Observational techniques involve observing actual behaviours which are subsequently scored.
A key challenge that is encountered by the researcher though is deciding what to look for and how to decide what constitutes a particular behaviour.
The behaviours that the researcher is interested in need to be clearly defined (operationalised) so that the observer knows what to look out for and measure; eventually these can be counted up to produce a score.
There are many types of observations, such as naturalistic and controlled observation; covert and overt observation; participant and non-participant which all have their strengths and weaknesses.
Psychologists attempt to overcome the ambiguity of observing their chosen behaviours by clearly defining (operationalising) these, which usually involves producing a behaviour checklist or behaviour categories, so that the researcher knows exactly what to look out for.
For example, if a researcher was interested in measuring aggression through an observation the checklist might include predetermined behaviours such as punching, kicking, pushing and biting. Each time a participant displayed any of the listed behaviours this would be counted producing a running tally for each behaviour identified.
Time vs Event Sampling
There are occasions in which it might be useful for the researcher to gather an insight into whether there are behavioural trends that occur over particular time periods.
Under such circumstances researchers can use time sampling in which behaviours are noted within prescribed intervals.
For instance a researcher might tally co-operative classroom behaviours (operationalised as instances of students putting their hand up to contribute and attempting to help their peers) over 5 minute intervals during a lesson. Each 5 minute interval could then be compared to identify when most co-operative behaviours occur.
In contrast event sampling would simply tally all co-operative behaviour over the full 1 hour lesson to gather an overall impression of the amount of co-operative behaviour
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