This article throws light upon the top four scientific methods for studying child psychology. The methods are: 1. Case Study on Child Psychology 2. Longitudinal Study on Child Psychology 3. Cross-Section Study 4. Observation.
Child Psychology: Method # 1.
Case Study on Child Psychology:
A case provides an example of an individual who alone, or a group of like individuals, studied in their present conditions and situations. The point of study happens to be how the child behaves under certain circumstances, that it is living in at present. The psychologists have also to find out the reasons which make it behave in the way that it does.
The experimenter may change the factors eliciting certain behaviours from the child to see how different stimulations cause a change in the mode and way of behaviour that is evidenced in the child.
With the result that all findings or conclusions happen to be in reference to a single individual child or a group of similar children; and, they all show how the different factors related to nurture, would be affecting a child whose growth and development have been of a certain category.
Carter G Wood and Douglas E Scates define the ‘case study’ in their book Methods of Research as follows:
‘The essential procedure of the case study method is to take account of all pertinent aspects of one thing, or situation, employing as the unit for study an individual, an institution, a community or any group, considered as a unit.
“ They further say, “The complex situation and combination of factors involved in the given behaviour are examined to determine the existing status and to identify the causal factors operating.”
In the same book, characteristics and skills of a satisfactory Case Study have been enumerated. Summarizing the same, they may be put as under:
The steps in a case study must be in such a continuous succession of time that the entire study may provide a complete picture of growth or development; each succeeding step must serve as a complementary process for the previous one.
2. Completeness of Data:
The data should be based on the observation of all aspects of the child’s development, whatsoever the field may be—sensory-motor (or physical), cognitive or emotional activities.
3. Validity of Data:
Information regarding the date of birth, and the prenatal milieu that the mother was living in, must be verified through records where they are maintained in an authentic way.
4. Confidential Recording:
“The difficulties of individual teachers of pupils, in relation to discipline, failure, achievement, or mentality”, are to be regarded as problems to be treated in a confidential manner.
5. Scientific Synthesis:
One important part of the report is the interpretation of the evidence. It should be done in a convincing way; mere enumerating the data will not make it so. The causal factors for a proper diagnosis, will have to be identified.
Likely developments will have to be considered, or treatment to check undesirable development will have to be decided—these two form the part of diagnosis. All these are the parts of a scientific synthesis.
Limitations and Resources of a Case Study on Child Psychology:
In conducting a case study on a child, the researcher has especially to work under certain limitations, mainly related to resources. If his subject is a neonate, or a very young baby, it can in no way extend its direct cooperation in the work of garnering data.
The researcher can adopt neither the device of interview nor the technique of some test to get information regarding the child—his subject may even have no language to express himself; and if the subject has grown old enough to have developed his language, a child should not be expected to co-operate consciously as much as a mature subject can do.
One very important method that will do, is the observation method. It is through observing the behaviour of the child that the researcher can realise a problem worth working upon. Sometimes, the researcher may find it difficult to define a problem in clear-cut terms.
Likewise, the researcher may have difficulty in the formulation of a shrewd hypothesis. If the first step, that is, the identification of a problem, is weak, it will, naturally, have its effect on the formulation of the hypothesis.
And, hypothesis is, what gives direction to the efforts of the researcher. But formulation of a shrewd hypothesis in case of researches in social science, in general, is difficult, and it is all the more so in a case where the subject is a child with no verbal expression of his own.
For the accuracy of the findings, the accuracy of instruments employed for measurement, is a must. Accurate instruments for measurement in social researches, in general, and in case of child psychology, in particular, are not easy to find.
Very few instruments are available to a child psychologist, his subject being not matured enough for him to expect any conscious cooperation from him; the researcher cannot handle him at his will, or at a time that suits him. The questionnaire, the test schedules and so on, can be of no use to a researcher until the child has grown up enough to comply with, and respond positively to the directions of the researcher.
