity as an essential aspect of narcissism, clinical psychologists were slightly more likely to view vulnerability as being at its core .

Most narcissists who seek help are generally more vulnerable, Miller notes: “These are wounded people who come in to seek treatment for their wounds.” To him, that means clinics might not be the best place to study narcissism—at least not its grandiose aspect. It's “a little bit like trying to learn about a lion's behavior in a zoo,” he says.

The unwillingness to seek therapy is especially true of “malignant narcissists,” who, in addition to the usual characteristics, exhibit antisocial and psychopathic features such as lying chronically or enjoying inflicting pain or suffering on others.

Marianne (whose name has been changed for privacy) recalls her father, a brilliant scientist whom her own therapist deemed a malignant narcissist after reading the voluminous letters he'd sent over the years. (He never sought therapy.) It was “all about constant punishment,” Marianne says. He implemented stringent rules, such as putting a strict time limit on how long their family of five children could use the bathroom during long road trips. If, by the time he'd filled the tank, everyone hadn't returned to the car, he'd leave. On one occasion, Marianne was abandoned at a gas station when she couldn't make it back on time. “There was [hardly] a day without that kind of drama—one person being isolated, punished, humiliated, being called out,” she remembers. “If you cried, he'd say you're being histrionic. He didn't associate that crying with his actions; he thought it was performative.”

Her father also pitted her siblings and their mother against one another to prevent them from forging close connections—and he constantly looked for flaws in those around him. Marianne recalls dinner parties at home where her father spent hours trying to pinpoint weaknesses among the other husbands and to hurt couples' opinions of each other. When Marianne brought home boyfriends, her father challenged them and tried to prove that he was superior. And despite being a dazzling academic who easily charmed people when they first met, he got fired time and time again because of conflicts at the universities where he worked. “It was all about one-upmanship,” she says. “His impulse to destroy anything that was shiny, that was popular, that was loved—it overwhelmed everything else.”

Malignant narcissists often pose the greatest challenge for therapists—and they may be particularly dangerous in leadership positions, Diamond notes. They can have deficient moral functioning while exerting an enormous amount of influence on followers. “I think this is something that's going on right now, with the rise of authoritarianism worldwide,” she adds.

An Adverse Childhood?

Research with identical and nonidentical twins suggests that narcissism may be at least partially genetically heritable , but other studies indicate that dysfunctional parenting might also play a significant role. Grandiosity may derive from caregivers holding inflated views about their child's superiority, whereas vulnerability may originate in having a caregiver who was cold, neglectful, abusive or invalidating. Complicating matters, some studies find overvaluation also plays a role in vulnerable narcissism, whereas others fail to find a link between parenting and grandiosity. “Children who develop NPD may have felt seen and appreciated when they achieved or behaved in a certain way that satisfied a caregiver's expectations but ignored, dismissed or scolded when they failed to do so,” Ronningstam summarizes in her guide to the disorder.

Skidmore attributes his own NPD to both genes and painful childhood experiences. “I've never met a narcissist who has not had trauma,” he says. “People just use love as this carrot on a stick [that] they hang above your head, and they tell you to behave or they'll take it away. And so I have this mindset of, ‘Well then, screw it! I don't need love. I can take admiration, achievements, my intelligence—you can't take those things away from me.’

Many researchers nonetheless say a lot more work is needed to determine what role, if any, parenting plays. Miller points out that most research to date of grandiosity, in particular, has found small effects. Further, the work was done retrospectively—asking people to recall their past experiences—rather than prospectively to see how early life experiences affect outcomes.

There is another way to study what is going on with a narcissist, however: look inside. In a study published in 2015, researchers at the University of Michigan recruited 43 boys aged 16 or 17 and asked them to fill out the Narcissism Personality Inventory, a questionnaire that primarily measures grandiose traits. The teenagers then played Cyberball, a virtual ball-tossing game, while their brain activity was measured using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), a noninvasive neuroimaging method that enables researchers to observe the brain at work.

Cyberball tests how well people deal with social exclusion. Participants are told that they're playing with two other people, although they are actually playing with a computer. In some rounds, the virtual players include the human participant; in others, the virtual players begin by tossing the ball to everyone but later pass it just between themselves—cutting the participant out of the game.

The teenagers with higher levels of grandiose narcissism turned out to have greater activity in the so-called social pain network than those with lower scores. This network is a collection of brain regions—including parts of the insula and the anterior cingulate cortex—that prior studies had found were associated with distress in the face of social exclusion. Interestingly, the researchers did not find differences in the boys' self-reports of distress. In another revealing fMRI study, Jauk and his Graz colleagues found that men (but not women) with higher levels of grandiose narcissism showed more activity in parts of the anterior cingulate cortex associated with negative emotions and social pain when viewing images of themselves compared with images of close friends or strangers.

