How Observational & Field Research Are Used to Collect Data

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  • 0:03 Research Design
  • 1:04 Field Research
  • 2:29 Observational
  • 4:14 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Psychologists have many different options for where and how to do research. Watch this video to learn more about the difference in field and lab research and the advantages and disadvantages of observational research

Research Design

Peter is a psychologist. Recently, he took a CPR class, and it made him wonder, 'How do people react in emergency situations? Do they step in to help others, or do they ignore the problem and go about their business?'

Peter has a research question, which is how all research starts. He wants to know how people react in emergency situations. But there are many ways to try to answer that question. He can ask people about or put them in a situation and see how they react. He can observe a real emergency or set up a fake one. He, himself, can be part of the experiment or not.

Research design is the decisions a researcher makes in order to answer a research question. Peter has a lot of different ways to set up his research, and the decisions he makes are part of his research design.

Let's look closer at two options that Peter has for his design: field research and observational research.

Field Research

One of the first questions that Peter has to answer about his research is where to do it. There are essentially two places that he can do his experiment: in the real world or in the lab. Now, when I say 'lab,' don't think about a room where people in goggles and white coats mix chemicals in beakers.

A psychology lab is just a place where a psychology experiment takes place that's not the real world. Often, it's just a room, like a classroom or an office.

On the other hand, some psychological research is field research, or research done in the real world. This can happen anywhere, as long as it's happening in the real world. For example, Peter might want to do field research at a hospital emergency room. After all, where better to find a real-world emergency situation?

In contrast, if Peter does research in a lab, he might have his subjects sit in a classroom and imagine that they are in an emergency situation. Then he could ask them what they would do.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both field and lab research. In the lab, Peter can control the situation more, which allows him to get a very good picture of his data. On the other hand, field research offers Peter the best view of what happens in real world situations.

Observational Research

Let's say that Peter decides to give up some control in order to get a real-world view of how people act. That is, he decides to do field research. So he decides to go to the emergency room and hang out there to gather his data. But how exactly should he gather data? Should he ask people questions about what they do in an emergency, or should he just hang out and see what he notices about how people act?

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