As the researcher in field of child psychology, has to work under these limitations, he will have to make very skillful use of the few tools that are available to him. Observation is the main tool in case of children younger than two years of age.
So observation must be objective and keen, lest anything important should miss the notice of the researcher, and, fail him in reaching to a correct conclusion or finding. The observation also needs to be patient and long.
The researcher should make use of only the standardised units of measurements. This is essential not only in case of child psychology but in case of all kinds of researches. Likewise, the terminology should also be uniform—if it is not so, there is every chance for confusion.
As mentioned previously, a case study may be related to a single child, but for reaching to some verified conclusion, it is essential that the sampling should be adequate; adequate in the sense, that the conclusions should be based on the study of a good number of cases, all alike in age and, in other variables.
The findings may not be correct if a correct classification is not made; to be able to do this, the researcher needs to use only sound techniques for classification.
The analysis of data is directly related to the hypo-diesis that the researcher works with. The data will have to be analysed so as to enable the researcher to verify the correctness of the hypothesis from different angles. The analysis should have the characteristics of clarity and compatibility.
The final step is the reporting. There should be a well organised system for reporting. By the time the researcher reaches to this stage, he will be in possession of very valuable findings, but the same will be of no use if they are not shaped in a well arranged system of communication.
This tests the skills of the organisation in the art of communication. The report should have proper sections and sub-sections as required for the analysis of data. The reporting should make a clear mention of all the steps that the researcher has worked through.
It should bring home clearly to the reader, as to what was the object of the researcher; what steps he had worked upon to achieve the same; what tools and instruments were employed for the work; what data he could collect and to what effect, that is, a lucid reporting should mention his findings in the last section.
To quote and refer to the book Methods of Research (Carter V Good and Douglas E Scates) here again, will be useful:
“Case study is essentially an intrusive investigation of the particular unit represented, where case work refers especially to the remedial, corrective or developmental procedures that appropriately follow diagnosis of the causes of maladjustment or of approved behaviour; case work and case study, therefore, are complementary processes even though they may not be performed by the same person or agency.”
The cycles of steps as given in the said book are as follows:
1. Recognition and determination of the status of phenomenon to be investigated;
2. Collection of data relating to the factor of circumstances associated with the given phenomenon;
3. Diagnosis or identification of causal factors as a basis for remedial or developmental treatment;
4. Application of remedial or adjustment measures;
5. Subsequent follow-up to determine the effectiveness of the treatment applied.
A case study when conducted to know the nature of growth of a child, may adopt a variety of techniques according to the age of the child. To study the prenatal behaviour of the child, experimental and laboratory techniques are used—generally with animal fetuses as subjects; limited experiments on, and extensive observations of premature human infants are also done.
The researcher’s main sources of data happen to be:
(i) Experiments on infants;
(ii) Direct measurements;
(iii) Observations and
(iv) Ingenious techniques, such as—one way vision screens, video recording, the Gessel observation dome, and the stabilimeter.
When children have grown older, are school-going, the use may be made of a number of tests available: test-schedules or tools are available (or may be developed or standardised) for the measurement of sensorimotor development, span of attention, language-development, intelligence, memory, interest, attitude, aptitude, capacity of reasoning etc.
In case of older children, paper and pencil tests are effective techniques; but in case of children who do not know reading and writing, such techniques are not feasible. Sociometric techniques are also very useful for the study of older children or adolescents. Social relationships can be diagrammed while the older children are busy in playing some dramatic roles.
On the basis of what N Thanulingan describes about case study method in his book “Research Methodology in Social Science we can arrive at the following points:
1. The method aims at deep and detailed study of the unit.
2. It covers a wide cycle of time, and, it makes the study comprehensive.
3. The sample may either be a single individual or more to a big number. In case, the sample is consisted of more than one individual, they all must be of the same age.
