For this blog, I am joined by Daniel Twomey.  Daniel’s research explores XXX.  Daniel is XXX  DTW … links…
There can often be a world of difference between researchers and the lay public in how we define the key concepts and issues that we have a shared interest in.  If we are ever to make an impact with our work, we need to consider how basic misunderstandings of terminology can really hamper progress.
For a lot of my work in the area of bully/victim problems, it has always been evident that one of the central problems in reducing victimization is that all of the key stakeholders often have differing and competing definitions of what constitutes a bullying incident.  Researchers, pupils, teachers, and parents all bring their own  –  and often prejudicial  –  definitions of bullying to the discussion.
Our currrent work explores how we define words and concepts like “mental health” and “well-being”.  It is no exaggeration to think that you have probably already encountered these words today  –  perhaps in a discussion, on the TV or radio, or in the print media.
However, as with bully /victim problems, is everyone “singing from the same hymn sheet”?
Part of our problem stems from the fact that we use the same plain English words as the lay public use.  We do not use Latin or any other rarefied language  –  like when we visit the garden centre to buy a Calluna Vulgaris (a type of heather!).
I often see this problem of researcher -vs- lay definitions when I meet parents of children with 22q11.2 Deletion Syndrome.  Whilst the prevalence of schizophrenia in the general population is about 1%, this rises to 30% (+) in the 22q population.  Understandably this leads to great concerns and worries for parents.  Schizophrenia is one of nearly two hundred multi-system issues that might have an impact on someone with 22q.  When I ask a parent what they are most afraid of, the common answer is schizophrenia  –  and the reasons proffered reflect most of the common negative misunderstandings and popular media representations of schizophrenia.  There is obviously a “drift” between the researcher and lay definition and understanding of schizophrenia.
Adrian Furnham has written a useful book on the topic of lay theories, and has published lots of interesting research that has explored the topic.
For our researching and writing purposes, we are writing about what lay theories are, how they are defined (perhaps by Furnham), and why it is important for researchers to be aware of the difference between what the public believes we mean by terms like well-being, mental health, self-esteem etc., and how we (as researchers) often have a different perspective / definition / meaning.
In doing this, we are able to help the reader understand that we are going to be spending some time exploring the definition(s) of the concept that we are interested in – e.g, mental health.  In doing this, the reader will get to understand that these issues and topics are a bit more complex than first considered.
In our writing, and then our research studies,  we will be interested in the “drift” between the lay perception of the issue, and the more technical “operational definition” that we use to be more explicit about the issue.
We always need an operational definition of the concept / construct that we are researching.  This provides a very tight definition of what we are including in the research, and importantly, what we are not including.
In doing this, our definition for the research has explored the various parameters of existing definitions and has been explicit about the ” inclusion” and “exclusion” criteria applied to the definition.
A useful example here is the definition of “noise”.  I have always been impressed with the tightness of the definition – just two words – “unwanted sound”.
Similarly, in research that I was involved in with Dr Aoife Lynam regarding “normative bereavement” in schools (i.e., not “critical incidents”), the definition for the research was about “the death of a significant human relationship”.  Unpacking this definition, the inclusion and exclusion criteria become apparent:
  –  it has to relate to a death;
  –  It has to be a human relationship – e.g., it cannot relate to the death of a pet, or the loss of a friendship;
  –  the relationship has to be at a self-perceived level of “significant”;
  –  It does not have to relate to a family member – e.g., grandparent.