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Research Methods – Experimental Methodology

3. Observational Methods

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In this lecture, we think about the key data collection method in a natural experiment – observation, focusing in particular on: (i) distinguishing between naturalistic (present here) and controlled observation, as well as between overt, covert, non-participant, and participant observation; (ii) comparing 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; (iii) distinguishing 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; (iv) the benefits of participants being unaware that they are being observed; (v) distinguishing 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. In the first lecture, we introduce the gold standard of psychological research: the true experiment. In the second lecture, we break down the term ‘experiment’ by highlighting the definitions of quasi and natural experiments. In the third lecture, we think about the commonly practiced experiment alternative, the observational study – a key aspect of a natural experiment. Next, we build on module three by focusing on the self-report methods which are often used in observational studies. In the fifth lecture, we move to the post-procedure aspect of experimentation by approaching correlations and what they mean in the analysis of results. In the sixth lecture, we bring to light content analysis, a lesser studied qualitative method of categorising and analysing experimental results. In the seventh and final lecture, we think about case studies, the divisive method of study which is in equal part invaluable and useless!


Dr Peter Allen is a senior lecturer in the School of Psychological Science at the University of Bristol. Dr Allen’s research interests are in evidence-based learning and teaching in higher education, with a focus 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. Some of Dr Allen’s recent publications include 'Training Structural Awareness with StatHand' (2022) and 'Research Performance of Academic Psychologists in the United Kingdom' (2022).

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APA style

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

MLA style

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

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