4. The researcher, mainly, has to depend on his power of observation, and sense of logic.
5. The method demands a deeper probe, and a keen insight on the part of the researcher.
6. For the collection of data, regarding different aspects of growth and development, the researcher should use different techniques and tools; such as, personal documents, life-histories, observation, and others. In case of older children or adolescents, interviews, questionnaires, schedules, and a variety of tests may be adopted for gathering data.
7. Then the data are integrated, and are analysed. The data should be classified as dominant, less dominant and neutral.
8. When the data have been classified and analysed, then the same must be explained and interpreted. The interpretation must be logical, and in a convenient form. The report should mention results or the conclusions arrived at, in definite terms. The researcher should also tell what methods or techniques were employed by him. A complete report must contain all these points.
Contribution of Case Study on Child Psychology:
1. To professionals, working in the fields of medicine, education, juvenile delinquency, and a number of other social sciences, very significant findings have been made available through case studies.
Findings are available, tabulated under different categories, in terms of source of reference—age, sex, race, problem, intelligence, social grade, economic status and so on; some categories may be based on the interrelationship of different factors.
2. For the evaluation of progress, case study is an important method. The efficacy of the measures adopted for a desirable change, can only be known through a case study. For example, there is a boy under ten, who is referred to a habit-clinic, where he undergoes certain measures arranged by the clinic.
Now, to evaluate what change has come about, and what is the amount of change, the researcher will have to study the child at different stages of age; report of changes may also be sought from parents, teachers, and from other concerned sources.
3. Group patterns as existing in different families, classes, schools and communities, can be studied in a proper way through the method of case study. So immense has been the contribution of this method in this respect.
4. The professional courses need vast material for the purpose of instruction, which has only been available as a result of case studies. In fact, a significant portion of most of the books on psychology- social, criminal or educational, medicine or management, is made up from conclusions of case studies.
5. For the illustration and verification of statistical results, findings of case studies are very helpful.
As for example, detailed case histories have revealed many important facts related to twin resemblance, to identical twins reared together, fraternal twins reared together, non-twin siblings reared together and apart, unrelated children reared together, and, as a sample of the general population together, they supplement the statistical results.
6. There are bureaus or agencies whichmay be hired for findings that are significant for professionals and government departments. These findings generally happen to be the results of case studies. Results of case studies are published in book-form, as they are very helpful in formulating generalisations. Very useful body of knowledge is available in the form of reports of case studies.
In the field of child psychology, in particular, and in education and social areas in general, statistical and experimental studies do not have so important a role, as they do in physical sciences, where the problem may be related to managerial or other practical aspects.
In case of social sciences, purpose happens to be, not only to reveal some facts as is the case in physical sciences, but to make the concerned social institution work in a more effective manner, so that the desired goal may be achieved.
Researchers, in the field of child psychology, have to pool from the results of the efforts done in different fields related to the child or adolescent. The field may be a child guidance clinic, an institution related to the work of a psychiatrist, a sociologist or a social worker. Such a researcher may make use of home, school, a recreational programme or of a child placement agency for resources.
Some examples of the case study are:
1. Through a case study observing the behaviour of infants, six months old, Gibson, E and Walk, RR, could reveal important facts regarding their reactions to the perception of depth—”an infant avoids a stimulus which suggests a sudden increase in depth”. (The Visual Cliff, 1960).
2. Harlow, HF through his case studies could establish the fact that increase in stimulation is reinforced, and leads to learning.
3. It was through case studies of individual pre-school children that Sears, Macoby and Levin could make clear how children move from the stage of fear of the environment to the development of conscience. (Patterns of Child Learning).
4. Ebbs, JH et al, investigated the effect of malnutrition on pregnant mothers and their born babies with a sample of 210 subjects—90 in the experimental groups and 120 in the controlled group—through a case study; the book is, The Influence of Improved Prenatal Nutrition Upon the Infant.
5. Piaget’s suggestion that training for comprehension of certain subject matter (physics, for example) should be delayed until the child’s thinking is more formal and less concrete—was based on his case studies.
6. It was through case studies that Helen Koch (“Attitudes of young children toward their peers as related to certain characteristics of their siblings.”) could report that the school boys with older sisters tended to develop more feminine attributes than boys with older brothers; on the other hand, girls with older brothers had masculine attributes.
7. Levy’s demonstration that “over protective” mothers, who are highly permissive with their infants (breast-feeding for a long time, cuddle them, etc.) may actually retard their acquisition of mature responses—is an example of case study. (Levy, DM: Maternal Overprotection).
8. Piaget observed children of different age groups, at different times; he observed their intellectual behaviour; and, concluded that the era of conceptional intelligence, may be broken up into four developmental stages. (The Growth of Logical Thinking).
Child Psychology: Method # 2.
Longitudinal Study on Child Psychology:
In the preceding paragraphs, it was mentioned that in a case study, one individual, or a group of identical or similar individuals, is the sample. In the case study, such a sample is studied in the prevailing physical and social conditions, that is, under the conditions as are there, at present; but in a Longitudinal Study, the same sample continues to be studied for a longer period with changing conditions.
For example, if a one-year-old child is studied, or a group of children of the same age, that is, of one- year, is studied to know what special characteristics are found in a child of one year, conceived and reared in a particular setting of conditions- it is CASE STUDY; but if the same sample continues to be studied till the subject or subjects of the sample, attain the age of three, to observe what physical or mental or affectional changes take place with the advancement of age, with the natural process of maturity and development, it becomes a Longitudinal Study.
The following are the special points related to a Longitudinal Study:
1. It goes beyond the present milieu of the sample to trace the special characteristics that develop along the advancement of age.
2. A longitudinal study is the study of development—physical, cognitive or/and emotional.
3. In a longitudinal study, only one variable that is, the age, or time limit alters; all others remain the same.
4. A longitudinal study is a case study covering a wider spectrum that emerges as the sample develops with age.
5. A longitudinal study takes more time in its being complete than is the case in regard to the case study; the former being related to a longer span of time than the latter does.
6. Both, in a case study and in a longitudinal study, the physical and social conditions, remain the same throughout the period of study; in the latter case, the sample changes in chronological age while in the former, the objective is to study the sample as it behaves during the current period of time.
7. A longitudinal study provides us data for comparison between physical, cognitive or/and emotional development of a sample, as is the case at present, with what takes place with the advancement of age, at different periods of life.
8. A longitudinal study is to reveal the facts regarding the impact of age on the samples; a case study is to know the impact of physical or social environments on the samples, as they are at present.
Carter V Good and Douglas E Scates in their book “Methods of Research” thus describe the longitudinal approach:
“The longitudinal approach to investigation of the weight of school children is to follow a particular group of pupils or the same individual year after year through repeated measurements. The resulting series of measurements, therefore, represents growth sequences for the same group of children or same individual.
Expressed otherwise, such a longitudinal study is a series of rather closely spaced cross-sections for the particular group or individual growth investigations of the same subjects should be conducted with the measurements made seriatim.”
The book makes mention of some special characteristics of the longitudinal technique which make it different from other techniques:
1. The sample may be an individual or a group of small number of individuals.
2. If the sample is consisted of more than one individual, they all must be alike in all respects.
3. The longitudinal study spreads over a certain period of time the period may be one year or more. The average development of the group that occurs during the different stages of the period is measured; the development may be in the form of gain in height and weight; acquiring certain motor skills or language or the faculty of reasoning or emotional stability, and so on.
4. The study enables the researcher to compare the average stages of development between successive age groups. The development of a single individual may be assessed whether it is normal or not comparable with the average growth and development of the age group, year after year.
5. A longitudinal study is directly related to a situation, and does not depend on laboratory experiments.
6. The repeated measurements of the same individual or of the same group of individuals year after year, will indicate the trends of development in one or more fields. If the trends do not suggest the development to be normal, a thorough diagnosis may be required.
