Naturalistic Observations

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Naturalistic Observations

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Watching the behaviour of humans or animals in a natural environment.

The researcher does not manipulate variables and does not interfere with things - they try to remain inconspicuous.


  1. Rosenhan (1973): Pseudopatients admitted to psychiatric hospitals and treatment by hospital staff observed.
  2. Lorenz (1937): Famous studies on imprinting in animals.

In participant observation the observer acts as part of the group being watched.

You will need to be systematic, observations may be either structured or unstructured.

Structured observation: Uses tables of pre-determined categories of behaviour and systematic sampling.

Ways of sampling in structured observational studies:

Time sampling: Observations may be made at regular time intervals and coded.

Event sampling: Keep a tally chart of each time a type of behaviour occurs.

Point sampling: Focus on one individual at a time for set period of time.

Unstructured observations: Record everything that happens. It may be difficult to avoid bias by focusing on what you want or expect to see happening, in theory all observations are noted as anything could prove to be important.

May use a diary method to record events, feelings, or moods.

Video recording: This is useful as behaviour may be analysed in more detail later.

Strengths: Weaknesses:
More natural behaviour occurs if people are unaware of observation. Observer may affect behaviour if detected.
Studying of animals that cannot be observed in captivity. Difficult to replicate - cannot control extraneous variables.
Study of situations that cannot be artificially set up. Need for more than one observer.

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