Be sure to address the following:
Why did you select this method?
What are the strengths and weaknesses of this approach?
Is this approach more aligned with a qualitative or a quantitative approach to research, and why?
Next, identify and explain at least one other descriptive/observational approach you might consider using when researching your topic further and describe the strengths and weaknesses of this approach. Determine whether it is more in line with a qualitative or a quantitative approach to research, and then explain why.
Support your assignment with at least three scholarly resources. In addition to these specified resources, other appropriate scholarly resources, including seminal articles, may be included.
Length:3 -5 pages, not including title and reference pages
Your assignment should demonstrate thoughtful consideration of the ideas and concepts presented in the course by providing new thoughts and insights relating directly to this topic. Your response should reflect scholarly writing and current APA standards.
This week, you will learn more about the descriptive non-experimental research methods that scientists can use, along with details about how each of these approaches to research can be beneficial when working towards the first few goals of research, namely description and explanation. While you are reading about these different methods, begin to think more about how you might use each of these approaches with your specific research topic in mind.
Observational research is perhaps the simplest and easiest of the descriptive research methods to use. With this type of research method, you are simply observing the behaviors of your subjects. The key here is to observe in a manner that is discrete without calling undue attention to yourself. A critical component to your success with this approach is to be able to blend right in, while at the same time, carefully observing whatever it is that you are studying. With this type of unobtrusive observational method, your presence should go unnoticed, and therefore, you will not cause any sort of change in the typical behavior of the subjects that you are observing. Think of it as being a private detective; you are trying to observe your clients without making them aware that you are doing so. Otherwise, if noticed, you may start to see noticeable changes in behavior. While you might not think that the mere presence of others can change or influence someone’s behavior, you will be surprised to learn that it can make a huge difference! If you doubt my word on this, try it yourself and see! Go to the mall and take note of what you are seeing around you. Make your presence obvious, and then watch what happens.
Remember that with observational research, you can only use a behavior that is directly observable. You can infer feelings, attitudes, or values and beliefs, but you cannot observe them directly. This is a definite strength of this type of design for it is much more scientific and objective. However, at the same time, it is also a weakness in that you are limited to directly observable behaviors. If you would prefer, try this type of research right now to see what you uncover. Go back to visit the mall again, or your local shopping center, and simply observe a specific behavior; but this time, be much more discreet and try to blend in when you do so. Identify the behavior(s) that you want to observe ahead of time, and then make sure they are reflected in your topic of interest.
For example, you might observe the number of times a man holds a door open for a woman, as well as how often men do so for another man. You might also want to record the number of times that this same behavior happens when a woman is the one holding the door open, and then determine if any gender differences are evident. To do this in a scientific fashion, you will want to be as unobtrusive as possible, so consider positioning yourself so you are sitting close enough to the door or entryway to see what is happening, but not too close as to make eye contact with people entering the mall or calling attention to yourself in any way. Make every effort to be as inconspicuous as possible. Otherwise, you might see your subjects experience something called reactivity. This is where the subjects that you are observing behave differently because they know that they are being watched or paid attention to in some way.
The Hawthorne studies is perhaps one of the most prominent examples of this type of concern with observational research. With this landmark study, scientists were interested in determining whether the lighting that was being used in the factory would make a difference in worker productivity. So, they went in and periodically changed the lighting in the workplace. They did so by climbing up on ladders and changing the light bulbs during working hours. Interestingly enough, what they found was that these changes led to increases in productivity for all employees, regardless of the lighting itself. They eventually came to realize that it was the attention that they were giving the workers that led to this improved performance, and not the lighting. In other words, the lighting was not the key or causal factor of change. This is something for you to consider when you are conducting observational research. In this case, if the researchers had entered at night when the employees were not there, it might have had a different result or no effect at all! Something to consider! The same can be said for research participants in an observational study.
As a scientific researcher conducting observational research, you most likely will want to begin with a preliminary inquiry into the matter, or what scientists call a pilot study. This is an important first step that many researchers overlook or skip, but it is critical to complete because there may be important behaviors occurring that you are not measuring or missing in some way. As a result, simply observing the behaviors in question and taking detailed notes about what occurs will help you to get a sense of what to observe as a starting point. This type of preliminary narrative analysis of the key or critical behaviors of interest is more in line with what researchers refer to as qualitative data.
Once you have this information in hand, you can then begin to narrow it down to the specific behaviors that you want to measure or observe, and then quantify or measure them more precisely too. For example, you might want to count the frequency of the door opening behavior by men for women at the mall. This is quantitative data. It also would be wise to take random samples at different times of day when you do this, and perhaps from different entryway locations within the mall itself. Along the same lines, you may select different geographical locations or stores to see if this makes a difference. For example, there is a culture within the South that might make it more likely for a man to open a door for a woman than what you would find in the north, or at a busy and crowded mall in New York in the month of December during the holidays (just as an example). Depending on your research question, you want to think of these types of influences or outside factors of influence, what researchers refer to as ‘confounds’, ‘extraneous or third variables’, and actively work to avoid these types of issues or concerns when planning your observations. This way, you can rule out these plausible factors as having any sort of influence on your results.
You also must consider the types of measures you will take. For example, will you just count the frequency of the behavior, or will you also look at the interval or the average number of times that this behavior occurs within a set amount of time, such as every half hour or hour? You might also want to note the duration of the behavior, how long it took and did any sort of eye contact or verbal exchange take place? If so, who initiated it? How long did it last? Was there any smiling or other types of behaviors involved? These are all considerations to make ahead of time before data collection begins. As a way to get started, you might want to observe and take notes if you feel it would be helpful to you, and just begin to get a sense of the types of behaviors that occur, and which ones you want to make note of and which ones you do not. The type of descriptive research that you are talking about is something that is referred to as naturalistic observation, and it is what Darwin used when he came up with his theory of evolution while cruising in the Beagle (not the dog – that was the name of his ship) in the Galapagos Islands.
