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Posted on August 17th, 2012, by

In contrast to non-experimental and diagnostic methods, “psychological experiment”ť gives the possibility of active intervention of the researcher in the subject’s activities in order to create conditions that clearly reveal psychological fact. The specificity of the experimental method involves:

a) organization of special conditions of work, which affect the psychological characteristics of the studied subjects;

b) changing these conditions during the study.

There are three types of experimental method in psychology. They are: natural experiment, modeling experiment and laboratory experiment.

Natural experiment is the closest one to non-experimental research methods. Terms used to carry out a natural experiment are arranged not by experimenter, but by life itself. The experimenter uses only a combination of different (usually contrasting) conditions of the subject’s activities and records psychological characteristics under the study of the subjects with the help of non-experimental or diagnostic methods.

When conducting a modeling experiment the subject acts according the instructions of the experimenter, and knows that he is involved in the experiment as the subject. A characteristic feature of this type of experiment is that the behavior of subjects in the experimental situation simulates (reproduces) quite typical everyday situations or activities (Breakwell, 2006).

Laboratory experiment expects the research in the psychological laboratory, equipped with special devices and appliances. This type of experiment, characterized as the most artificial experimental conditions, is usually applied in the study of elementary mental functions and much rarer – the study of more complex mental phenomena (thought processes, speech functions, etc.)

At the same time psychological experiment has a number of shortcomings:

  1. any experiment is always limited with a specific set of actions, tasks, responses and therefore never gives reason for the broad generalizations in terms of a holistic view of the developing human being;
  2. experiment is always just a cut of the activities of the studied subject at this particular moment, so it requires repetition;
  3. in addition, the cost of the experiments is much more expensive than the cost of observation.

Observation is one of the oldest and most frequently used psychological methods. It can be used as stand-alone method, but usually it is organically included in other research methods. This method is appreciated because the object of observation is brought before a researcher with integrity.

There are unsystematic and systematic observation types:

1. unsystematic observations are made during natural research and are widely used in ethnic and social psychology. For the researcher, who conducts unsystematic observation, it is more important to create a generalized picture of the behavior of an individual or group in certain circumstances rather than to fix causal relationships and rigorous description of the phenomenon;

2. systematic observation are carried out on a definite plan. The researcher selects recorded behaviors and classifies the environmental conditions. The plan of systematic observation corresponds to the correlation study (Howitt, 2007).

There are complete (1) and a sample (2) surveys:

  1. researcher captures all features of behavior that are available for maximum depth of observation.
  2. attention is paid only to certain parameters of behavior or types of behavioral acts.

Observation can be conducted directly, or with the use of observation instruments and means of fixing the results.

For example: audio, photo and video equipment, special card monitoring, etc. Committing the results can be done through observation or delayed. Of particular importance is the problem of the observer. The behavior of a person or group of people change when they know that they are being observed. Participant observation suggests that the observer himself is a member of the group, whose behavior he is researching.

In any case, the personality of the psychologist and his professional qualities play the most important role. During open observation after a while people get used to a psychologist and begin to behave naturally, if he does not provoke a “special”ť relationship to himself. Observation is an indispensable method if you want to explore the natural behavior without any outside interference in the situation when you need to get a complete picture of what is happening and to reflect the behavior of individuals in its entirety (Howitt, 2007).

The disadvantages of this method is the subjectivity of received information, and hence the lack of reliability of the results. Objective assessment can be achieved not by one observer, but several (2-3).

The main advantage of this method is a direct connection of researcher with the object of his study. In addition, it is very important that there are no intermediate links and speed of getting the results is high. Flexibility method is another quality that has big importance in the study of social phenomena. And, finally, the cheapness is also an important attribute of this method. However, all these advantages do not exclude a number of shortcomings.

Observer consciously or unconsciously influences the studied process. Responsiveness turns into locality, limit of investigated situation, inability to cover all the known attributes of the phenomenon.

In other words, this method is very subjective, and personal qualities of the observer inevitably have an impact on its results. That’s why, firstly, the results must be checked with other methods, secondly, there are special requirements to the behavior of observers.

There are four main differences between observation and experiment:

1. in the experiment the researcher himself provoke under study phenomenon, and the observer can not actively intervene in the observed situation;

2. experimenter can vary, modify the conditions of the percolation and manifestations of the process being studied;

3. in the experiment alternate exclusion of certain conditions to establish the relationships that define the studied process are possible;

4. experiment also allows to vary the quantitative ratio conditions, allows a mathematical treatment of obtained data (Breakwell, 2006).

Both these psychological methods have advantages and disadvantages, but they can be cut to minimum if they are both used while research one phenomenon.

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