Following the 2008 global economic crash, the Irish accepted harsh austerity as the national economy collapsed, only to protest in 2014 & 2015 during a stark economic recovery. This paradox raises many pertinent questions for social and cultural psychologists: why do some people not protest when others riot in the streets; how are culturally-salient narratives taken up by individuals in times of social change; under what conditions do people tolerate economic inequality and when does this tolerance give way? The Irish example and the questions it raises represent a common and important challenge for social psychologists: how can we best study the complexities of human behavior in real world settings?

Alone, the experimental paradigm, which currently predominates in the field, is insufficient for understanding this and similar dynamic and unfolding social, cultural, and economic trends. This is because ecologically valid and meaningful hypotheses need to be generated before they can be tested experimentally. Therefore, field methods in social psychology – including writing field notes, conducting participant observation and interviews, analyzing social and mainstream media – can be used to either augment findings from lab social psychology in ecologically valid contexts or to generative relevant hypotheses to understand dynamics, patterns, and casual mechanisms beyond observed social phenomena. Field social psychological methods can also be used to study experiences that cannot be studied in an enlightening way with an experimental paradigm.

In our paper, The SAGE Model of Social Psychological Research, we argue that a synthetic combination of field and lab methods can best be used to conduct ecologically valid social psychological research, to understand the complexities of human thoughts, feelings and behavior, such as the protest dynamics in Ireland during the economic recovery and recession. We developed the SAGE model for social psychological research.

Our SAGE acronym refers to the ways in which qualitative and quantitative methods can be meaningfully used in conjunction to holistically understand social psychological phenomena. We propose a Synthetic model, where qualitative methods are Augmentative to quantitative methods, Generative of new experimental hypotheses, and used to comprehend Experiences that evade experimental reductionism. Currently in social psychology, there still exists a strong tension, separation, and imbalance between methodologies. In a review of flagship psychology journals, we observed that mixed methods including qualitative and quantitative research was extremely rare, and purely qualitative work was nonexistent. In an effort to push the discipline forward, we developed a new model to provide a guiding framework for integrative research methods in social psychological research.

In our article, we outline the ontological differences between qualitative and quantitative methods. However, we argue that no differences ought to exist on a practical level. Therefore, an integrative, mixed-method, model can overcome the limits of each method and be used to further holistic psychological science. This holism is vital for the field to address the power of socio-cultural context in relation to psychological universals.

The SAGE model (synthetic, augmentative, generative, experiential) is first outlined as an integrative whole. Next, we discuss historical and contemporary utilizations to highlight the augmentative, generative, and experiential aspects of the model. We return to the historical foundations of social psychology to highlight the emphasis placed on multi-level, integrative, mixed-method research from the beginnings of our discipline. Moreover, we illustrate the scopes and limits of our SAGE model in relation to our own work. We apply the model to research concerning the dynamics of protest during an economic recession and recovery in Ireland; adolescent educational achievement in the United States; and the moral foundations between Atheists and Evangelical Christians in the United States. We demonstrate how mixed-methods can operate together with regard to each aspect of the model and as a whole. The challenges and benefits of the model are discussed throughout. We also outline the practice of utilizing our model in different research programs.

We conclude the article by arguing multi-methods are necessary to develop our field by producing ecologically-valid and reproducible psychological science and breaking new ground by expanding the scope of what can be investigated and meaningfully comprehended.

The SAGE Model of Social Psychological Research is published in Perspectives on Psychological Science. The article is available, open access, here:

Séamus A. Power: University of Chicago

Gabriel Velez: University of Chicago

Ahmad Qadafi: University of Chicago

Joseph Tennant: University of Cambridge