Direct Observation Tests

Direct observation tests are a type of psychological test that involves observing people in a structured way, either in a laboratory or natural setting, as they carry out various pre-determined activities. These tests are used mainly to study children's behavior, including how they interact with other family members.

Direct observation tests differ from so-called objective psychological tests. The latter do not study behavior directly but rely on eliciting responses on validated questionnaires. Direct observation tests have found application in diagnosing dysfunctional family relationships or disruptive classroom behavior that could be linked to a childhood psychological disorder.

To be of value, direct observation tests must go beyond mere recording of individual or group behavior in an uncontrolled setting. Like other psychological tests used in routine clinical practice, it must be validated on an extensive research base. There are some well-known examples of direct observation tests. One is the Parent-Child Interaction Assessment (PCIA), which helps psychologists understand how parents and children interact through language and behavior when they are playing. The PCIA involves a structured video recording of the family on a makebelieve visit to the zoo. Later, they are shown parts of the recording and asked questions about it. Analysis of the recording and responses to the questions allow coding of behaviors like attachment, parent attune-ment, and child aggression. The PCIA has been used in the detection of attentive deficit hyperactivity disorder and childhood depression. It is also useful in detecting actual and potential child abuse.

The Parent-Child Early Relational Assessment is a direct observation test used as a family assessment tool. It involves the video recording of parents with their preschool age children in four distinct activities: feeding, a familiar task, a familiar game, and a novel game that requires teaching. This is followed by a short separation between parent and child. The observations give the psychologist a clear overview of family dynamics and can be analyzed to give insights into family relationships.

See also Assessment, Psychological ; Child psychology ; Educational psychology ; Experimental psychology ; Parent-Child relationships; Psychometrics .



Coolican, Hugh. Research Methods and Statistics in Psychology. London, UK: Psychology Press, 2014.

Howitt, Dennis, and Duncan Cramer. Introduction to Research Methods in Psychology. Harlow, UK: Pearson Education Ltd, 2014.


National Institutes of Health. “ADHD: Is Objective Diagnosis Possible?” (accessed March 13, 2015).

University of California, Davis. “Observation: Systematic Observation.” (accessed March 13, 2015).

University of Indianapolis. “The Parent-Child Interaction Assessment II.” (accessed March 13, 2015).


Psychological test—
A psychological test is one of a wide range of procedures used to measure psychological traits or behavior.
Psychometrics is the branch of psychology uniting all forms of psychological testing.
(MLA 8th Edition)