Mixed methodology in Health Psychology: using Pragmatism to overcome the ‘irreconcilable epistemological differences’ between quantitative and qualitative methods

Workshop details

There have been debates for decades about whether we should use mixed methods, that is, qualitative and quantitative methods; those against often cite ‘irreconcilable epistemological differences’ and those in favour promote a ‘toolkit’ approach to choosing methods according to research question rather than theoretical underpinnings. Health Psychology research is primed for mixed methods because of the need to understand things at both the individual and the population level for it to be considered valid evidence that might be used to inform policy and practice.

This interactive workshop will bring together researchers with contrasting expertise to discuss the theoretical and practical elements of using both quantitative and qualitative methods in Health Psychology research. We will draw on Pragmatism’s functional definition of knowledge to overcome our epistemological differences and using innovative techniques (including conceptual encounter and dialogal research) we will work through theoretical and practical barriers to collaboratively create a working definition or ‘rough guide’ of mixed methodology in health psychology.

This workshop is key to the future of Health Psychology because of the readiness with which Health Psychology have welcomed qualitative methods, but also because Health Psychologists are often at the forefront of the development of innovative ways of conducting research within mixed discipline studies and applied settings. Health Psychology has a strong commitment to theory and rigour and so it makes perfect sense to ask Health Psychologists with expertise in these so-called opposing traditions to think openly and strategically about how we might successfully bridge the gap between epistemologies and move on to create the knowledge that will inform health care research and practice in the future.


Mixing methods in health psychology? - Day 1

This will be a brief introduction to the workshop topic and dilemmas faced by contemporary health psychology researchers - presented by facilitators. A number of issues & dilemmas will be raised and small groups/individuals will be asked to reflect on these at the beginning, across the course of the workshop and at the end and will be asked to bring their reflections to the group at the end.

Mixing methodologies, theories & models in health psychology - Day 1/2

Facilitators will first introduce and present working definitions for epistemology, methodology, method, theory/theoretical model, quantitative and qualitative research. Contributors will then be asked to tell their story, i.e. where their ‘allegiance’ lies in terms of epistemology and quantitative v qualitative methods, theoretical models such as Theory of Planned Behaviour or Illness Representations, and their preferred methodology such as phenomenology, narrative or discursive psychology, action research. They will then be asked to define the guiding principles/central assumptions of each approach and they will be paired up with someone with a contrasting viewpoint.

During this activity we will use the conceptual encounter technique (De Rivera, 2006) which facilitates the ‘meeting of minds’ between people with opposed positions. A number of questions will be given to facilitate this process.

We will use these conceptual encounters to conduct a mapping exercise (not dissimilar from framework analysis) to determine where there may be overlap in terms of rationale, objectives, outcomes of research, impact on policy/practice of their particular approach to research.

Using Pragmatism’s functional definitions of knowledge to bring together ‘old rivals’ in health psychology - Day 2

Common barriers to mixing methods are ‘irreconcilable epistemological differences’. However, Pragmatism offers a different way of conceptualizing epistemology and our definitions of knowledge. The facilitators will give a short introduction to Pragmatism and its utility for mixing methods in health psychology (Yardley & Bishop, 2008). Contributors will then be asked to engage in activities based on the principles of dialogical research (Rowe & Leifer, 2006). In brief, this method enables a group of participants to work together in dialogue to construct a definition of ‘mixed methods methodology’ in health psychology. Results of all previous exercises during the workshop will be used to inform this process. Contributors will then be asked to present their group definition and the Synergy team as a whole will collate these definitions to create the living document to be used to disseminate the results of Synergy.

Creating a ‘rough guide’ for mixed methodology studies in health psychology - Half-day 3

Results of Synergy will be disseminated in a living document. This document will include discussions about epistemology, theory, methodology, methods of data collection and analysis. A key component of this document will take the form of proposals for synthesizing findings from different components of the work. Yardley & Bishop (2008) propose a composite analysis, where different components of a study become a coherent whole rather than a disjointed set of discrete projects using different methods. This will be the final challenge of the Synergy contributors – to use their working definitions of mixed methods methodology and all they have learned through the course of the workshop to make proposals for how to achieve a composite analysis. We don’t expect an answer to this question but will aim to create a firm ground on which such proposals can be developed moving forward.


Reading prior to workshop (to be confirmed nearer the time) including:

  • Yardley, L. & Bishop, F. (2008). Mixing qualitative and quantitative methods: a Pragmatic approach. In C. Willig & W. Stainton-Rogers (Eds.) The SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Research in Psychology. London: Sage.
  • Dures, E., Rumsey, N. & Morris, M. (2010). Mixed methods in Health Psychology: theoretical and practical considerations of the Third Paradigm. Journal of Health Psychology, 16(2), 332-341.
  • Examples of mixed methods health psychology research from journal articles, tenders, successful bids.
  • Resources – including references and websites
  • Brief presentations used to introduce background and instructions for activities
  • Facilitator skills to ensure active engagement from contributors


  • Examples of mixed methods health psychology research from journal articles, tenders, successful bids from their own work
  • Preparation: to reflect on their stance, identify their ‘allegiance’
  • Expertise in a range of theoretical models, methodologies, methods of data collection and analysis
  • Varied levels of experiences from PhD, post-doc through to mid-career and senior academics

More information on the main facilitator, Rachel Shaw, can be retrieved from http://www1.aston.ac.uk/lhs/staff/az-index/shawrl/.