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Assess the weaknesses of using observation for sociological studies.
Observation is a common method which is used for observing people during studies; it
often provides the necessary information which is needed; however, this information is
not always reliable. This may be due to a number of reasons and because of them, the
research is affected.
There are four main types of observation; participant observation, non-participant
observation, covert observation and overt observation. Participant observation is the form
of observation in which the researcher takes part whilst observing people's behaviour.
This form of observation can be seen to have many weaknesses as it can often restrict
the research as the researcher may show some form of bias during the recording of the
research. Bias can often lead to the findings lacking validity as they do not show a true
reflection of what is being studied. Participant observation could also be seen to have
ethical issues, which could limit the research. Some of the ethical issues may include
informed consent; the participant may not know that they are being observed and as a
result, the researcher could be seen as studying the powerless. However, this problem
could be overcome by informing the participants prior to the research. This could however
lead to the Hawthorne effect occurring; this is a form of social desirability bias in which
the participant changes their behaviour to suit one which they think is desired by the
researcher. As a result, this could lead to the findings lacking validity as they would not
show a true reflection of what is being studied. Another limitation of participant
observation is that it can be seen as very time consuming as the researcher may have to
observe a particular person/ group for a very long time in order to gain the findings he/she
Participant observation could be used with both overt and covert observation. Overt
observation is where the person/ people who are being observed have agreed to take
part and are fully aware that they are being observed and the purpose of the observation.
Covert observation is where the person/ people that are being observed have not agreed
to take part in the research as they are not aware that it is going on. This form of
observation can be seen to have many ethical issues such as deception; this is where the
participant is being deceived as they are not told the truth about the research and its
purpose. This also links in with informed consent as the researcher has not has received
informed consent from the participant. However, this could easily be overcome if the
researcher informs the participant about the research and its purpose prior to the study.
However, this could often lead to the Hawthorne affect occurring as the participant may
change their behaviour.
Non-participant observation is a form of observation in which the researcher only
observes and does not participate. This form of observation can be seen to have
disadvantage as the finding produced may be seen as superficial as they may limit the
understanding of the study as the participants may show the Hawthorne affect which
could result in the findings lacking validity. However, this could be overcome if the
observer observes the person/ people for long enough until the period in which the
Hawthorne effect is present passes.
Covert and overt observation can both be used in conjunction with non-participant
observation. However, there are problems with doing so. The problems of carrying out
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can be overcome by using overt observation instead of covert observation, as the
participant will be informed about the role will they will be playing in the research. This
could however, lead to the presence of the Hawthorne effect.…read more