The bodies of narcissists bear evidence of elevated stress. Studies indicate that men with more narcissism have higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol than those with less narcissism. In a 2020 study, Royce Lee, a psychiatrist at the University of Chicago, and his colleagues reported that people with NPD—as well as those with BPD—have greater concentrations of molecules associated with oxidative stress (a stress response seen at the cellular level) in their blood.

Such findings suggest that “vulnerability is always there but maybe not always expressed,” Jauk says. “And under particular circumstances, such as in the lab, you can observe signs of vulnerability at a physiological level, even if people say, ‘I don't have vulnerability.’” He adds, however, that these studies are far from the last word on the matter: many of them have a small number of subjects, and some have reported contradicting findings. Follow-up studies, ideally with a larger number of individuals, are needed to validate their results. The neuroscience of narcissism “is incredibly interesting, but at the same time, I'm very hesitant to interpret any of these results,” says Mitja Back, a psychologist at the University of Münster in Germany.

Toward Treatments

To date, there have been no randomized clinical trials for treatments specific for narcissistic personality disorder. Clinicians have, however, begun to adapt psychotherapies that have proved to be effective in other related conditions, such as borderline personality disorder. Treatments currently used include “mentalization,” which aims to help individuals make sense of both their own and others' mental states, and “transference,” which focuses on enhancing a person's ability to self-reflect, take the perspective of others and regulate their emotions. But there is still a dire need for effective treatments.

“People with pathological narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder have a reputation of not changing or dropping off from treatment,” Ronningstam says. “Instead of blaming that on them, the clinicians and researchers need to really further develop strategies that can be adjusted to the individual difference—and at the same time to focus on and promote change.”

Since discovering she has NPD, Tessa has started a YouTube channel called SpiritNarc where she posts videos about her experiences and perspectives on narcissism. “I really want the world to understand [narcissism],” she says. “I'm so sick of the narrative that's going around—people see the outside behavior and say, ‘This means these people are awful.’” What these people don't see, she adds, is the suffering that lies below the surface.

This article was originally published with the title "What Is Narcissism?" in Scientific American 329, 2, 52-57 (September 2023)


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A person fishes in the Cape Fear River 30 June 2022, in Wilmington, North Carolina. The consequences of the EPA’s narrower definition have already been felt in North Carolina’s Cape Fear basin, which is contending with decades of Chemours pollution.

EPA’s new definition of PFAS could omit thousands of ‘forever chemicals’

Agency plans a ‘case-by-case’ approach that allows for flexibility, but critics say ‘this is not a new definition – it is a lack of definition’

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) office responsible for protecting the public from toxic substances has changed how it defines PFAS for a second time since 2021, a move critics say they fear will exclude thousands of “forever chemicals” from regulation and largely benefit industry.

Instead of using a clear definition of what constitutes a PFAS , the agency’s Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics plans to take a “case-by-case” approach that allows it to be more flexible in determining which chemicals should be subjected to regulations.

Among other uses for the compounds, the EPA appears to be excluding some chemicals in pharmaceuticals and pesticides that are generally defined as PFAS, current and former EPA officials say, and the shift comes amid fierce industry opposition to proposed limits on the chemicals.

The approach puts the toxics office at odds with other EPA divisions, other federal agencies, the European Union, Canada and most of the scientific world. The definition is likely to generate confusion in the chemical industry and within the agency, current and former EPA officials say.

“This is not a new definition – it is a lack of definition, and it makes no sense,” said Linda Birnbaum, a former EPA scientist and head of the National Toxicology Program. “It is just going to lead to terrible confusion.”

PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a class of about 15,000 compounds most frequently used to make products water-, stain- and grease-resistant. They have been linked to cancer, birth defects, decreased immunity, high cholesterol, kidney disease and a range of other serious health problems. They are dubbed “forever chemicals” because they do not naturally break down in the environment.

In a statement to the Guardian, the EPA said its latest definition was more “expansive” than the previous. Its approach was designed “to focus on substances most likely to be persistent in the environment, including some chemical substances whose structures or sub-structures resemble, at least in part” more thoroughly studied PFAS compounds, like PFOS and PFOA.

But public health advocates warn that all PFAS are persistent in the environment and all that have been studied are toxic, and for those reasons many are calling on the government to largely restrict the entire chemical class.

Speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, a current EPA employee in the toxics office said the chemical’s definition has been evolving for several years. The employee said they first learned of the latest change in public comments made by Michal Freedhoff, a Biden-appointed toxics office administrator.

