|Abstract. Q methodology was innovated by British physicist/psychologist William Stephenson (1902-1989), but has been applied and has continued to evolve primarily in the United States and outside academic psychology, most notably in the fields of communication and political science, and more recently in the health sciences. The principles of Q methodology are restated, and contrasts are drawn with the earlier understandings prevalent in 1930s British psychology, with contemporary illustrative applications drawn from a variety of disciplines. The conclusion is reached that adherence to an outdated Newtonianism plus concern for psychometric assessment led British psychology to embrace R methodology and to miss Q's parallels with quantum theory and its implications for a science of subjectivity, and that postmodern developments have enabled social scientists, including a new generation of British psychologists, to reestablish contact with Q methodology and to take advantage of the leverage which it provides in understanding human behavior.|
What has come to be referred
to as Q methodology was introduced in a letter to Nature, written
by William Stephenson (1935a), a physicist (Ph.D. 1926, University of Durham)
and psychologist (Ph.D. 1929, University of London), who served as the
last assistant to Charles Spearman, the inventor of factor analysis. Spearman
once referred to his protégé as the most creative
statistician in psychology, but from virtually the moment of its inception,
the broader considerations of Q as a methodology were destined to be controversial
and to be shunned by most of academic psychology. Today, Q methodology
is being widely adopted in the social sciences, but for the most part is
little remembered in psychology itself, save (in the United States) for
the technical procedure of Q sorting. Only recently has there been evidence
that a younger generation of psychologists is rediscovering Q methodology
and becoming acquainted with the vision which William Stephenson promoted
for more than a half century.
Stephenson's most celebrated work was The Study of Behavior: Q-technique and Its Methodology (1953), and something of the controversy surrounding Q and its originator can be glimpsed by revisiting some of the reviews which greeted this publication. Charlotte Banks (1954) of Britain, for instance, while noting "Stephenson's cheerful belligerence," his "lively and entertaining style," and his "new and original ideas," also implied that some of his innovations had been preceded by Stern and Burt in particular. Banks may have been encouraged in this regard by Burt (1955) himself, who also referred to Stern's prior work as a way to assert his own position contra Stephenson--namely, that "if we confine ourselves to measurements obtained on a single occasion, we may either average the persons and correlate the traits, or average the traits and correlate the persons." Thus, for Burt, there was always only a single matrix of data that was at issue, and multiple ways to average across that matrix. The most stinging criticism perhaps came from Eysenck (1954), who accused Stephenson of "a somewhat disingenuous tendency to change the meaning of the term Q-technique over the years, whilst pretending that what he now means by it is what he has meant by it all along."
In the United States, McNemar (1954) criticized the author of The Study of Behavior for being obscure and for attacking "such intellects as Godfrey Thomson and Cyril Burt," and was especially skeptical of the value of single-case studies. In the most thorough critique, to which Stephenson (1954a) was invited to respond, Cronbach and Gleser (1954) summarized technical innovations such as card sorting and the incorporation of Fisher's principles of experimental design, but then issued a warning: "It is imperative to discourage students of personality and social psychology from copying Stephenson's designs as he presents them" (p. 330, emphasis in original). Stephenson's alleged showiness and carelessness were also noted. Finally, Turner (1955) accused the author of Q methodology of "misplaced contentiousness," "repetitiousness," of "dwelling on irrelevancies" and making "excessive claims," and of "apparent unfamiliarity with much work others have done," but also concluded that Q would "undoubtedly stand with Guttman scaling as one of the two most important recent contributions to technique."
Once a step is taken outside academic psychology and psychometry, however, the mood changes somewhat. Psychiatrist Bernard Glueck (1954) welcomed Q as furnishing "the long-awaited stable and dependable frame of reference" for addressing the "universality of uniqueness." Russell Ackoff (1955), one of the founders of operations research, predicted that "this book will have to be taken into account in psychological methodology for a long time to come." And psychotherapist Lyman Wynne, while noting Stephenson's "florid and rather megalomanic style of writing," also stated that the book would have "widespread, immediate appeal to the clinical investigator in psychiatry and related fields." Social worker Gershenson (1955), on the other hand, while complaining that The Study of Behavior constituted "a running argument between the author and his critics," acknowledged that much of what seemed to him incomprehensible stemmed from the lack of statistical sophistication of his field.
