The observation is the targeted , attentive perception of objects , phenomena or processes , optionally with the use of technical aids. In contrast to measurements , observations aim less at quantitative recording of objects than at qualitative data.
Observations are made in almost all scientific and technical disciplines. This article treats the areas of natural sciences , the social research and the basic method of empirical science empirical basis of data. The scientific observation to objective and repeatable be. Systematic, repeated and regular observation is an essential part of monitoring .
The observation as a scientific method is the naive everyday observation to distinguish: the everyday observation tends to be subjective and due to immediate needs of the observer. Scientific observation , on the other hand, tries to be systematic and objective. In order to achieve this systematics, an observation plan and an organization of the observation process are required , in which it is determined
- what is observed by whom , when and where ,
- how what is observed is to be recorded , and
- whether the observed and in which form interpreted is.
The observers may need to be trained and prepared intensively. Systematic records, for example in the form of an observation book or in digital form, are always useful .
General information on observation
Scientific theoretical foundations
Observation receives central attention in the theory of science . However, there is no theoretical agreement there. As early as 1887 , Ferdinand Tönnie's sociology and, more specifically , the Vienna Circle for all empirical science in the 1930s assumed that empirical sentences (“ protocol sentences ”) and theoretical sentences ( derived from axioms ) could be separated. Log records therefore record observations, theoretical sentences then allow questions about the findings and may be refuted by them .
These assumptions were rejected by Pierre Duhem and Willard Van Orman Quine from the 1940s onwards . According to them, there can be no theory-free observation (“ Duhem-Quine thesis ”). There has also been talk of an underdetermination of observational data or evidence. In the context of perception theory , this has a correspondence in criticism and the like. a. by Wilfrid Sellars on a “myth of the given”. Thomas Samuel Kuhn radicalized such positions to the thesis that then no completely rationalizable cross-theoretical dispute about “purely empirical observational data” is possible. Theories of science, which consider an objectivity of science not only to be unattainable, but also to strive for it as harmful, judge observations according to other guidelines. Other theorists of science, such as B. Bas van Fraassen , limit the concept of the observable to that which can be perceived without aids. The thus defined observability is a theory-independent concept, the limits of which are determined within the empirical sciences.
Distinguishing features of observations
- Direct or indirect observation
- In the case of direct observation , the object to be observed is recorded immediately at a specific point in time . In the case of indirect observation , the event itself is not recorded, only its traces and effects.
- Mediated or unmediated observation
- Mediated observations use a recording device to store and later analyze the observation content. Possible problem of media-specific selection , possible change in the 'natural' situation. The immediate observation does not use any technical aids during observation, only notes are made, possibly afterwards. One potential problem arises from the selective perception of the observer.
- Observation with or without manipulation of independent variables
- with manipulation of independent variables : data acquisition through observation in experimental and quasi-experimental designs. without manipulation of independent variables stands for pure observation.
- Quantitative or qualitative forms
- Strongly structured forms of observation work more quantitatively ( e.g. counting cars at an intersection, recording passers-by in a shopping street). However, many observation methods are more qualitative , such as the (possibly participating) observation of an ethnologist of a rain dance in a 'foreign' culture or the observations of a sociologist in a court hearing .
- Involved or uninvolved
- The point of view / point of view of the observer is / is not part of the observed system .
Observation in science and technology
Observations are mostly combined with measurements or counts , but can also be limited to the pure determination of phenomena - for example in biology , astronomy or geology . Sometimes indirect observations are made, for example when the phenomenon can no longer be determined but has left traces. In rare cases, the questioning of random observers or the phenomenological interpretation can also assume the character of observations.
Observation needs and examples
Typical examples of individual subject areas are
- Observation of physical and chemical phenomena in nature or in the laboratory
- Observation of celestial bodies and their radiation ( observational astronomy )
- Investigation of geological structures, their relationships and changes
- Observations of weather and climate
- Recording of plant and animal species in terms of distribution, behavior, etc.
- Bacteriological and medical examinations
- Observation of the behavior of technical components , devices or the stability of buildings
- Behavior of mathematical functions , models or computer programs
- Second-order observation in cybernetics .
