This entry was actually inspired by a blog I read last week however I can’t really remember whose it was just that it was interesting to read so I thought I’d give my opinion on a similar topic this week. In psychology we aim to be able to develop all-encompassing theories that can be generalised to wider society however what should we do when a single case study comes along that could give very interesting data do we ignore it in order to focus on larger society or do we investigate with the possibility that none of it can be generalised?
One of my favourite case studies during A Level was the case of Genie, a girl found to have suffered from extreme isolation during her first 13years of life. She had been kept alone in a room tied to a potty chair where she was left all day. As a result she was practically mute when discovered by the authorities and hadn’t deeloped properly mentally or physically (she was well known for a bird like walk).After she had been taught and studied for some years by psychologists and linguists alike she did manage to develop some speech mechanisms and did improve. I found this totally fascinating and saw the evidence as being truly groundbreaking as it went against everything that I had ben taught about development so far ie: despite the critial period being over some basic skills were still learnt. Genie however was an exception to how most people are brought up therefore some would say that what was learnt from her can’t be used to explain general upbringing and development. And they would be right, however my question is can it be used for some other purpose in psychology and if it is then is it methodologically sound?
The information gathered from studying Genie and similar cases have been used to support the privation/deprivation debate. In this view then the case was helpful to the advancement of psychology and the field benefitted from it. However because case studies often rely heavily on interpretion of data by the psychologist are they really reliable? Take for example Money’s case of Bruce/Brenda. In 1965 after a botched circumcision a baby boy was left without a penis. At the same time Money had just developed a theory about gender asignement whereby he believed that gender wasn’t set and that a child could be taught to be a certain gender. The baby boy called Bruce went through a operation to correct his sex so he could be brought up as a girl under Money’s advice (Brenda). In Money’s case study he claimed that the child was successfully socialised as a girl and used the case study to prove his theory which resulted in his theory being widley adopted at the time as correct. However in 1997 it was revealed by Sigamudson and Diamond (other researchers that had worked on the case) that in fact Bruce/Brenda had displayed boyish tendencies in childhood and at the age of 14, after being told of the gender change, adopted a male identity. Thus disproving Money’s whole theory. In this case not only has a theory been adopted as true that is, from this evidence. seemingly not true but also one man’s life has been completley runied. In cases like this is the use mof case studies something that should be used in psychology?
If you are interested in any of the case studies mentioned in this blog the links are below. For the most info on Money’s case study click on the jhu link as it leads to the university that conducted the experiment’s page.