How to collect high quality data in an observation lab

Monday, 3 October, 2011

Observational research is often best carried out in a stationary lab. Controlled conditions and accurate data recording are key in scientific success and a stationary lab provides these controlled conditions while allowing scientists to observe test participants unobtrusively. It is possible to combine video observations, physiological data collection, facial expression analysis, sensory testing, and more in a lab, and thus a myriad of different experiment setups and designs based on the type and position of cameras, microphones, eye trackers webcams: whatever is necessary to gather rich and meaningful data (see the inter-observer agreement percentages below).

1) Investigating the organization of spontaneous eye blinks

In a recent study Mei-Hua Lee et al. (2010) investigate the mean rate and time-dependent sequential organization of spontaneous eye blinks in adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. They also explore the behavior of individuals from this group who are additionally categorized with stereotypic movement disorder. So how did they set up their behavior experiment? They positioned one camera in a clinical exam room. Researchers then asked test participants to sit in a chair and look directly into the camera. This observation room was created to record natural, spontaneous eye-blink behavior while free of external noise and interruption. Two observers coded the recordings and reached an average of 93.2% inter-observer agreement.

2) Exploring the relationships between sensory perception and facial reactions

Wendin et al. (2011) recorded behavior using a dome camera. Participants were asked to taste several samples served in plastic cups. The dome camera was located in the ceiling approximately 3 meters from the test participant, and after the experiment two trained observers coded facial expressions. The aim of this study was to explore relationships between sensory perception and facial reactions. The observers rated the facial reactions such as frown, eye widening, and lips pursed independently with inter-observer agreement exceeding 90%. In the end they conclude that a combination of sensory and facial expression analysis successfully added insight into the perception of basic tastes.

Courtesy Lisa van Damme

White paper:
How to build a usability lab 

To get off to a good start, it is best to describe the research or tests in great detail. With this description it becomes clear what kind of equipment will be needed, and which physical environment would best suit this test or research.

Download this free ‘how to’ guide to learn more about building a usability lab.

References

  • Lee, M.; Bodfish, J.W.; Lewis, M.H.; Newell, K.M (2010). Low dimensional temporal organization of spontaneous eye blinks in adults with developmental disabilities and stereotyped movement disorder. Research in Developmental Disabilities31, 250-255.
  • Wendin, K.; Allesen-Holm, B.H.;  Bredie, W.L.P. (2011). Do facial reactions add new dimensions to measuring sensory responses to basic tastes?, Food Quality and Preference22 (4), 346-354.