Much of the confusion concerning the relationship between Q and R as factor-analytic procedures arose due to the fact that what Cyril Burt meant by "correlating persons" (Burt, 1937, 1940) and what Stephenson meant by it (Stephenson, 1935b, 1953) were, in at least two respects, quite separate things, a matter about which at one point they agreed to disagree (Burt & Stephenson, 1939):
|Figure 1a||Figure 1b|
The prior results rely on
the same data matrix, and the measurements are in the objective mode: A
person's arm is so-many inches long and there is very little that can be
done about that fact, and this holds true whether correlating traits or
persons. This is Burt's version of correlating persons. Stephenson's version,
however, involves a separate matrix of subjective data, and this was effected
in this instance by instructing the same 20 individuals to assess the same
body parts in terms of their "significance for me." The four resulting
Q factors revealed different saliencies relative to the body parts included
in the sample: The first factor, for example, placed great emphasis on
eyes, head, and mouth, which received the highest factor scores; whereas
the second factor placed most emphasis on trunk, hips, and chest. As before,
the factor scores for the first Q factor were also submitted to an artist,
whose depiction is in Figure 1b.
It is noteworthy that the outcome of the R factor analysis above cannot be given artistic form in the same manner as Figure 1 due to the fact that R dissembles reality so that all the King's artists cannot put it back together again. However, neither can the grotesqueness of Figure 1b relative to 1a be considered indicative of the accuracy of Burt's approach to correlating persons compared to Stephenson's; rather, it arises from the expression in material form of two phenomena, only one of which is actually material. Physical extension, such as arm length, is easily pictured in spatial terms, but subjectivity is not spatial in this physical sense, and much of Psychology's difficulty with Q methodology can be attributed to this conceptual distinction. Stephenson was concerned to bring the elusiveness of subjectivity under the suzereignty of the same science that he had come to know so well as a physicist, and to employ the technology of factor analysis to this end. Academic Psychology, meanwhile, was preoccupied with a search for objective abilities and universals, such as Spearman's g and Eysenck's introversion-extraversion, which are also expressed as factors but which leave no room for subjectivity (except as error variance).
Burt's version of correlating persons had the additional advantage of retaining a familiar psychometric world: The objective measurements that provided the basis for correlating traits were also the basis for correlating persons, and so no new concepts were necessary, only a different way of looking at them. As Stephenson was aware, however, the study of subjectivity required a different way of thinking that moved away from conventional factor analysis, with its roots in Newtonian dimensions and causality, and in the direction of new developments in science and alternative ways of conceiving human behavior that are only now beginning to come into vogue. The major difference between Burt and Stephenson, therefore, turned not on the mechanics of factor analysis, but on what it was that was to be measured, and how.
More than a half century
has elapsed since Cyril Burt and William Stephenson squared off against
one another, and there is little doubt that Burt's version of the connection
between Q and R has had the more pronounced effect: It makes sense to a
scientific worldview populated by causes, effects, and variables. His elaboration
of P, Q, R, and other techniques (all related to one and the same basic
data matrix) became foundational for other eminent factorists, such as
Raymond Cattell, Hans Eysenck, J.P. Guilford, Godfrey Thomson, and L.L.
Thurstone, no less than the two generations of psychometricians who followed
their lead, so that it has become virtually impossible to read a standard
text on factor analysis without learning that Q and R are based on transpositions
of the same data matrix, hence are reciprocal.
This dominant point of view has come to be more widely questioned during the past two decades, however, as a new generation of health, social, and psychological scientists has gained a deeper appreciation of what Stephenson was trying to say. The current status of the Q-R debate is revealed in a recent study which utilizes Q methodology to examine the diverse understandings of Q methodology itself. The inquiry is reported in detail elsewhere (Brown, 1993), and it had its beginnings in differences of opinion about the nature of Q methodology which were posted on one of the many electronic discussion groups found on the Internet. Most of the comments expressed will come as little surprise to those familiar with the issues, and include the following:
Row standardization is implicit in computer correlations between row vectors. Data are examined relative to the individual's mean.
SPSS (with its Flip routine) and SAS are generally inappropriate since they assume reciprocity.
(5) Centroid factor analysis is recommended since its indeterminacy is
compatible with quantum theory and, at the rotational stage, with interbehavioral
principles.... (18) Q has never involved the correlation and factor analysis
by rows of the same matrix of data that is analyzed by columns in R methodology....
(2) Q methodology is a set of procedures, theory, and philosophy supporting
the study of the same kind of subjectivity that is the focal point of much
qualitative research... (9) Cluster analysis is really something quite
different and has no commitment to that subjectivity which is central to
|9 quantum||- 83||-14|
|10 Brown||- 87||13|
Hence, the conventional end
of factor I agrees strongly with statements 11 and 13 and disagrees with
5 and 18, whereas the reverse is the case at the negative end of the factor.
