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Observation. What you see is what you get. Observation Research Defined. Observation research can be defined as the systematic process of recording the behavioral patterns of people, objects, and occurrences without questioning or communicating with them. Observational Situations.

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What you see is what you get


Observation Research Defined

Observation research can be defined as the systematic process of recording the behavioral patterns of people, objects, and occurrences without questioning or communicating with them.


Observational Situations

Situation Example

People watching people Observers stationed in supermarkets watch

consumers select frozen Mexican dinners.

The purpose is to see how much comparison

shopping people do at the point of purchase.

People watching Observer stationed at an intersection counts

phenomena traffic moving in various directions.

Machines watching Move or videotape cameras record behavior

people as in people-watching-people example.

Machines watching Traffic-counting machines monitor traffic phenomena flow.

what can be observed
What can be observed
  • Human behaviour and physical actions
  • Verbal behaviour
  • Expressive behaviour
  • Spatial relations and locations
  • Temporal patterns
  • Physical objects
  • Verbal or pictorial records


Phenomena Example

Human behavior or physical Shoppers movement

action pattern in a store

Verbal behavior Statements made by

airline travelers who wait

in line

Expressive behavior Facial expressions, tone of

voice, and other form of

body language



Phenomena Example

Spatial relations How close visitors at an

and locations art museum stand to paintings

Temporal patterns How long fast-food customers

wait for their order to be served

Physical objects What brand name items are

stored in consumers’ pantries

Verbal and Pictorial Bar codes on product packages




  • Natural versus contrived situations.
  • Visible/open versus disguised/hidden situations.
  • Structured versus unstructured observation.
  • Human versus machine observation.
  • Direct versus indirect observation.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Observation Research

  • Advantages
    • Observation research provides the researcher the opportunity to watch what people actually do rather than relying on reports of what they say they do.
    • This approach can avoid much of the biasing factors caused by the interviewer and question structure associated with the survey approach.

Communication with respondent is not necessary

  • Data without distortions due to self-report (e.g.: without social desirability)
  • Bias
  • No need to rely on respondents memory
  • Nonverbal behavior data may be obtained
  • Certain data may be obtained more quickly
  • Environmental conditions may be recorded
  • May be combined with other methods to provide supplemental evidence


  • Only behavior and physical personal characteristics can usually be examined. The researcher does not learn about motives, attitudes, intentions, or feelings.
  • Observation research can be time consuming and costly if the observed behavior occurs rather infrequently.
  • Interpretation of data may be a problem
  • Possible invasion of privacy

Humans observing Humans

  • Mystery Shoppers
    • People employed to pose as consumers and shop at the employer’s competitors to compare prices, displays, and the like.
  • One-Way Mirror Observations
    • The practice of watching unseen from behind a one-way mirror.

Shopper Patterns

    • Drawings that record the footsteps of a shopper through a store.
  • Response latency
    • Recording the decision time necessary to make a choice between two alternatives.
  • Test sites

Humans observing Physical Objects

  • Content Analysis
    • A technique used to study written material (advertising copy, newspapers, minutes) by breaking it into meaningful units, using carefully applied rules.
  • Physical trace evidence
    • Study of visible signs of past event/occurrence.
    • garbology

Physical Audit

    • The examination and verification of the sales of a product.
    • Pantry audits

Machine Observing People

  • Electroencephalogram (EEG)
    • A machine that measures the rhythmic fluctuations in electrical potential of the brain and can be used to measure an individual’s emotional response to a stimulus.
  • Eye tracking monitors
    • Record how subject reads or views phenomenon


    • Observes and records changes in the diameter of subjects pupils which changes as a result of cognitive processing
  • Psychogalvanometer
    • Measures Galvanic Skin Response (GSR)- involuntary changes in the electrical resistance of the skin
  • Voice pitch analysis
    • Measures emotional reactions through physiological changes in voice

Machine Observing Phenomenon

  • Traffic counters
    • Machines used to measure vehicular flow over a particular stretch of roadway.
  • People meter
    • A microwave computerized rating system that transmits demographic information overnight to measure national TV audiences.

Scanner based research

    • A system for gathering information from a single group of respondents by continuously monitoring the advertising, sales, promotion, and pricing they are exposed to and the things they buy.