Unstructured interviews on stress

The following is a sample Paper 3 that looks at unstructured interviews. Below you will first find the stimulus piece, followed by the static questions.  A copy of the mock paper is included to give students as an in-class assessment.

Potential answers are included in the hidden boxes below.

Student copy

Stimulus piece

Bond & Peterson (2001) conducted research into the link between stress and unhealthy behaviour. The researchers conducted a number of unstructured interviews as a pilot study with both men and women aged between 30 and 50 in a small town in the Mid-West of the USA. The major textile industry of the area had closed three years earlier resulting in substantial unemployment for women.

The interviewers chose a purposive sample (N=30) with 15 males and 15 females who had lost their jobs. In order to be in the study, the participant had to have worked at the company for at least ten years and have at least one child living at home. The interviews were conducted over a period of four weeks by five interviewers that had been trained in advance. The participants were asked to elaborate on coping strategies following the news that they had lost their jobs.

The interviews were audiotape recorded.

The interview transcripts were then subjected to inductive content analysis to find ways of coping. The researchers found that some of the participants indicated positive feelings about having more time with their families and that the amount of daily stress had diminished.

Some participants reported stress and problems with identity as a consequence of losing their jobs and some of them coped with stress through unhealthy behaviours such as consumption of high-calorie food, alcohol, and other drugs. Some of the women experiencing stress were more likely to report symptoms related to hypertension, anxiety, depression and they were also more likely to report weight gains. Women especially reported feeling the effects of stress on their physical health more than men. Women also reported that they found good support talking to other women about the situation whereas men did not report talking about their problems to others. Men were more likely to engage in physical activities such as playing football or hunting with their friends. They also reported that they had an increase in alcohol intake following the loss of work.


1a. Identify the method used and outline two characteristics of the method.

Unstructured interviews are more "in-depth" than structured interviews. They are more like a conversation. The interviewer works from a list of general topics but greater freedom is given to explore areas of interest or pursue a topic which is brought up by the interviewee.

Some of the advantages of unstructured interviews are that the interviewer may obtain information that would have been missed with a more rigid interview schedule. It tends to be more comfortable for the interviewee, who feels that they are on equal footing with the interviewer. It also tends to be more credible because the interviewee is able to guide the interview in areas that are meaningful to him/her.

There are, however, also disadvantages. For example, there are problems of reliability. Such interviews are difficult to replicate. In addition, in the study above, it makes it difficult to compare the data of so many participants. Finally, some argue that the respondent is too much in control of the interview and that valuable information may be lost, or it may take too long to obtain the information most relevant to the researcher.

1b. Describe the sampling method used in the study.

The researchers used a purposive sample - this is a sample in which participants must have certain characteristics in order to be included. In this case, they had to have worked for the company for at least ten years and have at least one child at home when they were fired.  This allows the researcher to draw conclusions with regard to certain variables (identity with the workplace and family responsibilities) which may end up being confounding variables in a study in which a purposive sample was not used.

1c. Suggest an alternative research method giving one reason for your choice.

An alternative method would be to use a focus group.  This allows for more interviews to be conducted in a shorter period of time.  It also allows people to discuss the issue, so it is more naturalistic.  Finally, it allows people to hear other participants' responses, which may prompt them to say something that they would have otherwise forgotten.

2. Describe the ethical considerations that were applied in the study and explain if further ethical considerations could be applied.

The researchers had to get informed consent for the interviews.  This means that the participants should be informed of the nature of the interviews and what the researcher will do with the transcripts.  In addition, they should be informed of their right to withdraw at any point in the study. Since the interviews were recorded, it is important that their anonymity is guaranteed and that they know how those recordings will be used.  If the audio tapes were public, it could have a negative effect on their public image or potentially their ability to find new work. The researchers would also have to make sure that there was no undue stress or harm - that is, if a participant is uncomfortable talking about something, they should not be pressured to answer. Finally, they should be debriefed on the findings - and they should be given some guidance as to how to improve their coping strategies if appropriate.

3. To what extent could the results of this study be generalized?

The results can most likely be generalized to unemployed parents in the community who had worked at the mill for ten years or more.  Although the numbers are relatively small, the sample is most likely representative of that demographic.  It would be difficult to generalize this to all unemployed parents because there are many variables that may play a role in the ability to generalize.  For example, level of education, level of income lost, severance pay/unemployment benefit, extended family size for support (potentially an issue of individualistic vs collectivistic cultures).  It is also doubtful that this could be generalized to other situations.  A loss of a job is personal, but not as personal as the loss of a loved one or a home in a natural disaster, although there may be some similarities.  Thus, theoretical generalization could be applied where a theory could be generated on how parents deal with loss, then carrying out further research to test the theory in other examples of loss.
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