Most of us were first introduced to quantitative and qualitative concepts as they related to our relationships growing up. We were always advised that having fewer, higher-quality relationships is more valuable than multiple, less meaningful ones. I mean, let’s face it, did you really follow that advice when you were 12, or how many groups and teams did you try to join? While this distinction was an important life lesson at a young age, it introduced us to two very different concepts that can be used for various purposes.
Outside of our social circles and high school hierarchies, quantitative and qualitative can be used as methods for research purposes and allow for different approaches to be used in collecting information and, therefore, how we apply and interpret that information. In terms of mass media and communication, quantitative research methods use numerical measurements from natural sciences representing quantitative data to analyze or reach conclusions about human behavior. In contrast, qualitative methods tend to be more specific and unique in their explanations. These can be more in-depth and offer a more creative analysis of situations.
Applying these concepts to real-life applications, we start with an example of how quantitative research can be used to report findings and create conclusions from hypotheses. Looking at the example of how pharmaceuticals can be potential pollutants in the environment, in 1997, a team of researchers used the quantitative approach of computational modelling to conduct an environmental risk assessment. They used the Quantitative Structure-Property Relationship and Multimedia Mass-Balance models to predict the solubility of the chemicals in water, their transport lifespans, and how their compositions could affect various environmental factors.
This is an excellent example of how quantitative methods can still be used for valuable information in making decisions and influencing human behavior and our impact on the environment. Quantitative methods do not limit us to only number-based answers and results. They can be used to support findings and make critical cases to impact our society and mass communications. Using quantitative-based findings can help support our studies as society typically tends to support and better receive data when it comes from a factual, numerical standpoint, as it cannot be easily disputed without similar factual evidence. Having images like the ones we see above accompany our statistical findings helps readers comprehend the data to apply it to the examples in the research.
However, sometimes quantitative data and methods do not allow for the freedom that is required in some research and their applications. This is where qualitative research methods are crucial for implementing and explaining new theories and behaviors. For a qualitative research example, we turn to a study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health that looked into how mass media campaigns can affect attitudes and perceptions towards tobacco use, specifically in disadvantaged circumstances. Using interviews, conceptual frameworks, motivational responses, and providing opportunities to act, the researchers were able to study and understand the behaviors they experienced during their research. Their findings led them to conclude that those who were studied wanted to protect themselves and especially their children from secondhand smoke. However, they were limited in their ability to change their behaviors when they were the only ones caring for their children. They were more responsive to emotion-based ads to stop smoking but were restricted by their circumstances.
If we were to use only quantitative methods when analyzing this case, we would think, with the rate that smoking causes numerous health issues, why would anyone continue to smoke, particularly around their children. However, we can see in the excerpt from the study above that the subjects who were interviewed were clearly having an emotional response, and we can deduce this through our qualitative methods. Quantitative research gets us to understand the when’s and whats but not the why’s and hows. Understanding those in the study’s circumstances, behaviors, and attitudes leads us to a deeper understanding that we can use to influence and change our responses to better target results. Do you have a personal preference when conducting research; do you tend to gravitate toward one method over the other?
These two different approaches to research have influenced mass media and communication studies. They have allowed us as a society not only to understand our processes of thinking through logical and biological systems but also through emotions and personalization. While they have led us to understand many issues in life, they have also opened the door for new conversations and future developments. Would you take the ice cream?