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Number 10 (1/2003)

Data Archive as a Resource for Psychological Research

Anu Vähäsoini    28.2.2003

In his recently published book professor Markku Ojanen, head of the Department of Psychology at Tampere University, explores the importance of physical exercise to an individual's health and well-being. Among his sources were secondary data provided by the FSD.

- International longitudinal surveys like World Values Surveys, Eurobarometers and the International Social Survey Programme (ISSP) study values and attitudes and thus offer an enormous amount of useful information. The surveys also provide valuable material for research on individual well-being.

Professor Markku Ojanen in his office. Kuva: Anu Vähäsoini - Many of the data sets archived at the FSD contain information of interest to me. My main research topics are values, attitudes, mental well-being of individuals and how they cope with difficult circumstances, he lists.

Ojanen thinks that it is not always wholly beneficial for psychology students to use secondary data for their master's theses and seminar papers. - An important part of our study programme is to teach scientific research methods and therefore we rather expect students to collect the data themselves. Using secondary data is a bit problematic in this context. - However, extensive longitudinal surveys are very reliable and they constitute a useful resource to a professional researcher. Students can use them as source material, he adds.

FSD and psychology

Even though at the moment FSD holdings contain only a few data sets that can be defined as clearly 'psychological', many data sets contain information that is useful for psychological research. Ojanen himself is interested in values, attitudes and health but would particularly like to find surveys on effectiveness of different therapies. Though he points out that therapy effectiveness might be difficult to assess and report.

Ojanen muses over factors that often prevent psychology researchers from depositing their data with the archive: some fear that the sample size is too small or problems with confidentiality issues make them hesitate. Confidentiality issues relate to, for example, tests designed for professional use, methods of analyzing them or respondents' identity. Or the data may be a part of a longitudinal study, which the researcher want to carry out entirely before archiving.

Depositors need not worry about confidentiality, however. Data are fully anonymised at the archive and all identification information is removed. Further, sample size is not a decisive factor in judging if a data set is suitable for archiving. The decisive factor is its significance for social sciences. If it is a question of a longitudinal study, the researcher can deposit the data set with the archive but ask to have it published only at a later date.

Source: Ojanen, Markku et al. (2001): "Liiku oikein - voi hyvin".
Liikuntatieteellinen Seura ry, Tampere.

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