Evaluate the contribution of interview research to our understanding of friendship.
The use of interview has long been used by researchers to elicit information from questions in order to better understand a topic from that person's perspective. In relation to friendship, interviews are a very useful tool as it allows researchers to give rich detail on their thoughts and feelings in response to the question. Despite this, being based on individuals means its use as a method can limit its generalisability to wider environments such as different races and locations, therefore it is difficult to theorise to a wider scale using this qualitative method which is a challenge in understanding friendship, so other methods could be better served.
A key study of friendship was conducted by Bigelow and La Gaipa (1975, as cited by Brownlow, 2012) who were interested in the development of friendships as children grew. They asked 480 children to write an essay about their expectations of their best friend. This method allowed a large sample size to be collected quickly as if they had conducted individual interviews they would have required a trained interviewer, and the time required to conduct interviews to this scale would have been expensive and time-consuming. Bigelow and La Gaipa took this qualitative data and made it quantitative by using content analysis. Before the essays, they identified 21 categories that could be used to analyse the essays with and the frequency of these topics could be noted to highlight patterns and trends within the wider data. From this data, Bigelow and La Gaipa (1975, as cited by Brownlow, 2012) concluded that friendship becomes more complex with age and began to develop a model that showed the evolution of friendship and its expectations as children grew up. This transition from qualitative to quantitative data enabled these developments, which is now regarded as a key foundation of our understanding of friendships and this would not have been possible using a pure interview method as the conclusions could not be drawn from qualitative data.
McLeod et al (2008, as cited by Brownlow, 2012) used the method of interviews to investigate the social context and reasoning for smoking and its correlation to friends. Much of the early research into friendship viewed adolescents as passive recipients of peer influence but through McLeod and other research, they are now seen as playing an active role in selecting peers meaning influence is a far more complex dynamic (Brownlow, 2012). McLeod (2008) used 14 pairs of identical twins, aged between 27 and 33, and conducted interviews with the smoking and non-smoking twin. Using twins eliminates a number of variables like genetic differences allowing the researcher to focus on the effects of friends on this outcome as many of the twins said they had differing social groups. McLeod found that many of the smokers highlighted social mobility as a key reason, as smoking gave them access to a particular group they wanted to associate with, or just like the image that came with that. Whilst nobody said they were forced to smoke, they did acknowledge that the peers they wanted to be with did smoke and therefore it was just something to do. Non-smokers cited a dominant non-smoking image was present within their circles. Both of these groups were therefore aware of creating a social image thereby developing and maintaining a sense of collective identity.
The use of interview in McLeod's research enabled flexibility when talking to participants by being able to follow up with questions regarding interesting points that may have been raised. This exploration can gain a greater understanding of one's reasons for the act of smoking in this example rather than a quantitative method such as observation where context can be lost. An example of this comes from William Damon (1977, as cited by Brownlow, 2012) who conducted interviews on children between 4 and 9 into their understanding of things like gender roles and their feelings towards their peers. Damon (1977) and Bigelow and La Gaipa (1975) both touched on these same issues but using this different method. Damon (1977) found that an understanding of friendship was found in younger children that had previously been theorised through the use of interviews. The textual data collected could be analysed in greater detail than by Bigelow and La Gaipa’s (1975) essays, as it was not in an effort to generalise the findings, but to illustrate ideas and conclusions from the individual children. Interviewing young children can be problematic, as they can find it difficult to vocalise complex thoughts and feelings, particularly to a stranger interviewing them. It is also possible that interviews can lead to social desirability bias where the participant is providing answers they believe the researcher is looking for. Similarly, interviewers can suffer from researcher bias when using leading questions to elicit responses they require but are not genuine.
Corsaro (2006, as cited by Brownlow, 2012) provided further insight into the development of friendship using an ethnographic approach, where he observed and interacted with children in a real-life setting and was able to record responses and interactions which could be analysed. Being involved in the group can lead to greater understanding as context and subtle influences arent missed like when observing from outside the group. The natural interactions produce rich data, but this can again be difficult to generalise to a wider setting.
In conclusion, the use of interviews for exploring complex processes like the development of friendship can provide real insight into the deeper meanings behind interactions. Particularly when investigating specific items like smoking in McLeods (2008) research where great detail is needed to uncover themes. Despite these positives, interviews are resource intensive and lack the ability to be put into a greater context as it does not contain generalisability in most circumstances. This lends itself to being an excellent secondary research method to build on a quantitative measure like observation or survey. Interviews could then be used to identify themes and provide greater insight into topics, to provide the depth required to produce models and prove hypothesise.
Bigelow, B.J. and La Gaipa, J.J., 1975. Children's written descriptions of friendship: A multidimensional analysis. Developmental Psychology, 11(6), p.857.
Brownlow, C. ‘Making Friends’ in Brace, N. and Byford J. (eds) Investigating Psychology, Oxford, Oxford University Press/Milton Keynes, The Open University, pp. 237–269
Damon, W., 1977. The social world of the child (p. 137). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
McLeod, K., White, V., Mullins, R., Davey, C., Wakefield, M. and Hill, D., 2008. How do friends influence smoking uptake? Findings from qualitative interviews with identical twins. The Journal of genetic psychology, 169(2), pp.117-132.