Interviewing

At least as popular as observation as a method for research on adult development is interviewing. The straightforwardness and simplicity of the

2Probably the most famous of all diarists was the Englishman Samuel Pepys (1633-1703), but the diaries kept by Charles Darwin and Jean Piaget on the development of their own children are better known to developmentalists.

Abstracts of Research Using Diaries and Autobiographies

Kemper, S. (1990). Adults' diaries: Changes made to written narratives across the life span. Discourse Processes, 13 (2), 207-223.

Analyzed life-span changes in adults' narratives based on a longitudinal sample of language from the diaries of 8 adults born between 1856 and 1876. The analysis focuses on the complexity of the narrative structure and the cohesion of the text. Across the life span, the Ss' narratives became structurally more complex, although they became less cohesive as ambiguous anaphors increased. The topic and time-frame shifts are consistent with those noted in adults' reconstructive or retrospective accounts of the significance of life events. Concerns during adulthood and midlife, as conceptualized by B. Neugarten (1973, 1977) and E. Erikson (1959), were reflected in Ss' frequent recountings of the past, focus on people and relationships, and peak entries about death during their 50s and 60s. (Reprinted with permission of the American Psychological Association, publisher of Psychological Abstracts and the PsycLIT database. All rights reserved.)

Mackavey, W. B., Malley, J. E., & Stewart, A. J. (1991). Remembering auto-biographically consequential experiences: Content analysis of psychologists' accounts of their lives. Psychology and Aging, 6(1), 50-59.

The autobiographies of 49 eminent psychologists were content analyzed in terms of autobiographically consequential experiences (ACEs). Most memories for ACE were not single episodes. Episodic ACEs did, however, share many characteristics of "flashbulb" and vivid memories elicited in studies using more traditional experimental procedures. Memories were concentrated during the college and early adult years. Thus, as in other autobiographical memory studies that have used older Ss, there was a pronounced reminiscence effect. Results are considered in light of Erikson's theory (E. Erikson et al., 1986) of adult personality development. (Reprinted with permission of the American Psychological Association, publisher of Psychological Abstracts and the PsychLIT database. All rights reserved.)

interviewing technique may be deceptive, but in the hands of a skillful questioner, a personal interview can yield a great deal of useful information. Sometimes, and particularly when dealing with sensitive topics, interviewing is the only approach available to the researcher. Structured interviewing, in which the interviewer asks a set of preplanned questions and records the answers, requires the least amount of training and provides the most objective data. Most developmental studies involving interviewing use structured interviews because of their efficiency and relatively greater reliability. On the other hand, unstructured interviewing, in which there is a general plan for the topics to be covered but the exact questions to be asked are left up to the interviewer, can yield richer and more comprehensive information. By being sensitive to the interviewee and making subsequent questions dependent on the answers given to previous ones and other reactions to them, more detailed, informative data can be obtained.

Despite its popularity, interviewing is not renowned for its reliability or validity. Reliable data are consistent and relatively free from errors of measurement. Valid data reveal what they are supposed to or meant to rather than something else. Thus, the information obtained from an interview designed to assess fitness for a particular position should be consistent (reliable) and correct (valid). However, the appearance, attitudes, and behavior of the interviewer can affect the responses given by the interviewee, and the latter's appearance, biases, and behavior can affect the manner in which the interviewer presents the questions and what questions are asked. If the influence of the interviewer's appearance and style is strong enough, then the result is unreliable and invalid information. Thorough training of interviewers and electronic recording of interview data can improve the reliability and validity of interviewing as a research method. Nevertheless, supplementing an interview with more objective data from other sources is generally recommended in research on adult development (see Report 1-2).

Abstract of a Study Combining Interviewing with Questionnaires

Vaillant, G. E., & Vaillant, C. O. (1990). Determinants and consequences of creativity in a cohort of gifted women. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 14(4), 607-616

Forty women who had been selected by L. Terman (1925) in 1921 for a study of intellectually gifted California schoolchildren were reinterviewed in 1987 when their mean age was 77 yrs. These Ss had been prospectively followed by questionnaire over the intervening 65 yrs. Their capacity for creativity (putting something in the world that was not there before) was assessed by review of their prospectively gathered questionnaires and by retrospective interview. The 20 Ss viewed as most creative (usually for literary publication, art, music, or starting an organization) were more likely in the past to have manifested generativity, and at the present to have adjusted well to old age. Although the ego defenses of sublimation, humor, and altruism were more frequent among creative Ss, no differences were noted in the happiness of their childhoods or their health prior to the present. (Reprinted with permission of the American Psychological Association, publisher of Psychological Abstracts and the PsycLIT database. All rights reserved.)

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