Whether observing the behaviour exhibited by animals, children or adults, it’s always useful to have a checklist. It makes it easier to make notes because less time is spent writing and more time is spent actually observing. Behaviour observation checklists also provide a useful starting point from which to further analyse the subject after the initial observation period. This can be helpful when the purpose of the observation relates to wanting to help the subject in some way or write an academic paper.
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Creating separate sections
Behaviour observation checklists are most useful when they are clearly divided into separate sections and when the observer has little more to do than to tick a box or write three or four words in response to particular examples of behaviour that he or she is witness to. When sections for analysis are clearly defined in the checklist, the observation will be better focused and the observer is successfully guided through the process to record information which will be of real use after the observation comes to an end. Behaviour observation checklists can be separated in many different ways, but it’s quite common to see checklists which force the observer to make separate notes on social, emotional and physical behaviour.
Social and emotional
Behaviour observation checklists which focus on social and emotional behaviour, whether in children, animals or adults, tend to record information which relates to emotional displays of aggression, loyalty, affection, trust, attention-span and impulsiveness. Checklists can be simple records which require a simple tick in a box when the subject displays such behaviour or they can leave space for the observer to give a little more information about the context in which the types of behaviour appear.
In the same way, behaviour observation checklists can be created which focus on physical interactions or examples of actions exhibited by the subject in certain situations. One way of studying the physical behaviour of a subject and to record this behaviour on a checklist is to count the number of times during one observation that the subject displays the kind of physical behaviour which is being monitored. For example, if observing an animal when left to interact with other animals in a confined space, the observer can make notes on how many times an animal chooses to touch another animal, how many times that contact is aggressive and how many times that contact appears to be affectionate or social in some kind of way.
Defining the context
The decision to observe behaviour must be defined before the observation takes place so that the observation can be situated clearly in context. The context of the observation should also directly influence the style and focus of the checklist. Without defining the context, the observation checklist is likely to be far too general and won’t provide a useful enough record of the behaviour observed. For example, if the focus of the observation is to help find out why a child is experiencing difficulties with anger management, the observation checklist should allow the observer to record information about when and why the child loses his or her temper.
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