What is “reflexivity?”

Travis Dixon Qualitative Research Methods, Research Methodology 3 Comments

Reflexivity is the process of reflecting upon the bidirectional relationship between researcher and research. (Image: bigstock)

Updated July 2020

What is reflexivity?

  • Reflexivity is the process of continual reflection upon the research process by a researcher; at the heart of reflexivity is the idea of self-awareness.

Students need to be able to “explain the use of reflexivity in qualitative research,” which means defining the term and explaining how and why it’s used in qualitative studies and using details from the stimulus in the exam paper to support the explanation. No limitations are needed.

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IB Psychology: This is for the “old” syllabus (exams in May and Nov 2018). 

How is reflexivity used in qualitative research?

  • Researchers can practice reflexivity in their research in a number of ways, such as keeping a journal, maintaining open dialogue and discussion with their colleagues, or simply internally reflecting on the research process.
  • Reflexivity can be divided into two types: prospective and retrospective. Prospective reflexivity refers to the effects of the researcher on the study, whereas retrospective reflexivity refers to the effects of the study on the researcher (Attia and Edge, 2016). Understanding the bidirectional relationship between researcher and research is an important concept in qualitative methodology.

Find heaps of teaching resources for qualitative methods in our teacher support pack.

Why is reflexivity used in qualitative research?

  • One aim of prospective reflexivity is to ensure credibility of results by reducing the chances of the researcher biasing the study.
  • Reflexivity can also help researchers become aware of how the values, opinions and experiences they’ve brought to the research can be a positive thing.
  • Reflexivity is really important in qualitative research because there are so many ways in which researcher bias could affect the study, from the creation of data gathering tools, to collecting the data, analysing it and reporting it. This is because of the subjective nature of qualitative data and methodology. While bias can affect quantitative studies, it is easier to control for than in qualitative studies.
  • Another aim of retrospective reflexivity is so the researcher becomes aware of how the research process has had an effect on them. Understanding these effects can be an important part of the research process. (See an example here). In many qualitative studies the researcher may be in closer contact with their subject of study, compared with quantitative studies, so the chance for impact of the research on the researcher is also greater.


Read more…

  • Exploring reflexivity (Link)
  • Becoming a reflexive researcher (Link)
  • Benefits and challenges of reflexivity (Link)
  • Reflections on reflexivity (Link)
  • Understanding effects of research – retrospective reflexivity (Link)

Comments 3

  1. Pingback: Lesson Idea: Understanding Reflexivity – IB Psychology

  2. Hi Travis,
    I’m confused by the use of “reflexivity” in one of the paper 3 markschemes (Nov 2019). In the same markscheme “The researcher should also be aware of personal biases when formulating the research question and analysing data.” gets credit but it also says “Arguments based on a conceptual framework of qualitative research, for example personal reflexivity, should not be credited.” Isn’t “being aware of personal biases” the definition of reflexivity?
    Thanks for your help.

  3. Post

    Hi Marieke,

    Good question. No, being aware of personal biases isn’t the definition of reflexivity but it’s certainly part of it (including why it’s important).

    I think they wrote this because the study used was experimental (i.e. qualitative), and as reflexivity is a qualitative approach (generally speaking), this is why they didn’t award credit.

    A similar experimental (or quantitative) concept that students could have discussed in this answer could have been triangulation (e.g. researcher) and/or blind designs – both of these help to control for bias in experimental studies.

    Hope this helps,

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