Last Updated 13 May 2021

Post Positivist Approach

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Post positivist approach is a metatheoretical stance philosophically rooted in positivism. Whereas positivists believe in the existing reality apart from our own perception of it and the importance of empirical observation as well as rock-solid general laws, post positivists share some similarities with a softer, amended approach. Realist and the social constructionist are both taken as ontology by post positivist researchers in communication discipline.

That is, it can be true that post positivist researchers believe that there is an empirical, unchallengeable reality independent of our perceptions, but limitations like the complexity of the reality and the biases of researchers still exist which causes our incomplete understanding of the reality. Even though, by applying the mutiple measures and observation, post positivist believe researchers can enhance the objectivity and attain a more and more fully apprehended reality.

At the same time, post positivists also have faith in multiple realities which can be constructed by social collectives through communicative interaction in relatively patterned ways and its effects should be regular and predictable which in turn reified social constructions. Thus, post positivists study regularities and patterns. Post positivist researchers in communication base their assumptions largely on the so-termed modified objectivist which holds to the notion that causal relationships for regularities observed in the social world is the center of the search for knowledge.  Nevertheless, post positivists largely reject the value-free inquiry and the absolute authority of scientific method. Instead, post positivists believe that with careful and systematic operations as well as awareness of values, scholars can strive to be as unbiased as possible "by using controls and statistical tests, insisting on replication, and so forth. " Therefore, post positivism does not equal to qualitative approach as many may assume. In fact, post positivists apply quantitative research methods largely to safeguard objectivity and to advance knowledge.

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Post positivist researchers consist that theories should try to reach beyond the observation level of individual events to attain the abstract quality with clear logical links to the empirical world. By operationally defining theoretical constructs, researchers can test the theoretical concepts with substitution of empirical indicators to verify or falsify the theory. Moreover, post positivists hold to the three interlinked functions of theories--explanation, prediction, and control. That is, theories should first of all explain behaviour in a causal relationship manner.

In addition, theories should be able to predict future behaviour in a patterned way due to the abstraction of a certain phenomenon. At the end, good theories also provide information to control future events. Taking these functions into consideration, one can generate a set of criteria for evaluating and comparing theories from a post positivist stance. (* is explained at the end) I would like to explore more on the complex mental decision making processes involved in choosing to consume media (information-filtering-related theories) in this information age.

I would imagine that selective exposure theory and active learner theory* would be two comparable choices to explain questions in this field and may provide reasonable predictions and relative control on future events. Selective exposure theory is accurate within its conceptual boundaries since many laboratory experiments have been conducted to test it so it is empirically testable. For example, in one study, when individual were placed in state of boredom, they selected arousing media messages and avoided relaxing fare to achieve an optimal level of arousal. ( Bryant, Zillmann, 1984).

Selective exposure theory is consistent internally and externally because there is no contradictory propositions or widely held theories in the relevant domain. It is parsimonious because it mainly focuses on emotional states. However, because of this, researches have been conducted mostly upon mood management and selective exposure effects (first regulate emotion, then measure the media choice) which is not the real life situations. Thus, it is not in a very broad scope. In addition, in labs, participants only need to focus on limited choices but in the real world we face abundant media.

In this case, selective exposure theory may have limited external validity. Nevertheless, this theory provide plausible explanations in media choosing and can somehow predict future behaviour (eg: people use media to alleviate boredom and other negative emotions) and also bring up future possible research questions (how about on positive mood other than negative?... ). Therefore, in general, it is a better theory to choose other than the active learner theory because the latter one lack empirical tests and cannot rule out possible interventions.

The active learner theory is a pseudo-theory I personally came up with rather than a really existing one. I can be totally/partially wrong or this can have been better explained by some mature theories. It is not even a theory but I still want to give it a try based on my understanding of this mental decision making process. I think the choice that one individual makes on media consumption can represent more than what it appears to be. It is not only a personal mood management process but also can involve social context and group judgment into it.

As individual make choices, they can consciously or unconsciously go over the considerations of others' feedback judgments and possible consequences aftermath. For example, if one has the instinctive drive to watch porn to maximize pleasure, before making the final decision, (s)he may consider the possible feedback from roommates or parents or friends who may see his/her behaviour, therefore quickly decide not to do so. People may gain this kind of thinking from previous learning from personal experience, peer talking or education.

Or, imagine a group of girls surfing the Internet in the same room, one may want to log onto Angel and read some articles but others are more interested in gossip and entertainment. Even though this girl has her own laptop and can choose what she wants to read but she doesn't want to be "distinct" or "nerdy" so she conforms. Thus, I name people as active learner, that is, we can quickly adjust our behaviour and adapt to situations around us through more complex mental procedures besides mood management process consciously and automatically.

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