Group-based Dialogic Introspection and its Use in Qualitative Media Re­search[1]

Gerhard Kleining & Thomas Burkart

The method of dialogic introspection has been developed at the University of Hamburg to over­come some of the pro­blems of classi­cal intro­spec­tion. It has been applied to diffe­rent topics and with methodo­logical varia­tions since 1996. There have been some publica­tions both in Ger­man (Hamburger Tagung, 1999) and English (Klei­ning & Witt, 2000, 2001).

The main advanta­ge of the method is its ac­cess to psy­chic proce­sses in a me­tho­dolo­gi­cal­ly con­trol­led way. Existing methods on media reception, quantitative but also qualitative, leave a blank spot at the area in which the effect actually occurs - the mind of the person ex­posed to media. Examples of qualitative approaches with this deficit are Jensen (1991) on qualitative Re­cep­tion Analy­sis, Lind­lof (1995) on quali­ta­ti­ve research methods in communication re­search, Bromley et al. (1999, 281-363) and Real (1989) on Cultu­ral Studies' research. In this paper we show how intro­spec­tion can be used to study recep­tion - or the ef­fect - of mass me­dia. It is an example for the ap­plication of the method of dialogic in­tro­spection in qualita­ti­ve media re­search.

The method itself is based on a me­tho­dolo­gy which we call quali­ta­tive-heuri­stic, a se­arch-and-find pro­ce­dure of ex­plora­tion ai­ming at disco­very, which also has been deve­lo­ped in Ham­burg and which is our basic re­search ap­pro­ach.

The paper will present 1. a note on the relevance of the ap­proa­ches sugge­sted here, 2. a short des­crip­tion of the heu­ri­stic me­tho­do­lo­gy, 3. a des­crip­tion of the method of dialogic intro­spection, 4. ex­amples of a qualita­tive in­vestiga­tion of film and televi­sion commu­ni­ca­tion using this method including an evaluation of the method and 5. a remark on qualitative me­thodology.

1. The Relevance of a Heuristic Approach for Qualitative Psy­cho­lo­gy

A heuristic methodology designed to assist scientific discoveries orients itself at ex­plora­ti­ve acti­vi­ties in gene­ral and the history of heuristics as a philosophical and empi­ri­cal disci­pline (Klei­ning, 1995, 327-354). Its legiti­ma­tion is based on gai­ning scien­ti­fic knowled­ge. Dis­co­veries achie­ved by the natu­ral sciences have been most prominent du­ring the past centuries and the ways in which they were reached is of parti­cu­lar inte­rest to the rese­archer in psy­cho­logy and the social sciences. In psycho­logy it­self there are a num­ber of histo­ri­cal stu­dies which can be regarded as land-­marks in the field. Their re­search pro­ce­dures - whet­her for­mu­la­ted or not - quali­fy them as a topic of study (Klei­ning & Witt 2001, para. 11-22). To name a few under the aspect of disco­ve­ries: the Würz­burg cognitive psy­chology, Gestalt psy­cholo­gy, Piaget's deve­lop­mental psy­cholo­gy, Freu­dian psycho­analysis; in sociology American pragma­tism and the reality concept of the Chica­go school, as formulated by Blumer (1969). There is some rela­tionship of our methodo­logy to Glaser & Strauss' early work (1967) particularly re­gar­ding the attempt to "dis­co­very".

A heuristic research methodology is clearly different from hypothesis-deductionism and reductionism of data as well as all forms of interpretative additions which were dis­cus­sed in socio­lo­gy recently. Subjectivism associated with these procedures may be one of the causes for what Den­zin & Lin­coln call the "blur­red gen­res" and "dou­ble crisis" of present (American) qua­litative re­search (1994, 9, 10) said to occur in a "dis­course of post­structu­ral­ism and post­mo­der­nism" (10).

Though there seem to be rather general procedures which can be condensed into a se­arch-and-find me­tho­do­lo­gy, the methodsused in each research pro­ject will have to be adjusted to the particular topics in question. Dialo­gic in­trospec­tion is a new technique which combi­nes classical individual introspection with groups. It is parti­cularly suitable to study mental processes which can or could be recalled and thus re­gains a field of research which has not been studied tho­roughly since long owing to at­tacks from "ob­jecti­ve" psy­cho­logy (Bro_ek & Diamond, 1976, 93-100) and beha­vio­rism (Watson, 1913).

2. The Qualitative-heuristic Methodology

Our basic methodology is heuristic. In everyday life we inter­act with our environ­ment and our­sel­ves, both confirming and changing our outer and inner worlds. Inter­action relies on our sense organs but also on physical, verbal and mental activities and results in our orientation and beha­vior ­in ever changing situations. The heuristic side of interaction is the basis of the heuri­stic methodo­logy.

The methodology uses four basic rules which refer to the situat­ion of the re­searcher, the topic of the research, of data collection and data analy­sis. In short the rules are:

Rule 1: "The researcher should be open to new concepts and change his/her pre­con­cep­tions if the data are not in agreement with them". Label: Openness of the researcher.

Rule 2: "The topic of research is preliminary and may change during the research pro­cess." It is only fully known after being successfully explored. Label: Openness of the research topic.

Rule 3: "Data should be collected under the paradigm of maximum structural variation of per­spec­ti­ves". There should be as many different points of view as possible. Label: Ma­ximum structural variation of perspectives.

Rule 4: "The analysis directs itself toward discovery of similarities". It tries to discover accor­dan­ce, ana­lo­gies, correspondence, regularities or ho­mologies within these most va­ried sets of data to find structure or patterns. Label: Discovery of simila­ri­ties.

