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Casual observation

'people watching' is an example.

Novelists, journalists and social commentators have accurate knowledge of whats going on with people's behaviour.

Subject to bias that can distort information.

Casucal observation mixture between observation and inference. E.g. people are smiling so theyre happy but not necessarily thge case.

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Systematic observation

Systematic observation is setting up our own study so we eliminate or reduce bias. We set up decision rules beforehand to reduce inferences.

Decision rule - procedure put in place before data collection

Ensure that someone could conduct same study

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Method: naturalistic or controlled

  • Involves researcher observing naturally occuring behaviour. Researcher cannot manipulate IV to observe effect on DV like in experiment.
  • Can be used in quasi-experiments - studied in natural sitatuon where everything is left normally.
  • Often researchers will begin by conducting a naturalistic observation then develop a controlled observation technique in order to gain further insight.
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Technique: structured or unstructured

Structured - uses a coding scheme and behaviour checklist to record certain actions

Unstructured - experimenter records any and all behaviour


Strengths -easy to analyse

Weaknesses -may exclude behaviours not listed


Strengths -collect rich data

Weaknesses - observer bias

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Method: strenghts and weaknesses

Naturalistic -Strengths

  • High ecological validity (hidden researcher)        
  • Can be used to generate ideas for or to validate findings from experimental studies         


  •  No control over variables so cant infer cause and effect
  • Lack of control makes it difficult to replicate
  • Ethical problems (invasion of privacy)  

Controlled - strengths

  • Scientific method so more control over environment leads to increased accuracy of observations


  • Low ecological validity
  • Participant reactivity
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Technique: participant or non-participant

participant - researcher takes part in study

Non-participant - observations made from a distance or from 'outside' the group being studied.

Participant - strengths

  • High ecological validity
  • Can yeild rich qualitative data
  • Easy to understand what the behaviour of those being observed actually means


  • Unethical
  • Researcher has to rely on memory (unreliable)
  • Observer may become emotionally involved, making observations subjective rather than objective.
  • The precense of the observer may influence the behaviours
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non-participant strengths and weaknesses


  • Those being observed may not realise theyre being observed, meaning behaviour wont be changed by the presence of the observer
  • Objectivity
  • Can record observations as they occur.


  • Meaning of observation may not be clear.
  • Relationship isnt formed so less trust than in participant observation.
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Technique: Overt or covert

  • Overt - participants are aware they're being observed, leads to problem of people changing behaviour.
  • Covert - participants aren't aware they're being observed e.g. observing behind a one way mirror.

Overt - strengths

  • Ethically sound


  • Demand characterstics

Covert - strengths

  • No demand characteristics


  • Unethical deception
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