Case Study

A case study is a research method wherein researchers gather large quantities of qualitative data about an individual. Several case studies may be performed at once in order to gain useful information about a syndrome, parenting style, psychological phenomenon, sociological condition, or other topic of interest. For example, a researcher might study the effects of poverty on children by conducting case studies with three to four children over the course of several years and documenting their life history. The researcher might then try to establish similarities. Later research might attempt to see if the similarities were simply limited to those individuals, or if they were the effect of poverty on a larger population.

Effectiveness as Research Method
Case studies are valuable tools for gaining in depth data about an individual. However, they cannot be used to make generalizable predictions because case studies do not follow representative samples of people. Psychologists in particular have been heavily criticized for using case studies in their research. These case studies can make for compelling or enlightening reading, but readers are often tempted to generalize the individual to a wider section of the population, though that may be inaccurate. Sigmund Freud frequently utilized case studies and generalized his findings.

Famous Case Studies
There have been numerous famous case studies in the field of psychology. Oftentimes, subsequent researchers used the data from these case studies to conduct further research. John Money, for example, believed that gender identity was largely a product of socialization. He followed a male who had a botched circumcision as an infant and who was then raised as a female. Money used this person’s life history as evidence that gender could be taught. This person was born with male genitals but was raised and socialized to be a girl. In adulthood this person questioned their female gender identity and eventually transitioned to become a man. Hundreds of researchers have examined this study and drawn numerous–and often conflicting–conclusions. Some have argued that the ultimate outcome proves that gender is innate. Others have claimed that the obsession with the this person’s establishment of a female gender role might have actually caused them to question their gender identity.


  1. American Psychological Association. APA concise dictionary of psychology. Washington, DC:  American Psychological Association, 2009. Print.
  2. Fine, C. (2010). Delusions of gender: How our minds, society, and neurosexism create difference. New York, NY: W. W. Norton.

Last Updated: 08-4-2015

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