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Sensitive Tone

William Braud and Rosemary Anderson (1998) propose sympathetic resonance as a criterion of validity appropriate for research in transpersonal psychology. They use the analogy of tuning forks and the immediate understanding that people may have when they recognize an experience described by another person. “Any and all sources of evidence, ways of knowing, and ways of working with and expressing knowledge, findings, and conclusions can be brought to bear on the issues being researched…. There is an epistemological stance of what William James…called _radical empiricism_–a stance that excludes anything that is not directly experienced but includes _everything_ that is directly experienced, by anyone in the research effort. Thus, the research participants’ subjective experiences and self-perceptions are treated as valid data, as are the experiences and perceptions of the investigator. There is an important place for intuitive, tacit, and direct knowing; for various rational ways of processing information; and for a variety of forms of creative expression in conducting and communicating research.” (p. 241)

In addition, Rosemary Anderson (2001) shows that the researcher collects, analyzes, and reports findings fully intending to invite readers to encounter the narrative accounts for themselves and from within their own bodies through a form of sympathetic resonance. Ultimately, as a research tool, its efficacy depends on its capacity to engender a quality of resonance between the written text and the senses of the readers that allows readers to more fully experience the phenomena described. The readers’ perceptual, visceral, sensory-motor, kinesthetic, and imaginary senses are invited to come alive to the words and images as though the experience were their own. “Embodied writing” tries to let the body speak.

The principle of sympathetic resonance is as a form of validity in the context of intuitive inquiry. Resonance is immediate and direct. I often find the experiences of others similar to me as a reader. I find myself in tune with the words of others. I can feel reality starts to form. It is enough to mine to help me feel through to the experience of another. It becomes a part of me.

William Braud (1998) addresses this issue of varying realities. “To the physical scientist, the real is what is external and measurable, what can be accessed by the senses or physical instruments and verified by the senses or physical instruments of others. To human beings, inner events—that are unobservable from the outside—can be as real or more real than outer events” (p. 236).

To the transpersonal scientist, then, what is real includes not only that which is physical and that which exists as inner experience, but also, that which may originate in non-egoic states of consciousness.

This type of validity is personal and not necessarily generalizable or replicable. Validity is measured by asking the question, ‘‘Is this useful to me?’’ A study has transformative validity when it succeeds in affecting the individual reader through identification with and change of her or his prevailing story, probably in the areas of self, Spirit, and service. The responses of early readers, described above, can give some indication of a study’s potential transformative validity.

Analyzing the material from a variety of perspectives offers a balance that invites validity. To accomplish this, one looks at the participants’ stories, the group story, and the transformative change, three views of the same data. One also examines one’s thinking, feeling, intuitive, and sensory responses to the stories, as well as changes to both heart and mind, trying to avoid a one-sided assessment of their meaning. The internal validity of procedures can also be assessed by the individual researcher, using the confirming signals that she or he has learned over time, like feeling of certainty.

We start really to come up against social issues. Most of the previous ethical concerns were about individuals. Now we are also concerned about the effect of our research on a whole organization or community. Our social vision, our social philosophy, comes into play. We have to be careful about the side effects of our actions, the unintended consequences of our research design.

If we deepen our authenticity, and insist on the other participants relating to us in an authentic fashion, we take another step on the ethical path. All the previous issues become intensified in collaborative research. Here is a good statement of the position at this stage:

  1. Researchers recognise that all research carries with it the ideological assumptions of the researcher, reflective of his or her time in history and position of power within a culture and subcultures.
  2. An honest evaluation is made of how these assumptions affect all phases of the research inquiry, including the choice of topic, methods and analysis employed, and generalizations extending from the analysis, as well as the choices made in properly presenting the results to the professional community and to the public.
  3. As a result of this analysis, balancing points of view are considered and employed. Where balance is not completely feasible, researchers disclose their assumptions, as well as aspects of the research procedures and conclusions that favour the view of any one group, culture, or subculture over another.
  4. When the research uses the experience of past research, each successive research inquiry is more balanced in empowering the silenced voices of society and thereby attempts to rectify the imbalances of past research and more fully explicate and understand the phenomenon being studied.
  5. Taking seriously the power of knowledge in culture, researchers work individually and collaboratively to balance the hierarchical structures inherent in research and to create better structures for the benefit of all people. (Anderson & Braud, 1998, p. 248)


Anderson, R. (2001). Embodied writing and reflections on embodiment. Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 33(2), 83-96.

Anderson, R. & Braud, W. (1998). Additional suggestions, ethical considerations and future challenges, in W. Braud & R. Anderson (Eds) Transpersonal methods for the social sciences. Thousand Oaks: Sage.

Braud, W. (1998) ‘An expanded view of validity’, in W. Braud & R. Anderson (eds) Transpersonal Research Methods for the Social Sciences: Honoring Human Experience. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

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