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What is a Case Study?

By Sherry Holetzky
Updated: May 21, 2024

The study of a person, a small group, a single situation, or a specific "case," is called a case study. It involves extensive research, including documented evidence of a particular issue or situation -- symptoms, reactions, affects of certain stimuli, and the conclusion reached following the study. A case study may show a correlation between two factors, whether or not a causal relationship can also be proven. It may sound complicated, but it's really quite simple.

For example, a case study may show that obese people tend to drink a lot of diet soda. This would mean that there is a correlation, or association, between being overweight and drinking diet soda. No causal factor has been shown, or in other words, there is no scientific evidence that indicates drinking diet soda actually causes obesity, just that there is an association between the two.

Another case study may prove both causal and correlative factors. If research and evidence show that obese people also tend to eat more fattening foods than leaner people, there is science to back up the fact that eating fat causes people to gain weight. The difference between causal and correlative factors is important in the study, because sometimes such studies are used to promote a specific medicine, therapy, or product; or to show that a particular product is unhealthy, unsafe, or should be used with care.

A case study may be used to show that a medicine is safe for the largest percentage of a certain demographic, based on the physical evidence, interviews, and observations. On the other hand, the same resources may show that the medicine is unsafe for certain segments of the population, including certain age groups. A case study may also be used to test other products or services, or even to decide which business model is most cost efficient.

A case study can be an important tool for establishing the effectiveness and safety of a product. Depending on who is conducting the study, a company can also use it as a tool to discount claims made by competing manufacturers. To better decipher case studies, be sure to pay close attention to the factors examined, and ascertain whether they are correlative, causal, or both.

All The Science is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon159727 — On Mar 13, 2011

i want to use a case study in collecting data about hiv aids. how can i use it?

By anon157235 — On Mar 02, 2011

Sure ArtDefender, I'm currently doing a case study on a Family's Eating Patterns for my Food Technology course. It involves the psychological factors that influence food selections, and is a high school assessment. Hence my being on this site.

By anon149756 — On Feb 05, 2011

Case studies focus on ONE person, and describe their history, habits, psychological problems, etc. They are not used to study correlations. The correlational method is used to study things like weather obese people drink more than the average amount of pop.

By SonofCormick — On Jul 13, 2010

@ArtDefender – Yes there most certainly are! Some of the most famous case studies are in the field of psychology. One excellent example, which in fact crosses the boundaries of psychology and neuroscience, is the case of Phineas Gage. While working as a railroad construction foreman Gage underwent an accidental lobotomy, and his consequent personality and behavioral changes have since become a favorite topic of discussion for those attempting to understand the brain and its workings.

Just remember, all such studies are ultimately conducted with an eye to their practical ramifications.

By ArtDefender — On Jul 13, 2010

I hear about case studies in relation to clearly practical matters pretty frequently, but I'm curious: are there examples of case studies in a more academic setting?

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