Special observation places
- physical or chemical laboratories
- Observatories , observation places of astronomical associations , scientific earth satellites
- Outcrops , steps, geological faults
- Weather stations and ships, radar stations
- Sitting waiting areas , bird watching areas etc.
- Medical laboratories, doctor's offices
- Testing and research institutes , technical test centers
In contrast to pure observation - which mainly determines or classifies phenomena - measurements aim at quantitative statements about the observed object or process. The measured values relate to a clearly defined unit of measurement (absolute measurement) or a comparison (relative measurement).
The measurement result is considered a reliable statement about an object if it has been checked for accuracy and consistency. In most cases, a statement about the size of possible measurement errors , which are in principle unavoidable, is sought. Measurements in physical and technical fields must be checked precisely for possible systematic sources of error in the measurement methods. Such analyzes are part of the evaluation of the measurements and are often backed up by methods of mathematical statistics . The most common quality statement about a measurement is the standard deviation (statistical mean error).
A frequent problem, which is often difficult to identify, is that of systematic errors caused by changing method or environmental influences as well as the persons measuring. In the case of processes or phenomena in nature, the spatial or temporal representativeness should also be checked if possible .
Most scientific-technical measured quantities are of a geometric or physical nature, for example
- Geometric and temporal: length measurement (in detail mostly angle and distance measurement ), their changes ( speed measurement ) and various time measurements
- physical: for example temperatures (e.g. surface, water and air temperature), radiation (according to type and strength), electrical voltage and current measurements or magnetic field and charge measurements.
- further (specific) measuring methods are u. a. to be found in chemistry , particle physics , geography or photometry .
- Also counts may have the character of a measurement, for example, when particle flow from space ( cosmic radiation , solar wind etc.), reflected in the count photons or photochemical reactions.
Much knowledge in science and technology arose from unintentional or accidental observations, for example
- Natural phenomena such as weather changes , earthquakes , landslides , lightning strikes
- astronomical phenomena such as fireballs , meteor falls, variable stars and nebulae, novae , solar eclipses , etc.
- Observations in the animal kingdom such as territorial fights , migratory movements, flocks of insects and birds
- Random inventions, technical defects , collapse of structures
- unknown diseases and epidemics
- ... ...
Observation in Social Research
In addition to questioning and content analysis, observation is an important method in the social sciences. It should be used to record social behavior. Observation describes methods of systematically tracking social interaction with the help of one's own notes, protocols or media recordings.
The observation is differentiated
- according to the degree of structuredness, as unstructured, partially structured, fully structured,
- according to the degree of naturalness of the observation situation in the field or laboratory,
- whether participating or not,
- whether open or covered.
Occasionally two other dimensions of observation are cited.
- Object of observation, as self or external observation,
- indirectly or via the media or standing in direct contact with the observed.
Structured and unstructured observation
- Unstructured observation : Only a rough framework and guidelines and only a few observation categories are given. This leaves the observer with a certain flexibility and openness to the object of observation.
- Structured observation : A fixed observation scheme is used. A system of characteristics or categories must be created for this.
Participant and non-participant observation
- active: The observer is himself active in the group he is observing. He has an "everyday" role in the social field . However, there is a risk of “going native”, i.e. familiarity with and identification with the events observed. This jeopardizes the objectivity of the observation and could lead to falsified results which are then no longer valid (valid).
- passive: the observer is present but has an insignificant role in the field, for example that of a visitor.
- Non-participating observation: The observer is not directly present, he evaluates the group or the people without intervening personally. This is the case with a video recording, for example.
Open and covert observation
- Open observation : the observer reveals himself to the test person as an observer. One potential problem with open observation is reactivity and the emergence of social desirability .
- Covert observation : the observer does not reveal himself as such. A covert observation method is mystery shopping . The covert observation raises questions of scientific ethics particularly emphatically .
A few mixed forms should be emphasized.
- Openly non-participating observation : The observer reveals himself to his interaction partners, but does not take part in the situation ( video recording ).
