OBSERVATION METHOD: We observe so many things in nature. We also observe the action and behaviour of others and form our own notions about these persons. We look at other persons, listen to their talks and try to infer what they mean. We try to infer the characteristics, motivations, feelings and intentions of others on the basis of these observations.


So let us study about Observation method employed by psychologists in detail.

With the development of psychology as an objective science of learning behaviour, the method of introspection was replaced by careful observation of human and animal behaviour to collect data by research workers.

In introspection we can observe the mental process of ourselves only, but in observation, we observe the  mental processes of  others. Hence Observation is the most commonly used method for the study of human behaviour.

Meaning of Observation

Observation literally means looking outside oneself. Facts are collected by observing overt behaviour of the individual in order to locate underlying problem and to study developmental trends of different types.


The overt behaviour is the manifestation of covert conditions within the individual. The study of overt behaviour gives indirect clues to the mental conditions of the individual. Observation means ‘perceiving the behaviour as it is”

In the words of Good, “ Observation deals with the overt behaviour of persons in appropriate situations.”

Observation has been defined as “Measurement without instruments.”

For example students in a classroom have been labeled as good, fair or poor in achievement and lazy or diligent in study etc. on the basis of observation. Observation is indirect approach to study the mental processes of others through observing their external behaviour. For example if someone frowns, howls, grinds his teeth, closes his fists, you would say that the person is angry by only observing these external signs of his behaviour.

In the process of observation, following four steps are generally required:

Observation of behaviour:

The first step involved in the method of observation is directly perceiving or observing the behaviour of individuals under study. For example, if we want to observe the social behaviour of children we can observe it when they assemble and play.

Recording the behaviour observed:

The observation should be carefully and immediately noted and recorded. Minimum time should be allowed to pass between happening and recording. It will make the observation more objective.

Analysis and Interpretation of behaviour:

When the notes of behaviour observed are completed, they are analysed objectively and scientifically in order to interpret the behaviour patterns.


On the basis of analysis and interpretation of the data collected with the help of observation method, it is possible to make certain generalization. Social development and behaviour of children have been described by Child Psychologists on the basis of generalization based on analysis and interpretation of the data gathered through the observation method.

Types of Observation:

Natural Observation:

In natural observation we observe the specific behavioural characteristics of children in natural setting. Subject do not become conscious of the fact that their behaviour is being observed by someone.

Participant – Observation:

Here the observer becomes the part of the group, which he wants to observe. It discloses the minute and hidden facts.

Non-Participant Observation:

Here the observer observes in such a position, which is least disturbing to the subject under study, the specific behaviour is observed in natural setting without subjects geting conscious that they are observed by some one. Non-participant observation permits the use of recording instruments.

Structure Observation:

Here the observer sets up a form and categories in terms of which he wishes  to analyse the problem. The observer always keeps in view

a] A frame of reference b] Time units.

c] Limits of an act

Unstructured Observation:

This is also called as uncontrolled or free observation. It is mainly associated with participant observation in which  the observer assumes the role of a member of the group to be observed. Here the individual is observed when he is in his class, playground or when he is moving about with his friends and class follows without knowing that he is being observed.

Observation is very useful method to study child and his behaviour. Observation method, being a commonly used method in psychology, has following merits:

Merits of Observation Method

  1. Being a record of actual behaviour of the child, it is more reliable and objective than introspection.
  2. It is an excellent source of information about what actually happens in classroom.
  3. It is a study of an individual in a natural situation and is therefore more useful than the restricted study in a test situation.
  4. The method can be used with children of all ages. Younger the child, the easiest it is to observe him. This method has been found very useful with shy children.
  5. It can be used in every situation-physical activities, workshop and classroom situations.
  6. It is adaptable to both the individual and the groups.

Although observation is regarded as an efficient method for psychological studies, it suffers from the following drawbacks limitations:

Limitations of Observation Method:

  1. There is great scope for personal prejudices and bias of the observer. The observers interest, values can distort observation.
  2. Records may not be written with hundred percent accuracy as the observations are recorded after the actions are observed. There is some time lag.
  3. The observer may get only a small sample to study behaviour. It is very difficult to observe everything that the student does or says. As far as possible observation should be made from several events.
  4. It reveals the overt behaviour only- behaviour that is expressed and not that is within.
  5. It lacks replicability as each natural situation may occur only once.

Considering the drawbacks an observation method, psychologists have suggested various guidelines to be followed for making good observation. Some of these are essential guidelines for making good observation.

Essential guidelines for making good observation

  1. Observe one individual at a time. It is desirable to focus attention on just one individual at a time in order to collect comprehensive data.
  2. Have a specific criteria for making observations. The purpose of making observation should be clear to the observer before he or she begins to observe so that the essential characteristics or the behaviour of the person fulfilling the purpose can be noted.
  3. Observations should be made over a period of time. To have a real estimate of the true behaviour of a person it should be observed as frequently as possible. A single observation will not be sufficient to tell us that this is the characteristic of the individual.
  4. The observations should be made in differing and natural situations in natural settings to increase its validity. For example, a pupil‘s behaviour in the classroom may not be typical of him; therefore he should be observed in a variety of settings to know the behaviour most typical of the person.
  5. Observe the pupil in the context of the total situation.
  6. The observed facts must be recorded instantly, that is just at the time of  their occurrence. Otherwise the observer may forget some of the facts and the recording may not be accurate.
  7. It is better to have two or more observers.
  8. Observations should be made under favorable conditions. The observer should be in position to clearly observe what he or she is observing. There should not be any undue distraction or disturbances. One should also have an attitude free from any biases or prejudices against the individual being observed.
  9. Data from observations should be integrated with other data. While arriving at the final conclusion about the individual, one should put together all that we know about the individual from the other sources then we can give an integrated and comprehensive picture of the individual.

These  precautions must  be  borne  in  mind  in  order  to  have reliable observations.



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