The research process itself is performed as a mental dialogue between the research person and the topic of research respectively the data, it is trans­for­med into a dialogic (or dialectic) pro­cess of que­stion and answer and new que­stion based on the answer etc. until all data are structu­rally incor­porated. Analysis is a constant search to discover the pattern of the data. It is simi­lar to Fen­i­chel's des­cription:

"Freud once compa­red psychoana­lysis with a jig-saw puzzle ("Zu­sam­menlegbil­der der Kinder", 1896, 441-442), in which the aim is to con­struct, out of the frag­ments of a pictu­re, a complex pictu­re. There is but one correct solu­tion. So long as it is not disco­vered, one can per­haps re­cognize isola­ted bits of pictures, but there is no coherent who­le. If the correct solution is found, there can be no doubt as to its validity for each fragment fits, bey­ond question, into the general whole." (Fen­i­chel, 1935, 329).

This is a good metaphor with the exception that the "fragments" are not fixed ele­ments but flexible and changing which makes a scientific discovery the more complex and diffi­cult. The re­searcher will assu­me which part may be rela­ted to which other part. This reflects ­Schlei­er­macher's suggestion to combine the "divinato­ri­sche Me­tho­de" (to divine a relation on a sub­jective basis) with the "comparative method" (to achieve ge­neralization) (1838,169) as a psy­cho­logi­cal tech­ni­que. But the suc­cess of dis­co­very also will de­pend on the flexibi­lity of the re­searcher and his or her readi­ness to abandon pre­con­cep­tions. Mach des­cribes the psy­chologi­cal pro­cess of disco­very as the "adap­tion of thoughts to the facts and thoughts to each ot­her" (1905, 164). Ein­stein & Infeld compare the activity of a scien­tist to that of a detec­ti­ve. If he [the scien­tist] ... wants to reach at least a parti­al solution he has to collect the existing dis­orde­red facts, inte­grate them into a coher­ent whole and make them un­der­standable through a crea­tive thought" (1938, 16, translated from German).

Explorative research is neither linear nor deductive but circular, searching, trying, assu­ming, te­sting, arranging and re-arranging. It is not restricted to a set of fixed assumptions nor to given data but interacts within an open envi­ron­ment in which all sorts of facts and information might be rela­ted to the topic to be stu­died (Witt, 2001).

Methods which can be heuristically applied are transformed from everyday techniques. All are varia­tions of obser­va­tion and expe­ri­ment emphasizing a more receptiveand a more active beha­vior within the interactive research process. The experiment is not only a quantitative techni­que but also has a histo­ry as the "quali­tative experiment" particularly in psychology and as mental experiments in theoretical physics (Kleining, 1986).

For further information on the methodology and examples of its application in German see Klei­ning, 1994, 1995, 1999; in English Kleining, 2001; Klei­ning & Witt, 2000, 2001).

3. The Method of Dialogic Introspection

A historical remark. Introspection has been the dominant method of psycholo­gy after its estab­lish­ment as a sepa­ra­te scientific discipline at the end of the nineteenth century. It was re­pres­sed by Beha­viorism in the early decades of the twentieth century under the re­pro­ach of sub­jecti­vism, leaving a terra incognita at the area which once was regar­ded as the parti­cular terrain of psy­chology. The remo­val of intro­spec­tion from the dis­cour­se of main­stre­am aca­de­mic tea­ching and re­search did not affect various fields of ap­plied psycholo­gy, particu­larly psy­choana­lysis and analyti­cally orient­ed psy­chothe­rapy. Everyday intro­spection conti­nues to be a survi­val techni­que - imagine a person who is un­able to learn about his/her inner life, his/her emo­tions or past expe­riences! A con­ference on intro­spec­tion in Ham­burg (1999), in­itiated to bring back acade­mic s­cien­ti­fic inte­rest in the method showed that many diffe­rent bran­ches of "qualitati­ve" psycho­logy actu­ally use in­tro­spection in one way or another. Re-establis­hing the method has to ack­nowledge to­day's re­qui­re­ments con­cerning me­tho­do­lo­gies and me­thods in gene­ral. The suggestion of the Ham­burg re­search group is what we call "dia­lo­gic intro­spec­tion".

Definition. We use the term "in­tro­spec­tion" to cover all forms of mental activities con­cer­ned with the self as the topic of the re­search. Introspection may have a more active ("ex­pe­ri­men­ting") or more receptive ("ob­ser­ving") character. Examples of the former are the thin­king experi­ments of the Würzburg School (Marbe, 1901; Bühler, 1907; see also Ziche, 1999) and Gestalt psy­cho­lo­gists (Duncker, 1935; Wert­heimer, 1956), ex­amples of the latter is "self­expe­rien­cing" ("in­nere Wahr­neh­mung") on which Bren­ta­no (1874, 40) insi­sted in contrast to Wundt's rejection of "pure obser­vation" (1896, 28) and his critique of "self-ob­ser­va­tion" ("Selbst­beob­ach­tung") (1888) which would have to be performed under experimental conditions (1896, 27).

The everyday basis of introspection.As other me­thods of qualitative research, intro­spec­tion is a commonly used technique. Peo­ple refle­ct upon their fee­lings and expe­rien­ces, e.g. when writing a diary. They also tell other people about their inner world, dis­cuss simi­lar or different experien­ces. The me­thod of dialogic intro­spec­tion tries to overcome the perso­nal opinions and eva­lua­tions, the unsystematic and selecti­ve pre­sentation and one-sided views and arguments which are com­mon in ever­yday intro­spec­tion and parti­cularly in the expres­sion of feelings toward other people.

Application of the heuristic methodology. In all phases of the research the "rules" men­tioned above have been the methodological guideline. An example is the selection of the topic. Rule 3 requi­res a variation of all aspects which might influence the outco­me of t­he research. Topic cer­tain­ly is one. Exploring the method of introspection therefore varies intro­spec­ti­ve to­pics: experiencing an unexpected irritation (Kleining & Witt, 2001, paragraphs 45-64), solving a prac­ti­cal pro­blem, acting in a play­ful com­pe­ti­tion, ex­pe­rien­cing a strong emo­tion, every­day an­ger and - again a different content - expe­rien­cing space in a public buil­ding (a rail­road sta­tion). In this paper we are concerned with the role which introspection could play in studies on mass media reception, which is still another aspect of introspective research.

The introspective theme is "Erleben" ("experience") or the "inner world". All topics, which can be ex­pe­rien­ced are possi­ble themes for introspective research. Emphasis is on a wide range of mental and emotio­nal ac­tions and reactions, phantasies, believes, assumptions, associa­tions, pre­sent and past. Both, in­tro­spec­ti­ve and retro­specti­ve techni­ques, can be applied.

The research process and the use of groups. The prominent difference between classi­cal in­trospec­tion and dialogic introspection is the use of groups. In our introspective groups 4-9 rese­arch people ­participated, all psy­cho­lo­gists and social scientists. After a gene­ral instruction the sti­mu­lus was presented and participants were atten­ti­ve to their fee­lings, thoughts and senti­ments. They could take notes during and after the presentation - approx. five minutes but not under time pres­sure. Then they pre­sented their expe­rience to the group, the first person volunteering, others follo­wing clockwise. There may have been a second round. The pre­senta­tions were tape-recor­ded and later analy­zed.

Depending on the subject, participants could also introspect individually at other places but they always came toget­her to pre­sent their experien­ces in the group and listen to the reports of other group members.

Combining dialogues with self and others. Dialogic introspection in a group encou­ra­ges mental acti­vities within the individual and toward other participants. It creates more detailed and more authentic expe­rien­ces:

  • The self-dialogue confronts the experience of the individual with his/her notes and re­port about it. The participant can ask himself/herself whether the presentation was suffi­cient and may complete or specify his/her information.
  • It also contrasts his/her experience with that of other participants about the same topic. The individual may recall parts of his/her own experience which might have been forgot­ten, regar­ded as too unimpor­tant ore too difficult to formulate. He/she may be encouraged to look at his/her own experience from another perspective and discover causes and back­grounds.

Control of unwanted group processes.Group dynamics may inter­fere with indivi­dual intro­spec­tion and presentation of the experien­ce. Therefore introspection groups have to be care­ful­ly controlled. Means are the following:

  • Critical or devaluating remarks or commentaries during or after the presentations are not allo­wed. They may in­fluen­ce the readi­ness of parti­cipants to report their experience open­ly (Fiedler, 1996, 453-499 on therapeutic groups). Parti­ci­pants should listen silent­ly and attentively to the re­ports and reporters en­cou­ra­ged.
  • There should be no interruption of reports and freedom concerning their length. E­very parti­ci­pant may choo­se to report as long as he/she thinks, inclu­ding no repor­ting at all. In our research we had one case of no reporting at one particular task but none of a person who could not stop.
  • The group should not build up hierarchies or confirm existing ones. Experiments of Sherif and Asch (see also Avermaet, 1996) showed that group pres­su­re and achievement orientation can influence indivi­dual judge­ments. Hier­archic in­fluences alrea­dy may be redu­ced if all group ­members are given full time for their re­ports. Minori­ty expe­rien­ces are particularly welcome.
  • There should be no inqui­ry after the re­port. Spontaneous inter­rogation tends to introduce the position of the inter­roga­tor and puts the introspection in a context of social legiti­ma­tion. Listeners ­may not fully comprehend the meaning of the state­ment during the pre­sen­tation, yet they may later consult the protocols.
  • A group coordinator may be helpful to inform about the task and intention of the re­search, explain the rules and ask for their observation, particularly repressing spon­ta­ne­ous reac­tions and commentaries of listeners toward a reporting person and stop­ping a general discussion if it should arise. The coordinator may be a different person in diffe­rent ses­sions.

Introspective groups are an assembly of individuals. They differ from small groups, for­med to study group dynamics, focus groups with discussion of topics among the partici­pants, expe­ri­men­tal groups established for a particular purpose, e. g. to solve a task combining their abili­ties, self help groups,therapeutic groups etc. All those groups form, use or study intragroup-relations. Introspective groups, on the contrary, favor the indivi­dual. The group should hel­p to explore his or her inner world, stimu­la­te, ease and wi­den the possi­bili­ty of intro- and retro­spec­tion. Intro­spec­tion groups should be seen as a col­lec­tion of indi­vi­duals rather than a "group" with a body of its own.

Systematized and variate docu­menta­tion.Inner and transitory experiences have to be trans­formed into documents. There are several possibilities which are also used in everyday introspec­tion:

  • verbal communication,
  • written documents,
  • non verbal communication as gestures, physiognomic expres­sions and arti­facts as ob­jects, pictures, sounds, artistic productions.

Verbalization and expression in writing of course depends on the individual's abili­ty to express himself of herself; non verbal communication might be of speci­al im­por­tan­ce for children, thera­peutic patients and for expressing those emo­tio­nal condi­tions which are diffi­cult to des­cribe in a diffe­ren­tiated way. Any recording needs agreement of those concerned.

As transformation of inner processes into docu­ments may result in an incom­plete or one-sided presentation of the actual experien­ce we suggest to document experiences in different forms - e. g. writing texts, reading and pre­sen­ting them, freely speaking about one's own experience, using gestures - corre­sponding ­to rule three of the heuristic metho­dology concerning variation of perspectives but in line with the possi­bi­li­ties and re­qui­re­ments of the in­vestiga­tion.

Separation of data production and analysis. Everyday introspec­tion tends to mix obser­va­tion, evaluation and interpretation. To avoid blending, the me­thod sepa­rates data produc­tion and data analysis. Analysis always is based on writ­ten documen­tation: in some cases the notes of parti­ci­pants and - always - the transcription of the tape recorded presentation in the group.

Basic methods are observation and experiment. Introspection is not a method per se but as experiencing the inner world (e. g. emotions) and actively dealing with it (e. g. to recall a name, to solve a pro­blem) is rela­ted to receptive and active beha­vioral modes of everyday life. Syste­mati­c dialogic intro­spec­tion in this respect is not different from observa­tional and expe­ri­men­tal me­thods. The particularity of in­trospection is that observer and the obser­ved, experi­men­ting per­son and object of ­ex­per­im­entation, in general: the sub­ject and object are the same person. Confu­sion may arise if this is taken as dealing with identities - which is not the case since different functions of mental activities or different perspectives within the mind are concerned.

4. Research on Media Reception - the Overall Design

The following is an example of the application of the method. The re­search work has been done within the workshop of in­trospection research 1998-2000. Participants were Thomas Bur­kart, Otmar Hagemann, Ger­hard Kleining, Elisabeth Krieg, Fried­rich Krotz, Peter M. May­er, Heinz Schramm, Hartmut Schulze, David Ulrich, Monika Wilhelm, Harald Witt.

Re­search pa­pers are avai­lable (Schulze, 1998; Burkart, Klei­ning, Mayer, Wilhelm & Witt, 2000).


Data Collection


Basic Methods

Number of Participants

# 1 Newscast of the day
Tagesthemen ARD 10-10.15 PM, "first three topics"


in group

pretest on method of documentation


# 2 Abstract car­toon film frag­ment, black & white, no sound, 11 sec.

in group

in group

pretest on use in group


# 3 Art film with actors, black & white / some color, 10 min.

in group

in group

experiment/ observation


# 4 Newscast of the day
Tagesschau, 8-8.10 PM "first three topics"


in group

experiment/ observation


# 5 Newscast of 1980 ARD, originally 8-8.15 PM

in group

in group

experiment/ observation


# 6 Daily Soap Gute Zeiten, schlechte Zeiten RTL, 7.40-8.15 PM


in group

experiment/ observation


# 7 Homepage Daily Soap Gute Zeiten, schlechte Zeiten RTL


in group

experiment/ observation


We started with the assumption - or hope - that studying media reception would help us to explore the possibilities of the introspective method. Introspection was our theme, not media research. There was no hypothesis which could qualify in a hypothesis-deductive sense and there were no conflicting theories which we wanted to test. In fact all of us, except one person, knew very little about mo­dern receptive theories in media research. There was just the con­cept - which one could call a pre-­con­cep­tion or even a preju­dice - that we could learn some­thing more about in­tro­spec­tion if we confronted a viewer, actually ourselves as viewer or receptors, with a film, video or TV se­quen­ce. These stimuli seemed to be more "objective" than the stimuli we had used earlier e. g. the ringing of an alarm clock or our own emotions and life experiences. We were informed however that introspection was quite uncommon or even unknown in media research. Therefore the method seemed promising.

Exploratory research develops out of data, not deductively following a preconceived plan. It was clear that a test of the procedure and maybe its alteration should be the begin­ning. It beca­me research # 1. Two participants suggested to test experimental films to which they had access and wit­hout much dis­cus­sion all agreed (researches # 2 and 3, an example of "oneness" reque­sted by rule 1 of the qualitative-heuristic methodology). As both films, though very diffe­rent from each other in form and con­tent, tur­ned out to be not easy to under­stand, we wan­ted to test a diffe­rent and "easy to under­stand" topic which we assu­med the daily TV news cast would offer (re­search # 4). Follo­wing rule tree of the methodo­logy we accepted the "op­po­si­te" of news rele­van­ce testing a TV news cast 20 years old (re­search # 5). Another alternative seemed to be a "dai­ly soap" cast whi­ch is a longer sequence with episodes dealing with everyday problems of a certain target group and still anot­her the home page of this TV cast - thus chan­ging our topic from recep­tion of a given sti­mulus to virtu­al reality. T­he diffe­rent topics re­flect the inten­tion to cover va­ria­tions of mass media com­muni­ca­tion (rule 3). We will continue by enlarging the sam­ples and design new ap­proa­ches depen­ding on the analy­sis of the previous and the open que­stions which will arise from the analy­sis.

For an analysis protocols from five to ten participants were considered sufficient for this kind of research which sometimes can not be reached during the first session due to exter­nal circum­stan­ces. The analysis was done by members of the introspective workshop, all trained in qualitative-heuristic metho­dology, saying that they found the transcripts of their own reports among the others which did cause some amazement for a spontaneous speaker after the lapse of some time. In this case the analysts were Thomas Burkart, Gerhard Kleining and Hartmut Schul­ze.

