RESEARCH METHODS

Case Studies & Observation Studies

Case Studies & Observation Studies

A case study is a detailed study of a particular person, group or organisation. Focus is placed on the case study because the basic facts tend to help us understand a wider scientific truth. On the other hand they can also be used to challenge an accepted theory and so prompt scientists to change their thinking. An obvious disadvantage of the case study is that many of the judgements made in describing it can be rather subjective. There is also the case of confidentiality: subjects of a case study may not want details of their life, even if they are anonymous, to be widely distributed.

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Observation Studies

Most of the experiments described in these revision notes have taken part in a laboratory setting. In order to increase the ecological validity, however, natural observations can be made. These usually take part in a ‘real’ environment where the participants are behaving naturally. This might be in a street, for example, or a shopping centre or a playground. In order to provoke the situation the researcher hopes to observe he may use a confederate. A confederate works alongside the researcher and may pose as a participant or a member of the public in order to stimulate a reaction.

Categories of behaviour: If the researcher is undertaking a natural observation, he may need to divide the behaviour he sees into categories so that a quick record can be made. If the researcher wants to understand how the public respond to a woman collapsing in the street, for example, his categories might include 1.) Ignores and walks on. 2.) Hesitates and walks on. 3.) Checks to see if the woman is ok. 4.) Calls 999.

Inter-observer reliability: In order to test the reliability of an observer’s records, it might be sensible to have two observers who are working to exactly the same category and score sheet, so that they can compare their results at the end of the observation period. If these observations closely match each other then it can be assumed their observations have been accurate. If there is a significant difference it may be necessary to start the observation over again.

Advantages of natural observation Natural observations are high in ecological validity. A string of natural actions can be observed. In a laboratory situation people are often asked to complete unnatural tasks.

Disadvantages of natural observation In the absence of controlled variables it is difficult to establish why someone behaved in a certain way. This type of study is reliant on the accuracy of the observation. There are ethical issues involved in an observation of this kind i.e. the people being observed may not know that this is the case. Should they be told? And if they are told, would their behaviour still be natural? Natural observations can be awkward to plan as well as time consuming.