It is unclear what prompted the latest shift, the employee said, but it comes as the EPA implements its “PFAS strategic roadmap” to help rein in PFAS pollution. The shifting definition complicates that effort, the employee said.

“EPA can’t get its act together on what PFAS are,” they added. “To regulate PFAS, you have to agree what are and are not PFAS.”

The most widely used, inclusive definition, and that proposed by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), defines any chemical with one fluorinated carbon atom as a PFAS. That could include tens of thousands of chemicals on the market and some public health advocates say a narrower definition is warranted.

The EPA toxics office in 2021 implemented a “working definition” that defined PFAS as chemicals that have “at least two adjacent carbon atoms, where one carbon is fully fluorinated and the other is at least partially fluorinated”. It covered about 6,500 PFAS, but the toxics office expanded the definition as the industry exploited loopholes.

The employee said debating the definition distracts from the more important effort to quickly regulate PFAS that are already known to be found in people and animals.

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Current and former EPA employees say the agency is not defining some fluorinated chemicals used in pesticides as PFAS at a time when research has discovered their widespread use in agricultural products. The agency also excludes some “ultra short chain” PFAS refrigerants, which are defined as PFAS by the European Union but not the toxics office, said Tim Whitehouse, a former EPA attorney now with the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility nonprofit.

He said the stricter regulations in Europe have forced the industry away from the kind of PFAS refrigerants produced by Chemours, a chemical manufacturer with a plant in North Carolina. Chemours opposes defining the refrigerants as PFAS “because it is going to destroy their market” as it has in Europe, Whitehouse added.

The consequences of the EPA’s narrower definition have already been felt in North Carolina’s Cape Fear basin, which is contending with decades of Chemours pollution. A 2019 citizen group petition asked the EPA to conduct studies that would shed light on the health impacts of 54 PFAS compounds found in human blood and water in the region.

In the agency’s December 2021 response, it declined to test for 15 chemicals it said “do not meet” the toxics office PFAS definition.

The change also creates uncertainty for chemical companies who are producing substances that may or may not fall within the definition, which Kyla Bennett, a former EPA official now with PEER, characterized as “insanely frustrating”.

“The EPA claims they switched to a case-by-case basis to remain flexible, but in the past it has said, ‘We want to provide regulatory certainty,’ but this is the furthest from regulatory certainty that I can think of,” she added.

The White House’s Office of Science and Technology coordinates among federal agencies could provide guidance to federal agencies on which definition to use, but it has failed to do so, Bennett said.

“The bottom line is the EPA has one job and that is to protect human health and the environment, and when it comes to PFAS they are not,” she added.

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A rare spotless giraffe was born in a Tennessee zoo

Dustin Jones

what is the meaning of case studies in psychology

A reticulated giraffe was born without spots at Brights Zoo in northeastern Tennessee at the end of July. The zoo is asking the public to cast their vote on what to name her. Tony Bright/Brights Zoo via AP hide caption

A reticulated giraffe was born without spots at Brights Zoo in northeastern Tennessee at the end of July. The zoo is asking the public to cast their vote on what to name her.

A female reticulated giraffe was born at Brights Zoo in northeastern Tennessee late last month — but unlike her mother she was born without any spots, a rarity.

Standing 14 to 15 feet tall, giraffes are the tallest mammals in the world. When mothers give birth, the calves are already 6 feet tall, and other than on especially rare occasions, they're born covered from hoof to horn in brown spots. Brights Zoo in Limestone, Tenn., announced that it welcomed the birth of a reticulated giraffe without any spots on July 31, WJHL 11 News reported.

Giraffes Inherit Spot Patterns From Their Mamas, Study Says

Giraffes Inherit Spot Patterns From Their Mamas, Study Says

"Giraffe experts believe she is the only solid-colored reticulated giraffe living anywhere on the planet," the zoo told WJHL.

The zoo's director, David Bright, said zoo staff have been reaching out to zoo professionals across the country inquiring about how rare the giraffe could be. So far, zoo officials say the only record of a reticulated giraffe being born without spots was in Japan in the 1970s.

Pictures of the calf can be seen on the Brights Zoo Facebook page , standing next to her mother in stark contrast without her spots. The zoo is asking the public to help name the newborn by voting on one of four names available on the zoo's Facebook page by Labor Day.

Zoo visitors unexpectedly witness the birth of a baby giraffe

Zoo visitors unexpectedly witness the birth of a baby giraffe

The Swahili names and their meanings are: Kipekee, meaning unique; Firali, which means unusual or extraordinary; Shakiri, meaning she is most beautiful; and Jamella, which means one of great beauty.

