DREaM event 4: Techniques from psychology


Dr Phil Turner from Edinburgh Napier University presented a workshop session discussing techniques from psychology, focussing specifically on repertory grids, on 25th April 2012 at the third DREaM workshop.

Dr Turner provided a preview of this session in a short interview.



You can also view this presentation on Slideshare.




Session Summary

Dr Phil Turner from Edinburgh Napier University provided an introductory workshop to the repertory grid technique used in psychology. He began by describing the historical background of the technique, which was invented by clinical psychologist George Kelly in 1955. Kelly’s theory of personality argued that we are all scientists, with a complex model of the world that we develop over the course of our lives. This is our personality. Turner explained that, according to Kelly’s theory, we each have a system of constructs or hypotheses about the world based on our experience, which grows with time and becomes very complex by the time we reach adulthood. Our construct system is our truth as we understand and experience it, but our constructs will not necessarily be internally consistent.

To study this, Kelly invented the repertory grid interviewing technique. This is a technique of exploration and of co-construction. Turner provided a step-by-step guide to the technique using a practical example. He began by defining the domain of interest: in his example, this was fruit.

To begin with, the interviewer and interviewee work together to identify different examples from within the domain of interest with which the interviewee is familiar: in this case, types of fruit which the interviewee has eaten. Turner suggested that eight is a good number of examples to aim for.

Next he explained the triadic construct elicitation technique to identify constructs. This involves taking any three of your examples and asking the interviewee to identify which two are similar, and provide reasoning. In the fruit example, if the interviewee is given apple, pear, and banana to choose from, they might say that apple and pear are similar because you can eat the skin, whereas you cannot eat the skin from the banana. Turner explained that this is a construct. Equally, the pear and the banana might be similar because they are dry, whilst apple is juicy. This would be another construct.

Once the interviewer has identified around eight of the interviewee’s constructs using this technique, they can create a grid which can be used to rate individual examples against the construct, usually using a five point scale.

To illustrate, Turner provided a case study by describing Grandfather’s iPod: investigating attachment to digital and non-digital artefacts. In this example, the authors questioned whether are we beginning to treat digital objects in the same way as we treat other objects, with which people can form strong attachments or associate with significant personal meaning. Eight postgraduates followed the standard technique described in Fransella and Bannister (1977) to identify eight common constructs which were representative of people’s experience of technological artefacts. They interviewed a total of 55 people, who each chose four digital and four non-digital objects to rate against the five point scale based on the eight constructs. This data was then entered into software for analysis by Turner and Turner.

Turner noted that the analysis showed there was no clear pattern between digital and non-digital objects for individuals. They had initially suspected that there may be differences between men and women, or between different age groups, but data did not show this. Digital and non-digital objects were mixed up. He demonstrated this by showing the different ways the data from individual interviewees could be represented by the software to aid interpretation.

Next he showed the consolidated data from the whole group of interviewees as a single set of repertory grids. The range of objects identified by individual interviewees differed greatly, so objects had to be identified by 25% of interviewees to be considered. Interestingly, of the 12 most commonly cited objects, the top place was taken by a digital object: a mobile phone. This represented 76% of interviewees, who all claimed that they were strongly attached to their mobile phone. Again, Turner noted that they found that results scattered and diverse, with no pattern between the strength of attachment towards digital verses non-digital objects. He related this to existing theory, which had suggested that there should be a greater attachment to non-digital artefacts (Borgmann 1984). Their own study found no evidence to support these theories, but they were able to identify hyper-personal and proximal objects as potential reasons for attachment.

Turner concluded by emphasising that those who use repertory grids are very reluctant to make strong statements, as the technique is used primarily for exploratory study.

Following the workshop Lauren Smith listed a number of references to papers that discuss the use of repertory grids in information science research. These are given in Lauren’s review of the workshop.
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