Every science is based on observation of facts, and hence, observational methods are most common to every science. Like all other sciences, psychology also uses this method to study its subject matter.
Observation can be objective or subjective. In objective observation, a single observer or a number of observers can observe, whose findings can be crosschecked, and verified. It is possible for a common man to observe the external or overt activities, and this type of observation is objective observation. But when a person feels pain, hunger, or fatigue, it is not possible for others to observe these experiences. Only the person himself can be aware of these experiences and can observe himself. Such type of observation is called subjective observation, which is otherwise known as introspection.
Psychology studies both overt and covert activities using objective and subjective observations, respectively. Observation can be made either in the laboratory by creating an artificial situation, or can be made in natural settings, where the events take place. Observing occurrence of events in the natural settings is called naturalistic observation.
The literal meaning of observation is clear perception of some objects or events. Observation forms the basis of any scientific enquiry. Scientific observation cannot be regarded as just a simple perception of a layman. When some objects or events are observed in a scientific manner, those objects or events are examined systematically. Objective observation is concerned with the events of the external world.
Psychologists use objective observation to study the overt activities of the organism. The subjective observation, called introspection, asks a person to look within, and report his mental experiences. Both the methods have considerable utility in psychology. Recently, many psychological instruments are used to record the inner experiences. Yet the observational methods have their own advantages.
The observation may take place in the artificial setting of a laboratory (laboratory observation), or in the natural field settings (naturalistic observation). The observer may be a part of the situation to be observed (participant observation), or may observe from a distance without being a part of the event (non-participant observation). The observer may study the outward activities of other persons in a systematic manner (objective observation), or may observe himself by looking within to analyze his thought processes (subjective observation). Depending on how and where the observation takes place and for what purpose, there are different kinds of observational methods.
A few observational methods are: