Journal of Nursing Education

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Belief Systems Which Influence Research in Nursing: Implications for Preparing Future Investigators

Jean M Arnold, EdD, RN; Laurie N Sherwen, PhD, RN

Abstract

ABSTRACT

In the view of the authors, students enrolled in their first research course should become aware of the different belief systems held by investigators about research. All nurse researchers, including faculty who teach undergraduate research courses, have either consciously or unconsciously adopted a belief system. That philosophy determines what the educator sees as appropriate nursing theory, research questions, research designs and methods for nursing inquiry. Students may be confused by the apparent discrepancies in the content and methods of teaching a research course between two and among faculty who possess divergent philosophical views. They should be aware of some of the important belief systems which can influence theory development and research in nursing in order to use nursing research in clinical practice.

Two dichotomous belief systems influencing approaches to the study of the phenomenon of pain are discussed: Empiricism and Phenomenology. Teaching strategies which help students know and appreciate different philosophical orientations are proposed. Finally, a rationale for including this content within an undergraduate research course will be given.

Abstract

ABSTRACT

In the view of the authors, students enrolled in their first research course should become aware of the different belief systems held by investigators about research. All nurse researchers, including faculty who teach undergraduate research courses, have either consciously or unconsciously adopted a belief system. That philosophy determines what the educator sees as appropriate nursing theory, research questions, research designs and methods for nursing inquiry. Students may be confused by the apparent discrepancies in the content and methods of teaching a research course between two and among faculty who possess divergent philosophical views. They should be aware of some of the important belief systems which can influence theory development and research in nursing in order to use nursing research in clinical practice.

Two dichotomous belief systems influencing approaches to the study of the phenomenon of pain are discussed: Empiricism and Phenomenology. Teaching strategies which help students know and appreciate different philosophical orientations are proposed. Finally, a rationale for including this content within an undergraduate research course will be given.

Introduction

Nursing, like other disciplines or fields of knowledge, needs to develop methods of investigation that are unique. "Every discipline is simply a pattern of investigation that has proved to be a fertile field for the growth of understanding" (Phoenix, 1964). A belief system for research is concerned with the nature and function of research in nursing and the relationship of research findings to nursing theory and practice. It focuses directly on the "what" and "why" of the methods of inquiry in the field of nursing. Nursing shares with other disciplines the necessity of denning beliefs about research because beliefs about nursing as a discipline dictate which aspect of reality will be emphasized at the expense of others (Ellis, 1983). What are the aims of nursing research? What are the grounds for accepting or rejecting hypotheses? To answer these questions one must have some beliefs about the role of research in nursing. The researcher must orient him/herself to which features of the environment to examine; what hypotheses to formulate and what constitutes an answer. "Investigators holding different philosophies about research will orient themselves to different features of the science, find different researchable problems, and accept different solutions to such problems" (Brown, 1980, p. 120).

Ellis (1983) noted that Silva exposed the limitations for nursing of overemphasis on the scientific method and rigor before a philosophical stance is established and significant nursing questions are identified and considered (Ellis, 1983, p. 212). Ellis (1983) stated that nursing's current concerns related to model building and grand theories of nursing practice indicate a search for meanings and philosophic stance.

The theoretical discussion, rationale, and strategies for teaching nursing research were developed and evaluated in conjunction with the creation of a nursing research course and learning package within a baccalaureate nursing program.

Definition of Terms

Belief system about research - philosophy of knowledge development.

Phenomenology is a philosophy, an approach, and a method. The aim of the phenomenological approach is to describe experience as it is lived (Oiler, 1982, p. 179).

Definition of Problem

As part of its research and theory development, nursing must incorporate belief systems that are "best" for the goals, aims, and generally philosophy of nursing. Not all beliefs concerning scientific inquiry are equally relevant for the professions of nursing and not all of them mesh equally well with the beliefs underlying nursing practice. Thus it is important to examine the various and conflicting systems of research philosophy to establish a philosophy related to nursing research. "A philosophy of nursing should be logically congruent, coherent and continuous with a philosophy of nursing research" (Munhall, 1982, p. 177). Moren suggests that the value of a philosophical system for nursing research would be one that can best describe and explain experiences and sets of experiences important to nursing.

