Online College Courses for Credit

2 Tutorials that teach Observer Effects
Take your pick:
Observer Effects

Observer Effects

Author: Erick Taggart

Recognize the impact of the observer effect or observer bias on psychological research.

See More

Video Transcription

Download PDF

Hello class. So as we said before, one are the strengths of non-experimental methods of research, like observations, case studies, or clinical studies, is that they look at people within a natural setting. So the idea is that the results are more accurate, because they reflect normal behaviors of people in the world. But there are still some issues that we have to deal with, with observers and their effects on research. And so that's what we're going to talk about for today.

To illustrate a bit of this, I'm going to talk about another scientific concept that might be familiar. To some of you and this is called the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. And this is something that was developed with quantum physics, which sounds difficult, but it makes a lot of sense. When we're examining quantum particles, which are really small, small particles we talk about, we found that you can't actually measure one aspect of these tiny particles without affecting another one.

So in other words, I can't look at the position of a particle without affecting how it's moving. Because when I look at it, it stops the movement or it redirects it in some way the way I'm looking at it changes it and vice versa. I can't figure out the momentum without changing the position or moving it out of the way. Now, we're not measuring small particles within psychology, but the same is still generally true. We can't actually observe somebody without changing them in some way. We can't watch them and actually get a fully natural or accurate result.

And this is what's called the observer effect. When changes in behavior are a result of being observed in research. So, for example, the presence of the researcher them self might affect whether a person does something or how they do it. If I'm studying you about selfishness, let's say, and I'm watching you. You're more likely to do something good. Because you don't want to necessarily look bad. You feel me standing there watching you, and you're more apt to doing something selfless than doing something selfish. Right? So we need to be able to use tools and measures that are less obvious or invasive.

Things like we might use hidden cameras. And that way we minimize the observer effect. But it's always something to keep in the back of your mind with these types of research. On the other hand, the problem that's affecting research with observers might be within the observers themselves. And that's what we call observer bias. And this is when a researcher's expectations about what will or will not happen can affect what they actually report. So, for example, if I'm reporting about teenagers being oppositional and defiant. Then I'm going to be looking for those sorts of things. And I'm more likely to notice them when they occur than I am to notice things that are necessarily non-defiant.

So it's not necessarily something I'm thinking about, but because I'm trained to look in that sort of way I might not notice other things, or I might overemphasize the things that are happening saying that people aren't being more defiant than they might be. So to prevent that, observers often use different tools to minimize the bias effect. And that's things like rating scales, which are a list of traits or behaviors that guide observations and tell them what to look out for so they don't miss anything important. Also we might use behavioral assessments, which is when an observer records how many times a different behavior occurs.

So they're looking out for those things and just marking kind of like on a tally mark. Finally, they might use an observational record which is a detailed record of all the things that they observe and the different behaviors that they see. So this is important to also report our findings on things like these, because others might be able to recognize those potential sources for bias. And that's why the process of publication and of replicating scientific research is very important to making sure that these things aren't unduly emphasizing or affecting the results.

Notes for "Observer Effects"

Terms to Know

  • Observer Effect
  • The subject's behavior changes due to being observed.
  • Observer Bias
  • Researcher's expectations impact the data they collect.
Terms to Know
Observer Bias

Researcher's expectations impact the data they collect

Observer Effect

The subject's behavior changes due to being observed