At the Burt end of the factor we see the familiar emphasis on traits and
on measurement based on individual differences (statement 11), as well
as an assumption of a single data matrix underlying case-wise vs. trait-wise
patterns (13, 16). At the Stephenson end of the factor, by way of contrast,
there is a denial of reciprocity (18, 9), an embracing of subjectivity,
and an expressed preference for centroid factor analysis due to its compatibility
with quantum theory and interbehaviorism (5), the latter associated with
behaviorist J.R. Kantor (1959).
Before moving on to a fuller consideration of Stephenson's less-understood position, it is worth bringing factor II into the picture. This factor, as shown in Table 1, is orthogonal to the Burt-Stephenson debate and is defined by Kerlinger and also by one of the participants in the electronic mail discussion who was familiar with Kerlinger's (1964) chapter, which stresses the importance of the variance design of Q samples and of establishing the unambiguous meaning of statements. The character of this position can be seen in those statements with high positive and negative factor scores:
There was little room for
Stephenson's views when he originally enunciated them in the latter half
of the 1930s. This was in part due to Cyril Burt's overshadowing influence
in British psychology (which helps account for why Stephenson took his
family to the United States following the war), and partly to the character
and complexity of what Stephenson had to say. With a long list of eminent
factor analysts arrayed against him--including the likes of Burt, Banks,
Cattell, Eysenck, Thomson (to a lesser extent), McNemar, and others--it
became an easy matter to dismiss him as unclear, careless, and lacking
in other intellectual virtues. There is mounting evidence, however, that
the tide is turning and that a new generation of British psychologists
in particular, and also a growing number of health and social scientists,
are beginning to take an interest in Stephenson's ideas and to glimpse
the vision that escaped his contemporaries (see, for example, Curt, 1994;
R. Stainton Rogers, 1995; W. Stainton Rogers, 1991; Stenner & Marshall,
Space precludes going into great detail concerning the principles of Q methodology, but it is useful to touch base with at least some of the more fundamental. As will be seen throughout, the concepts and principles which Stephenson advanced were influenced by his training in both physics and psychology, as Logan (1991) has made clear.
First and foremost is the
axiom of subjectivity and its centrality in human affairs. Subjectivity
is everywhere, from the loftiest philosophizing and diplomatic negotiating
to the street talk of the juvenile gang and the self-talk of the daydreamer,
and it is the purpose of Q technique to enable the person to represent
his or her vantagepoint for purposes of holding it constant for inspection
and comparison. Communicability of this kind is typically shared, i.e.,
a matter of consciring (Stephenson, 1980), and is consequently about
fairly ordinary things--about soccer, yesterday's debate in Parliament,
the scandal surrounding President Clinton's fund-raising activities, the
opening of a new play, and anything else under the sun. What is considered
"ordinary" will, of course, depend on context, so that even the above study
about Q methodology was about a fairly ordinary topic among those entering
into that discussion: Each participant generally understood what the others
were talking about.
R methodology, on the other hand, has almost wholly to do with assessments of one kind or another (of intelligence, mathematical ability, social anxiety, and such), and these assessments are typically of traits about which the participant is at best only dimly aware--i.e., the measurements are not about the kinds of ordinary things that enter into shared communicability; rather, they represent specialized knowledge and stand outside life as it is lived moment to moment. Two individuals may be assessed for their intelligence, for instance, yet be none the wiser about what the assessment was for; afterwards, however, they may enter into all manner of discussion about their experiences--e.g., "I didn't like the math part, but then I never was good at numbers," or "I kind of liked putting those blocks together," or "What did you think about those pictures? I know we were supposed to say something about them, but my mind just went blank," and on and on. Q models this communicative situation and provides measures for it, just as R provides measures for intelligence and other traits, and neither is convertible into the other through transposition or any other matrix manipulation.
Q technique can, of course, be used for assessment purposes, as indicated in Block's (1961) well-known monograph and as Stephenson (1954b) himself has shown, but this can be accomplished in at least two different ways. When Block's California Q-Set is employed, it is invariably the psychologist who uses it as a way to provide an overall portrayal of the person under scrutiny, as Miller, Prior, and Springer (1987), for example, have demonstrated: This provides an "external" perspective on the person, but says nothing directly about the structure of subjectivity (except, perhaps, that of the psychologist who performed the Q sort!). The alternative is to include the "internal" perspective by permitting the person to provide Q sorts that become part of the assessment, thereby including the subjective record alongside the person's other "vital signs" (Stephenson, 1985).
Quantum Theoretical Aspects
Related to subjective considerations
was Stephenson's recognition, as well as Burt's (1938), that the mathematics
of factor analysis and Heisenberg's matrix mechanics were virtually identical.
