Welcome to the Investigating the Social World, 8th edition blog site!!

Investigating is a special textbook.  In each chapter, you’ll find clear explanations of classic and new social research methods combined with engaging discussions of current issues in the social world.

Investigating’s 8th edition has many new features and a remarkably fresh look.  You will find in it the latest developments in research methods, the best practices in pedagogy, and the most engaging substantive examples.

  • New sections on “big data,” social network analysis, and policy research
  • A new chapter on mixed methods with related articles available on our study site
  • New “Careers and Research” highlights and “Research That Matters” article vignettes
  • Enriched content on web surveys and other forms of online research; on Milgram’s ethics, ethical challenges in qualitative research, and IRB review; on visual methods and the history of major methods
  • Reorganized presentations of types of reliability, sources of internal validity, and qualitative data analysis
  • Questions to prompt discussion on highlighted research articles, news stories, and researcher interviews
  • More exercises, journal articles, and other study aids on the study site
  • A remarkably attractive and colorful layout, with many exhibits and a clear division into sections

This blog provides additional connections to enhance learning research methods. There will be regular updates about the methods and social issues in each chapter, as well as fresh content related to the special chapter features:

  • Research That Matters
  • Research in the News
  • Careers and Research

Stay tuned and keep learning!

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Mathematics or “Citizen Statistics”?

Does learning mathematics help to master the statistics necessary to understand the social world we live in? Political scientist Andrew Hacker thinks this is a “math myth” that has led to requirements at the high school level that turns off students to math and then statistics.  Did it happen to you?

See if you agree with Professor Hacker’s logic:

  1. What is the difference between arithmetic, mathematics, and “numeracy,” as Hacker describes them?
  2. Can you explain the problem with Choice A in the Households with Telephones chart?
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A Picture of the Sociology Society at City College in New York

On February 14, 1949, Jackie Robinson spoke to the Sociology Society at City College in New York.  It was 31 months after he became the first African American player in modern professional baseball and in the same year that he won the National League’s Most
Valuable Player Award.  But what did he speak to the students about?  Only a picture remains in The New York Times archives, but not any text about the event.

What can you learn from the picture?


  1. How were the students dressed? How was the class organized? What other visual clues are helpful in understanding the social context? How does this compare to your experience with college classes?
  2. What would you like to know about the social context in that year, and in New York City, to help you analyze the social context of the talk?
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Fighting Extreme Poverty

Half a billion people live on less than 75 cents per day.  Termed the “ultrapoor,”  they often have too few resources to send their children to school or to save any money. What would it take to improve their conditions?  Sadna Samaranayake, project director of the Ultra-Poor Graduation Initiative in BRAC USA, began an experiment in Bangladesn to find out.  It has now been replicated in 20 countries.

The BRAC program gave very poor people, according to their preferences, an asset like goods to start a tiny store, lease a plot of land, buy vegetable seeds, or obtain animals. They also received regularly some cash or food and intensive training on resource management.

How well do you think the program worked?  You can find out at:


  1. How satisfied are you with the outcome measures used?  Could you suggest others?
  2. Do you believe that random assignment in these experiments was ethical? Why or why not?
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Getting Going to Fight Poverty

Imagine that you are managing a health clinic and need to recruit health workers who not just know their stuff, but are genuinely interested in helping the community.  Would you include in your ad the statement, “Job provides great opportunity to advance your career!”

Researchers Nava Ashraf and Scott Lee from the Harvard Business School and Oriana Bandiera from the London School of Economics and Political Science tested this with a randomized experiment in a community in some rural communities in Zambia, Africa.    Communities were randomly assigned to receive job advertisements that either included the statement about career advancement or not.  It turned out that those recruited with this plea for career “go-getters” became much more involved in their communities (conducting more home visits and attending more community health meetings) than those who were recruited without this statement.

Are you surprised by the results?

  1. Should randomized evaluations be used to test the impact of social programs before they receive long-term funding? What if “everyone” knows what the results would be?
  2. Imagine that impoverished students are given money each week and told they can place it in a lockbox where it will be saved until the start of the next semester.  Do you think they would save more for school expenses if they are told they will receive their money back in the form of a voucher for school supplies at the start of the next semester, or if they are told they will receive their money back in cash that they can spend as they wish? Check your answer with the results reported in the article.  Are you surprised by the results?  Does it change your answers to Q1?


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Political Polling: Still Viable?

Polling has captured the news as never before during the current presidential primary season.  But at the same time that polls are more popular than ever before, their reliability is lower than ever.  As you know from Chapter 8 on Survey Research, the use of cell phones has complicated polling, answering machines have made it easier to avoid polling, and nonresponse is not distributed randomly.  It remains hard to determine how likely it is that people who are polled will actually vote, and of course in a rapidly changing political scene, findings are quickly outdated.  Is the fascination of both candidates and the public with poll results “insane,” as New York Times columnist suggested?

