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Published by: crutili on Nov 24, 2008
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Observational Research

Week 4 9/30 & 10/2 Ch. 4

Observational Research
• Human behavior is very complex
– There is a lot to observe!

• Observational Research is more than just “people watching”
– We observe casually – Unaware of factors that bias our observations – Do not record our observations

• Scientific observations are made under defined conditions, are systematic and objective, and involves careful record keeping

Observational Research
• Many times observational research occurs in naturalistic settings
– But can also occur in laboratories

• Scientists aim to describe behavior fully and accurately
– Cannot observe all behavior – Observe samples of behavior – Is this behavior usual? Does behavior change in different contexts?
• Observations must occur across different times and settings to provide and accurate description of “usual” behavior

Sampling Behavior
• Samples of behavior are used to represent larger population of all behaviors
– Similar to samples of people used to represent the larger population

• Scientists choose settings, times, and conditions that are representative of a population (“real life”) in order to generalize their findings
– External Validity (“truthfulness”)- extent to which a study’s findings can be generalized to different populations, settings, conditions, etc.

• Settings, times, and conditions also influence who is observed
– e.g., making observations on a college campus, at an assisted living home, at a sci-fi convention

Time Sampling
• Time Sampling- researchers aim for representative samples using time intervals
– Can be Systematic, Random, or both – Systematic- four 30 min. observations occurring every 2 hours (9AM, 11AM…) – Random- four 30 min. observations occurring randomly over the course of the day – Both- four 30 min. observations occurring every 2 hours (9AM, 11AM…) where the researcher makes observations during 2-minute intervals randomly during those times

Time Sampling continued…
• Use of electronic devices (e.g., pagers, video recorders) • Not effective sampling method when the event/behavior is infrequent (e.g., tantrums)
– May miss the event/behavior – If event has a long duration, researcher might miss important info (start observing after behavior started, quit observing before behavior has ended)

• In these cases it is better to use Event Sampling
– Recording/observing when predefined event occurs – Can be predictable (observe during school assembly) or unpredictable (observe reactions to natural disasters) – Can introduce biases to sampling (e.g., only observing during “convenient” times

Situation Sampling
• Observing behavior in many different situations and conditions
– Reduces risk of behavior being context- or situationspecific – Increases external validity

• For example, observing children’s tantrums at home, in school, in the park, at the store, at different times of day, across cultures/countries
– Increases diversity of observations and participants

Subject Sampling
• Nearly impossible to observe all behaviors for all subjects during situations • Use Subject Sampling
– Determining which subjects to observe – Can be systematic (every 3rd child to enter a play ground) or random

Dimensions of Observational Research
• Observation without intervention versus observation with intervention • Recording all (or most) of behavior versus recording only specific behaviors

Observation Without Intervention
• Observation in natural setting- not an “artificial environment”
– – – – Naturalistic Observation Events occur naturally- not manipulated No attempt to interfere or intervene Researcher is a passive recorder

• Goals: describe behavior as it ordinarily occursinvestigate the relationship between variables present in the natural setting • Moral/ethical issues for controlling or influencing certain behaviors-- many of these behaviors occur naturally in the real world

Observation With Intervention
• More common form of psychological research
– – – – – Cause an infrequent event or to observe a behavior that occurs under conditions in which it is difficult to observe Observe organism’s response to varying qualities of a stimulus Access to an event that is generally not open to scientific observation Control antecedents of behavior (ABC’s of behavior) Comparison- manipulating various IV’s to determine effects on behavior

3 Methods of Observation with Intervention
• Participant Observation
– Observer participates actively in the situation – Can be undisguised or disguised – Participant observer may have similar experiences to participants-- immersion
• Can affect objectivity of observations and behavior of participants

– No direct manipulation of variables in the environment (no necessary IV)

3 Methods of Observation with Intervention continued...
• Structured Observation
– Observer intervenes to “set up” a situation or behavior – Observer/researcher exerts some “control” over the situation- manipulate IV’s – Compromise between naturalistic observations and laboratory studies – Can involve elaborate schemes and “confederates” – Can occur in natural settings or in laboratories – Example: Simons and Levin- Change Blindness – Often times inconsistencies in procedures occur...