Bright told WJHL that the zoo looked at thousands of names and their meanings before settling on the four available to vote on. "Those four are the four the family are all really attached to," Bright said. "So if she's named one of those four, we're very happy."

Votes will be tallied and announced on Sept. 4.

For the first time in decades, Angolan giraffes now populate a park in Angola

Main Character of the Day

For the first time in decades, angolan giraffes now populate a park in angola.

According to the Giraffe Conservation Foundation , there are only an estimated 16,000 reticulated giraffes left in the wild — a more than 50% drop from approximately 36,000 giraffes 35 years ago. There are approximately 117,000 giraffes across four species and nine subspecies, many of which are designated vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered.

GCSE grade equivalents 2023: What 4, 5 or 6 grades mean in the letter system and number grading explained

Gcse grades previously ranged from an a* to a g – but a new numerical system of grading was introduced in 2017.

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 25: Students receive their grades at City of London Shoreditch Park school on August 25, 2022 in London, England. This year's candidates are the first to sit exams since 2019 due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the results will likely reflect the impact of the pandemic on the nation's schoolchildren. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

When GCSE pupils  collect their results on Thursday morning, they will be confronted by a grading system that  might be confusing to their parents  .

Introduced in 2017, the numerical format changed GCSE grades from an A* to G to range from a 9 to a 1  (with 9 being the top result and 1 being the lowest).

It was designed to bring in more differentiation at the top end of the grading scale, to better understand what level young people are working to – here’s how it all works .

What are the letter equivalents to GCSE grades?

As per the guide below, issued by the exams regulator Ofqual , the numerical system essentially boils down to the following:

  • 9 = High A* grade
  • 8 = Lower A* or high A
  • 7 = Lower A grade
  • 6 = High B grade
  • 5 = Lower B or high C
  • 4 = Lower C grade
  • 3 = D or high E
  • 2 = Lower E or high F
  • 1 = Lower F or G
  • U = U remains the same

How the 'new' numerical GCSE grades compare to the 'old-money' letter equivalents (Photo: Ofqual)

The numerical system means that , while a pass used to be a simple C grade, there are now two marks considered a “pass” for GCSE students .

Schools are judged by the proportion of its pupils that achieve a “standard” pass and above, which is denoted by a grade 4.

This means that anybody achieving a grade 4 or above in English and maths will not have to resit these qualifications under regulations introduced in 2015/16 .

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Reform GCSEs system – again – to solve tragedy of ‘endless resit failure’, ministers urged

Reform GCSEs system - again - to solve tragedy of 'endless resit failure', ministers urged

Slightly confusingly, schools are also held to account for the proportion of pupils that gain a “strong” pass or above which is a grade 5.

While grading is no harsher than under the previous system, the GCSE curriculum is now designed to have more content and some of the questions in exam papers are intended to be harder, to identify students on course to gain a grade 9.

A 9 grade isn’t exactly the same as an old money A*: essentially it’s better, as an 8 is also roughly equivalent to the lower half of the A* band and a higher A.

Under the numerical system relatively few students should be achieving grade 9s in normal years, as they will effectively be rationed.

What will happen to GCSE grades in 2023?

According to the exams regulator Ofqual this year’s national results will be lower than last summer, just as was the case for A-levels last week .

The number of A-level students awarded A* and A grades fell by 9.2 percentage points, while the overall pass rate was down to 97.3 per cent from 98.4 per cent in 2022.

This dip is the result of exam boards returning to pre-pandemic grading , in an attempt to return to normal service after   several years of grade inflation .

The decision to adjust this year’s grade boundaries was confirmed in a statement last year from Dr Jo Saxton,   Chief Regulator of Ofqual: “In 2023, we will return to pre-pandemic grading as the next step in getting back to normal.”

In a blog post for Ofqual , Rachel Taylor, associate director, Standards & Technical Issues, said that exam comparisons should be made with those taken before the pandemic.

She wrote: “It will be most meaningful to compare this year’s results with 2019, the last year that summer exams were taken before the pandemic.

“As in any year, results for individual schools and colleges will vary. The approach to grading means that results for individual schools and colleges are highly likely to be lower than last summer.”

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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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  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 various fields, including psychology, medicine, education, anthropology, political science, and social work.

  2. 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 and by using several different methods (e.g., observations & interviews). The case study research method originated in clinical medicine (the case history, i.e., the patient's personal history).

  3. Case study (psychology)

    Case study in psychology refers to the use of a descriptive research approach to obtain an in-depth analysis of a person, group, or phenomenon. A variety of techniques may be employed including personal interviews, direct-observation, psychometric tests, and archival records.

