Observation Methods in Research Psychology

The earliest way of data collection is by observation, and both social scientists and scientists employ this method. The word "observation" connotes simplicity and suggests that gathering data using this approach will be simple. However, in scientific research, it is untrue. The method's unreliability has also been criticized. However, by approaching it more scientifically, limits could be overcome. One of the oldest methods for gathering data may only be considered scientific when it adheres to standards like objectivity, freedom from prejudice, dependability, and systematization.

What is Observation?

When gathering data, observation may be characterized as a process where units, events, phenomena, or people are personally present. A researcher can, for instance, watch workers at work, kids playing together, members of a particular community, and so on. One of the popular techniques for gathering data in qualitative research is this one. In terms of observation, there are two modalities.

One involves watching people or events directly (such as employees at a workplace), and the other involves asking people about their own or other people's behavior to gather information (such as parents asking their children about their behavior at home). In addition to being a crucial component of daily life, observing people's actions as individuals, groups, or organizations—or their outputs—forms the foundation of scientific study in the behavioral sciences. It is particularly helpful in social psychology, developmental psychology, anthropology, behavior modification, and evaluation research.

Planning the Observation

The following considerations must be made while organizing observations of an event, etc.

  • Select the focal point − Choose a few areas of concentration for your data collecting after considering the assessment issues you hope to address through observation. For instance, you could be interested in how well the psychology curriculum is used in the classroom. The relationships between students and instructors and teachers' knowledge, abilities, and behaviors of teachers may be your main areas of interest.

  • Create a mechanism for data gathering − After narrowing the scope of your evaluation, consider the precise issue for which you want to gather data and then decide how you will do so. The three main methods for gathering observational data are as follows. To satisfy your data-collecting needs, you can combine these three techniques.

  • The most structured method of gathering observational data is through recording sheets and checklists, including pre-set questions and replies. Usually, this form is used to gather the information that can be defined in advance (e.g., topics that might be covered in a Psychotherapy lesson).

  • Observational guides provide spaces for open-ended narrative data collection and a description of the interactions, procedures, or behaviors to be observed.

  • Field notes are the least structured technique to gather observational data because they do not have predetermined questions or answers. Field notes are narrative pieces of open-ended data that can be recorded verbally or in writing.

  • Choose the locations − To ensure that they represent the greater population and will help you comprehend the scenario you are monitoring, choose a sufficient number of locations.

  • Choosing the observers − You can do observations alone or with other people present. Potential observers include stakeholders, other professional staff members, interns, graduate students, and volunteers.

  • Prepare the watchers − To obtain high-quality and reliable data, the observers must be well-educated in your data-gathering procedure. The intricacy of the data gathering and the unique skills of the observers will determine the amount of training.

  • Time your observations properly − Most programs and processes include related activities. You must plan your observations so that you are paying attention to the parts of the activity that will provide the answers to your assessment questions. Planning is necessary.

Types of Observation

Major types of observation can be understood through the following diagrams−

Participant & Non-Participant

It is essential to specify the observer's or investigator's function. In participant observation, the researcher merges with the studied group or event. The investigator then joins the organization as a participant or member and continues to look into and monitor the problem. He participates in all the group's tasks and activities while observing how they behave. The investigator must perform two roles, such as participant and observer. He makes a veiled introduction of himself.

The observer must plan how to join the group and be welcomed by it in order for it to accept him as a member. The observer participates in the environment or group that is being researched. The observer shares the Observation Method activities with the population under study and keeps an eye on what is happening in the immediate area. Non-participant observation involves the observer disengaging from the group and refraining from joining in on or interfering with their activity. Here, he monitors their behavior, and there is a chance that the subject's behavior may alter or become out of the ordinary. The observer in this kind of observation is constantly present but never takes part.

Systematic & Non-Systematic

In systematic observation, pre-established techniques are employed, and data capturing must follow pre-established norms or a logical process. It is possible to reproduce these data. Unsystematic observation defies logic and conventions, making replication challenges.

Structured & Unstructured

Structured observation uses a formal method and is planned and organized. Care must be taken to specify the observational units. The observer is expected to be familiar with the scenario. Thus a precise strategy for data collecting and recording must be prepared. It is also required to identify the information to be collected, choose data, and standardize observational settings. The categories of observation must be created for this kind.

It experiences intense control and distinctiveness in contrast to the condition described above, the unstructured observation. This kind of participant observation is possible since the observer could have to see many things for a long period and might need help to plan his program. Additionally, he will depend on the weather, which is out of his control and challenging to plan. Nevertheless, the researcher should choose how he will interact with the group, what will be observed, how long it will take, etc.

Advantages and Limitations of Observation

One or more of the benefits of observation is as follows −

  • This is among the finest ways to get data in a realistic setting.

  • It is beneficial when participants cannot respond orally or effectively to the questions. For instance, young toddlers might be unable to respond to specific inquiries.

  • First-hand knowledge may be acquired since other techniques, such as interviews, may not be as accurate as observation.

  • When a technique like an interview is utilized, the subjects might not disclose all the information, but much more information can be gathered using observation.

  • It may assist in confirming the data that participants have supplied.

Some of the constraints of observation include the following−

  • Subjectivity can intrude during the gathering and analysis of data.

  • The observer's traits, such as attitudes, beliefs, and prior experiences might affect how he or she perceives people, events, phenomena, and other things.

  • The researcher could collect a tonne of data yet need help understanding it properly.

  • Because the observation is present, no knowledge concerning the past can be gathered without using certain techniques, such as an interview.

  • The reliability and validity of observation are yet another issue.


One of the most significant and reliable methods for gathering data is observation. The observer employs his sensory organs to take note of the actions or attitudes of an individual or group of individuals. For the observer to get correct data, meticulous planning and execution are required, and interaction could support the observation. Comparing this strategy to other data-gathering techniques, the observer will inevitably be able to obtain factual information and have access to the group's ideas. Furthermore, in contrast to previous techniques, the observer can see the person in a particular circumstance and connect the dots between what is said and what is done.

Updated on: 10-Apr-2023

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