In connection with the use of observation as a method of scientific knowledge in psychology, a number of principles have been developed that determine the essence of this kind of human activity as a special method along with other empirical methods in psychology, such as experiment, quasi-experiment or survey methods.
Observation as a research method has a number of features that provide its advantages and limitations in comparison with other methods. Understanding these features, the ability to plan and conduct research using the observational method, as well as correctly process the results obtained with it - the important skills of a research psychologist.
General Characteristics of the Method
In the research work of a psychologist, observation can be applied at various stages of studying a problem.
Thus, the method of observation is indispensable for the primary investigation of any new phenomena or objects. The application of observation in this case may allow us to compose the first idea of this topic, to understand what other research methods can be used to study it, and to construct research hypotheses.Sometimes single observations made unplanned may allow you to look differently at already known facts, lead to the promotion of new hypotheses, or, conversely, to refute the long-known and considered proven assumptions. Such observations usually give impetus to a more detailed and systematic study of accidentally detected phenomena. For example, the discovery of conditioned reflexes by the famous United States physiologist IP Pavlov was the result of a random observation made by him in the framework of carrying out work on the study of digestion processes. Pavlov noticed that the experimental dogs began to excrete saliva before eating, and even in the absence of food irritants, for example, at the sight of a bowl from which the dog was fed, or the person who was feeding. From this accidental observation, the study of conditioned reflex activity in animals and humans began.
Some studies are completely conducted using the observational method. Such studies are especially numerous in children's age psychology, clinical psychology, zoopsychology, labor psychology, social psychology. Researchers use the observation method as the only possible method in cases where the problem of interest can not be studied in other ways - for example, by experiment, or when the experiment can greatly reduce ecological validity (for details, see the chapter "General Characteristics and Principles of Experiment Planning") of the results obtained.
For an example, let's look at a study of risk-related behavior in men and women. Based on existing evidence that men are more prone to risk in potentially life-threatening situations, the authors suggested that this same trend will persist in everyday behavior.
To test this hypothesis, men and women were observed while waiting for the bus, as well as when crossing the road. In the first situation, the time of arrival of the bus that was being observed at the stop relative to the planned time of departure of the bus was recorded, as well as whether the observed one or in the company and the sex of his attendants were coming. In the second situation, it was recorded how people cross the road (on the permissive or prohibitory signal of the traffic light, how far the cars are from the intersection at this moment), how many passers-by are standing next to each other and what they are, and whether the observed movement starts first or runs over road after someone.
It was found that women going to a stop alone, come for the optimal time before the bus leaves, while men are more at risk of being late (the study was conducted in the winter, and in this case the next bus would have to wait in the cold). Men more often than women run across the road in the most risky situation (on the prohibiting signal of a traffic light when cars are directly at the crossroads) and are more likely to do so if there are women in the immediate vicinity.
In some studies, observation can be used as an auxiliary method, for example, for measurements dependent variable during the experiment.
As an example, we can mention the famous study described by A. Bandura, D. Ross and S. Ross. In their work they studied learning through imitation on the example of aggressive behavior. They were interested in the question of whether children who observed aggressive behavior in one situation would behave aggressively in another situation, where a person who demonstrated an aggressive behavior model is no longer there. In addition, they were interested in whether the imitation of aggression is related to the child's sex and the sex of an adult demonstrating aggressive behavior.
The children who participated in the study were divided into three groups. Subjects of the first group at the preliminary stage of the study saw the aggressive behavior of an adult (male or female) in relation to toys. The children of the second group observed the calm behavior of the adult. Children of the control group did not show model behavior. In the second stage of the study, after a brief impact of the frustration situation, the children themselves were asked to play toys, among which there were those with whom adults interacted in the first stage. Behind the behavior of the children observed two people who are behind the glass, through which you see what is happening in the next room (mirror Gesell). Observers attributed the behavior of children to pre-defined categories, such as the "imitation of physical aggression" (which included actions similar to those demonstrated by the adult, with respect to the same toys), "imitation of verbal aggression" (this included the utterance of the same words that the adult pronounced in the first stage of the study), "physical and verbal aggression that does not imitate the model."It was found that children who observed aggressive behavior at the first stage of the study were much more likely than children from the second experimental and control groups to exhibit aggressive behavior that mimicked what they saw. This involved both verbal and non-verbal behavior. They also often showed a partial imitation of aggression. Thus, children not only can learn some kinds of behavior that they would not have appeared in other conditions, observing the behavior of other people, but also apply this behavior in other situations where the observed model no longer exists. However, while the aggressive behavior in general (not related to imitation), the children of the three groups did not differ.
In other words, children from the group with "aggressive" conditions showed more aggression only in the form that they observed before. With regard to gender differences, boys showed more physical aggression than girls. Also, boys more imitated male aggression compared to girls. In this experiment, observation served as an auxiliary method of obtaining results.
Thus, we see that observation as a method of collecting scientific data can be an independent procedure or become part of another methodological procedure, such as, for example, as an experiment. In the next chapter, we will see that observation is an integral part of yet another empirical method in psychology-conversations.
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