Archival research involves using previously compiled information to answer research questions. The researcher does not actually collect the original data. Instead, he or she analyzes existing data such as statistics that are part of public records (e.g., number of divorce petitions filed), reports of anthropologists, the Page 127content of letters to the editor, or information contained in databases. Judd, Smith, and Kidder (1991) distinguish among three types of archival research data: statistical records, survey archives, and written records.
Statistical records are collected by many public and private organizations. The U.S. Census Bureau maintains the most extensive set of statistical records available, but state and local agencies also maintain such records. In a study using public records, Bushman, Wang, and Anderson (2005) examined the relationship between temperature and aggression. They used temperature data in Minneapolis that was recorded in 3-hour periods in 1987 and 1988; data on assaults were available through police records. They found that higher temperature is related to more aggression; however, this effect was limited to data recorded between 9:00 p.m. and 3:00 a.m.
There are also numerous less obvious sources of statistical records, including public health statistics, test score records kept by testing organizations such as the Educational Testing Service, and even sports organizations. Major League Baseball is known for the extensive records that are kept on virtually every aspect of every game and every player. Abel and Kruger (2010) took advantage of this fact to investigate the relationship between positive emotions and longevity. They began with photographs of 230 major league players published in 1952. The photographs were then rated for smile intensity to provide a measure of emotional positivity. The longevity of players who had died by the end of 2009 was then examined in relation to smile intensity. The results indicated that these two variables are indeed related. Further, ratings of attractiveness were unrelated to longevity.
Survey archives consist of data from surveys that are stored on computers and available to researchers who wish to analyze them. Major polling organizations make many of their surveys available. Also, many universities are part of the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR; http://www.icpsr.umich.edu/), which makes survey archive data available. One very useful data set is the General Social Survey (GSS; see their website at http://www3.norc.org/GSS+Website/), a series of surveys funded by the National Science Foundation. Each survey includes over 200 questions covering a range of topics such as attitudes, life satisfaction, health, religion, education, age, gender, and race.
Survey archives are now becoming available online at sites that enable researchers to analyze the data online. Survey archives are extremely important because most researchers do not have the financial resources to conduct surveys of randomly selected national samples; the archives allow them to access such samples to test their ideas. A study by Robinson and Martin (2009) Page 128illustrates how the GSS can be used to test hypotheses. The study examined whether Internet users differed from nonusers in their social attitudes. Clearly, the findings would have implications for interpreting the results of surveys conducted via the Internet. The results showed that although Internet users were somewhat more optimistic, there were no systematic differences between those who use and do not use the Internet.
Written records are documents such as diaries and letters that have been preserved by historical societies, ethnographies of other cultures written by anthropologists, and public documents as diverse as speeches by politicians or discussion board messages left by Internet users. Mass communication records include books, magazine articles, movies, television programs, and newspapers.
An example of archival research using such records is a study of 487 anti-smoking ads that was conducted by Rhodes, Roskos-Ewoldsen, Eno, and Monahan (2009). They found that there were an increasing number of ads attacking the tobacco industry over time and that many of the ads emphasized the negative health impact of smoking. However, few ads attacked claims for the benefits of smoking such as stress reduction or preventing weight gain.
Content analysis is the systematic analysis of existing documents. Like systematic observation, content analysis requires researchers to devise coding systems that raters can use to quantify the information in the documents. Sometimes the coding is quite simple and straightforward; for example, it is easy to code whether the addresses of the applicants on marriage license applications are the same or different. More often, the researcher must define categories in order to code the information. In the study of smoking ads, researchers had to define categories to describe the ads, for example, attacks tobacco companies or causes cancer. Similar procedures would be used in studies examining archival documents such as speeches, magazine articles, television shows, and reader comments on articles published on the Internet.
The use of archival data allows researchers to study interesting questions, some of which could not be studied in any other way. Archival data are a valuable supplement to more traditional data collection methods. There are at least two major problems with the use of archival data, however. First, the desired records may be difficult to obtain: They may be placed in long-forgotten storage places, or they may have been destroyed. Second, we can never be completely sure of the accuracy of information collected by someone else.
This chapter has provided a great deal of information about important qualitative and quantitative observational methods that can be used to study a variety of questions about behavior. In the next chapter, we will explore a very common way of finding out about human behavior—simply asking people to use self-reports to tell us about themselves.