Subjective communicability is indeterminant, as are the Q factors which
document that subjectivity. During a typical discussion over dinner or
a game of cards, for instance, it is impossible to predict who will speak
next or what that person will say, and the same is true at the individual
level, e.g., in day dreaming, in the free associations of the psychoanalytic
hour, or in the soliloquy of a Molly Bloom in Joyce's Ulysses (Stephenson,
1991). For Burt, factor analysis and quantum theory were linked by analogy
only, and this was due in large part to the phenomena being measured: R
methodology measures objective variables, such as intelligence,
whereas quantum mechanics measures not variables, but states (of
energy). R methodology therefore remains necessarily within the classical
paradigm of Newtonian mechanics and of determinant causation (hence of
reductionism), and this remains true even when its basic data matrix is
transposed and recorrelated by rows: As shown in Figure 1a (supra),
Burt's version of correlating persons keeps the previously understood world
In Q methodology, by way of contrast, the quantum character of subjectivity is not an analogy, but a reality, although its theory is rooted in Spearman's factor theory rather than in physics; moreover, it gains meaning in relation to actual measurements (Brown, 1992; Stephenson, 1988, p. 180). In classical mechanics, each effect is determined by a cause, and this remains intrinsic to the logic of dependent and independent variables; in quantum theory, however, there are no quantities that determine an individual subatomic collision, and similarly in Q methodology "there is no quantity hitherto put forward to explain a psychological event that determines operant factors" (Stephenson, 1995-1996, p. 3n). In short, Q technique does not measure variables as such, but states of mind; and when Q studies are made of single cases, several factors are typically shown to exist simultaneously in a state of complementarity (Stephenson, 1986), i.e., communicability exists in various states of probability. Moreover, the complementarity at issue in Q methodology, as in particle physics, is a function of measurement rather than a vague metaphor: It is the Q factors which are in a relationship of complementarity. Finally, measurement and meaning are as inextricably entwined in Q as in Heisenberg's uncertainty principle: The observer of the person's subjectivity is the person him- or herself (rather than the external scientist), and it is the person who also provides the Q-sort measurements.
Operantcy and Interbehaviorism
Operantcy, as noted previously, can be traced to Skinner, and before that to Spearman and Watson, who were on the trail of this idea even before it became a central principle in physics. Science deals with operations associated with confrontable events, and in Q methodology self and subjectivity are rendered operational through Q technique. In the process of Q sorting, the person operates with statements or other measurable stimuli by rank-ordering them under some experimental condition. The operation is subjective inasmuch as it is me rather than someone else who is providing a measure of my point of view, and the factors which emerge are therefore categories of operant subjectivity (Stephenson, 1977).
are also naturalistic in the sense that they are naturally-occurring
events (Brown, forthcoming): The statements, unlike scale items, are naturally
rendered (usually in the course of interviews) and in no way implicate
variables or pretend to be a test of anything, and the Q sorts are a function
of the person's understanding; hence, the factors which emerge from this
process must, of necessity, be a natural consequence of all that preceded,
and relatively uncontaminated by the scientist's intrusions. It is this
naturalism, in part, that drew Stephenson to the interbehavioral psychology
of Kantor (1959) and to the confluence of Kantor, Spearman, and quantum
theory (Stephenson, 1982, 1984). Kantor wished to avoid the nonsecular
metaphysics of surface effects as indirect indicators of hidden causes
and constructs, and to base human science on confrontable events and field
conditions, and this comported well with the presuppositions of a science
of subjectivity (Smith & Smith, 1996). Kantor's was a thorough-going
behaviorism, yet not of the "decontextualizing" variety about which Stenner
and Marshall (1995, p. 634) complain; rather, field and contextual principles
were central to it.
Interbehaviorism also entered into Q methodology itself at the stage of factor rotation. Unlike any other major factor analyst, Stephenson retained the centroid method of factor analysis for essentially the same reason that others abandoned it--namely, because of its statistically imprecise nature. Given their imprecision, centroid factors were typically rotated to simple structure so as to render them more determinant, but Stephenson saw in their imprecision the opportunity to save this particular method of factor analysis from all of the determinant presumptions of the other methods and to use it as a way to probe subjective space. Just as a Q sorter interbehaves with statements, therefore, so does the factor analyst interbehave with factor space, so that theory and data can interact within their own field also. It was because of this that Thompson (1962) was able to see that Stephenson's view of factor analysis, unlike those of Burt, Cattell, Eysenck, and others, could never be routinized and reduced to generally applicable algorithms.
It is perhaps too early for
a definitive statement, but there are indications that adherents of Q methodology
have reached a critical mass and that interest in Stephenson's innovation
will continue to rise in at least the short run. This renewed interest
in Q technique and its methodology has been fortified by a number of recent
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