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Case Studies. Case Studies. What is a case study?. A case study is a detailed study of one individual or event.

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case studies1
Case Studies

What is a case study?

A case study is a detailed study of one individual or event.

Many different psychological techniques can be used (e.g., questionnaires, interviews, personality tests). The findings attempt to represent the individual’s thoughts, emotions, experiences and abilities.

the case of phineas gage
The Case of Phineas Gage

In the year 1848, a terrible accident occurred.


Doctors report:

[The tamping iron] entered the cranium, passing through the anterior left lobe of the cerebrum, and made its exit in the medial line, lacerating the longitudinal sinus, fracturing the parietal and frontal bones extensively, breaking up considerable portions of the brain, and protruding the globe of the left eye from its socket, by nearly half its diameter.

Phineas Gage lived for 12 years after the accident. He was able to speak normally, however, his personality changed massively after the accident. Whereas before he was well-liked, responsible, and hard-working, he now became restless, indecisive and swore a lot.


What does Phineas Gage’s case tell us about the brain?

  • Showed that parts of the brain could be removed without having a fatal effect.
  • Different areas of the brain are in control of different fuctions.
  • Damage to the front of the brain leads to personality changes.
the case of kf
The Case of KF

In the 1970s, KF was in a motorcycle accident, resulting in brain damage to his left occipiatal lobe (pictured right).

STM was damaged (digit span of 1), but LTM was normal

He remembers words better if presented visually as opposed to auditorally.

kf s memory
KF’s memory

What does KF’s case study tell psychologists about memory? Which model does it support?

Although his LTM is intact, his STM is not, which supports the Multi-Store Memory model.

However, he remembers words better if presented visually rather than auditorally, which supports the Working Memory Model.

the case of hm
The Case of HM

“Right now, I’m wondering, have I done or said something amiss? You see, at this moment everything looks clear to me, but what happened just before? That’s what worries me. It’s like waking from a dream”. (Hilts, 1995)

hm s brain compared to normal brain

The Case of HM

HM’s brain compared to normal brain

hm s lobotomy
HM’s lobotomy

In the 1940s, HM had a lobotomy performed on him to correct epileptic seizures.

After the surgery, HM was no longer able to form new long-term memories. For many years, he believed that he was 27 years old, and the year was 1953.

HM had kept his procedural memory (memory for skills) but not his episodic memory (memory of events). (Hilts, 1995) His body knew the way to the testing room, even though he didn’t!!


What does HM’s case tell psychologists about memory?

There are different long-term memory stores (procedural and episodic).

HM’s case also supports Peterson and Peterson’s study. His short term memory is about 20 seconds long.

clive wearing1
Clive Wearing

This case study supports that of HM

Clive Wearing contracted a viral infection which damaged his hippocampus and surrounding areas

Wearing suffered from anterograde and retrograde amnesia. Known popularly as the “memento” syndrome

Like HM, his procedural memory is intact, and he is perpetually convinced he is just waking up from consciousness

case studies2
Case Studies
  • Please answer the following questions:
  • In what way have the case studies we just looked at enhanced your understanding of memory?
  • Why do you think there are so many case studies related to memory?
  • Suggest two advantages of using case studies rather than experiments.
  • Suggest two weaknesses.
  • A hospital is interested why some patients with head injuries recover faster than others. Why would you recommend using case studies, and how would you do it?
evaluation of case studies
Evaluation of Case Studies
  • Advantages
  • Rich, in-depth data
  • Can investigate rare instances of
  • Human behaviour
  • The interaction of many factors can be studied
evaluation of case studies1
Evaluation of Case Studies
  • Weaknesses
  • Difficult to generalise from unique cases
  • Recollection of past events is also needed
  • Researchers may lack objectivity as they get to know the case
  • Ethical issues of confidentiality