7. Average states of growth and development of the same group, year after year, provide norms to compare with the growth and development of a single subject or each individual subject of the group.
8. As a longitudinal study may be related to any length of time, its results are likely to be affected by certain “unpredictable and uncontrollable” events; maybe, some “death, illness, moving of families, and changes in the co-operation of children and parents with the investigator” and so on. This fact has to be reckoned with, while measuring growth and development, or forming conclusions.
Longitudinal study also reveals the fact that “children grow at different rates and reach similar development levels at different ages. Individual curves for vocabulary growth, for example, as reported in baby biographies differ markedly from the usual growth curves based on cross-section studies.” (Methods of Research).
It also deals with the inter-relationship of different variables that affect the growth or development of the child.
The co-operation of specialists, working in various fields, has been an important contributory factor in the achievements made through longitudinal studies—the Stanford Genetic Studies of Genius and the Berkley Growth Study of mental, motor and physical development from birth to maturity could be possible only because of such a co-operation.
There are certain difficulties which the researcher, conducting a longitudinal study, has to endure with:
i. During a long-term investigation, many of the original subjects, have to be eliminated because of one or the other reason. Of course, the investigator will have to see to it that elimination occurs only when it is unavoidable; and he will also have to see that the elimination does not affect the validity of results.
ii. Generally, it is not possible that the same personnel continue with the work as the study may continue for a pretty long period, hence the problem of the maintenance of satisfactory working relationship with subjects.
iii. Non-comparability or uncertain psychological equivalence of tests that are used at different age levels in a study through childhood to adolescence, is also a difficulty.
iv. The motivation of children may change during the repeated testing that goes on over a period of months or years; with the result that sometimes their performance may become perfunctory.
v. In a longitudinal study, administration of tests—mental or physical, is repeated at different levels of age; scoring of test results, also goes on along with it, so there is a great chance of errors in the repeated measurements.
vi. Though standardised tests are adopted, nevertheless, results may vary because of varied experience of groups.
vii. When the study continues for a long period of years, sometimes, less efficient and less experienced hands also have to be associated with the work, which definitely impedes the recording and manipulation of data.
viii. The investigator or investigators need to take account of the principle of regression, to avoid the mistakes of interpretation to the minimum possible level.
Some examples of the longitudinal study are:
1. The important conclusions to which Fantz, RL reached (The Origin of Form Perception and Pattern Vision in Young Infants) regarding the changes that occur in the perception of forms and patterns of vision during infancy, were the results of a longitudinal study. He found that “during 1 to 15 weeks of age most infants prefer to gaze at complex patterns rather than simple stimuli”.
2. Escalona, S and Heider, GM in Prediction and Outcome remarked as conclusion: “Children who had been awkward in their motor movements, and, had not displayed vigorous motor activity during infancy, were retarded as pre-schoolers, in level of motor development, motor coordination………….. some aspects of infant activity……. are precursors of future behaviour.” This was the result of their longitudinal study.
3. Roger Brown and Ursula Bellugi provided excellent insights into the development of grammar through longitudinal observations.
4. Through a longitudinal study, Irwin (Irwin, OC) found that children who were exposed to books between the ages 13 to 30 months, had larger vocabularies from 17 months on, than did children of the same age, who had not been so exposed.
5. Growth trends and adjustments can only be known through a longitudinal study; Thomson, GC got his book Child Psychology: Growth Trends and Adjustments, published in 1952.
6. In Australia, Wheeler did his study in 1961, and confirmed that as a child grows older, he chooses parents less often, and tends more to choose imaginary compositions of desirable qualities or blends of admired traits abstracted from more than one real person the self-concept becomes more objective and stable.
7. Yarrow, L J did his research in the dimensions of maternal care. It was a longitudinal study on 96 infants to know how maternal care (stimulation) boosts development in infancy.
Child Psychology: Method # 3.