- Openly participating observation : The observer participates in the situation and reveals himself to his interaction partners as an observer.
- In covert, non-participating observation : the observer tries to remain unnoticed and not to intervene.
- Covert participant observation : The observer does not reveal himself to his interaction partners as such (espionage method with an undercover agent or famous observations by Günter Wallraff ). The ethical question of science is here completely evident; The secret agent or the criminal who is preparing a bank robbery also observes covertly participating.
Field observation and laboratory observation
- Field observation : the observation takes place in a natural social situation. Field observation enables the long-term investigation of the effects of variables that cannot be manipulated by the observer and in the context of complex social events.
- Observation in the laboratory : The observation takes place in an artificially created situation.
On individual social science subjects
This also applies to sociology when the subject of research is sensitive or when researcher and researcher are very different from each other. In sociology, the term “ observation ” plays a role as a different technical term in systems theory .
In psychology, a distinction is made between observation of others and observation of oneself. In external observation , strange behaviors are observed; in self- observation and self- observation (also introspection) one's own behavior, feelings and thoughts are observed.
Observation as a research method
In order to be able to draw up studies, analyzes and statistics in science and later make them public, a topic must first be examined. One research method that helps in obtaining empirical data is observation.
Types of observation
- The self-exploration, self-assessments, which are recorded by answering questionnaires (standardized guided self-observation) or interviews (guided self-observation). The evaluation of diaries is also based on introspection. However, this data is hardly useful. Due to the expectations of the persons concerned, the results are not objective and often falsified by wishful thinking.
- External observation
- in contrast to introspection, another person makes a picture of the matter. The observers can pay different attention to topics, set the priorities differently, so that the results get a selective character. In addition, the mass of data makes it difficult to draw a balance.
- Opportunity observation
- the observer waits for a situation or fact already expected by him. However, the representativeness of the result must be viewed critically. This is because the probability that the situation will occur repeatedly or to the same extent is low.
- Systematic observation
- or scientific observation is used to obtain empirical data. It is carried out by trained people in a staged observation room. In order to maintain neutrality and impartiality, these individuals should not be thoroughly familiar with the focus of the research topic being analyzed. The following quality criteria are the basic prerequisites for the empirical collection of data and their evaluation: If a result is perceived equally by several people, the objectivity is assured. Reliability is also a prerequisite because all results should be accurately measured and reliable. If the data has been collected objectively and reliably, the result is valid in practice (validity).
- Unsystematic observation
- or everyday observation is a more random perception without intention or plan, which focuses on the entire event and not on details. It is without precise definition of what, when, how and where is observed.
- Environmental monitoring
- Air and light pollution
- Weather phenomena , natural disasters
- Quantum effects , unsolved problems in physics
- Force fields , interactions
- Experiment , documentation
- Watch and wait
- social interaction , census
- Forensic investigations
- Police observation
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- Andreas Diekmann: Empirical social research . 17th edition. Rowohlt, Reinbek 2007, ISBN 978-3-499-55551-0 , p. 456 ff.
- Hermann Hobmair (Ed.): Psychology. Bildungsverein EINS, Troisdorf 2008, ISBN 978-3-427-05005-6 , p. 61 ff.
- Siegfried J. Schmidt : Observer / observation. In: ders .: The finality of the provisional. Processuality as an argumentation strategy. Weilerswist: Velbrück Wissenschaft, 2010, ISBN 978-3-938808-78-8 , pp. 17-22 [Theoretical foundations in a nutshell, with a review of the constructivist research literature].
- Christoph Hoffmann: Under observation: nature research in the age of the sensory apparatus . Göttingen: Wallstein, 2006. ISBN 978-3-8353-0075-0 .
- Doris Bohnet, Von Electrons and Jupiter Moons - Attempt to Draw the Line between the Observable and the Unobservable (PDF; 538 kB), Master's thesis at the University of Hamburg, August 2006, accessed on June 22, 2013.
- René König (ed.): Observation and experiment in social research. Kiepenheuer & Witsch, Cologne 1962, .