Several beliefs of research have relevance for nursing. Two major views include: Scientific/Empirical Approach to Research vs. the Phenomenological Approach, both of which will be examined.

Belief System: Scientific/Empirical

The scientific/empirical approach to research is the dominant method of inquiry used in the development of science. "The valued means of establishing new knowledge is through obtaining valid and reliable evidence of objective events or objects" (Chinn & Jacobs, 1983, p. 1152). Hypothesis testing and validation are used to build and test theory; therefore a high premium is placed on valid and reliable instruments. The data obtained are categorized as nominal, ordinal, interval, or ratio and appropriate statistical analyses are used. Through acceptance or reaction of hypotheses, theories are derived.

Belief System: Phenomenological

However, "the scientific/empirical methods of inquiry may not be sufficient to generate all knowledge appropriate to nursing" (Carper, 1978, p. 15). Moreover, the traditional tools and methods of empirical science are not always appropriate to human behavior, i.e., wellness. One nurse researcher suggests a phenomenological approach as an alternative method of nursing research. "The aim of phenomenological research is to describe (human) experience as it is lived." Certain axioms underlied this approach to research. Perception of phenomena is more important than the objects themselves; reality is as it appears to individuals (subjective, i.e., pain); and truth is dependent on the observer's perspective. Data collection for this qualitative form of scientific inquiry includes participant observation, and open-ended questioning. The investigator is immersed in the phenomena and collects data consisting of peoples experiences and perceptions with minimal control over external variables. A recent research study related to the study of decision making by expert and novice nurses is an example of phenomenological inquiry (Benner, 1984, p. 14).

Discussion

These two divergent philosophical approaches to nursing research need not be in conflict. Nurse researchers must use both divergent approaches to adequately describe the phenomena inherent in the profession of nursing. We need only to recognize that the practicing nurse will use research differently, dependent upon his/her philosophy of research. The following examples demonstrate the view of one phenomena, pain, as seen by investigators using these two divergent belief systems.

To view pain phenomenologically is to view it subjectively. One means to examine pain in this manner is to examine how humans experience pain psychologically. However, one can also choose to examine it sociologically or physiologically. The nurse researcher would choose one of these perspectives and may observe a small number of subjects as they experience pain. The nurse would also use "Self as a data collection instrument and data would be of a qualitative nature (Wilson, 1985).

Nursing research related to pain using the scientific method could focus on the relief of pain. A theoretical framework would need to be chosen and tested. For example, gate control theory, a physiological framework, could provide the theoretical basis. A large number of subjects are used to quantify the study. Several hypotheses related to the use of distraction intervention techniques could be examined. Data obtained would be analyzed according to quantitative analyses.

Ibaching Strategies Related to Belief Systems about Nursing Research: To select the teaching strategies appropriate to communicating belief systems about research, one must examine the nature of philosophy and research. "The distinctive function of philosophy is the interpretation of meaning." In research, like the sciences, the methods are those of classification, hypothesis formation, generalization, and explanation by use of theories and models" (Phoenix, 1964, p. 317). The scientific method is viewed as the dominant method of inquiry. The common goal of both science and philosophy is to obtain valid knowledge through systematic inquiry.

It is the authors' contention that to critique research with philosophical awareness one must think and act like a researcher. The teacher needs to provide learning experiences that encourage students to problem solve and ask questions. Teaching strategies which develop these behaviors must involve the learner actively.

Because the emphasis in research is on the generation of problems rather than solution, active learning exercise should be used with students. First, the learners should have information provided to them through lectures, learning packages and/or readings. The students should understand that the content related to the research process is a prerequisite for engaging in these discussions. One writer developed a learning package entitled "The Research Process in Nursing," so that students would learn the traditional information related to the research process independently and class time could be used for discussion and other learning activities. Active learning can occur if problem-solving exercises, modelings, games, and heuristics are used in the classroom with small groups of students.

To use problem solving in a research course successfully the faculty member will need to present sample research problems for students to discuss. A class could be divided into small groups, each group will be asked to restate given research problems according to the empirical and phenomenological belief systems. Then the small groups should meet as one large group to share their alternative problem statements and related hypotheses. Students would be expected to identify the philosophical approach being portrayed and the relevant nursing theory. The learners need to understand that clear identification of the problem is essential in the research process.

Rationale for Including Philosophy of Research: The primary goal of teaching research at the baccalaureate level is to prepare a beginning nurse who will read, interpret, and evaluate research. Without an understanding of the different belief systems a researcher may use, the undergraduate student has a faulty basis for evaluating research.

Research, theory, and the philosophy of research are interrelated. If one acknowledges that this relationship exists, it becomes apparent that to teach the research process or theory development without consideration of the underlying philosophical approaches is highly artificial. If one accepts Fawcett's (1980) model of the double helix to represent the relationship between theory and research, then philosophy must be the medium in which the two strands coexist. Philosophy determines the context and/or stance a theoretician or researcher uses to determine how to direct the research process and theory development. It provides a basis for the decisions and judgments made in carrying out these processes.

Generally, a nursing program is based on a philosophy which serves as a foundation for the curriculum. Thus, a further argument in favor of the inclusion of content related to the philosophies basic to the practice of nursing within undergraduate curriculums. Other philosophies are presented to students throughout their program, no less complex than those dealing with research. The philosophical branch, ethics, is one case in point.

A final argument must be made for including the study of belief systems about research within a baccalaureate research nursing course. "Conceptual models provide the basic conceptual, instrumental, and methodological rules needed for nursing research" (Fawcett, 1984, p. 28). It is becoming commonplace to include content related to nursing theories and concepts within a baccalaureate program. In some cases conceptual nursing models and general concepts provide the theoretical framework for a curriculum. Students are expected to use and/or analyze a variety of the current nursing conceptual models in both classroom and clinical courses, and to evaluate and translate them into research and practice. Therefore, if the content related to the philosophy of research is included in beginning research course then the student can be expected to use and analyze nursing theory and nursing research with the guidance of the faculty. In summary, we should admit that as faculty, we all have developed, either intentionally or implicitly, a very definite belief system about knowledge development in nursing. Thus, we transmit a philosophy (ours) to the students regardless of our intent. It seems more in accord with the precepts of higher education to formalize such transmissions, demonstrating a variety of belief systems, rather than subtly saturating the student with our own biases. In this manner, a student has some choice in how she/he develops a philosophy of research and theory development.

Conclusion

The development of a belief system about nursing research will assist the nurse to be a knowledgeable consumer of research. Tomorrow's nurse needs to develop a philosophical stance for doing and using nursing research in accordance with the belief systems inherent in the profession.

References

  • Benner, R (1984). From novice to expert. Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company.
  • Brown, H. (1980). The paradigm and related notions. Diogenes, 112, 111-136.
  • Carper, B. (1978). Fundamental patterns of knowing in nursing. Advances in Nursing Science, 1, 13-23.
  • Chinn, R & Jacobs, M. (1983). Theory and nursing: A systematic approach. St. Louis: The CV. Mosby Company.
  • Ellis, R. (1983). Philosophical inquiry. In Werley H. & Fitzpatrick, J. (Eds.) Annual Review of Nursing Research. New York: Springer Publishing Company, 211-228.
  • Fawcett, J. (1984). Analysis and Evaluation of Conceptual Models of Nursing. Philadelphia: FA. Davis Company.
  • Fawcett, J. (1980). A declaration of nursing independence: The relation of theory and research to nursing practice. Journal of Nursing Administration, 10, 36-39.
  • Munhall, P (1982). Nursing philosophy and nursing research: In apposition or opposition? Nursing Research, 31, 176-181.
  • Oiler, C. (1982). The phenomenological approach in nursing research. Nursing Research, 31, 178-181.
  • Phoenix, P. (1964). Realms of meaning: A philosophy of the curriculum for general education. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company.
  • Wilson, H. S. (1985). Research in Nursing. Menlo Park, California: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company.

10.3928/0148-4834-19861001-06

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