Research Issues: Summary and Synthesis
Abstract and Keywords
This article provides a synthesis and summary of Section IV of this book. This section has drawn on personal experiences and expertise to consider current issues in appearance research and have offered a range of suggestions and valuable guidance to new and established researchers in this field. We are moving from a time during which research questions were formulated primarily by clinicians and academics, through current times in which researchers are increasingly involving the public in shaping the focus of research, to a new era in which the public are involved at all stages of the research process. In addition to the compelling moral and ethical imperatives of including the public in research, systematic patient and public involvement (PPI) is now becoming a requirement by governments and the majority of funding bodies.
The contributors to Section 4 have drawn on their own experiences and expertise to consider current issues in appearance research and have offered a range of suggestions and valuable guidance to new and established researchers in this field.
We are moving from a time during which research questions were formulated primarily by clinicians and academics, through current times in which researchers are increasingly involving the public in shaping the focus of research, to a new era in which the public are involved at all stages of the research process. In addition to the compelling moral and ethical imperatives of including the public in research, systematic patient and public involvement (PPI) is now becoming a requirement by governments and the majority of funding bodies. Amanda Bates' consideration of how to promote participants' voices in appearance research is stimulating and timely.
Effective public engagement requires a considerable investment of effort and time on all sides, and is not something to be undertaken lightly. Some researchers still see involvement at all stages of research as ‘one step too far’ —after all, research is daunting and demanding as it is, with the challenges associated with funding, ethical and research design approvals, ongoing research governance, and pressure to publish. However, others, for whom PPI is now routine, see it as providing an essential grounding in applied research, and report that the experience becomes (p. 674) second nature and less onerous as researchers become more adept at providing for the needs of their PPI representatives over time. Amanda's reflection that she prefers qualitative research methods is a reminder that participants should ideally be provided with options for their mode of participation and highlights the benefits of considering mixed and possibly novel methodologies.
Appearance is a popular choice amongst undergraduate and postgraduate students of psychology and other disciplines including medicine, nursing, and public health who are seeking a topic for their dissertation research, further highlighting its personal relevance to this population. The most popular methodology for ‘entry level’ research in this field is the administration of standardized measures to explore relationships between existing constructs. Indeed, most of the published research papers in this field report data collected in this way. In their chapter, Ross Krawczyk and colleagues have made the case for the further development and use of scales which are specific to the particular domain of body image being measured, and to the gender, developmental stage, sexual orientation, and ethnic and cultural background of participants. Yet there are tensions inherent in this proliferation of measures too. Standardized tools with acceptable psychometric properties are time consuming to develop, and this work occupies a great deal of research time and funding in this area. As more and more constructs are identified, the more confusing and fragmented the field appears, particularly for newcomers, and the harder it is to make direct comparisons between various studies. The potential load on participants of measuring the different constructs can be considerable. While undergraduates may complete questionnaires willingly (particularly when this effort is rewarded with course credits), the experience may not be rewarding for others. Amanda's comments about her experience of completing a variety of questionnaires and the disconnection between the questions and her own experience are thought provoking and highlight the benefit and importance of including those affected by appearance-related issues in the development of measures from the outset. Researchers should certainly consider the appeal and relevance of their chosen methods of data collection for participants.
Martin Persson has drawn our attention to the potential use of population-based studies. Sometimes, the influence that a piece of research has on policy and provision of care is limited because it has used a small sample size, yet researchers struggle (both logistically and in relation to budgetary and time constraints) with obtaining larger samples. Data derived from enormous samples through population studies, such as those which have been the focus of Martin's work, are only available in a minority of countries. However, researchers who are able to access these databases can make use of information which has already been collected, in a very cost-effective way. Providing that the measures used by the original developers are fit for purpose, findings from these population-based approaches have enormous potential to guide future research agendas—Martin's findings that 16-year-old males born with a cleft palate are of shorter stature, lighter weight, and with less (p. 675) physical strength than their peers is currently the topic of considerable interest in the field of cleft research.
Emma Dures has pointed out that appearance research is very much a ‘real-world’ endeavour, requiring answers to questions at a variety of levels and from a range of perspectives. Having used mixed methods at The Centre for Appearance Research for a number of years, we take no convincing of the benefits of this approach, however, Emma's points about the ways in which methods can and should be combined are worthy of careful consideration by those who would perhaps define themselves as an advocate of purely qualitative or quantitative approaches.
Alongside the increasing use of mixed methods has been a rise in the development and use of innovative methods in appearance research, many of which are capitalizing on the opportunities presented by developments in new technology and the availability of the Internet. Some of these new and alternative methods raise interesting ethical dilemmas which will continue to stretch the thinking of researchers. Clearly the potential use and benefits of online methods will continue to expand. Web-based data collection, for example, offers the potential for huge sample sizes to be recruited cost-effectively and over a relatively short space of time. Phillippa Diedrichs and colleagues recently designed a web-based study consisting of a standardized measure and a series of open-ended questions relating to body confidence, which accompanied a primetime TV series broadcast in the UK over 6 consecutive weeks in early 2011. More than 77,000 participants completed the survey during this period, far exceeding expectations and resulting in the largest survey into appearance-related issues in the UK (Diedrichs et al. in preparation). A survey of this size without the use of online data collection would be unfeasible. The exciting alternatives that are now available in the armoury of research methods at our disposal are likely to be particularly appealing to some participants. They can be considered as ‘stand alone’ methods, or could work well in combination with more established techniques.
In summary, the chapters in this section have illustrated the breadth of established and innovative methods suited to appearance research. Looking ahead, important issues facing researchers in this field will include how best to involve people affected by appearance-related issues at every stage of the research process, the development of innovative ways to recruit and engage participants, maximizing the use of population-based data and developments in online technology, and the most effective means of disseminating the results of research, including how best to raise the awareness of key stakeholders in policy and practice.