Doing the research and previously analy­zing it - al­ways loo­king at simi­la­ri­ties accor­ding to rule four of the methodology - we lear­ned that in­tro­spec­tion gave information on the actual pro­cess of media re­cep­tion. It turned out not to be "re­ceptive" but rather an "inter­acti­ve" pro­cess. It brought us at a level of abstraction where we could compa­re findings with existing theo­ries which we now studied to compare them with our findings. Concerned were not only media "re­cep­tion" theo­ries but also empi­ri­cal and theo­re­ti­cal fields dealing with interaction of indivi­duals in their environ­ment in gene­ral, with orien­tation and identity formation, symbolization and transformation, recall and learning - rather "grand theo­ries" and not restric­ted to a particular effect-non effect-regi­stra­tion of im­pact. The original topic was still the same - the method of introspection - but its representation changed from the narrowly defined topic of reaction to a certain media message to the operation of the psyche in general in respect to itself and its environment. Openess to accept this chan­ge is a requirement of rule one and two of the heuristic methodology on openess of the researcher and the research topic.

The following will present the steps of the research more in detail. We will concentrate on # 1-5, topics 6 and 7 will be discussed at a later occasion.

4.1 Pretest on Method

The first investigation (# 1) should test the overall approach. Parti­ci­pants should watch the first three topics of a television newscast and record their thoughts and feelings as early as possi­ble, also trying "loud thinking".

Results: (a) "Loud thinking" could not easily fol­low the quick se­quen­ce of the takes. It became obvio­us that transformation of feelings into words and sounds needed some time - trained sport re­por­ters on radio might have been better at performing this task of a very rapid speech. Un­der time pres­su­re, "loud thin­king" produced expressions of emotions and exclamations of short words and sounds (similar to reactions to fans in an soc­cer-stadium, which may be called the "soccer-stadium ef­fect") also leaving un­plea­sant fee­lings with vie­wers not being able to ex­press their emo­tions fully. The cast did not only arouse emotions but also re­pres­sed them. (b) The sa­me was true for wri­ting notes but at a less de­gree. (c) More time was avai­lable at the end of the cast when whole senten­ces could be formulated but there were still the pro­blems of trans­for­ma­tion of quick emo­tions into slow wri­ting, the fading of emotional im­pact and a fragmen­tary recall and for­mula­tion compared to the original experien­ce.

We concluded that indi­vi­duals should combine documentation of imme­diate reac­tions with a more detai­led des­crip­tion without time pressure and use a group to stimu­la­te their own recall of which they might have re­pres­sed or for­got­ten:

  • writing catchwords simultaneously,
  • writing a more detailed description of the experience shortly after the broadcast,
  • presenting the thoughts and feelings verbally to the group, listening to the informa­tion from other members and, maybe, present additional aspects to their reports.

Analyzing the reactions it became clear that the process of documentation involved se­veral chan­ges of the expe­rien­ce:

  • First a double trans­forma­tion from fee­lings to wri­ting to spea­king,
  • second a transformation from priva­te feelings to a soci­ally acceptable pre­sen­ta­tion,
  • third an exten­sion from introspection to retrospection and
  • fourth a change from ephemeral, fugitive experien­ce to written and recorded docu­ments.

Seen from the outside, the documentation looses spontaneity, direct­ness and rich­ness of expe­rien­ce but seen from the individual researcher there is a broadening of his or her expe­rience as it is reflected in diffe­rent modes: a recall of the expe­rience, documentation in catch­words, priva­te notes, verbal presen­ta­tion and the reaction to the presentation of group mem­bers.

4.2 Pretest on the Use of the Group

The next research (# 2) should test and develop the method: sho­wing the stimulus in the group, silent recording of introspection indivi­dually, pre­sen­ting the data imme­dia­te­ly after it. This would get the recor­ding closer to the actual expe­rience. The film was a cartoon‑-like abstract mo­vement of lines and forms of 11 seconds, a fragment.

The instruction was: "Be attentive to what happens inside you when wat­ching the video. These impressions will be documented in writing after it." Participants were told about the lengths of the film.

Results concerning the method: (a) The collective image was regarded as more reali­stic than were indi­vi­dual perspectives. (b) The individual experience becomes clearer, not more blur­red. (c) The pro­per intro­spection is not destroyed but becomes more precise and com­plete. (d) Indi­vidual in­trospec­tion achieves more contour as part of a whole. (e) Partici­pants can clearly deci­de whether re­ports of other members differ from their own experience or not. (f) Pro­ble­matic might be the ­"half-pu­blic" setting ("Halb­öffent­lich­keit", Schulze, 1998) of the group bet­ween "pri­va­te" and "pu­blic" . Data from earlier re­search showed that some topics of the priva­te notes were not presen­ted to the group, indicating that an atmosphere of confidence, non-hier­archi­cal group struc­ture and trust to keep private information private is very im­por­tant for this kind of research.

Results concerning content. (a) "Nothing" could be identified within the film se­quence, causing irritation, frustration and disappointment. (b) The background of the evaluation of the film was a cer­tain ex­pec­ta­tion which it did not fulfil. (c) Searching for meaning - or coping pro­cesses - imme­diately start­ed, leading to a rejection of the film and regarding the self as responsible for not un­der­standing or produc­tion of meaning - all with the function to reduce frustration and handle an open emo­tio­nal pro­blem.

4.3 Examples of Introspection Data

Introspection # 3 followed the scheme tested earlier: individual (or group) introspection of several participants, if possible quick notes, longer description of feelings, verbal presentation within the group, tape recorded and transcribed.

The kind of data produced by this method is presented in the following excerpts. The topic was a daily television newscast, the promi­nent news was a re­port on an air­pla­ne crash hours befo­re.

The protocols presented here are parts of the introspective reports from three participants in the group ses­sion referring to this event, translated from German by the authors.

