Psychological Investigations : The observational method

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  • The observational method
    • Key features
      • In an observation, data is collected by someone observing participants and recording what they do or say
        • Sometimes the observer is present and sometimes the observer is hidden behind a one-way mirror
          • Other recording techniques can be used, including video recordings
            • Observations may be conducted on their own or they may be conducted as a part of an experiment
    • Different types of observation
      • Controlled observations
        • Conducted in a controlled environment (for example a classroom or a laboratory) and are generally part of an experimental procedure.
        • There is control over participants and they have particular tasks to do
        • Easily replicated
        • Low in ecological validity
      • Natural observations
        • These are conducted in a natural environment in which the experimenter has no control over who participates or what they do
        • High in ecological validity
        • Do not allow for the control of variables
      • Participant observations
        • This is really a type of natural observation, with the difference being that the observer takes an active roe by becoming a fully participating member of the group being observed
        • It's covert therefore less demand characteristics
        • Ethical issues raised in regards to deception
      • Overt/Covert observations
        • Any observation conducted by the experimenter when the participant knows they are being observed is described as overt
          • Ethically sound as it does not involve decepion
          • Likely to be effected by demand characteristics
        • Any observation in which the participants are not aware that they are being observed is described as covert
          • Not affected by demand characteristics
          • Raises ethical concerns in regard to deception
    • Strengths and weaknesses
      • High in ecological validity as they are generally conducted in a naturalistic environment
      • Observations do not enable you to assess cause and effect unless they are part of a controlled experiment
      • They produce rich data
      • Low in demand characteristics
      • Observations are often covert which raises ethical issues
      • It's generally not possible to control variables which means there is little standardisation and it can be hard to replicate
    • Inter-observer reliability
      • One way of strengthening an observation is to ensure there are always at least two observers.
        • This is to make sure data is reliable
          • Both observers employ the same schedule and use the same categories to independently record their observations
            • Statistical tests can be carried out on the combined data to assess the level of concordance
              • It's considered reliable if they are both in at least 80% agreement


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