3 Methods of Observation with Interaction continued...
• Field Experiments
– Observer manipulates IV’s in a natural setting to determine effect on behavior – Involves more control than other observational research – This will be discussed in more details in Research Methods II- Experimental Methods

Recording Behavior
• Determine whether you want to record a comprehensive description of behavior or only selected aspects/behaviors
– Depends on research questions/goals – Depends on qualitative versus quantitative research

Qualitative Recording
• Narrative Records- write a description of behavior, or use audio/visual recording equipment
– Comprehensive record of behavior – Scientist then classifies and organizes records after observations have been made

Quantitative Recording
• Measurement Scales
Nominal Ordinal Interval Ratio

Sort into discrete categories- eye contact, no eye contact (presence or absence) Rank-order on single dimension- 1st, 2nd, 3rd in a race Specify distance between stim. on a given dimension- Celsius scale (no absolute 0) Specify distance between stim. on a given dimension- express ratios of scale values- 2X faster, heavier, etc.- Kelvin scale (absolute 0)

Analyzing Observational Data
• Data Reduction- the process of abstracting and summarizing behavioral data-- often used with narrative/qualitative observations
– Analysis of Narrative Records – Descriptive Measures

• Observer Reliability
– Interobserver reliability

Data Reduction
• Analysis of Narrative Records (qualitative)
– Qualitative Data Analysis: Provide a verbal summary of observations-- develop a theory that explains behavior – Identify themes, categorize info, record own observations about narrative records – Coding: identification of units of behavior/events based on study criteria
• Units related to goal of the study • Coding can be very complex!

Data Reduction continued...
• Descriptive Measures (quantitative)
– Relative frequency- ratio of behavior over total events observed
• Proportion or percentage (nominal scales) • Descriptive statistics (interval to ratio scales)mean, standard deviation, etc. • Can give us useful statistical info

Observer Reliability
• Interobserver reliability- degree to which two independent observers agree
– Would another person observing the same event obtain the same results- even if they did not know what the other was recording/coding? – Low interobserver reliability- often occurs when behavior/event is not clearly defined
• Need exact operational definitions!
– For example- aggression, love

– Remember- reliability does not mean accuracy! (can both have errors) – But more inclined to believe observations are valid
• Most often- interobserver reliability below 85% is not published

– Often measured using Pearson Correlations

Important Tips to Remember when using Observational Research
• Reactivity
– Participants change behavior when being watched – May act in ways they think the observer wants them to react-- demand characteristics (cues“what am I supposed to be doing?”) – Not representative of “usual behavior”-threatens external validity/generalizability

Important Tips to Remember when using Observational Research
• Controlling reactivity
– Participants unaware they are being observed – Unobtrusive/nonreactive measure
• Concealing observers, observing behavior indirectlyrecording devices, examining archival data • Can code newspaper ads, newspaper models, tv commercials • Possible Ethical Issues- private info versus public domain

– Habituation/Desensitization- get participants used to observer’s presence

Important Tips to Remember when using Observational Research
• Observer Bias- systematic errors in observation based on observer’s expectancies
– Expectancy Effects

• Controlling Observer Bias
– Be aware that it could exist – Limit information provided to observers
• “Blind Observers”

Group Exercise
• Please get into groups of four • Design an observational study on “mate selection” • What type of sampling will you use?
– Time, situation, subject

• No intervention (naturalistic) or intervention?
– If intervention, will you use participant observer, structured observation, etc?

• Qualitative (comprehensive) or quantitative?
– How will you record behavior? Qualitative or scales?

• How will you reduce your data to analyzable units?
– Thematic analysis, relative frequency/descriptive statistics

• How will you increase observer reliability? • How will you control reactivity? • How will you control observer bias?

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