Observation

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Structured observational techniques

Structured observation - the researcher uses various 'systems' to organise observations, such as sampling technique and behavioural categories

Observational research, like all research, aims to be objective and rigorous. Because of this it is necessary to use systematic procudures

Strengths

  • What people say they do is often different from what they actually do, so observcations give a different take on behvaiour than other research methods.

Weaknesses

  • Observers may 'see' what they expect to see
  • Observations cannot provide information about what people think or feel
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Behavioural categories

Objective methods to seperate continuous stream of action into components. The categories are arranged as a list, each with a code and called a coding frame.

Strengths

  • Enables systematic observations to be made so important information is not overlooked

Weaknesses

  • Categories may not cover all possibilities, some behaviours not recorded (low validity)
  • Poorly designed coding frame reduces reliability and validity
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Event sampling

Drawing up a list of behavioural categories then counting each time a behaviour occurs in a specified time period

Strengths

  • Both methods on the left make the task of observing behaviour more manageable as they avoid having to record everything
  • useful when behvaviour to-be-recorded only happens occasionally. Missing events would reduce validity

Weaknesses

  • Observer may miss some observations if too many things happen at once, reducing validity
  • Observations may not be represntative
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Time sampling

Recording behaviours at regular intervals (e.g. every 5 seconds or 1 minute) or taking a sample at different times of the day or month

Strengths

  • Both methods on the left make the task of observing behaviour more manageable as they avoid having to record everything
  • allows for tracking of time-related changes in behaviour

Weaknesses

  • Observer may miss some observations if too many things happen at once, reducing validity
  • Observations may not be represntative
  • decrease validity as some behaviours are inevitably missed as important behaviour may occurr outisde the observation interval.  
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Controlled observation

Some variables are changed by the researcher e.g. in a laboratory experiment. May involve unstructured techniques

Strengths

  • Controlled environment allows focus on particular  aspects of behaviour e.g. children playing with feminine toys to see how boys and girls react

Weaknesses

  • Environment may feel unnatural and then participants' behaviour may not be 'normal'. This means observation may lack validity
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Naturalistic observation

Everything is left as usual. Environment unstructured but may use structured techniques

Strengths

  • A realistic picture of natural, spontaneous behaviour, therefore high ecological validity

Weaknesses

  • Participants may be aware they are being observed which alters their behvaiour (demand characteristics)
  • Little control of all other vairables
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Structured observation

A system is used to restrict and organise the collection of data

Strengths

  • Improves inter-rater reliability as observations can be more consistant

Weaknesses

  • Observers may 'see' or 'hear' what they expect to see
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Unstructured observation

Observer records all relevant behaviour but has no system

Strengths

  • Useful when behaviour to be studied is largely unpredictable
  • Used in inital investigations as a pilot study

Weaknesses

  • Behaviours recorded are often those that are most eye-catching but may not be the most imporant or relevant behaviours
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Non-participant observation

Observer is not a participant in the behaviour being observed

Strengths

  • Increased objectitvity because of a psychological and possibly a physical distance

Weaknesses

  • Observer may misinterpret the communications within the goup as they are an outsider. Reduce validity of observation
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Participant observation

Observer is a participant in the behaviour being observed, e.g. being in a queue and observing behaviour in the queue

Strengths

  • Likely to provide special insights into behaviour, from the 'inside'
  • Able to monitor and record behaviour in closer detail.

Weaknesses

  • Objectivity reduced (observer bias)
  • More difficult to record and monitor behaviour unobtrusively is observer is part of the group.
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Covert observation

Observations made without a participant's knowledge

Strengths

  • Participants behave more naturally as they are not aware of being observed

Weaknesses

  • Raises ethical issues about observing people without their knowledge
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Overt observation

Participant is aware of being observed

Strengths

  • Avoids lack of informed consent as participants can decide whether to participate

Weaknesses

  • If participants know they are being observed they are likely to alter their behaviour. Observer effect.
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