  1. Have you participated in a political poll?  Would you if you received a call from a pollster?  Why or why not?
  2. What function does the reporting of political poll numbers serve?  Do you think media should force improvements in methods or lessen their use of polls?
Posted in Chapter 16, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 8, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Measurement in Health Care and Education: Solution or Problem?

The desire to measure outcomes to monitor performance and improve health care and teaching is more than understandable: It would seem to go without saying for a research methodologist. But there can be too much of a good thing, as school systems and hospital systems have been discovering.

Does it make sense that more than 1,600 medical centers identify themselves as being in some type of “best” list of hospitals? The Joint Commission that accredits American hospitals has suspended its annual rating of hospitals. In the words of Robert M. Wachter, at UC San Francisco, “Measurement cannot go way, but it needs to be scaled back and allowed to mature.”

Dr. Wacther suggests:
(1) Use more targeted carefully developed measures.
(2) Conduct more research on quality measurement, with different populations.
(3) Minimize the burden measurement placed on professionals.
(4) Listen to feedback from professionals.

1. As part of the “move to measure,” many colleges and universities now expect academic departments to have formal learning goals for their majors and to use measures to assess learning outcomes. What is the approach with your major? What are the advantages and disadvantages of this approach?

2. Do you feel you will receive better care when you visit your doctor or are hospitalized if the health care providers are required to record carefully what procedures they have used and to then track your outcomes, so this can be reported (anonymously) and monitored? What do you think should be approach to monitoring quality in health care?

Posted in Chapter 12, Chapter 2, Chapter 4, Chapter 8, Chapter 9, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Significance of Touch

We live in a language-centered culture and so it is no surprise that the methods we use to investigate our social relations focus largely on language. From survey methods to life histories, from content analysis to conversation analysis, we seek to understand both what people think and how feel by asking questions and studying what they say. After all, language is the most distinctive feature of our species and the clearest way to distinguish us from other animals.

But a moment’s reflection reminds us of the importance of touch in human relations. Whether it is a mother comforting her baby in her arms, a salesperson sealing a deal with a handshake. or a teammate high fiving another after scoring a goal, touch is used to convey meanings with an intensity and directness that can be superior in its impact to spoken words. It is a natural capacity that helps to ensure bonding between animals and did so for human ancestors before they evolved the capacity for talk.

Ethnographic and other participant observant methods use observing and recording instances of touch and then categorizing them to identify different ways in which social bonds are maintained and social status defined.

You can read more about “the power of human touch” at

How many different types of touching can you observe at your school?

What can you learn about people from differences in their use of touching others during similar social situations?

Given the potential misuse of touch to gain advantage of others, how do you think it should be limited in formal settings like the classroom?

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Would You Want Your Parents to Know?

A new experiment at Harvard’s Student Social Support R&D Lab indicates that students in a summer program did better when their parents received a weekly one-sentence about their children’s performance.  The study used a randomize experimental design with students in an urban school district.


What do you think the causal mechanism for this effect was?

Do you believe it is ethical to experiment on students in this way?  Why or why not?

Posted in Chapter 1, Chapter 12, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 6, Chapter 7, Chapter 9 | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cities, Nature, and Mental Health

Is a walk in the woods good for you?  It used to be a part of everyday life for people all over the world, but as civilization has progressed and people mostly live in urban areas, contact with nature has become much less common.  Prior research has indicated that visiting natural environments can lower stress hormones, while a lack of green space is associated with more psychological problems.  A recent study by a graduate student at Stanford University designed a novel experiment to test the consequences of exposure to nature on brain functioning.  Gregory Bratman decided to test the effect of a walk in the woods on brain activity and feelings found that it calmed their brains and improved their feelings of mental health, compared to those who walked along a highway.

Read more about it and watch the video at:


How would you diagram the design of Bratman’s experiment? Does it meet the criteria for a true experiment?

Do you think a measure of brain activity helps to understand the causal mechanism by which the walk in the woods had an apparent effect?

After watching the video, consider how you could extend this research with a mixed methods design?  What might you be able to pick up with qualitative methods that might be missed with the quantitative methods in the original study?

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Perception and Measurement about Mental Illness

Does it surprise you to learn that a large longitudinal survey of parents has led to the conclusion that the rate of severe mental illness among children and adolescents has dropped considerably in the last generation?  The study involved ratings by parents of impairments in household surveys involving 53,622 children aged 6 to 17, in 1996 and 2012.  The surveys were sponsored by the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

Two explanations proposed for the drop are improvements in referrals to treatment and more effective parenting.  But the decline also contradicts other surveys, including by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that have pointed to increased serious mental disorders among children and teenagers.  The discrepancies may be related to differences in measurement, with the CDC approach including more children with mild impairments, or maybe to the AHRQ approach missing problems like substance abuse that parents may not be aware of.

More details are available at:


What have been your own beliefs about changes in the prevalence of severe mental illness among children and adolescents?  What have these beliefs been based on?  Evidence?  Assumptions?

What advantages and disadvantages can you identify in using parents to report on youth behavior?  What about youth self-reports of behavior?

Posted in Chapter 1, Chapter 16, Chapter 2, Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 8 | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment