The idiographic method was first introduced by the German philosopher Wilhelm Windelband in the late nineteenth century (Windelband, 1894). Idiographic research aims at answering personalized questions at an individual level in contrast to research performed nomothetic or group level (Robinson, 2011).
The idiographic method within psychiatry serves to develop models that can predict which factors aggravate and which mitigate the symptoms of a patient. Aggravating and mitigating factors and symptoms are usually assessed in daily life, e.g. with a diary study (Mehl and Conner, 2012). Patients are examined in their natural, daily environment and fill in a (digital) diary once to several times a day for a longer period of time (weeks, sometimes months).
The diary study involves questions about the patients’ symptoms as well as events that may have influenced these. Think of the role of lifestyle factors, e.g. the amount of physical exercise, sleep or the social environment.
In addition, physiological parameters such as heart rate and the stress hormone cortisol can be measured repeatedly, and they can be examined in relation to the symptoms.
The goal is to chart the factors that influence the symptoms of each individual patient. This can than offer input for treatment or relapse prevention.
- Windelband, W. & Oakes, G. (1894). History and natural science. History and Theory, 19: 165-168.
- Robinson, O.C (2011). The idiographic/ Nomothetic Dichotomy: Tracing Historical Origins of Contemporary Confusions. History & Philosophy of Psychology, 13: 32–39.
- Mehl, M.R., Conner T.S (2012). Handbook of Research Methods for Studying Daily Life. First edition, The Guilford Press. New York and London