(Protocol A) "I started immediately writing down what ever came to my mind. The first thing was a picture of a - somehow - Bermuda triangle with a little x in it for the missing airpla­ne and I thought this looks like a treasure-map and then I had the feeling that this was mini­mized somehow, I felt kind of an ambivalence - on the one side they emphasized that there were only Egyptians aboard the plane and no Germans and then I thought - well, well - and then they make such a tremendous search by the US marine force, some­how this doesn't fit toget­her, if they devaluate that they were only E­gyp­tians and then I thought why would it be that they suspect a terror-attack - why do they get this idea that it might have been one? Only because Egypt is situated some place in the Near East and they throw everything into one pot. And then I also noticed that they talk about the serio­usness of the airli­ne Egypt Air in a way as if they would have to emphasize particularly that this actual­ly is a serious air line and then I think that they somehow assume that someone might regard the airline as irresponsible and kind of junk and then they show scenes in Cairo where they were lamenting about the bad organization, that the Egyptians do not handle this correctly, that they do not deal with the relatives in a right way and again and again they assert security. And some­how they had pictures of this airline which really looked shabby and somehow of deteriorated buildings and the flag also was com­pletely ragged ..."

(Protocol B) "The first impression was that it is a catastrophe and that I knew it already be­cau­se I have heard it on the radio and that there is no more hope and that they found corp­ses and that everything should fly to Cairo and that there were no Germans, but that for the others there is no more hope and that it is a catastrophe. Then I looked at the speaker, whom I did not know, I noticed that he had a very nice hairdo - well, a good make up - then I lear­ned that Boeing is a reliable air-company or has reli­able airplanes and has main­tained that everything was in order but there also was some­thing about terror. Looking back, I could not verify if a terror attack was seen as possible or excluded. At any rate it is a mystery how everything happened and there are pieces floating around and in Cairo the state of emergency is announced - as a precaution announced - and a center will be establis­hed to console the victims or rather the bereaved and there are breakdowns which also are shown and there is a funeral service and a press conference where they say that Egypt Air has a good reputation and crashed 23 years ago."

(Protocol C) "Well, despite this task I noticed that for me it is routine to watch this newscast, this was nothing special. I had a piece of paper and took notes but nothing occur­red to me and also regarding this report about the crash of the Egypt Air flight I observed that may­be I should feel pathetic about it but I did not succeed at all and I only could gain a certain amount of boring disinterest despite having to look at it. What I then noticed was this remark that, of course, there was no German aboard, the news mentioned this matter quite strongly anyhow, that Germans had no part in it and there was a lot of tal­king, a lot of things presented, but actually it was not interesting to me. And I noticed that this al­ways happens to me if I watch this newscast, that routi­ne emerges, maybe it should be sho­king but was simply covered with this habitual boredom which I asso­ciate with it. Finally I found at the end that this news maybe encourages me not wan­ting to fly, well I don't have a tremendous fear of flying but I also have not been on a flight yet."

(La­ter in the pro­to­col): " I would like to add so­me­thing. I ha­ve been thinking about this re­port on the Egypt Air. There has been a continu­ous re­por­ting during the last weeks. And despite this tragic event - somehow 270 people died - this in a way or other had something of an anecdote, which I realized somehow but what, as mentioned, had nothing to do with everyday expe­rience, nothing concer­ning myself and I did not talk about it with other people or was tremen­dously interested, it was such an everyday blah-blah, such a back­ground noise which one hears every day."

The method creates complex and detailed repor­ts about fee­lings, ideas, re­flec­tions and associations during and after introspec­tion. Obvious is a pecu­lia­rity of form: it tends to be a se­quen­ce of small pieces of information not much related to each other ("then ... and then ..." ) though the cast was better organized than selective reception. Verbal cohe­ren­ce would be stron­ger in narra­ti­ves, e. g. TAT stories or narra­ti­ve inter­views, ­but weaker in emo­tio­nal exclama­tions or free associa­tions. For­mally these re­flec­tions are placed bet­ween the level of verbalization of priva­te (psychic) fee­lings and that of grammatically correct, well formu­lated sequences of sentences forming a story in a soci­al­ly acceptable form.

4.4 The Art Film Research

Test object of research # 3 was a film of approx. 10 minutes length, the plot after a my­ste­ry story by the English author R. Middle­ton. The film is open to interpretation. Its con­tent, accor­ding to the stage direc­tor, is:

"A tramp is on his way somewhere, meets another tramp. Walking the same route, they de­ci­de to walk toget­her. Something must be wrong with the compa­nion! After a short while the companion sud­denly collap­ses ... and dies. The tramp conti­nu­es alone until he sees the deceased leaning against a tree. Both conti­nue their trip toget­her without words and see­mingly without a desti­nation ... "

Introspection was done within the group, the research design and instruction correspon­ding to resear­ch # 2. Reports were tape recorded and transcribed.

Summary of results (more detailed in Burkart et al., 2000):

(a) Trying to find relations or the quest for meaning. All participants are concer­ned with the mea­ning of the film. Respondents ask themselves exploring questions: what was the effect of the film, how was it pro­du­ced, what did it com­muni­ca­te? One person felt like laying in an am­bush to find out what it me­ans. Others are glad if they got the point, "made sense out of it". There are at­tempts to con­nect the fi­lm with perso­nal experiences (as child, death of the mot­her, other film­s which have been seen, hobby filming) or known catego­ries (art film, ideali­zation of a plot). What cannot be recon­struc­ted is rejected as strange and difficult to under­stand.