Cross-Section Study on Child Psychology:
“The cross-section technique requires at least a single measurement for each individual within the particular groups represented; as, when height is measured for each pupil in the first six grades of a public school system.
The central tendency for each of the six grades can be calculated; the results representing ‘norms’ of growth in height or, growth trends from grade to grade or year to year, although these central tendencies are not appropriate ‘norms’ of growth for heights of an individual case.” (Essentials of Educational Research—Methodology and Design by Carter V Good).
The above quotation describes the following characteristics of the cross- section study:
Groups belonging to different categories, with one important factor differing in each case, together make the sample with a wide spectrum; or the minimum, at least groups of two categories, must be there to make the study cross-sectional.
As for example, if height of the subjects is to be measured with the objective of finding out what are the different factors—genetic or environmental, which have their impact upon height, then the different categories of the groups may be identical twins reared apart; children of the same family reared apart, and so on.
Such a study only can reveal the facts how far genes have their impact on heights; how biological causes, such as the secretion of the related hormone and others affect it; and how socio-economical status of a family, upon which depends the nourishment and care of the children, affects the growth.
Likewise, cognitive or intellectual development, or emotional stability of children belonging to cross-sectional categories, may also be studied to know how nature and nurture act upon development in these fields.
In a cross-section study, too, the method is the same as is employed for a case study; in the former the case studies are spread over a big number of individuals or groups belonging to different sections or categories, while, a case study relates itself to a single unit—even if the sample consists of more than one individuals, they all must be alike in all respects.
A case study is done to know the impact of a single variable—may it be related to nature or nurture, on the growth and development of a single individual or that of a single unit of identical individuals; whereas a cross-section study aims at knowing the central tendency of growth or development through the measurement of a single item of growth or development in individuals grouped in different categories or sections.
A case study is to enable the researcher to know what are the factors that affect the growth or development of an individual, or, of individuals of one single category: the cross-section study is useful for fixing “norms” of growth or development, which may not exactly describe the mode of growth or development of an individual subject, as a case study does.
A cross-section study is the study of subject/subjects with one variable being different in each section of them, the variable whose impact on the subject/subjects, is to be studied.
When the researcher aims at finding out what physical, mental or/and emotional changes come about because of the change in the chronological age of a subject, he may take the sample of subjects varying in age but similar in all other variables related to their environment.
Some examples of the cross-section study are:
1. Macfarline, Allen and Honzik conducted their studies on different groups of children—varying in age, dependability and the behaviour of the mother and other elders towards them; and through such cross- section studies could conclude that jealousy is “a normal response to actual, supposed or threatened loss of affection.”
2. Breckenridge and Vincent’s cross-section study led them to conclude that physical defect of vision causes undesirable emotional development.
3. Waston, G reported the results of his cross-section study covering different age groups, and, belonging to families of varying subcultures in ”Some personality differences in children related to strict or permissive parental discipline”— the lower class children preferred the immediate material rewards of money and other tangible possession; upper middle-class children preferred for the long range goals of fame and power over others.
These preferences persist in adolescence, and, may be later even.
4. Jersild’s conclusion—”at all levels …. Children differ decidedly in their susceptibility to fear.” is based on his cross-section studies.
5. McCarthy, Dorthea through cross-section studies, related to different groups and classes of society came to the conclusion that development of language depends on the amount and nature of stimulation that the environment provides. (Research in Language Development—Retrospect and Prospect).
6. The studies conducted by Kriuchkova and Ostrouskaia and Kaplan to verify the facts regarding individual differences in learning abilities at early ages, were cross-sectional as they were conducted on different groups varying in sex, nutrition, somatic conditions, seasonal influences, and so on. And, as the studies continued on the same groups as they grew in age, should be considered longitudinal as well.
7. Gesell’s classical studies of fear were all cross-sectional as they were conducted on children of different age groups, to know how the nature and object of fear differ with age.
8. Fielder’s study of young public school children with hearing defects, was also a cross-sectional study; the children belonging to families of different socioeconomic classes being the subjects.
