The observational method involves the observation and recording of the activities of a person by the observer in a controlled or natural situation. These recordings are then analyzed and inference about the personality of the individual is drawn. Observational methods are categorized under two headings: (i) Rating scales and (ii) Interviews. These are being elaborated below.
Rating scales involve recording judgment about the personality traits in some categories. These categories may be numerical or graphic. Each category has a specific meaning and the rater expresses his reaction about the traits of the person being assessed through these categories. These ratings are then statistically analyzed and a conclusion about the personality of the person is reached. However, assessment of personality through rating scales depends on the following factors:
- The rating scale being used should be sound and each category included in it should be defined clearly beside the rater should have exact knowledge of it.
- The rater should know the person being assessed or rated.
- The rater should have the ability to avoid the halo effect and other sorts of biases that sway the judgment in one direction (positive or negative).
Of all the techniques of personality, an assessment interview is the most widely used technique. The interview involves the recording of reactions to the questions asked by the interviewee in a face-to-face situation. Interviews are usually of two types:
a) structured interview, and
b) unstructured interview.
In a structured interview, the questions asked by the interviewer are predecided. Even the order of presentation of questions, their language, and the manner in which they are to be put to the subject is decided a priori. Thus structured interviews follow a standardized pattern.
The biggest advantage of a structured interview is that it allows the comparative study of the personality of different individuals since all of them are asked the same questions and in the same order. However, this merit of a structured interview turns into demerit when intensive drilling and analysis of personality is required. Since the language, order, and a number of questions are predecided it does not allow the interviewer to ask supplementary questions aimed at deeper probing.
The unstructured interview allows the interviewer to ask questions as he thinks fit depending on how the interview progresses. The language of questions, their number, and the manner of asking questions all depend on the understanding of the interviewer. Unstructured interviews are mostly used for clinical purposes to diagnose the problems or abnormality in the personality of the individual as these are free of the constraints of structured interviews.