"Thinking about it, I tried to understand the meaning of the film. This was very difficult for me. I was constantly going around and around, what actually would be the message of the fi­lm? I went back from my contemplation which did not bring me further, back to the pictures of the film ... Maybe the author had a relationship with the actor, maybe they are friends. And the dar­kness in the film, whether this also had a meaning, whether this is a better alter ego ... I could not make any sense of it."

(b) Mental dialogues are used for exploration.They com­bi­ne active and re­cep­ti­ve modes and trans­for­ma­tions.

  • Passive / receptive qualities. The film constantly produces feelings, associations, recol­lections. Example: " I very quickly went into this emotio­nal at­mo­sphere. I did not re­flect whether this is a god film or not. I took a no­te: de­pressi­on, kind of heaviness, strenu­ous­ness."
  • Active qualities. The same viewers also behave (mentally) active toward the film: they ask (inner) que­stions, produce expectations, even rework and change the pictu­res (e.g. chan­ge the co­lors), eva­lua­te and inter­pret the con­tent of the film (charac­ters, events, mu­sic) and its form (cuts, colors). Ex­am­ple: "At the beginning I was very much expecting what to see after the protocol of our last meeting". "I asked myself is this per­son is suppo­sed to be a man or a woman. A little bit later I could recognize it."
  • The dialogic receptive - active sequence. The pro­cess al­ways invol­ves a continuous inter­action and change from one attitude to the other. An example:

"The music became very irritating, shrill, too loud. Then I asked myself who is it real­ly, who is shown here? I wanted to find the meaning of this leading figure, the leading actor ... Then I observed that the leading actor has too long hair and that this is not fitting for the Fif­ties. And then I comprehended, he is supposed to represent a vaga­bond, a tramp. But this is not real life but role playing and show."

The report starts from the experience of an unpleasant musical impression (re­cep­ti­ve), transforms the attitude into an (active) question about the person's identity, trans­for­ms him from a "figu­re" into an "ac­tor" (active) with wrong hairdo proving his "role play­ing and show" - the trans­for­ma­tion seems to be acceptable (receptive) and might also ex­plain the impact of the music as un­pro­fes­sio­nal (would also be receptive).

(c) Discovery of meaning (summary):

  • is an active search,
  • is a (mental) dialogue between the viewer and the film, the viewer receiving impres­sions and asking questions about it and receiving another answer etc.,
  • is an attempt to combine unrelated messages with known and accepted meanings, in­itiating a search within the mind for those meanings, which also is a dialogic processes,
  • if successful, will integrate the unrelated bits into the existing system of meanings - a kind of appropriation, if not successful the message will stay unre­la­ted, the puzzle unsol­ved.

(d) Three reception styles. We call them "involved", "detached" and "disinterested or bored". They roughly correspond to protocols A, B and C above. The styles present the predomi­nant mode of mental interaction of a viewer with a certain communication form and content at a given moment.

  • Involved reception is accepting, consonant, open for sensual impressions, feelings, senti­ments, associations even if they are touching or if the content is not immediately under­stood. Ex­am­ples from various participants:

" The pictures were a little confusing at the beginning because I thought it is summer, judged from the light. But then there was a leafless tree. This I didn't comprehend. Also the words I did not understand, which they exchanged. At the same time I noticed that it is not so important to un­derstand the words but rather the feeling. And this was sym­pathe­tic. And then I thought: it is in harmony, they leave together."

Another person described the process as: "You will be addressed, you ac­cept and are invol­ved". The risk of involve­ment is that the fi­lm may bring strong emo­tions to the surfa­ce - in our group the death of a respon­dent's relative and the situation in a con­cen­tration camp. Proto­col A is a good example of involvement which doesn't have to be positive but shows strong inter­action between viewer and film.

  • Detached reception. It evokes judgement, evaluation, description and has little ac­cep­tance of the emo­tions and senti­me­nts aroused by the film. Examples:

"Well, the first impression was, that it is an art film. Yes. And that it is black and white and that it has music and that the music is very loud. And that I was so­mewhat di­stur­bed. The sound was too loud for me." " I recall my own amateurish Super-8 experiments. We also filmed anything possible...". To legitimize emotional di­stan­ce parts of the film are criticized: music too loud, too ag­gressi­ve, unrealistic pre­senta­tion, unpleasant asso­cia­tions, moral advise to the viewer, manipu­la­tion of him. Strate­gies of detach­ment are deva­lua­tion of the film, making fun of it, obser­ving (con­struc­ting) con­tradic­tions between reality and film. That de­tach­ment is not equal to nega­ti­ve eva­lua­tion can be seen in proto­col B abo­ve.

  • Disinterested or bored reception. This form of reception did not occur within this rese­arch but was very obvious in­trospecting the newscast 20 years ago (# 5). It also wa­s a reaction to the television newscast of the day (protocol C):

The respondent describes himself as a routine viewer, regar­ded the crash report as dis­interesting and boring. However, thinking about it later, he disco­vered that the reason for his disinterest was lacking relationship to his private life and world.

4.5 Summary of Findings - a Preliminary View

1. Basis to establish a relationship between audiences and a communica­tion "pro­duct" - a newscast, a film - is the men­tal inter­action or the mental dialogue bet­ween a person and the pro­duct.

2. Interaction or dialogue are techniques of viewers to explore the possibility and their kind of rela­tionship toward the product.

3. Meaning attributed to the product identifies its position of the audience in the social envi­ron­ment which serves as a background or a frame of reference.

