Naturalistic observation: characteristics of this research tool

There are many ways to collect data about a specific person, but none are as simple and efficient as naturalistic observation.

We will discover the advantages brought by the use of this method, how to do it correctly and the differences with other forms of observation, to know in depth this methodology and to be able to use it without difficulty.

    What is naturalistic observation?

    Naturalistic observation is a method used in research and the foundation is to perform the observation of one or more subjects, whether they are people or animals, doing it directly in the place where he lives, without the researcher disturbing him at all, In order to avoid any kind of interference that would involve behavior different from what it would have if there was no observer there.

    For this reason, discretion in naturalistic observation is essential. We must avoid contaminating the stage and interactions, even with our mere presence. Therefore, the perfect example of naturalistic observation is one in which the individual does not realize that he is being observed, so that we do not give rise to the possibility of his behavior being altered by the eruption of ‘a strange one in his usual surroundings.

    The advantages of using this methodology are obvious: we get real results, without any alteration. The behavior of the individual that we are recording is what, in fact, must occur in their habitat, under these conditions. Conversely, if this observation were carried out in an artificial environment, such as a laboratory, a multitude of variables would have to be controlled and one would never be sure that the observation corresponds to natural behavior.

    Outraged, naturalistic observation is the only way, or at least the only way that ethics allows us, to be able to analyze certain eventss that by its nature it would make no sense to construct artificially, like those linked to a crime. In this line, the recordings of CCTV cameras and eyewitness testimonies provide information to make an observation, in this case a posteriori, allowing conclusions to be drawn and even to anticipate a series of behaviors.

    different uses

    Talking about the uses of naturalistic observation is, in fact, almost inaccessible. And this is it this technique is as useful and as simple to perform as many disciplines, Of a different nature.

    Of course, one of the most drinkable is none other than psychology, and that is that the science of human behavior must be nourished by the most neutral and reliable information possible, so that naturalistic observation implies an ideal method to achieve this goal.

    In this line, ethology, the science of animal behavior, may be an even clearer example. Either to study the behaviors of certain species, to know them more in depth, or for their evolutionary proximity to humans, such as different species of primates (chimpanzees, bonobos or orangutans), because the recorded behaviors would help us to know ourselves better. . , naturalistic observation is a precious tool.

    The clearest example would be the work done by primatologist, Jane Goodall, over a lifetime. Thanks to his field studies, he relied almost exclusively on the method of naturalistic observation. Goodall has observed, no more and no less than for 55 years, a society of chimpanzees, collecting a myriad of data on their social structure, interactions, emotions and other types of behavior, which we would never have otherwise known. .

    Naturalistic observation is also very valuable for other sciences, such as criminology, and we have already argued in the previous point that there is a code of ethics that prevents researchers from recreating antisocial behavior in an artificial environment, so that we can observe them when they occur. in a real scenario, in order to collect all the data that we use to generate new methods that manage to avoid them in the future, is extremely useful.

    Differences from analog observation

    In opposition to naturalistic observation, we would find analogical observation, A methodology based on the recreation of a real situation in a laboratory environment, so that instead of the subject’s natural habitat, we find ourselves in an artificial environment. We have already understood throughout the article that these observations in simulated scenarios have some drawbacks, as it is possible that the individual never behaves as he would in his natural environment.

    But the truth is it is not always possible to study the behaviors that interest us in the environment in which they occur naturallySo many times researchers are forced to use analogous observations, because the alternative would be not to collect information. In this case, obviously, the logical decision is to use this methodology, being aware of its limitations and taking them into account when analyzing the results.

    In any case, if there is no choice but to use similar observations, the important thing is to do so under the most neutral conditions as far as possible, try to leave as few variables as possible uncontrolled, To obtain results as close as possible to those we would find if we had conducted our research on the actual habitat of individuals.

      Observer correction

      Although we have already seen that naturalistic observation is much more valuable than its analogue, the truth is that in any type of observation we may encounter a difficulty that as researchers we must be aware in order to alleviate so much. as possible. It is none other than through the expectation of the observer, which can contaminate the data we record during the session.

      This bias refers to the influence that previous expectations can have on the researcher regarding the results of the study, so that it can lead to misinterpretations of the data collected, in a way steering the conclusions towards the preconceived notion. which was retained, which would seriously weaken the internal validity of any research.

      The positive part is that this is a perfectly known and studied phenomenon, and has a relatively simple solution, which consists of the use of a double blind, A type of experimental design in which neither the subjects who are part of the study nor the researchers themselves who carry it out know whether each individual is in the experimental group or the control group. In this way, naturalistic observation would be more reliable, eliminating this possible bias.

      Electronically activated recorder

      Finally, we will get to know better a technique that has been used in recent years to perform certain types of naturalistic observation. This is the use of the electronically activated recorder, Or EAR, for its acronym in English (electronically activated recorder). This device is intended for observations made on a fairly large sample of the population and over a relatively long period of time, which is a major advance in the use of this popular methodology.

      As, under these conditions, the amount of data collected would be so huge that we would have serious difficulty analyzing it properly, what is done is to use this little recorder, whether the person is wearing it strapped to their belt or elsewhere on their body. . ., and turns on automatically during certain intervals, to record sounds from different time slots. So we get a sample of recordings of many different times and crowds of people.

      Thanks to the EAR methodology, the doors were opened to implement the naturalistic observation method in very large populations. This is a great advance, since, with the technical and human means of the usual studies, the classic was to use a small sample, and from there it would be necessary extrapolate the results to the general population. Instead, we now have the ability to conduct large-scale studies at affordable costs, which opens the door to much more ambitious research.

      This is another example of how the development of technologies allows us to continue to advance on the path of knowledge, making science it is enriched by new methodologies or classical methodologies that evolve and adapt to new times, as is the case with naturalistic observation with an electronically activated recorder. We must keep abreast of new developments and thus have at our disposal the most advanced tools to develop new and enriching research.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Angrosino, MV (2016). Naturalistic observation. Routledge.
      • Christensen, A., Hazzard, A. (1983). Reactive effects during the naturalistic observation of families. Behavior assessment.
      • D’Ocon, A., Cerezo, A. (1995). The naturalistic observation of family interaction. Reliability of event sequences. Journal of Methodology and Experimental Psychology.
      • Mehl, MR, Robbins, ML (2012). Sampling of naturalistic observations: the electronically activated recorder (EAR). The Guilford Press.
      • Miller, DB (1977). Roles of naturalistic observation in comparative psychology. American psychologist.

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