Observational Methods and Techniques


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Naturalistic Observation

  • Mary Ainsworth
  • in her study of Ugandan women and children she spent time observing their interations. Her observations were structured, i.e. she didnt sit there alol day and write down what she saw, she spent periods of time recording specific behaviours
  • Naturalistic observation means that the behaviour is not interfered with and the researcher may be quite structured in the recording of this data.

Example (Lamb and Roopnarine 1979)

  • One study observed boys and girls during playtime at school, the researchers classified activities as male, female and neutral and recorded how playmates responded
  • They found that peers were quick to award sex appropriate play
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Controlled Observation

  • Strange situation technique
  • involved structuring the behaviour of the participants as well as the observers
  • the participants had to follow 8 steps and had a checklist of behaviours which they had to rate every 15 seconds
  • you may take the view that Ainsworths strange situation was not an observation but an experiment
  • the IV was the behaviour of a parent and the DV is the behaviour of the infant


  • The same research for naturalistic observation could be used for describing controlled observation, some of the variables are easy to control
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Example of A Controlled Experiment

  • In the Bobo doll study childrens behaviour was measured for aggressiveness at the end of the experiment to see if those who had the most aggressive doll were different
  • Each child was taken into a room that contained aggressive toys like a mallet and a dart gun and some non aggressive toys such as a doll
  • The experimenter was behind a one way mirror and observed different behaviour
  • imitation of physical aggressiveness
  • imitative of verbal aggressiveness
  • imitative non aggressive verbal responses
  • non-imitative physical and verbal aggression
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Behavioural Categories

  • Be Objective: the observer should not have to make interferences about the behaviour, but should record explicit action
  • Cover all possible component behaviours and avoid a waste basket category
  • Be mutally exclusive, meaning that you should not have marked two categories at one time

Sampling Procedures

  • event sampling - counting the number of times a certaibn behaviour (event) occurs in a target individual or individuals
  • Time Sampling - Recording behaviours in a given time frame. For example, noting what a target individual is doing every 30 seconds. At that time the observer may tick one or more categories from a checklist
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