Naturalistic Observation, case study

Essay by grimesyUniversity, Bachelor'sA+, August 2004

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Surprisingly, naturalistic observational research is difficult to do well. Methods have been

constructed to guide the researcher, especially the beginning researcher, in the collection of data

under naturalistic conditions. Most importantly for this method, the very presence of the

investigator, as well as the data recording techniques that are used, must remain unobtrusive; that

is, no characteristics of the observation itself should have any effect on the behavior of the

organism under study.

Advantages of naturalistic observation include the collection of data that clearly reflect the

constraints of the organism's normal environment (human subjects, in particular, may respond

differently under laboratory conditions when they know that they are in an experiment), and

the collection of data in cases where experimental techniques would be impractical and/or

unethical (for example, in an exploration of the social interaction patterns of mentally retarded

children in the classroom).

One problem with naturalistic observation techniques is that different observers may draw

different conclusions from watching the same instance of behavior.

This potential problem is

often addressed in two ways. One safeguard against this problem is known as "working up

reliability". In the early stages of characterizing a behavioral phenomenon, the scientists working

on a project will get together to create definitions of the behaviors in question, definitions upon

which they can all agree and which they can implement when collecting data.

References for this material include: (


Topic of Study: A four year old boy and his three year old male cousin as they get in to

trouble when they think no one is watching.

Method of Observation: Video camera set up without the two boys noticing. This

unobtrusive surveillance caused no outside control on the behavior of the boys.

Notes Collected: Both boys were playing together in the living room in front of adults...