O is for… Observation

The Psychologist A to Z continues.

Suggested by Michelle Newman, Honorary Research Assistant, City, University of London: 

‘Observation is essential to the study of psychology. Not only do we observe behaviours, responses and reactions to collect data, we are also observing patterns and trends within that data. When I think of an example, it’s Piaget and his observation of his own children’s development.’

In a 2017 study covered on our Research Digest blog, Erica Boothby and her colleagues showed we have a tendency to believe that we are incredibly socially observant ourselves, while those around us are less so. These assumptions combine to create what the researchers called the ‘invisibility cloak illusion’.
In a brazen example of combining work and pleasure, psychologist Geoff Beattie decided in the 1980s that ‘Beaches are the perfect place to study human behaviour’. His observations led to a book, Beachwatching, which discusses (amongst other things) ‘the propensity for splashing and horseplay which breaks out amongst otherwise mature adults when they are near water’.
Recollection, Testimony, and Lying in Early Childhood is a 1909 monograph based primarily on material that German philosopher and psychologist William Stern and his wife Clara recorded in diaries, beginning with the birth of their first child, daughter Hilde.
In a 2016 study covered on our Digest blog, Richard Bethlehem’s team staged a bicycle accident along a university footpath, to observe whether empathy level in a questionnaire actually predict the likelihood people will show real-life altruism.

- Tweet your suggestions for any letter to @psychmag using the hashtag #PsychAtoZ or email the editor on [email protected]

Entries so far are collated at https://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/psychology-z

Illustration by Karla Novak.

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