Covert and Overt - the Main Observation Methods

Natural experiments are conducted in the everyday environment of the participants, but here the experimenter has no control over the Independent variable as it occurs naturally in real life, usually natural experiments they are also a so-called ‘cover’ experiment. For example, if a college decided to start lessons at 12pm and a researcher heard about this, they’d use this aspect to compare student’s academic performance in that school with another school that starts earlier (and sometimes participants don't know about the experiment they are taking part). This is useful as it can be used in situations in which it would be ethically unacceptable to manipulate the independent variable for example, researching stress. However, there is no control over extraneous variables that might bias the results – this makes it difficult for another researcher to replicate the study in the same way.

There are different types of observational methods such as covert (when the researcher secretly observes a group) and overt (where these being observed are aware) observations. One limitation would be that it can be difficult to get access time and privacy to take notes - For example, with covert observations researchers can’t take notes openly as this would blow their cover. This means they have to wait until they are alone and rely on their memory. This is a problem as they may forget many details. But the results should be high in validity as people are observed in natural surroundings and unaware, they are being watched.

A field study experiment appears the scientific method to experimentally examine an investigation in the real world (natural setting) rather than in the lavatory and you also have control over the independent variable. This is useful as the behaviour in the field experiment is more likely to reflect real life behaviour due to its natural setting. However, limitations such as there being less control in this type of method compared to a lab study makes it easier for any extraneous variables to affect the results. An example study of this would be Hofling (1966) - he created a more realistic study of obedience than Milgram’s by carrying out field studies on nurses who were unaware that they were involved in an experiment. Hofling demonstrated that people are very unwilling to question supposed ‘authority’, even when they might have good reason to.

Observation (watching what people do) is a well-used method of carrying out research in psychology. There are different types of observation methods, but the major two are covert anf over - the first one seems to be easier to done, nevertheless it has plently of ethical problems. 

07 July 2022
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