Observation Considerations

tdixon Qualitative Research Methods Leave a Comment

What you need to know…

There a range of factors that researchers must consider when they are planning, settting up and carrying out observational research. Here are just some of these factors.

Audience Effect: this is when people get nervous about doing an activity while others are watching. This is also a factor that influences bystanderism (some people are reluctant to help in case they make a mistake while others are watching). An interesting example of audience effects is how children display more pain when parents are in the room during medical examinations.

Hawthorne Effect: is when participants change their behaviour based on the simple fact that they are being observed.

Disclosure: is revealing information to someone. In observations, it refers to informed consent and debriefing. However, disclosing (i.e. revealing) too much information to a participant before the observation begins regarding the aims and the behaviours being observed can impact the validity of the results (see the above phenomena for examples of this). Similarly, debriefing needs to occur, but if the study is a covert observation, revealing too much may cause emotional or psychological damage to the participants. For example, if a participant is being observed in a playground while they discipline their child, they may suffer from embarrassment or worse because a research has observed and recorded them being violent with their child. The consideration here is how much information should be disclosed by the researcher. Too much can influence the validity of the results, while too little impacts the ethicality of the study.

Participant Expectancy: This is an effect that occurs when participants change their behaviour based on how they think they’re expected to act.

Researcher Expectancy: This is when what the researcher expects to happen or expects to observe in a study will have an influence on the results.

Researcher Bias: researcher bias may influence the results of an observation in two major ways. One way is that the researchers will be biased in identifying the particular behaviours they want to observe. Another way in which they may be biased is in their recording of behaviours. This is why triangulation and reflexivity are important.

Reflexivity: this should be an on-going process during the observation to reduce the possibility of bias.

Retrospective consent: this applies to covert observations and is the process of getting consent to use data gathered during a covert observation. Retrospective means looking back on, so it’s getting consent after the study; informed consent is getting before the study.

Researcher triangulation: to reduce the possibility of bias, it is often useful to have more than one researcher conducting the observation. This is researcher triangulation.

What you need to do…

Imagine you are the social psychologist and you are carrying out the observation for “Gang Leader for a Day”. What is one consideration you’d have to make while setting up and/or carrying out your observation?

Be sure to include how and/or why you’d have to consider this factor.

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