In addition to this hands-off approach to observational research, you might also want to use an approach called participant observation. With this type of approach, you are actively involved in the behavior and behaving like your subjects. In a sense, becoming like the people that you are observing in some way. This most definitely helps you to ‘blend in’, and it also adds a degree of depth to the type of descriptions you can offer when writing up the results of your research. For example, if you are observing a Hawaiian luau, you will have a very different type of experience to share if you are involved in this ritual in some way such as dancing, eating, and walking on coals, then simply observing.
Generally, you will have a more enriched perspective to share regarding what you experienced if you were an active participant versus just an observer. The only caution here is that you will need to work on being as objective and unbiased as possible. This is because once you begin to get involved, you may lose a bit of your objectivity when reporting on your observations and what is happening because once you start to become more involved, you are less able to be objective, possibly becoming more biased in how you see things. This is most definitely due to your investment of both time and effort as an active participant. In psychology, this is referred to as cognitive dissonance and it can explain this phenomenon occurring in research with active participants.
Basically, cognitive dissonance says that you need to rationalize our time and effort expended and therefore, you must justify your time in some way and see it as being worthwhile. Otherwise, the behavior will most likely discontinue over time. Since using participant observation involves the use of time and energy, and because you are trying to engage in this activity in some way, dissonance will be at work. For example, return to the mall, and this time, start opening doors for people, and see if you get a clearer sense of what it is like and the specific behaviors that you would want to make note of with this phenomenon in mind. What changed for you in this process?
In addition to observational and participant observation, there are also other methods that fit within the descriptive or non-experimental category of research methods. These include contrived observational methods, where the researcher intentionally sets up a situation and records how participants respond. It is not natural and is contrived on purpose. It’s sort of like the TV show Undercover Boss. If the participants knew that they were working alongside their CEO, they most likely would behave very differently because of this awareness, so they are misled or deceived to get a more realistic picture of their behavior. Examples of famous research studies where this approach was used include the Milgram studies, the Asch line studies, and the Zimbardo Stanford Prison Studies. With contrived studies, deception is at work, so there are definite ethical considerations to explore. If you were to return to the mall, a possible contrived setting could include intentionally looking to see if people will open the door for you depending on what you are wearing or how you appear to others. This is considered a more contrived study because you are intentionally deceiving the participants in some way. In other words, it is not entirely ‘hands off’, and you are directly and intentionally controlling or varying something on purpose as a form of deception.
There are also case studies, where a more in-depth exploration of a single subject or participant is completed. In this type of example, the individual is usually unique in some way. For example, the case of Genie the Wild Child who was kept isolated from the world for the first 12 years of her life. Because of this isolation, she basically had no language development. Because of this study, scientists came to realize that language development has a critical period of learning within which it must occur. Otherwise, it will be delayed and difficult to obtain. Other cases include that of Phineas Gage, the man with the railroad iron through his skull who experienced changes in his personality due to his injury. Even though he lived to tell about it, he often would go into fits of rage because of this brain damage. Or perhaps the case of patient H.M., who had part of his hippocampi removed and as a result, was unable to form new memories. Due to this experiment, scientists learned that part of our brain is key to memory formation and retention. These are all famous case studies within the field of psychology. Do you think that you might want to do something like this for your subject? Who would you study? Why would they be of interest to you?
In addition to case studies, there is also a method called archival research. Here, the researcher is looking at prior records of existing data, such as statistics which have been published by the government on a topic, or other historic artifacts such as pictures, documents, or even clothes. Something that is representative of a historic period would be an excellent example here. Is there data that you could use for your topic with this specific approach in mind?
Finally, there is the correlational approach. With this type of method, the researcher is observing and measuring two variables, then determining if they are connected or related in some way. It is still considered non-experimental or hands-off because it is not intentionally changing or manipulating variables. With this non-experimental approach to research, it is important to note that you cannot infer causation. In other words, you cannot say that one variable in any way caused the change in the other variable to occur. In this type of study, however, you can say that as one variable increases, the other variable does too. This is an important point of distinction to be aware of when reading and reviewing different available research studies and when hearing about them in the news or elsewhere. As an exercise, try to find a news report that uses correlational data. If so, do the reporters draw conclusions that fit the method? Be aware, correlation does not mean causation – so try to consider this when listening to these types of studies. The expression, correlation does not equal causation is one to be most aware of! For example, height and weight. In most cases there is a positive correlation here, meaning as one increases, the other does too. However, you can’t say that one caused the other to occur. Genetics, diet, exercise, and other factors most definitely come into play.
Remember, with non-experimental or observational research, it is hands-off and descriptive only. As the researcher, you are examining the behavior as it occurs naturally. As a result, these types of behaviors are more readily available for observation within the real world. This means they have what researchers refer to as external validity or the ability to readily generalize the results to different types of subjects (age, gender, race, etc.) in the real world. However, given the lack of control on the part of the researcher, any sort of conclusion about a cause and an effect should be avoided at. Only with a more carefully controlled experimental research study can scientists even begin to start drawing conclusions as to a true cause and an effect and even then, it can be difficult to really get a sense of what is occurring. This ability to infer cause and effect is what scientists refer to as internal validity, or the ability to rule out other possible factors or confounds as causing the observed results and attributing any changes to the independent variable of interest only.
When trying to learn the truth about your topic of interest, you want to examine many different studies with all different approaches and types of measures and participants to gain a clearer sense of what really is the truth! Only then can you even start to hint at a cause and effect relationship.
Be sure to review this week’s resources carefully. You are expected to apply the information from these resources when you prepare your assignments.