Observation method: what it is, type, characteristics and operation

In the field of psychological assessment, countless contexts can be posed in which various behaviors can occur, providing a wide variety of information that can be gathered for further verification and analysis.

Because of this wealth of information, different methods have been developed, including the Observation Method which is a process of the scientific method used to observe and analyze perceptible behaviors, which generally take place in natural contexts.

In this article, we will explain the observation method in more detail., as well as the most relevant features.

    What is the method of observation?

    The observation method is that strategy that follows the scientific method with the aim of being able to observe and study people’s behavior in a non-reactive way, that is to say in a natural context where the subjects evaluated behave spontaneously and where the evaluated person does not intervene or modify any contextual aspect.

    Because the observational method fits into the different modalities of the scientific method, it must also meet a number of requirements to comply with a formal procedure that has been developed sequentially, step by step, applied in a structured. .

    This modality of the scientific method uses the technique of observation using specific tools and resources, which have been designed specifically for this type of method to obtain a series of data related to the variables of the subjects analyzed that interest the observer in a non-reactive way (for example, questionnaires, a Gesell camera with one-way glass, a notepad, a video camera, among others).

      Requirements to be met in the observation method

      In order for the observation method to be recognized as a modality within the scientific method, and in addition to being reliable, it must have a number of very important aspects, such as those discussed below.

      The observer must be an expert in the use of this methodology or, at the very least, have been trained to apply this kind of methods with enough hours of practice to be able to carry it out so that the method of observation is reliable.

      Before starting the observations, you should also have set yourself a number of goals. assumptions related to what is intended to be analyzed using the operational methodology.

      When choosing the context in which the operational methodology will be carried out, it is necessary to have previously chosen a perceptible observation objective. Therefore, if one were to measure a person’s emotions or thoughts, it would not be possible by this method; however, the exchanges of glances, the response levels could be measured through gestures, postures, etc. which are cognitively linked to the people to be analyzed.

      The observation method should be performed in a natural setting if possible, in order to analyze people’s behavior in the most reliable way possible. However, in cases where it is not possible to make the observation in a natural context, it is necessary to use an artificial context as close as possible to the natural context in order not to lose reliability.

      The observer using an observation methodology make sure you collect the data following systematization and trying to make it as objective as possible, using non-invasive recording instruments that allow observation under controlled conditions, while offering the possibility of supplementing other technical means, such as a video camera.

      In short, all these requirements together form the methodology of systematic observation used in psychology, whose fundamental tool is observation, which is understood as a scientific method and also as a technique.

        Types of observation method

        In the method of observation, there are two types of people that are fundamental for this method to be possible: the observer subject and the observed subject, there is a psychological distance between the two. Depending on the distance, there are 4 different levels.

        1. Non-participating observer

        In this case, the observed subject and the observing subject, which is generally what the observation method does, have no relationship or interaction something that guarantees a maximum level of objectivity.

        2. Participating observer

        Here we are faced with a case in which the observer he is responsible for directing the observed subject, so that here yes there is interaction between them. In this case, there may be a certain level of interference, so that a certain degree of objectivity is lost.

          3. Participation-observation

          In this mode the observer and the observer have a smaller psychological distance between them, because they know each other and have a certain degree of relationship (for example, they are family members, professionals working in the same work team, etc.).

          Knowing the observer greatly increases the degree of interference. However, there is an advantage in this case, that it could facilitate the observation because the observer has very important information about the observer which may be relevant for the purpose of the observation.

          4. Self-observation

          This case occurs when a subject needs to be observed, in other words, when the observer and the observer are the same person.

            Units of analysis within the observational method

            The units of analysis found in the observational method are those variables, events or phenomena that must be determined; in other words, it is important that the units of analysis have been previously defined before implementing the observation method, and that the behaviors or units of analysis of a subject must be defined correctly and with a low interference level to make observation efficient.

            This is why it is important that the observation be responsible for subdivide the behavior of the subject to be analyzed into more precise units, being as specific as possible and not concepts as broad and generic as anxiety or depression.

            The most common units of analysis in the observation method are:

            • Demonstrate behaviors that offer the possibility of being observed.
            • Interactions between two or more people.
            • Emotions or attributes not directly observable, but which can be inferred through expressions.
            • Behavioral products or results obtained from a set of actions in natural contexts.

            Objectives of this research method

            The ultimate goal of the observational method is to obtain information about a problem or a behavior in order to know it more in depth., and the first step consists in choosing the subject of observation and research, always following a method of observation previously designed and guided according to the objectives and needs.

            It should be noted that the observational method is not infallible or applicable to all problems, it is therefore necessary to analyze whether it will be useful for the type of observation that one intends to make and whether it is feasible with the available resources.

            For that, we must first ask ourselves if we have a qualified and well-trained observer in this mode of observation, whether this method is feasible for its application to what we intend to analyze, etc.

              Differences between direct and indirect observation within the observation method

              Within the observational method, it is relevant to differentiate direct observation from indirect observation.

              While direct observation is based mainly on direct visual perception, indirect observation includes a number of techniques and resources such as oral behavior that has been transcribed, texts from previous interviews, WhatsApp, blogs, etc.

              The two types of observation can be used together, it should be noted that, in the case of indirect observation, more care should be taken not to reduce the objectivity of the observation.

              Bibliographical references

              • Anguera, MT (2003). The finding. In C. Moreno (Coord.) Psychological Assessment: Concept, Process and Application in the Fields of Development and Intelligence (pp.271-308). Madrid: Editorial Sanz i Torres.
              • Anguera, MT (2010). Possibilities and relevance of a systematic observation by the professional of psychology. Papers of the psychologist, 31 (1), p. 122-130.
              • Caprara, M. and Anguera, MT (2019). Systematic observation. In C. Moreno and IM Ramírez (Coords.) Psychological assessment: processes, techniques and applications in fields and contexts (pp. 249-278). Madrid: Editorial Sanz i Torres.
              • García, JN, Pacheco, DI, Díez, MC and García, E. (2010). Methodological observations as the development of skills in learning. INFAD Psychology Journal, 3, p. 211-218.
              • Pacheco, DI, García, JN, García, E. and Carpio. D. (2014). Methodological observations in development and learning.

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