4. Lifeworld research of actual or pro­spec­tive au­dien­ces must be considered an impor­tant part of media research.

"Ground" (versus "figure") is the term used in perception psychology, "frame" by Goff­man (1974). We prefer the concept "life­world" which has a philosophical tradi­tion as it was elaborated by Husserl in his phenomenology and is part of later deve­lopments in this tradition. In empi­ri­cal re­search life­world as a com­plex unit inte­gra­ting so­cioe­co­no­mic, psy­chic, social and cultu­ral con­di­tion of a per­son or social group. For empi­rical lifeworld classifi­cation see Krotz (1990); Kleining & Prester (1999).

5. Three interactive styles represent different forms of the dialogic pro­ces­ses. The inter­action (or receptive) style ­is dependent both on the product and the lifeworld of the au­dien­ces.

  • Involved reception is characterized by a rich mental dialogue co­vering many areas of psy­chic activi­ties in­clu­ding emotio­nal inter­ac­tion. It will find many diffe­rent topics and perspecti­ves for the inter­change of ideas, thoughts, emotions and senti­ments and con­nect with it diffe­rent expe­rien­ces and meanings, past and pre­sent. Transforma­tions will change meanings to get them closer to the vie­wer. The vie­wer do­esn't have to agree ratio­nal­ly or emo­tio­nally to ever­ything whi­ch a topic repre­sents but the fact that it of­fers inter­action will alrea­dy be expe­rien­ced posi­tively.
  • Detached recep­tion goes along with diminished or la­king inter­action. The di­stan­ce bet­ween the film and the viewer is consi­derable and the vie­wer might be more concerned with him­self or herself than with the pro­duct. Trans­forma­tions might be used to get away from the pro­duct and place a di­stan­ce bet­ween the two "worlds", that of the medium and that of the viewer. There will be criticism rather than positi­ve com­ments but di­stance is an eva­luation in itself and not de­pendent of the positive / ­negative scheme.
  • Disinterested and bored reception. This does not neces­sarily mean "di­stan­ce" or "lack of impul­se". Psy­chologi­cally it rather means "inhi­bi­tion both of the urge to activi­ty and of the readi­ness to accept the lon­ged-for incitatory stimuli." (Feni­chel, 1934, 292, his italics). A dialo­gue with the pro­duct is at­temp­ted, the vie­wer is open for informa­tion but the product only can send unrela­ted and there­fo­re not mea­ningful mes­sages. A need or requi­rement, which is not satis­fied, may be expe­rienced negatively.

6. Introspective research sees the individual as an acti­ve person who is constantly in dialo­gic inter­action with his environ­ment and with him­self using parti­cular techniques to learn about his outer and inner world, adjust to it and chan­ge it. It could help to design a generalized theory of com­mu­ni­cation processes which might go beyond media recep­tion theories in their present forms (Shan­non & Weaver 1949; Hall 1972, Jen­sen 1991).

4.6 The Method's State of Development and its Possibilities

  • Dialogic introspection in groups can offer access to mental pro­ces­ses which are not as easily to obtain by qualitative research methods described in textbooks (Larsen, 1991; Lindlof, 1995).
  • It is not restricted to particular topics.
  • It brings intersubjectivity into a seemingly subjective method.
  • Participants had no problems with the method but those not experienced with systema­tic introspec­tion may have to receive some training before introspecting in a group.
  • Dialogic introspection in groups is a rather efficient technique for the collection of intra­psy­chic data.
  • Possible limitations are (a) its dependency on verbal and writ­ten data. This the method has in common with other qualitative research techniques. We have indi­ca­ted that nonver­bal data also could be ap­plied but have not yet experimented with it. (b) The empirical basis is yet too small and ex­ten­sion and variation of re­search topics are ne­ces­sa­ry to define the range of ap­plica­bi­li­ty of fin­dings. The quali­ta­ti­ve-heuristic me­thodology sug­gests the use of extre­me groups for this purpo­se.
  • Several theoretical fields could profit from introspective research. (a) Having a new look at recall and learning proces­ses. (b) Ex­ploring the much dis­cus­sed, but litt­le un­der­stood pro­cess of "Ver­stehen" in­stead of re­ly­ing on plausi­ble des­criptions. (c) Investiga­ting ­pro­ces­ses related to phantasy production and its relationship to problem solving. (d) Exp­loring trans­forma­tion pro­ces­ses which could draw on con­cepts of Sym­bolic Inter­actio­nism, sign- and symbol theory and asso­cia­tion theory, among others.

The main attempt would be the integration of empirical research on intrapsy­chic pro­ces­ses into com­mu­ni­cation theories which tend to be social or cultural theories. The psyche should be the missing link rather than a black box.

In sum: Research so far executed with this method in a context of dis­co­very definitely encoura­ges continua­tion of the investiga­tion and enlar­ge­ment of its topics with an ex­pectation to learn more not only about particular research que­stions as recep­tion analy­sis in mass media but also about themes of general empirical and theoreti­cal importan­ce.

5. What to do with Qualitative Methodology?

The authors suggest to explore the possibilities of the qualitative-heuristic methodology in various fields of psychology both in basic and in applied research. It would stimulate methodologi­cal ­in­te­rest in classi­cal research work and re-animate approaches which were dismissed or repres­sed during and following the Nazi period in academic research. Also it would offer a chance to brid­ge the gap bet­ween research associated with different forms of data (qualitative versus quanti­ta­ti­ve) or diffe­rent topics (humanities versus natural sciences) w­hich was seen as a border divi­ding different methodologies but actually is obs­cu­ring im­por­tant diffe­rences in stra­tegies of re­search: explora­tive versus descrip­tive, heuristic versus her­me­neutic, critical versus affir­ma­ti­ve research.



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