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Chapter 12

Chapter 12 - Observational and Survey Research Methods.docx

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PSYC 2030
Rebecca Jubis

Chapter 12: Observational and Survey Research Methods Observational Research  Behaviour cannot be predicted, explained or controlled unless it is first described accurately – the major purpose of observational research is to contribute this descriptive information and these studies provide in-depth accounts of individuals or groups of individuals as they behave naturally in some specific setting. Varieties of Observational Research 1) In a Naturalistic Observation study, the goal is to study the behaviours of people or animals as they act in their everyday environments, examples are preschools, malls and the African rain forest – semi-artificial environments are sufficiently “natural” for the research to be considered a naturalistic observation, an example would be a modern zoo which often simulates the animals’ normal environment – in order for the researcher to fell confident that the behaviour being observed is “natural” it is important for the behaviour to be unaffected by the experimenter’s presence, there are two strategies for accomplishing this: First, in some naturalistic studies the observer is hidden from those being observed – in a study of sharing behaviour among preschoolers, for example, observers may be in the next room, viewing the children through a one-way mirror – in a mall, an observer studying the mating rituals of the suburban adolescent could simply sit on a bench in a strategic location and appear to be reading – in other studies, the observer may not be present at all because of the use of video recorders. Second, in studies especially involving animals it can be impossible for the observer to remain hidden because the animals can quickly sense the presence of an outsider therefore, a habituation strategy is used – the observer makes no attempt to hide and hopes that after a period of time, the animals will become so habituated (used to) the observer that they will behave normally, however, with some species this could take a long time, example Jane Goodall and her study of chimpanzees. 2) In a Participant Observation study, the researcher will join a group being observed, or at least make their presence know to the group – the chief virtue of this strategy is its power to get the investigator as close to the action as possible and being a participating member of the group can give the researcher firsthand insights that remain hidden to a more remote observer – in some cases, perhaps because a group is closed to outsiders and therefore not available for naturalistic observation, for example, a college fraternity. Challenges Facing Observational Methods 1) Absence of Control exists in observational research therefore, the conclusions must be drawn very carefully; you will never encounter sentences like “X caused Y to occur” in this type of research – despite the lack of control, observational research can be a rich source of ideas for further study and it can sometimes serve the purpose of falsification, which is an important strategy for theory testing – an observation consistent with theoretical expectations provides useful inductive support, but an observation that contradicts a theory is even more informative; one contradiction won’t disprove a theory, but it can call the theory into question – observational research can also suggest hypotheses for further study. 2) Observer Bias means having preconceived ideas about what will be observed and having those ideas colour one’s observations, for example, consider what might happen if someone is studying aggression in preschoolers and believes from the outset that little boys will be more aggressive than little girls, for that observer, the exact same ambiguous behaviour could be scored as aggressive if a boy did it but not aggressive if performed by a girl – biasing can also occur because observational studies can potentially collect huge amounts of information so deciding what to observe regularly involves reducing this information to a manageable size, and the choices about what to select and what to omit can be affected by preconceived beliefs. Biasing effects can be reduced by using good operational definitions and by giving observers some training in identifying the precisely defined target behaviours; when actually making the observations, behaviour checklists are used, which are lists of predefined behaviours that observers are trained to spot, for example, a study that observed the behaviour of pizza deliverers whose driving accident rate is three times the national average, their checklist of behaviours had been developed over a decade of driver observations and over two years of observing pizza deliverers – another way to control for observer bias is to have several observers present and see if their records match, which is called interobserver reliability, usually measured in terms of the percentage of times that observer agrees – procedures can also be mechanized – bias can also be reduced by introducing sampling procedures for selecting a subset of the available information for observation and analysis, for example, a procedure called time sampling is sometimes used, which samples predefined times randomly for which behaviour is to be observed and only at those times, similarly, event sampling selects only a specific set of events for observation while others are ignored. 3) Participant Reactivity occurs when your behaviour is influenced by the knowledge that it is being observed and recorded – reactivity can be a special problem for participant observation, in which the observers are involved in the group activities – reactivity can be reduced by using unobtrusive measures, which are any measures taken of behaviour, either directly or indirectly, when the subject is unaware of the measurement being made; direct unobtrusive measures include hidden video or audio recordings or behaviour samples collected by hidden observers; indirect obtrusive measures record events and outcomes that one assumes have resulted from certain behaviours even though the behaviours themselves have not been observed, for example, contents of trash to study eating and drinking habits, accumulation of dust on library books as an indication of usage, degree of wear on floor coverings placed in strategic locations to study foot traffic. 4) Ethics is a very important part of research; reducing reactivity raises the ethical problems of invading privacy and lack of informed consent – the APA ethics code condones the use of naturalistic observation and does not require informed consent or debriefing, provided that certain safeguards are in place, for example, informed consent of participants is not considered essential if behaviour is studied in public environments, people are not interfered with in any way, and strict confidentiality and anonymity are maintained. In participant observation, informed consent of the group being observed from within is now routine and its absence requires strong justification – similar to the habituation rationale for naturalistic observation, it is assumed that even if group members know they are being observed, they will eventually get used to the participant observer and behave naturally, for example, reality TV shows. Survey Research  A survey is a structured set of questions or statements given to a group of people to measure their attitudes, beliefs, values, or tendencies to act – survey research is not interested in examining relationships among variables like other types of research, but is focused on developing an accurate description of the above; it requires a form of sampling called probability sampling.  Convenience sampling would be appropriate for other types of research, where the researcher requests volunteers from a group of people who meet the general requirements of the study – whoever is available and willing to participate. Probability Sampling  This general strategy is used whenever the goal is to learn something specific about an identifiable group of individuals; as a group, those individuals are referred to as a population, and any subgroup of them a sample – in probability sampling each member of the population has some definable probability of being selected for the sample, sometimes it is possible to study all members of a population – the researcher hopes to draw conclusions about the broader population, not just about the sample therefore, it is important for the sample to reflect the attributes of the target population as a whole; the sample is said to be representative, but if this does not happen, the sample is said to be biased in some fashion.  Self-selection problem occurs in survey research when the sample is composed of only those who voluntarily choose to respond, which can result in a biased sample. Random Sampling  The simplest form of probability sampling is to take a simple random sample, which means that each member of the population has an equal chance of being selected as a member of the sample.  There are two problems with simple random sampling – first, there may be some systematic features of the population that you might like to have reflected in your sample – second, the procedure may be impossible if the population is extremely large, for example, how could you get a list of everyone in the United States in ord
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