Social Psychology Lab Report

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This particular study consisted of three transcripts of fifteen focus group discussions being analysed with the aim of establishing the main influencing actors in the use of social networking sites (see appendix for interview schedule). These focus groups were carried out by a moderator trained in group dynamics and interview skills. The aim of each focus group was to explore the experiences and opinions of students in the use of social networking sites, why they are used and the advantages and disadvantages of their use. Through analysing the transcripts of the focus group discussions three main themes were found, these were; Advantages of using social networking, disadvantages of using social networking and information disclosure. This study could have benefited from the use of one interviewer to take the 15 focus group discussions and a more equal ratio of male participants to female participants.

The aim of the study was to outline the core reasons why students may use social networking sites and their past experiences in using them. Furthermore we wished to discover the affect of the increasing use of these sites on communication and the advantages and disadvantages that this has brought about for the individual. As social psychologists, it is of interest to us to analyse what the main factors are that influence the individual into using these sites. It has become an important aspect of psychology as social psychologists are interested in what causes people to form bonds with other individuals as this is a phenomenon which every human undertakes.

The fact that we were investigating the various reasons that students associate with their use of social networking sites as well as their past experiences of them, our results and conclusions will be of use to various use to social psychologists. Only a decade ago focus groups were practically unknown to social scientists. Now their use in academic settings as well as outside is vast and ever-growing. David Morgan (1991) provided a guide to focus groups on how conduct and analyse and considers the additional possibilities. His method has become highly regarded as a qualitative research method in psychology and is also of use to qualitative researchers in every academic discipline as well as those in non academic disciplines.

Morgan takes an inclusive approach to research which broadly defines focus groups as a research technique that gathers data through group interaction on a particular topic of interest to the researcher. Focus groups can be used as both a self-contained method and in combination with surveys and other research methods such as individual, in-depth interviews. Comparisons between focus groups, surveys and individual interviews can help to outline the advantages and disadvantages to the use of group interviews when concentrating on the role that the group has to play in producing interaction and furthermore the role of the moderator in the way that they guide the interaction of participants. The use of focus groups as a method can be most useful when careful attention is taken to ensure a high level of research design with regards to the project at hand and the actual group discussion.

However this method of research is not without flaws it has weakness due to the impact of the group on its participants. There are concerns about the range of topics that can be researched effectively in groups as group interaction requires mutual self-disclosure; it is indisputable that some topics will be unacceptable for discussion among a number of categories of research participants. Currently, however, assertions about this weakness of the use of focus groups are based more with regards to intuition than data as there are no empirical investigations regarding the range of topics or participants that can or cannot be studied with group discussions. One particular flaw of the use of focus groups is that focus groups can be considered inappropriate for the research of “sensitive topics” and that their use is therefore limited to more general topics that individuals will feel comfortable discussing in a group setting.

Design

The qualitative method of focus group interviews were selected for the study. This method was thought to be best for the research topic at hand as it allowed the participants to fully develop on their personal experiences and opinions on social networking were. The focus groups were conducted by interviewers who were trained in group dynamics and interview skills. Each of the fifteen focus groups lasted for approximately one hour (see appendices for Interview Schedule). In order to prepare for the interviews with the focus groups the researchers had to make an interview guide in order to outline the basic framework of the study to ensure that the topics of interest were covered. They did this by developing a few questions and probes to start the conversation which the participant would then generally steer for example,

“what aspects of social networking are most important to you?” ( Transcript 1 , P9 ,Line 19) and

“what are the drawbacks to social networking?” ( Transcript 1, P6 ,Line 15 )

These probes would help ensure that the interviewer did not lead the participants into answering in a particular way but instead started a topic which the students then developed themselves.

Participants

The participants that took part in the focus group discussions were students in their second year of studying Social Psychology at University of Ulster, Coleraine. In the 140 research participants that were involved 19 were males and 121 were females.

Procedure

Through the research of Morgan (1991) it was agreed that each focus group consisting of 8-11 participants would be the optimum number for our study. Each of the focus group discussions took place in a quiet and private room on the University of Ulster, Coleraine campus. When all the students were present they were reminded of the aims and objectives of the study and were asked if they were willing to participate, in this way the researcher gained conformed consent. When it was acknowledged that everyone was happy to continue with the study the recording device was started in order to enable the use of transcripts and the discussions began. When the researcher felt that all topics had been covered the discussion was ended and the participants were debriefed.

Data Analysis

Our choice of method for the study was the use of focus groups. We felt this method was best as it has many of the advantages

The data were analysed using qualitative content analysis techniques (Miles and Huberman, 1999). The interviews were recorded on tape and then transferred over onto transcripts in order for them to be analysed more conveniently i.e. Data reduction, data display and Interpretation was used. Researchers participating in the study independently read and ‘coded’ the transcripts as they saw appropriate.

Ethical Issues

In this study there were many ethical concerns that the researchers had to take into account. They needed to ensure that there were no issues of coercion and although attendance at the focus group was vital it was important that the participants did not feel pressurised into partaking in the discussion. This was achieved in the way that participants had to partake in the study as they had to be present but they did not have to contribute to the discussion if they did not want to. Prior to the focus group discussion the interviewer also had a list of probes in order to ensure that the topic was covered sufficiently. It was important to take into account the possibility of interviewer bias and to ensure that the probes used by the moderator were not leading. Whilst the probes enabled the moderator to steer the conversation it was important that participants did not feel pressured into giving the interviewer the answers that they felt they wanted to hear. We further tried to ensure that participants felt comfortable in being able to express their opinions and personal experience in their use of social networking sites in limiting the number of each focus group to 8-11 participants (Morgan, 1991).

In order to gain informed consent participants were fully informed about the study at their lecture and were reminded of the aims and objectives of the study before the interview began. To ensure the participants confidentiality all information on the study was stored in a password protected computer and a file cabinet, the study was also conducted in a private room. Personal identifiers were changed or removed from the data such as towns and city names were changed as well as the participants being labelled as “participant one”, “participant two” etc and so the interviews abided by the principle of anonymity. Furthermore the participants were not to speak about the focus group discussion to participants of other groups and were reminded that they were not to identify their focus groups, themselves or other participants upon receiving the transcripts.

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