Types of observation procedure

Activities really need to be observed under normal conditions. However, as some activities are not easily observed under normal conditions it is often necessary for the observation to take place in a controlled environment - for example, inviting people into a specially equipped room in order to observe the manner in which they use a product.

When people are aware they are being observed it is argued that they behave in different ways to how they would under normal circumstances where they are not being observed. In some cases this awareness will have little effect on their actions. However, there are many situations in which people change their activities if they know they are being watched. Salespeople in a clothing store may be especially polite to customers if they know their performance is being monitored.

There is also the choice between a structured and an unstructured observation. In a structured situation, the observers are told how and what to observe. Usually a checklist is given to them to record what happens. Structured methods are used where a hypothesis is tested. In an unstructured observation, which is most useful in research of an exploratory nature, the observer is given much latitude with respect to what to note.

A variety of mechanical devices are used to observe people's actions or responses. For example, a psychogalvanator measures a person's emotional reactions to various stimuli by measuring changes in their perspiration rate. It is used to assess people's reactions to different advertisements. The pupilometer measures changes in the size of a person's pupils as they are looking at an advertisement, package or product design. A change in pupil size reflects the person's interest in the object. Eye cameras can monitor a person's eye movements while reading, identifying the parts the reader perceived first, the parts dwelt on and the amount of copy actually read.

One fairly simple observation method is called response latency. It measures the amount of time a respondent takes to answer a question. Quick answers indicate certainty of preference. This observation technique is especially useful in telephone interviews, since latency can be measured with voice-stimulated stopwatches.

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