Participant Observation Technique: Types And Characteristics

Participant observation technique

Psychologists have always tried to study reality, whether from inside or outside, with the aim of analyzing and understanding it. This is how psychological evaluation was born, which includes a group of techniques called observation techniques. Today we will know in detail a specific type, the participant observation technique.

Through observation we actively acquire information about our environment, using the sense of sight (or other technical means such as cameras).

Sometimes the phenomenon that we intend to observe requires that a person or a professional delve into the reality of the subject or subjects to be observed, to better understand said reality. Let’s find out in detail what it all consists of.

Observation techniques

Observation techniques are a set of techniques and tools aimed at evaluating a phenomenon, an individual or a group of people. They imply a way of approaching the reality of the subject to know it. Observable behaviors and behaviors are generally studied.

They are carried out by an expert or trained observer using protocols prepared for this purpose, which allow systematic annotation.

The situation to be observed is natural or analogous (for example role-playing, cognitive tasks, situational tests,…).

In observation techniques, responses are not provoked or elicited in the observed subjects, they simply The phenomena occur naturally and the expert or observer observes and studies them.

Ways to observe

There are various forms of observation depending on the objective or type of research, that is, various methods and techniques. Some of them are:

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Observer types

Regarding the type of observer, there are two modalities of observation depending on the type of observer: non-participant observation (for example through the use of a camera, or when the subject does not enter into the observed reality of the subject or group), and observation competitor.

Characteristics of participant observation

The participant observation technique is research that involves the social interaction between the researcher and the observed subjects ; They all influence each other. Data is collected in a systematic and non-intrusive manner.

Its origins lie in Social Anthropology, a scientific discipline that studies culture and social institutions in various human groups. Bronislaw Malinowski, Polish anthropologist is considered the father of the participant observation technique.

Participant observation is a way of approaching the social and cultural reality of a society or group, but also of an individual. In her the researcher delves into the reality to be studied together with the individual or group under study.

In addition to being a type of technique, it is the basis of ethnographic research, that is, the systematic study of people and cultures, as well as a very relevant method used in qualitative research.

Thus, ethnographic research, together with participant observation, are made up of two elements already mentioned: the researcher (“the self”) and the group (“the other”). The perspective of the subject observed together with the observer is taken into account, to get to know objective reality in the most reliable way possible.

When is it applied?

The participant observation technique is used when you want to study social reality as a whole, in a holistic way but in order to specify a problem that we are currently unaware of.

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That is, this technique is often used when the defined problem does not yet exist, precisely to identify it and specify its dimensions. It may be that you have a prior idea of ​​the area or problem but that it must be specified more precisely.

It is also used when dealing with problems where other research techniques cannot be practiced (for example, it has been used in prisons, primitive societies, marginal areas, etc.)

On the other hand, it is used in cases where you want to study in detail, directly and “live” the subject or subjects to be observed (for example, the behavior of a child with conduct disorder at home or in the classroom).

How to use it?

In participant observation techniques The data collection instrument is the researcher himself.

The use of this type of techniques must be flexible and adapted to the situation. Thus, the researcher will select a set of informants, whom he must observe and with whom he must interact. The researcher may also apply techniques such as interviews, surveys, document review, etc.

In the field diary the researcher will write down the impressions of what he is experiencing and observing to later organize and analyze it.

The research design is developed as the research progresses; First we will enter the field of study to gradually know what questions we ask and how we ask them.

Types of participant observation

The participant observation technique can be of two types depending on the type of observer:

1. External and technical observer

In this type, objectivity and accuracy are higher, but the reactivity of the subject also increases. Has little ecological validity that is, it is difficult to generalize the results to the natural context (beyond laboratory conditions).

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For example, this is the observation that a psychologist makes in consultation

2. Close observer

Reactivity is lower because the observer is someone close to the subject being observed, someone from their environment, for example parents. On the other hand, here observation biases (errors) are greater than in the previous one.