The Experience of Social Strain
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Purpose: The purpose of the study was to explore in-depth the experience of social strain, within the context of an epidemiological study in which a brief self measure of social strain was used. Thirteen individuals who completed the brief questionnaire then underwent in-depth interviews in which they provided insights about why they chose to answer the questionnaire as they did. The material of this thesis is that obtained in the thirteen interviews (no epidemiological data are included). The purpose of the in-depth interviews was to assess validity of the short questionnaire from the respondent’s point of view. The interview data were used also to gain insight about how the respondents interpreted the specific words and phrases used in the brief questionnaire. The interview data were in addition analysed to illuminate aspects of respondents’ experiences with social strain that could not be revealed in a brief self-report questionnaire. The brief epidemiological questionnaire is called KAM-B Scale, an abbreviation of the Norwegian “Kontakt med andre mennesker-Belastning”. This translates as “contact with other people-social strain”. It is a six-item questionnaire developed from social-psychological theory about positive and negative interpersonal relationships. Method: The data was gathered by a qualitative research interview and grounded theory guided the analyses. Thirteen men and women, 34-53 years old, were interviewed in-dept, with each interview lasting from 45 minutes to 2 hours. A semi-structured interview guide with open-ended questions was developed beforehand and adjusted after each interview. The interviews were audio taped and transcribed as an ongoing process. The data analysis was organised in three parts to address distinct questions: 1) What experiences did respondents connect to each item in the KAM-B scale? 2) How did respondents understand (interpret, comprehend) the words and phrases of which the KAM-B items were composed? 3) What patterns of experience with social strain emerge when the data are considered jointly? Results: The social strain experiences recounted by the study participants were characterised by diversity with regard to the specific events and actions that they described as having been stressful. There was also diversity in the degree to which various social strain experiences caused distress; some experiences were very distressing and others were not. Straining relationships were most often with members of the close social network, that is family, close relatives and friends. In some instances, colleagues from work were also mentioned. The duration and intensity of the strain experiences reported by the participants indicate that the KAMB assesses chronic social strain, as it is intended to. Furthermore the respondents’ comprehension of the KAM-B scale items were homogeneous, with only few exceptions. This indicates that the KAM-B wording is relatively unambiguous and therefore not open to wide interpretation. Conclusion: It is concluded that in the main, the KAM-B scale makes the measurements that were intended, consistent with the social-psychological theories of interpersonal relationships upon which the KAM-B is based. To the degree that one can extrapolate from the interview data, KAM-B respondents think about chronic, personally meaningful, distressing, near relationships, as they read and respond to each of the six KAM-B items. The overall conclusion is that from the perspective of the respondent, the KAM-B’s measurement is consistent with its theoretical foundations. This study also demonstrated that the experience and expertise of study participants might be useful in assessing both the construct and the face validity of a scale. There is no common term for this approach to validity assessment, which has herein been termed ‘respondent validity’. It is concluded that respondent validity studies of the type described in the present work can be a valuable adjutant to more traditional approaches to the study of scale validity.
This report is based on thesis research completed by the author in 1999, under the direction of Professor Maurice B. Mittelmark, in the Research Centre for Health Promotion research programme ‘The Social Environment’s Influence on Health and Well-being’.