  4. Case Study in Psychology

    A case study is a method that investigates an occurrence, or case, in a real-life setting. The purpose of conducting a case study is to understand the participant's experience or to...

  5. 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.

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

    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.

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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: STRENGTHS

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

    A psychological case study is an in-depth investigation of an individual, group, community, or event and relies on a descriptive research approach. Psychologists gather information for a case study through psychometric testing, interviews of the test subject, archival research, direct observation, and carefully designed experiments.

  9. Case Study definition

    A case study is one type of observational data collection technique in which one individual is studied in-depth in order to identify behavioral, emotional, and/or cognitive qualities that are universally true, on average, of others. Case studies often include face-to-face interviews, paper and pencil tests, and more. Add flashcard Cite Random.

  10. Case Studies Psychology: Example, Methodology

    A case study in psychology is an in-depth investigation of a single individual, family, event, or other entity. Multiple types of data (psychological, physiological, biographical, environmental) are assembled, for example, to understand an individual's background, relationships, and behaviour. Case studies are a common research method used ...

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. Case Control Study: Definition & Examples

    Examples. A case-control study is an observational study where researchers analyzed two groups of people (cases and controls) to look at factors associated with particular diseases or outcomes. Below are some examples of case-control studies: Investigating the impact of exposure to daylight on the health of office workers (Boubekri et al., 2014).

  14. Case Study in Psychology: What does it Mean and How to Write one?

    Case studies are all about analyzing particular cases to understand the subject better. You cannot deny the essence of case studies in any subject. Now, you might like to know why are case studies so important in psychology. The subject that studies the human mind needs a lot of references.

  15. What is a Case Study? [+6 Types of Case Studies]

    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.

  16. Psychology Case Study

    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.

  17. Case Study Method In Psychology

    The case study method is the in-depth study of any event, person, or problem in a given situation. It strives to get out the root causes of a given spot. Also, referred to as case history or clinical method.

  18. APA Dictionary of Psychology

    Not-so-friendly skies: Incidents of unruly passengers are rising Opens a new window 'Gaslighting' is a commonly misused therapy buzzword Opens a new window; How well you 'think' you sleep can significantly affect your mood Opens a new window; Why helping others improves your health Opens a new window

  19. Case Study: Definition, Types, and How to Write psychology case study

    Let's define case study psychology in simple terms: "It is the compilation of descriptive research to obtain an in-depth analysis of a person or community to understand their mind and behavior". These documents are mostly used to identify rare conditions and cases in clinical areas.

  20. Case study Definition & Meaning

    1 : an intensive analysis of an individual unit (such as a person or community) stressing developmental factors in relation to environment 2 : case history Example Sentences a case study of prisoners The company's recent history is a case study in bad management.

  21. Case Study Definition in Psychology

    A case study is a detailed examination of an individual, a group of people or a particular occurrence. Case studies comprise of a one-on-one interview, questionnaires among other data collection forms. A case study involves studying a person's life and experience to determine the cause of certain behaviors. Case Studies in Psychology

  22. Application of case-based learning in psychology teaching: a meta

    Case-based learning (CBL) has been found to be effective for many subjects, but there is currently a lack of evidence regarding its utility in psychology education. The present study investigated whether CBL pedagogy can improve students' academic performance in psychology courses compared to the traditional teaching methods. A systematic review and meta-analysis were conducted to ...

  23. What is case study in psychology?

    A case study is a scenario in a particular professional context which students are expected to analyse and respond to, guided by specific questions posed concerning the situation. In many cases, the scenario or case study involves a number of issues or problems that must be dealt with in a professional workplace.

  24. What Is Narcissism? Science Confronts a Widely Misunderstood Phenomenon

    Narcissistic personality disorder is a subtype of pathological narcissism in which someone has persistent, long-term issues. It often occurs along with other conditions, such as depression ...

  25. EPA's new definition of PFAS could omit thousands of 'forever chemicals

    Agency plans a 'case-by-case' approach that allows for flexibility, but critics say 'this is not a new definition - it is a lack of definition'

  26. A rare giraffe without spots is born at a zoo in Tennessee : NPR

    A female reticulated giraffe was born at Brights Zoo in northeastern Tennessee late last month — but unlike her mother she was born without any spots, a rarity. Standing 14 to 15 feet tall ...

  27. GCSE grade equivalents 2023: What 4, 5 or 6 grades mean in letter

    Slightly confusingly, schools are also held to account for the proportion of pupils that gain a "strong" pass or above which is a grade 5.

  28. What Is A Case Study In Psychology?

    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.