Naturalistic Observation

Naturalistic observation is a research tool in which a subject is observed in its natural habitat without any manipulation by the observer. During naturalistic observation researchers take great care to avoid interfering with the behavior they are observing by using unobtrusive methods. Naturalistic observation involves two main differences that set it apart from other forms of data gathering. In the context of a naturalistic observation the environment is in no way being manipulated by the observer nor was it created by the observer.

See also: Naturalism, Naturalism In Philosophy

Naturalistic observation as a research tool comes with both advantages and disadvantages that impact its application. By merely observing a given instance without any manipulation in its natural context it makes the behaviors exhibited more credible because they are occurring in a real typical scenario as opposed to an artificial one generated within a lab. Naturalistic observation also allows for study of events that it is deemed unethical to study via experimental models, such as the impact of high school shootings on students attending the high school.

See also: Natural Environment

They may observe animals in their natural habitat. They observe mating, living conditions, and many other qualities of animals. They can be overt (the participants are aware they are being observed) or covert (the participants do not know they are being observed). There are obviously more ethical guidelines to take into consideration when a covert observation is being carried out.

An Impala at Mikumi National Park. Red-billed Oxpeckers are feeding on parasites found on the Impala, a practice that benefits both animals.

An Impala at Mikumi National Park. Red-billed Oxpeckers are feeding on parasites found on the Impala, a practice that benefits both animals.

Naturalistic Observational Field Techniques for Traffic Psychology Research

Naturalistic Observational Field Techniques for Traffic Psychology Research

Naturalistic observation is a hallmark of scientific inquiry and is central to many empirical data collection efforts. There are two main strengths of this method. The first is that it taps directly into the behavior of interest and does not rely on having to interpret proxies of behaviors such as self-reports. Second, because the behaviors observed occur in natural settings, naturalistic observation has strong construct and face validity; that is, it very likely represents reality than argument that is more difficult to make with other research methods, such as a driving simulator. On the other hand, naturalistic observation as a research method has some drawbacks. The main disadvantage is generalizability. The value of naturalistic observation techniques to any area of traffic psychology is dependent on how well the study is designed and executed. A study with a flawed design will not yield results that are generalizable, and even a well-designed study will not be useful if the observational methods are not valid and reliable. Thus naturalistic observational studies require appropriate study designs, reproducible protocols, extensive observer training, and adequate resources to yield valid and generalizable results.

By David W. Eby, in Handbook of Traffic Psychology, 2011

What is Naturalistic Observation?

There’s an old saying that begins like this: ‘If only I could be a fly on the wall in that room…’ This saying refers to someone’s interest in the goings-on in a meeting or conversation. The term naturalistic observation refers to this sort of curiosity.

Let’s break the term down. Naturalistic relates to an unchanged, normal environment within which the subject of the study functions. Observation stands for the necessity of watching how someone behaves in order to gather data. Naturalistic observation, therefore, is a method of observing people in their normal environment. Researchers using this method of data collection are interested in observing a subject’s unaltered behavior in his normal environment. Employing this methodology makes as little impact as possible on both the environment and the subject’s behavior. So, what is this kind of data gathering used for?


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