Naturalistic Observation is a method of research used by social scientists and psychologists. In this method, participants are observed in their natural setting.

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Naturalistic Observation


Observational Research is a type of non-experimental study in which human behavior is methodologically recorded and observed. The goal here is to record the variable and describe it, along with observing the characteristics of the variable or group of variables. In such anon-experimental study, no other variable or setting is manipulated and controlled. There are several types of Observational research, naturalistic, participant, non-participant, case study, structured. Naturalistic Observation is a widely used technique by a psychologist for studying the participants of the experiment in their naturalistic setting to gather information about their behavior and study them. This type of observation allows the experimenter to observe the participants impromptu and spontaneous behavior with accuracy. Social scientists and psychologists opt for this specific technique to study cultural and social settings such as hospitals, bars, etc.

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Naturalistic Observation Applications

In naturalistic observation subjects of the study are observed in their normal setup. It is also called fieldwork, as the researcher is required to go onto the field to record details of the variables in the natural environment. The roots of the naturalistic observation method are traced back to anthropology and animal research. A well-known anthropologist M. Mead used this study and recorded the daily lives of various tribes living in the South Pacific. Thistype of research can be conducted in any and every setting such as bars, restaurants, homes, hospitals; not much effort or resources are required on the part of the researcher to change or add things into the experiment area. For example, to understand the thought process that people experience while making decisions of day to day life the psychologist/researcher accompanies different people such as a doctor, milkmen, driver in their regular work routine to record and describe their behavior patterns. There are certain areas of study that are challenging to be recreated in a laboratory setup which is why the researcher chooses naturalistic observation. In this kind of research, the researcher needs to have core interest in the research topic. Since the behaviors are to be observed in its natural setting it requires the experimenter’s undivided attention and an eye for keen details so that they do not miss on anything.

Advantages and disadvantages of naturalistic observations

The following are the strengths or advantages of naturalistic observation:

The first and most important advantage is that it provides the researcher with the opportunity to record data in a natural setting.

It gives the researcher an upper hand with the first-hand look of the raw social behavior and data.

The information gathered through naturalistic observation provides huge insights that are helpful for people to overcome their issues.

It provides a researcher with an opportunity to study variables and data that cannot be manipulated. For example, to study the dynamic interaction of students, the classroom environment cannot be recreated in the laboratory. Another example, to study the behavior of people who are imprisoned, it is unethical to confirm with the subject but with naturalistic observation, the information can be observed.

It provides high external validity, as the result obtained from this research can be generalized to a larger audience, on the other hand, the results in a laboratory setting cannot be accurately generalized to a larger audience.

The following are the disadvantages of naturalistic observation:

It is difficult for the researcher to determine the sole cause of the behavior, as the researcher is unable to control any of the variables in the environment.

The data observed can be hampered as the individuals might behave in a different way when they consciously know that they are being watched. They may try to behave in a more socially acceptable behavior rather than their spontaneous behavior.

The results across two different researchers on the same study may vary, as both researchers may interpret and attribute different reasons leading to a discrepancy in results, that is, the data can be subjective.

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It is a time-consuming process; it requires a long time commitment of time and effort on part of the observer. It can take several years to complete the study, and thus required a large investment.

Under this type of research limited number of settings can be studied, that is the variables of participants are subject to various limitations such as age, gender, ethnicity, etc.

Data collection method: The experimenter makes use of a variety of techniques for data collection in naturalistic observation. It ranges from case studies or making a note of the behaviors which can be time-consuming. Sometimes video recording option is also used to record data and save time.

Video or Audio Recording: On the type of study and data to be observed the researcher can opt for video or audio recording of behaviors as it is time-consuming and helps to gather in-depth information. As these are recorded, they also work as a good way to maintain records of data.

Recording Tally Count: Here the researcher makes a tally format and records the number of times a specific behavior has occurred.

Narrative of Observer: In this, the researcher takes notes of all the reactions and behaviors of the individual and then studies them to understand the pattern of behavior.

Data Collection Time Frame: It is practically impossible to record every detail and every moment in a naturalistic setting due to subject to reasons like the subject or researcher’savailability and other things. The goal of naturalistic observation like any other research is to obtain data is the representative. To obtain representative data, Situational sampling is used that is recording the behavior in different settings and situations; and Time sampling is used that is either randomly or systematically taking samples from different time frames.

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