Child Psychology: Method # 4.
Observation of Child Psychology:
Observation is fundamental in research. The basic elements of scientific facts are revealed through observation. It is the most important technique that can be used in a research method. Observation is useful at every stage of a research method.
In the activity of observation, the researcher can make use of each of his sense organs related to sight, hearing, smell, touch and taste. The facts that are revealed through the experiences of these sense organs, help in locating the problem. “Alert” and “Skillful” observation yields clues which help in constructing theoretical solution for the problem.
The researcher can find an evidence to substantiate his hypothesis only through careful and accurate observations:
“From the inception of an inquiry to the final confirmation or rejection of his proposed problem solution, a research worker relies on observation to keep him on the trail to truth.” (Understanding Educational Research. An Introduction, Deobald B Van Dalen).
Nature of observation:
Depends upon the problem that is to be investigated into. If a problem is simple, so will be the nature of observation; a complex scientific problem will require a well-planned complicated device of observation—the significant and relevant aspect of the phenomenon, and a certain situation, and some definite time, etc., have to be selected.
An observation may be direct, but in a complicated situation, it has to be indirect. The use of precision procedure will be required for a close scrutiny. The type of instruments to be used, will also depend upon the nature of the problem. And, finally, the report will have to be presented in a form which may sustain public verification.
Factors involved in an observation:
If psychologically considered, the procedure of observation involves four factors:
3. Perception and
4. Conception (Understanding Educational Research).
Attention is the process of selection. When the researcher observes the phenomenon, a number of aspects of it, and many other objects may gather together against his sense organ; a throng of stimulants may be there, he will have to select only the most relevant object or aspect for channelizing to the cortex, and this is attention, a mental function of bringing an object to the centre of consciousness.
For the successful handling of the technique of observation, attention is an important factor to make use of. It is a necessary condition; it indicates a “state of alertness” or a “mental set……….. which assumes so as to sense or perceive (only) selected events, conditions, or things”.
There is likelihood that some errors may occur in the process of attention:
(a) The researcher may be so obsessed with his hypothesis that he may develop a mindset which looks out for the bases which can only support his hypothesis. The researcher would be looking for the facts which can only support his proposed solution to the problem. The researcher should, rather, investigate all the significant aspects of the situation so as to be able to detect the unsuspected facts.
(b) The researcher should guard against such personal factors which may interfere with his work. He will have to control such characteristics of the subject that may obstruct the work of effective observation.
(c) If the subject for investigation is too big, too small, too fleeting or too chaotic to be perceived with the senses, there would be more chances for the occurrence of errors in the work; so a proper subject should be selected, or special instruments be employed looking to the nature of the subject.
An object in the external environment of man, stimulates some of his sense organs. That in turn, stimulates the concerned sensory nerves; the sensory nerve impulses reach the brain, and man experiences the event.
The event may be of some shape, having different qualities; a sound, varied in tone or pitch; a pressure; pain, warmth or cold, etc. He senses something as sweet, sour, salty or bitter; or distinguishes sweet smell from foul smell because of the experience of the event through sense organs.
But our sense organs have their limitations:
(a) They cannot be reliable tools for exact measurements of speed, size, intensity or distance; they are poor tools for making comparisons.
(b) A sense organ may be defective, thereby, rendering its experience incorrect; and, the observation will be distorted. Congenital colour blindness or tone deafness would affect the observation if colours are to be distinguished or tones to be differentiated.
(c) In a state of fatigue, emotional arousal, or under the impact of some drug, sense organs may suffer temporary impairment.
(d) Sense organs may also grow less reliable because of age or illness.
To compensate the limitations of sense organs, special instruments have to be made use of; microscope, amplifying tube, polygraph, and a lot of other latest gadgets and devices have been made available by the science of our day “to extend the range and clarity” of the researcher’s observations.
