Qualitative-heuristic Psychology and Social Research Hamburg

Dialogic Introspection

What is dialogic introspection?

Dialogic introspection is a systematic research procedure for the use in psychology and the social sciences which, following an instruction, documents contents and forms of individual and collective experience, kept in people's minds. It is an attempt to revitalize introspection which has been considered the basic method to study the mind by classic philosophers and psychologists starting from Descartes and including researchers as Wundt, Titchener, G. H. Mead, Brentano, Husserl, the Würzburg School and Gestalt psychologists up to the twenties of last century until behaviorism's strict anti-introspective postulate became dominant in mainstream psychology.

Introspection (Latin: looking inside) is equivalent to self observation, self consideration, self perception, inner perception, remembrance. A related concept is retrospection – looking back. 

The method is dialogic because it stimulates participants to engage into inner dialogues with self defined questions and answers and in this matter aims at an exploration of one's own mental life.

The procedure is systematic, the method is well defined and is applied according to rules.

The introspective group is a “small group”, face-to-face, formed for the purpose of collective introspection about a certain topic to be explored, in most cases consisting of five to fifteen participants.

Individual and collective experiences (“Erlebnisgehalte”) are all emotional, cognitive or volitional matters, particularly affects, thoughts, intentions, perceptions and imaginations which a person has or had now or earlier or has had experienced, which in everyday life rarely are clearly consciously present but as participants in a group listening to other participants and using the inner dialog will become conscious again. Experiences may vary from those completely actual to those of a long time past, from those very ephemeral to those very stable.

Respondents by an instructor are invited to report about their own inner processes as extensive and as personal as they like, thus stimulating other participants to explore their own minds. By no means should they discuss other people's reactions neither in a positive way nor critically.

Data in most cases will be tape recorded and may be supplemented and/or enlarged by personal notes.

Analysis. Dialogic introspection is not only a method for data collection but can be part of a “qualitative heuristic methodology” – a general methodology of discovery which will enable a research person to decide on the over all design of the research, analyze the data in a certain way (by searching for homologies) and achieve certain positions on its validity, reliability and range (see http://www.heuristik-hamburg.net).

Inter-Subjectivity. By discovering similarities of reaction of various participants the procedure overcomes the criticism of subjectivity which is an argument against classical individual introspection, it turns subjectivity into inter-subjectivity. Another reservation against classical introspection relates to the impossibility of a person experiencing and observing at the same time and/or the modification of experience by observation. This does not describe the actual situation. People indeed are able both to experience and to register experience and also to communicate their experience – the procedure is dialogic as many intra-psychic processes are.
An optimation of methods. Dialogic introspection in groups is a methodological development which combines individual introspective procedures as applied in psychological or psycho-analytic therapeutic sessions to explore the pre-conscious with group experiments developed in social psychology and sociology (Focus Groups) in an attempt to combine their respective advantages, in particular the “depth” on the one side and practicality and efficiency in producing relevant data on the other.

Combination with other explorative research methods. The method of dialogic introspection in groups may be combined with other techniques used in empirical research as observation, experiment, interview, text analysis, particularly with other introspective methods as individual introspection and retrospection. Variation is one of the key requirements of a heuristic methodology (“maximal structural variation of perspectives”).

Gerhard Kleining