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  • Writer's pictureDarien Smith

Researcher Identities

What Is Reflexivity and How Can It Affect Our Research?

Reflexivity as I come to understand is the awareness of how one's identity may influence the methodology and outcome of one’s research (Gilgun J.F, 2008). This also applies to any human subjects being researched and how their identity may affect the results. “It is not enough to inquire reflexively into ‘who one is’ or where one is positioned in the social space as a whole to understand one’s position-takings. One also must inquire into the objective position occupied by subjects of objectivation within an academic discipline” (Emirbayer & Desmond, 2010)

The ‘experimenter effect’ is a methodological issue whereby a researcher’s presence may unconsciously influence the participants of the experiments, contaminating both the process and outcome. (Probst, 2015) There are many qualities of a person that may affect their perception of research due to a bias which is a by-product of their identity. It is important to be aware of such bias to remain as objective as possible during the research process. As some degree of bias is nearly always present in a published study, readers must also consider how bias might influence a study's conclusions. (Pannucci CJ, Wilkins EG, 2010). The importance of becoming aware of one’s bias and predisposition when researching is paramount in the pursuit of objectivity.

How do we Identify Reflexivity?

In order to identify reflexivity, we must become aware of our own identity traits. An effective method of defining one’s identity is to complete a “Social Identity Map” (Figure 1), (Jacobson,, 2019). This map gives researchers the tools to visually lay out their identity traits, as well as the common perceptions that come with said traits.

Figure 1: Social identity map template created by Jacobson, D,, 2019. Completed by Darien Smith

My Social Identity Map

In regard to reflexivity and my personal identity outlined on the above social identity map (Figure 1), It is apparent that I fit within the “default” societal norms of the UK, the straight white male. It is often perceived that being a straight white male is advantageous in today’s society due to the lack of discrimination towards us “Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is” one article suggested (Scalzi, 2012). Though for the most part the reasoning in this article is valid, in regard to research and reflexivity, being the “default” can be disadvantageous due to the lack of empathy and understanding of minority groups. As an example, due to the fact I am a heterosexual cis male, I have not been a victim of discrimination that many members of the LGBTQ community have faced. Because of this, I may struggle to fully empathise with those discriminated members of society (Hardee, 2003). This lack of understanding and empathy may negatively impact my ability to gain the trust of any LGBTQ participants I study, potentially resulting in less openness towards me. An article overviewing the importance of empathy explains that empathy is a powerful and efficient communication tool (Levinson,, 2002), outlining its importance in the field of research, particularly when studying members of any oppressed or traumatised group.

On a more personal note, it is possible that my own identity traits may negatively impact even my secondary research, for example, it is possible that my youth may cause issues with the objectivity of my studies. As I am a young adult, I often feel underrespected and underestimated by older peers; as a result, I feel the desire to overachieve in order to prove my worth. This need for respect and approval may cause my research to be selective and biased towards proving my hypothesis correct; cherry picking only supporting evidence, while neglecting or undermining opposing evidence. This is something I have to be very aware of when conducting studies in order to remain as objective as possible.


Emirbayer, M. & Desmond, M. (2010). Race and reflexivity. Ethnic and Racial Studies, Vol. 35, 582-583.

Gilgun, J. F. (2008). Lived experience, reflexivity, and research on perpetrators of interpersonal violence. Qualitative Social Work.

Hardee, J. T. (2003). An Overview of Empathy. National library of medicine. pp. 51–54.

Jacobson, D., & Mustafa, N. (2019). Social Identity Map: A Reflexivity Tool for Practicing Explicit Positionality in Critical Qualitative Research. International Journal of Qualitative Methods. pp 1-12.

Levinson, W., Gorawara-Bhat, R., Lamb J. (2002) A study of patient clues and physician responses in primary care and surgical settings. JAMA. pp. 23–30.

Pannucci C. J., & Wilkins E. G. (2010). Identifying and avoiding bias in research. Plast Reconstr Surg, 619-625.

Probst, B. (2015). The Eye Regards Itself: Benefits and Challenges of Reflexivity in Qualitative Social Work Research. Reflexivity and Knowledge. pp. 37-38.

Scalzi, J. (2012). Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is. Whatever.

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