What is an observation?
Observations, like correlations, are a non-experimental method; there is no manipulation of variables and it is not technically an experiment. Oberservations can be used either as a research technique or as a research method. Observations may be used as part of another research method.
Obervations are investigations where the researcher observes a situation and records what happens but does not manipulate an independent variables.
Observations can be...
Naturalistic or Controlled
Structured or Unstructured
Participant or Non-participant
Overt or Covert
Naturalistic observation involves observing subjects in their natural environment. Spontaneous behaviour is recorded in a natural setting.Looking at behaviour as it occurs in its natural setting.
Strengths-High levels of ecological validity because behaviour is natural and there are no demand characterisitcs if the participant is unaware that they are being oberved, can be a useful way of developing ideas about behaviour that could be tested in more controlled conditions later.
Weaknesses-Extraneous variables because you cannot control variables that may affect behaviour, observer bias when obervers' expectations may affect what they focus on and record meaning that the reliabilty of the results may be a problem and another observer may come up with different results, you should only conduct observations where people might expect to be observed by strangers (public places) so this limits the situations where you can conduct a naturalistic obervation, there are possible ethical issues because debriefing is difficult and getting informed consent can be tricky.
Observations (Controlled Observations)
In a controlled observation, behaviour is observed under controlled laboratory conditions. This type of observation may be carried out in a laboratory type situation because variables are manipulated and is said to have high levels of control.
Strengths- The controls mean that the effect of extraneous variables is minimised so it is more likely that you can establish cause and effect, easier to replicate, avoids the ethical problems such as consent and debrief.
Weaknesses-Observer bias, may be low ecological validity, awarness of being observed may affect participants' behaviour, demand characterists.
Observations (Structured/Unstructured Observations
Structured Observation: A structured observation is where the researchers design a type of coding scheme to record their behaviour, structured observations generaly provide quantitative data. Coding schemes are ways of categorising behaviour so that you can code what you observe in terms of how often a behaviour appears.
Strenghts-Fairly simple to carry out, provides quantitative data which can be analysed statistically.
Weaknesses-Restricted view of what is actually happening, the researcher may miss important behaviours, the data is not as in-depth as simply observing behaviour which is occuring.
Unstructured Observation: An unstructured observation involves the researchers recoding the behaviour they can see.
Strenghts-Can provide rich qualitiative data, documents as much as possible, not constrained buy coding schemes
Weaknesses-Can be difficult wthout the use of recording equipment, can be difficult to analyse, tendency for observers to record the most noticable behaviours which may not be the most relevant.
Observations (Participant Observation)
Participant observation is a type of observational study where the observer is also a participant in the activity that is being observed. The observer has direct contact with the group of people they are observing.
Strenghts-Useful as it provides more insights about behaviour, high ecological validity if the observation is covert, detailed and in-depth knowledge of the stuation can be gained, the researcher develops a relationship wih group under study so a greater understanding of behaviour is gained.
Weaknesses-The observer may lose some objectivity, difficult to record data, observers may influence participants, ethical problems, participants may act differently if they know that the observer is amongst them.
When the researcher observes the activity without getting involved with it, a covert technique as their presence is unknown to the participants. But it may also be overt when participants understand that the observer is there for research purposes. The researcher does not join in.
Strengths-The researcher can remain objective throughout the study , easier to record information and observations if you are not participating so you can record data more easily.
Weaknesses-The researcher loses a sense of the group dynamics by staying seperate from the group, do not gain as much information as your are not sumerged in the group.
Overt Observations: Overt observation involves the researcher declaring to their participants what they are doing and gaining permission of participation at the beginning of a study.When the researcher tells the group he or she is conducting research they may know what behaviours are being looked for or the purpose of the study but they may not.
Strenghts-More ethical, informed consent is gained, see strengths of participant observation.
Weaknesses-High chance of demand characterists, people are less likely to act naturally if they know they are being watched.
Covert Observations: Covert observations on the other hand, do not inform the participants of their roles in a study and they are left completely unaware of the researchers aim. It may be when the researcher pretends to be an ordinary member of the group and observes in secret, or they are in a different room etc.
Strengths-More likely to show people's natural behaviours as they don't know they are being watched, demand characteristics are minimised.
Weaknesses-Ethical issues such as deception, consent and debriefing.
Observations (Time and Event Sampling)
Event Sampling: Event sampling consists of the researcher recoding an event every time it happens.
Strengths- Behaviours of interest should not be missed, researchers know exactly what behaviours they are looking for, recorded continuosly and all occurences of the behaviours are noted, quantitative data, standarised so replicable. Weaknesses- If too many obeservations are happening at once then it may be difficult to record everything, limits the behaviour observed, potentially interesting behaviours could be ignored, might get difficult to record.
Time Sampling: Time sampling occurs when the researcher decides on a time and then records what behaviour is occuring at that time.
Strengths-Can reduce the amount of time spent and may increase accuracy, very convenient for reasearchers to carry out, can be more reliable as only short periods or behaviour are being observed at specific intervals making the recording behaviour easier, controlled. Weaknesses- Some behaviours may be missed therefore the observation may not be representative if you have to record many at the same time, if interesting behaviours occur outide the time sample they won't be recorded which may lower overall validity.
Reliability and Validity of Observations
Reliability: Reliability refers to how consistent a measuring device is. A measurement is said to be reliable if the measurement can produce similar results if used again in similar circumstances. A common way of assessing the reliability of observations is to use inter-rater reliability. This involves comparing the ratings of two or more observers and checking for agreement in their measurements.
A way of improving the reliability of an observational study is to ensure that the categories are clearer and that the observers are well trained in the use of the checklists. It needs to be made sure that the observers are actually putting each participant in the right category or giving it the right rating. This might involve comparing the data from two or more observers to make sure they're giving the same scores. - ensure behaviours have been operationalised. If the data is similar then it is reliable.
Validity: Validity refers to whether a study measures /examines what it claimes to be measuring/examining. Observations could lack validity for a number of reasons. If participants are aware they are being observed they may behave in the way they feel they should behave. Validity could also be reduced by observer bias. That is the observer may be influenced by expectations and not record accurately.