Psychology Study Material: Descriptive Research Methods: Observation

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Descriptive Research Methods

Descriptive Research Methods


  • Systematic observation is used; one of the methods most frequently employed by anthropologists, sociologists and ethnologists.
  • Phenomenon of interest is observed, studied, and the observations are recorded.
  • The recorded observations are analysed.
  • Conclusions are drawn on the basis of analysis.

Types of observation

  • Observation without Intervention
  • Observation with Intervention
  • Observation without intervention

Naturalistic Observation

Type of observation in which the phenomenon of interest is studied/observed in the natural setting without any interference by the observer; The observer may make narrative records, take field notes, use audio or video equipment, or may use a combination of some or all strategies.

Observation with Intervention

The observer intervenes, and manipulates the situation, events and/or variables in order to:

  • Create a situation which does not occur frequently
  • Test the impact of variables on behaviour
  • Gain access to a situation that is otherwise not accessible or open to observation

Types of “Observation with Intervention”

  • Participant Observation
  • Structured Observation
  • Field experiments
  • Participant Observation

The observer becomes a part of the situation and plays an active and significant role in the situation, event, or context under study.

It can be of two types:

  • Disguised Participant Observation
  • Undisguised Participant Observation

Structured Observation

  • Employed when the researcher intends to study a situation, which occurs infrequently or is inaccessible otherwise.
  • The observer may “create” a situation or initiate it.
  • The control exercised by the observer is less than that in many other techniques.
  • Mostly employed by clinical and developmental psychologists

Field Experiments

Experiments in the natural setting; the degree of control is far less than that in laboratory experiments.

  • One or more independent variables are manipulated in the natural setting in order to see their impact on behaviour.
  • Confederate: the researcher is assisted by one or more confederates who behave in a preplanner manner so as to initiate an experimental condition.

Correlation Research

A method used for identifying predictive relationships among naturally occurring variables


Can be said to exist when two different measures of the same individuals, objects, or events vary together e. g. Relationship between I. Q. score & academic achievement or entry test marks & academic achievement. Correlation is a statistical concept.

Nature of Correlation

  • Positive Correlation
  • Negative Correlation
  • Zero Correlation

Measures in Correlation Research

  • Questionnaires: can be used in- person, can be mailed, or used via Internet.
  • Interviews: can be personal and face-to-face, or telephonic.
  • Official Record: Official statistics, raw data, crime records etc.
  • Remember! ! ! Correlation is not causation


Most frequently used method for obtaining information quickly and evaluating people՚s interest, liking, disliking and opinions without indulging in long- term procedures and techniques. It is also easily used because it is a cheap method and information is gathered without much difficulty.

  • Surveys consist of presenting a series of questions or statements to the participants and asking them to respond.
  • Surveys are used when quick information is required in limited time e. g. opinion polls, product preference.
  • Also, useful when information is required from a large number of people e. g. population census
  • More suitable when the goal of the study is to find out about public opinion, attitudes, preferences, likes and dislikes etc

Sources of Data/Information in Surveys

  • Questionnaires: in person, mailed, internet
  • Interviews: personal, telephonic
  • Newspaper Surveys.