This essay examines the quantitative and qualitative research methods applied in two journal articles on the topic of perceptions of and attitudes towards homosexuality and homosexual stereotypes, and attempts to analyse the advantages and shortcomings of each method in relation to the research questions. The first article (Brown and Groscup, 2009), using quantitative methods, examines the correlation between homophobia and acceptance of stereotypes about homosexual individuals. The second article (Bortolin, 2010) uses qualitative methods to examine male heterosexual students' perceptions of and experiences with homosexual peers regarding their perceptions of masculinity. This essay argues that although both studies were conducted using the most appropriate methods, a richer and more in-depth analysis would have been established if mixed or other research methods had been used.
Research on Homosexuality
Brown and Groscup, in their quantitative study (2009), hypothesised that there is a correlation between homophobia and "acceptance of stereotypes about gays and lesbians" (p. 161), and that individual characteristics such as age, gender, experience with homosexuals, and religion would contribute to varying degrees of homophobia (p. 161). 142 university students (70% female, 30% male) of various ethnic and religious backgrounds completed an individual characteristic questionnaire, and were given popular stereotypes about homosexuals for which they rated their level of agreement with each statement on a Likert-type scale. The results, calculated using one-sample t-tests, found that most individual characteristics were not found to have a significant correlation with homophobia, although those with previous experience with homosexuals were significantly less homophobic than those without. It was also found that homophobia is related with acceptance of negative stereotypes; That is, participants with higher levels of homophobia tended to believe negative stereotypes about gays and lesbians (p. 162).
For Bortolin's qualitative research (2010), 15 heterosexual male volunteers from Canadian secondary schools were asked to complete a questionnaire regarding demographic information including the subjects' perceived social position within the school (i.e., Jock, prep, emo and other) (p. 204). An interview was conducted with each participant with the focus on examining the participants' attitudes towards homosexual peers, grouped into three main ideas: masculinity, heteronormativity, and homophobia (p. 205). Bortolin's analysis of the responses found that male homosexual students were perceived to be at the lowest social hierarchy within schools and were often subjected to verbal and physical assaults by popular, and most often sporty, peers. It was also found that perceptions of homosexuality were associated with misogyny, and male peers participating in performing arts (or other activities perceived to be feminine) and whose friends are predominantly female, were perceived to be gay. Additionally, the participants expressed discomfort of being around male homosexual peers due to concern of being "hit on" (p. 210).
The disadvantages and advantages of both quantitative and qualitative methods are shown in the two studies. In the most brief form, quantitative research is described as an empirical investigation of repeated patterns in a social phenomenon based on a large sample (John, 2010), the advantage being that generalisations can be made (p. 269) about a large population based on the trends and statistical analysis. In Brown and Groscup's study (2009), using a large sample of 140 randomly selected students from various backgrounds ensured the sample's relatively accurate representation of the general population, and therefore ensuring external validity (Polit and Beck, 2010). The disadvantage is said to be that quantitative research fails to capture the social or political context (John, 2010, p. 269). In Brown and Groscup's study, despite the sample size and the inclusion of individual characteristics as additional variables, their research was limited in that they were only able to find the relevant information within the narrow spectrum of the question. It was unable to obtain unexpected variables other than individual characteristics, which could have been obtained if mixed research methods were applied including interviews. Some of these limitations were discussed in the paper along with direction for future research (p. 164) . However, overall, this study did not clearly discuss why their findings are important and what these findings mean in the broader social context.
Qualitative methods, on the other hand, are used when asking why and how certain human behaviour occurs around a social phenomenon, based on a smaller sample (Ezzy, 2010). Its advantage is its ability to obtain an in-depth understanding of each subject or small group, most often achieved by conducting one-on-one interviews. Bortolin's study (2010) was a good example of this. By letting the participants express their thoughts, Bortolin was able to gain detailed information on the topic in question and, further, additional factors not originally considered. For example, based on one of the participants' responses about his personal life and heterosexual relationship, Bortolin gained insight into factors such as gender role expectations in society and its association with homophobia, especially within the working class where the importance of masculinity is emphasised (p. 217). It was also discovered that the topic of homosexuality was avoided in classes unless it was associated with health risks such as AIDS, and some teachers would express personal homophobic views (p. 213-214). However, the disadvantage of applying qualitative methods remains that the findings of interview-based research on a small sample cannot represent the larger population and are difficult to be generalised. This is shown as some of Bortolin's participants expressed varying personal opinions about homosexual peers, perceptions of masculinity and popularity (p. 206 - 217). Further, qualitative methods seem to rely on the researcher's subjective interpretation of the responses, therefore reducing its validity. Overall, Bortolin suggested that the findings provide a useful insight into the position of homosexuality within secondary schools and the need for readily-available information on (homo)sexuality in schools, along with a need to challenge perceptions of hegemonic masculinity.
Both studies seem to have chosen the most appropriate research methods in regards to the research questions. In Brown and Groscup's research, the statistical analysis of the survey results obtained from a large sample made possible a generalisation representative of a large population. And Bortolin's qualitative research gave extensive insight into understanding why homosexual peers are positioned at the low end of the school social hierarchy and the factors which may contribute to the question of causality. However, the common disadvantages of both methods were shown in each study (as discussed above). Although applying one method or the other may be adequate enough in answering the research question, applying additional or mixed research methods would have heightened the quality and depth of the discussion, contributing to a richer understanding of the implications of the studies.
Bortolin, S. 2010. “I Don’t Want Him Hitting On Me”: The Role of Masculinities in Creating a Chilly High School Climate. Journal of LGBT Youth. 7, 200-223
Brown, M. J & Groscup, J. L. 2009. Homophobia and Acceptance of Stereotypes About Gays and Lesbians. Individual Differences Research. 7 (3), 159-167
Ezzy, D. 2010. The Research Process. In W. Maggie (ed.) Social Research Methods. New York: Oxford University Press.
John, P. 2010. Quantitative Methods. In D. Marsh and Gerry Stoker (eds), Theory and Methods in Political Science (third edition). New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Polit, D. F & Beck C. T. 2010. Generalization in quantitative and qualitative research: Myths and strategies. International Journal of Nursing Studies. 47 (11), 1451-1458.