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Chapter 2

Chapter 2 - Introduction to Developmental Psychology

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Western University
Psychology 2410A/B
Sandra Hessels

Research StrategiesFrom Theory to Hypothesisresearch usually begins with a prediction drawn from a theory called a hypothesisCommon Methods of Gathering InformationSystematic Observation observations of the behaviour of children and of the adults who are important in their lives can be made in different ways one approach is to go into the field or natural environment and record the behaviour of interesta method called naturalistic observationthe great strength of naturalistic observation is that investigators can see directly the everyday behaviours they hope to explainstructured observationsthe investigator sets up a laboratory situation that evokes the behaviour of interest so that every participant has an equal opportunity to display the responsestructured observation permits greater control over the research situation than does naturalistic observation the method is especially useful for studying behaviours that investigators rarely have an opportunity to see in everyday lifethe great disadvantage of structured observations is that most of the time we cannot be certain that participants behave in the laboratory as they do in their natural environmentsCollecting Systematic Observationsthe procedures used to collect systematic observations vary depending on the research problem posed occasionally investigators choose to record the entire stream of behavioureverything the participant says and does over a certain time period In other studies information on only one or a few kinds of behaviour is needed permitting more efficient procedures in these instances a common approach is event sampling in which the observer records all instances of a particular behaviour during a specified time period Another way to observe efficiently is time sampling in this procedure the researcher records whether certain behaviours occur during a sample of short intervals first a checklist of the target behaviours is prepared then the observation period is divided into a series of brief time segments the observer watches the target person and checks off behaviours during each interval repeating this process until the observation period is complete Limitations of Systematic Observationa major problem with systematic observation is observer influencethe effects of the observer on the behaviour studied the presence of a watchful unfamiliar individual may cause both children and adults to react in unnatural ways for children under age 7 or 8 observer influence is generally limited to the first session or two young children cannot stop being themselves for long and they quickly get used to the observers presence but older children and adults often engage in more socially desirable behaviour when they know that they are being observed in these instances researchers can regard participants responses as an indication of the best behaviour they can display under the circumstances To minimize observer influence an adaptation period in which observers visit the research setting so participants can get used to their presence can be helpful another approach is to ask individuals who are part of the childs natural environment to do the observing besides reducing the impact of an unfamiliar observer this method limits the amount of time needed to gather observations as some information can take a long time to obtain Another serious danger is observer bias when observers are aware of the purposes of a study they may see and record what they expect to see rather than what participants actually do therefore people who have no knowledge of the investigators hypothesisor who at least have little personal investment in themare best suited to collect the observations Although systematic observation provides invaluable information on how children and adults behave it conveys little about the reasoning that underlies their behaviour for this kind of information researchers must turn to selfreport techniquesSelfReports Interviews and Questionnairesselfreports ask research participants to provide information on their perceptions thoughts abilities feelings attitudes beliefs and past experiences they range from relatively unstructured clinical interviews to highly structured interviews questionnaires and testsClinical Interviewsin a clinical interview researchers use a flexible conversational style to probe for the participants point of view although a researcher conducting clinical interviews with more than one child would typically ask the same first question to establish a common task individualized prompts are used to provide a fuller picture of each childs reasoning The clinical interview has two major strengths first it permits people to display their thoughts in terms that are as close as possible to the way they think in everyday life second the clinical interview can provide a large amount of information in a fairly brief period Limitations of Clinical Interviewsa major limitation of the clinical interview has to do with the accuracy with which people report their thoughts feelings and experiences some participants wishing to please the interviewer may make up answers that do not represent their actual
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