naturalistic observation

Naturalistic Observation: Definition, Types, Process, and Cons

What is Naturalistic Observation?

Naturalistic observation is also called objective observation, systematic observation, or simply an observation method. The collection of data by careful observation of events in their natural setting is called naturalistic observation.

Simply it helps to identify what, why, and how a particular person behaves in a particular situation. Identifying the behavior of a student during his school time is an example of observation.

It is one of the oldest scientific methods in psychology. It is widely used in ethnology, social psychology, child psychology, abnormal psychology, developmental psychology, sociology, and other areas. The observation method evolved as a critique versus the introspective method which is a biased observation or self-observation.

Naturalistic observation ranges from watching chimpanzee societies in the jungle, behavior of ants, bees, to parent-child interaction in different cultures, recording student behavior during lunchtime, language development in slum area children, etc. It describes behavior as what people do, how they differ in their behavior, and why. It may use cameras, recordings, questionnaires while observing the behavior.

Types of Observation

In the naturalistic observation method, there are many methods of observation the observers can use. Some observation ways or types are:

The observation method also sets out with certain objectives and hypotheses relevant to the particular study. The observation method also can be done through participation. For example, in observing a child’s behavior in developing friendship, the psychologists actively take part and simultaneously observe the behavior of the child. This is called “participant observation”.

In another kind of observation called “non-participation”, the psychologists try to observe the behavior from an observable distance or through a one-way vision screen so that observers can see the ‘subject’ without being seen themselves.

The observation is called “structured observation” when standard, systematic procedures of recording the observed information are used. In an unstructured observation, no such strategies are planned. Structured observation is done usually in descriptive studies whereas in an exploratory study the observational procedure is usually unstructured.

Steps in Naturalistic Observation

To complete the naturalistic observation process some steps are needed to be followed. The important steps are:

1. Observation of Behavior

Observation means examination or perception of some behavior directly. For example, one has to observe the behavior of chimpanzees or children of a certain ethnic group the researcher has to go to the place where the chimpanzees are assembled or the areas of that ethnic group respectively.

Similarly, if interested in finding out the male and female students hold books, they have to present themselves to the colleges or universities to observe these behaviors and find out the answers to their queries.

2. Noting of Behavior

The second important step in the observation process needs the perceived behavior to be carefully noted down to be remembered. Otherwise, the observed behavior may be forgotten while making the final report and the data could be wrong. For this purpose, the naturalist may use different devices like notebooks, cameras, recordings, and checklists, etc. Noting or recording of behaviors are essential facts of the observational method.

3. Interpretation and Analysis of Behavior

The noted behaviors need to be interpreted and analyzed carefully so that the underlying causes of the behavior can be clarified. The movement of hands, legs, gestures, over behaviors, need interpretation so that the mental state is inferred from their external activities.

Finding the causes of behavior from some observations is called inductive reasoning, where the results of many observations and experiments, noting the effect of the particular factor, are explained.

4. Generalization

The observation method is a scientific method, to follow scientific principles the findings should be generalized based on general principles. In the example of children of a certain ethnic group, psychologists will observe their behavior, not it, analyze it, interpret it, and finally find out certain behaviors which are common to all children of that ethnic group.

For example, children of a slum area have the same language pattern. Psychologists use certain words frequently to show their anger and aggressiveness.

Limitations of Naturalistic Observation

The major limitations of the observation method are:

Influence of Personal Interest and Bias

While observing the behavior, the psychologist’s likes and dislikes, personal views, and tendencies may influence his recordings. For example, in countries where prejudices based on color, ethnicity, and minority group are largely prevalent a psychologist belonging to another ethnic group seldom finds higher traits in the behavior of a subject belonging to that minority or ethnic group. A wicked psychologist rarely finds some sympathetic action behind them, while a religious one would interpret even the wicked behavior as pure. It shows the behavior would be incorrectly interpreted due to personal interests and attitudes.

Only Overt Behavior of the Organism is Studied

The observation method does not try to look within the individual like the introspection method. The observation method alone can not serve the purpose of psychologists as the internal behavior of an individual can not accurately know from outward observation. A good quality behavior study method needs both covert and overt behavior to be studied and examined.

Other Limitations

It is an expensive method. Information obtained is very limited and unfor-seen factors may interfere with the observational tasks.

Despite the above-mentioned limitations and difficulties, the observation method has proved itself as an indispensable and valuable tool in the hands of skilled observes and psychologists.

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