Covert participant observations.. are they too sneaky ?

by Michael

Covert participant observations.. are they too sneaky ?

Participant observations are very interactive on the part of a researcher, as they fully immerse themselves into the activities that are being researched. However, the way in which the data is gathered from these experiments are ethically questionable, as the people being observed have not been previously asked whether or not they want to participate in the research. The data is greatly resourceful to psychology in to the understanding of human behaviour

This type of observation is generally used in situations where a researcher may possibly effect the participants’ actions by merely being there. This method is used in situations when an overt researcher cannot record the behaviour, such as in a gang environment. By observing the behaviour in a naturalistic setting, it allows researchers to note down true behaviour in the form of qualitative data. By the participants being unaware of the researcher, there are no experimenter effects and so the research has high ecological validity. So this type of research is invaluable as it gives an in depth view on certain social activity that could not be recorded in lab experiments, or those with overt researchers.

However, with this type of research there are some questions of ethics as well as other difficulties. Firstly, the main problem is the fact that the participants do not know they are taking part. Many would say that the research results are not to be used, as they have not been obtained through ethical methods. In addition to this, the method is also very time consuming and needs a lot of dedication from the researcher as it may also be dangerous for the researcher, depending on what they are observing.

So to conclude, this method of research is sneaky as the participants are not aware that they are taking part in a study and that their actions are being recorded and being analysed. However, the results that this method of research produce are greatly valuable, as the data collected shows a real world account of what happens in the experimental situation that is being studied. So I believe that this type of research is a great resource of information for psychology to examine human actions.


Research Methods for behaviour, 3rd edition, Frederick J Gravetter, Lori-Ann B. Forzano.