The researcher should make sure that his senses are working efficiently, “he is getting clear, undistorted, normal signals from his phenomena.” He will have to guard against the extraneous stimuli which may make it difficult for him to experience the significant stimuli.
To experience an event—a shape, a sound, an odour, something as warm or cold; or sweet or sour is not enough—such an experience will be meaningless until and unless it is interpreted in light of the past experiences; only then one can identify the shape to be that of a cow; the sound that of a telephone; the odour that of a flower; the warmth that of sun or cold that of snow; or taste that of sugar, or, of an unripe mango, Deobold B Van Dalen remarks, “Observation is more than experiencing sensations. Observation is sensation plus perception.”
He further writes, “Perception is the art of linking what is sensed with some past experience, to give the sensation meaning.”
There are some factors or situations which may distort perception, make it less clear, or render it wrong, and so on:
a) The memory of the observer may fail him, and, he may associate his present experience with an experience of the past that is not at all related with the present one. The interpretation will be wrong if an association of the present sensation is made with a past perception under some misunderstanding.
b) If the observer makes inferences on the basis of insufficient sensory cues, he is very much likely to commit mistakes.
c) One more likely pitfall is the too strong a personal interest which would make the observer to be on a look out only for things he likes to see.
d) Because of his “private passions” or “pre-conceptions”, the observer may ignore some stimuli or interpret them in a partial way.
e) A lot of other things are there which distort the perceptions of an observer; his “emotions, motivations, prejudices, mental sets, sense of value, physical conditions, and errors of inference”— are some such things that need to be guarded against by an observer.
“Conception is the intellectual process of removing blocks to perception”. Sometimes, it so happens that a person fails to recognise a thing that his sense or senses experience; he cannot tell what is what—his past experiences also fail to guide him in making any definite meaning of his experience.
In such a situation, he resorts to intellectual exercises giving a free hand to his imagination to exhaust all possibilities; of course, his visualization would be affected by self-concept, social milieu, and other related factors and, the result will be the construction of imaginary concepts.
For a researcher who adopts observation as a technique, it is essential to make use of all these four psychic phenomena in a proper way, lest his revelations should be distorted. The researcher should be cautious that his observations are not distorted because of subjectivity.
Deobold B Van Dalen has suggested six things in this respect:
(i) The researcher should have a wide knowledge of the background of the field that his problem is related to. It is only then he can decide what facts he should look for, and how he can find those facts.
(ii) The researcher needs to remain mentally ‘alert’ and ‘questioning’ all through till the process of observation continues. He also needs ample practice in examining all the aspects of the phenomena in their proper perspective.
(iii) Varied observational instruments and procedures are available, it is for the investigator to select only those which best suit his objective. He should be proficient too, in the use of the same.
(iv) The observer may make use of the computerised counters or calculators, ACR and VCR, oscillographs and others. For preserving records, any amount of data may be fed in the memory of the computer with ease, and, in the shortest possible time. Fax and internet services are also very helpful to the observer in communicating his material to his colleagues, and, in getting similar communications from other sources.
(v) The observer should, first, make a complete list of items that he is to observe; the order for the observation of these items should also be fixed. When all details regarding the modalities of the procedure, and, the approach for the procedure, have been chalked out; all tools and instruments have been readied for use, the researcher should start working in right earnest. No delay in compilation work can ever be allowed.
(vi) The work of reporting is very important, otherwise, the findings of the observer will fail to be communicated in the way he intends the same to be. The scientific observations made by him, should be reported in precise form, and, using exact words and exact terminology only.
The observer, generally, observes the overt behaviour of his subject in appropriate situations, and, when the subject is in normal conditions; but sometimes, he may need to find out how his subject behaves physically, mentally or psychically when under some stress, or in tension.
To observe his subject with some special set of factors operating upon him, he needs to use anecdotal forms, and other tools for adopting projective methods to reveal facts regarding the convert behaviour and the mind set of his subject. Interviews and questionnaires may also serve as tools in such a study.