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Research Methods – Experimental Methodology

3. Observational Methods

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This third lecture focuses on the key data collection method in a natural experiment: observation. Distinctions are made between naturalistic (present here) and controlled observation, as well as between overt, covert, non-participant, and participant observation. The first comparison addressed is between naturalistic and controlled (often laboratory) observations, using Ainsworth’s ‘Strange Situation’ as an example of the latter and Mehl’s talkativeness study as an example of the former. The second distinction made is between overt and covert observation, highlighting the potential ethical concerns with covert observation and discussing ways of overcoming them, such as having participants provide retrospective consent, as well as the benefits of participants being unaware that they are being observed. The last distinction made is between participant and non-participant observation, highlighting that covert participant observation occurs very rarely in modern psychology, due to ethical restrictions.


Participant Observation – A research methodology where the researcher immerses themselves among the activities of the participant(s) and/or within the phenomenon that is being studied.


In this course, Dr Peter Allen (University of Bristol) explores the experimental structure and methodology that underlies much of the research that informs our psychological theories. The first lecture introduces the gold standard in psychological research: the true experiment. The second lecture breaks down the term ‘experiment’ by highlighting the definitions of quasi and natural experiments. The third lecture brings to light the commonly practiced alternative to the experiment, in the form of observational studies – a key aspect of a natural experiment. The fourth lecture builds on lecture three by focusing on the self-report methods which are often used in observational studies. The fifth lecture moves to the post-procedure aspect of experimentation by approaching correlations and what they mean in the analysis of results. The sixth lecture brings to light content analysis, a lesser studied qualitative method of categorising and analysing experimental results. The seventh and final lecture on this course addresses case studies, the divisive method of study which is equal parts invaluable and useless!


Dr Peter Allen is a senior lecturer in the School of Psychological Science at the University of Bristol. In recent years, Dr Allen’s research has centred around evidence-based learning and teaching in higher education. A key focus has been on statistical literacy, specifically on understanding the barriers that psychology students can face when learning research methods and statistics. A goal of this research is to derive strategies that can help students become better researchers and scientific thinkers.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Allen, P. (2022, January 07). Research Methods – Experimental Methodology - Observational Methods [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Allen, Peter. "Research Methods – Experimental Methodology – Observational Methods." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 07 Jan 2022,

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