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Experimental Psychology

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Observational Research



Observational research incorporates a variety of measurement methods to accurately capture authentic information.

For example, psychologists use questionnaires to inquire how someone thinks or feels, and individual observations to examine current or past behavior.

This video demonstrates how to design and perform an observational study, as well as how to analyze the data and interpret the results measuring students’ homesickness.

In this experiment, the notion of homesickness is investigated—defined here as the distress and functional impairment caused by an actual or anticipated separation from home and people and things you’re familiar with.

To measure homesickness level, two distinct methods are used to correlate participants’ perceptions of how they feel with actual observations.

In the first method, participants are given a questionnaire called the Homesickness Scale and asked to rate how true statements are to them on a scale of 1 to 4.

For the second method, participants’ apartments are observed by two individuals who are trained to look for evidence of homesickness, such as pictures of parents, family, friends from home; logos from their high school; and a low presence of university paraphernalia.

The hypothesis then is that participants who score highly on the homesickness questionnaire will have living spaces that also reflect how they feel.

To begin the experiment, guide each participant through the informed consent process, which consists of a brief description of the research and a sense of the procedure.

After handing the participant a packet that includes the Homesickness Scale and several other questionnaires, allow them time to complete all of the forms. Note that additional questionnaires are included to mask the true purpose of the study.

Once the participant has completed the questionnaires, instruct them to leave with two observers to visit their apartment. The same two observers visit all participants’ living spaces to ensure that scoring is unbiased and consistent.

When arriving at the apartment, confirm that you have permission to look around and then ask the participant to open drawers and closets. If any pictures are present, clarify who appears in them. Remember that both observers take notes of what they see during the visit.

At the end of the inspection, debrief the participant as to the true nature of the study and explain why deception was necessary. In the event that participants are experiencing any homesickness, refer them to the counseling center.

Immediately after the inspection, discuss and review observation notes and then score the participant’s level of homesickness on a scale of 1 to 7, with higher numbers corresponding to more evidence of homesickness.

To analyze the data, plot each participant’s score on the homesickness scale against the observer’s score of their apartment. Perform a correlational analysis to determine if a relationship exists between the two measures.

Notice that participants who scored higher on the homesickness scale had more indicators of homesickness in their room. Thus, the two measures are positively correlated.

Now that you are familiar with how experimental psychologists integrate observational measurements, let’s look at other ways observation can be applied.

Recently, researchers have found that observers looking at online profiles could accurately infer the personality characteristics of the person who made the profile.

In another study, researchers used a combination of clinical surveys and handwriting samples to investigate the link between fine motor control disorders and psychosis during adolescence.

In this case, individuals rated as high risk for psychosis had pen movements that were less smooth than controls, suggesting that handwriting could be used as a diagnostic tool.

You’ve just watched JoVE’s introduction to observational research. Now you should have a good understanding of how to setup and perform an experiment, as well as analyze and assess the results.

Thanks for watching! 

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