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Anna Nagy
Study Guide

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Week 06 Reading Notes
Chapter 6: Observational Methods
Bc behaviour varies so much and occurs in so many settings, social scientists
have developed many ways of observing it
Quantitative and Qualitative Approaches
QUANTITATIVE/EMPIRICAL APPROACH: using the scientific method,
which involves developing theories, generating hypotheses to test those
theories, designing experiments or non-experiments to test those
hypotheses, operationally defining variables, collecting numerical data from
many participants, and analyzing those data using stats
peoples behaviour in natural settings, people describing their world in their
own words, collecting in-depth info on relatively few people with within a
very limited setting, and conclusions that are based on careful
interpretations drawn by the investigator
o There is a great variety in the research paradigms and sets of rules
captured by the term qualitative
Qualitative data is expressed in non-numerical terms, using lang and images
The quantitative approach requires stat analysis (and numerical data),
whereas the qualitative approach involves interpreting peoples experiences
within a specific context
The choice to use the qualitative or quantitative approach (or both) depends
on the kind of training your received as a student
A thorough understanding of behaviour will likely require both qualitative
and quantitative ways of knowing
Naturalistic Observation
NATURALISTIC OBSERVATION: researchers make observations in a
particular natural setting/field; observations are typically made over an
extended period of time using a variety if info-collection techniques
o Often used with qualitative approach
o Used when you want tot describe and understand how people in a
social or cultural setting, live, work, and experience setting
Description and Interpretation of Data
Naturalistic observation requires that researcher immerse themselves in the
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The goal is to provide a complete and accurate picture to achieve this, the
researcher must keep detailed field notes
Qualitative researchers use a variety of techniques to gather info: observing
people and interviewing key informants to provide inside info, talking to
people about their lives, and examining docs produced in the setting
Researchers who conduct naturalistic observation usually use audio and
video recordings
The researchers describes the setting, events, and persons observed and
then interpret what was observed
o Depending on the qualitative approach used, this interpretation may
involve identifying common themes or developing a theory with
hypotheses for future work
o The final report might reflect the chronological order of events or can
be organized around the theory developed by the researcher
o Specific examples of events that occurred during observation are used
to support the researchers interpretations
A good naturalistic observation report will support the validity of the
interpretation by using mult confirmations
The published qualitative report includes specific observations and the
researchers interpretations
Data from naturalistic observation studies are primarily qualitative
descriptions of the observations rather than quantitative statistical summaries
o Such qualitative descriptions are often richer and closer to the
phenomenon being studied than are statistical representations
Quantitative data can also be gathered in a naturalistic observation study
o Data can be gathered on easily quantifiable variables like income, fam
size, edu levels, etc.
o A researcher using a mixed approach might report and interpret such
quantitative data along with qualitative data gathered from interviews
and direct observations
Researchers using a fully quantitative approach may use naturalistic
observation to collect data that they later translate into numerical data using
a coding system
Issues in Naturalistic Observation
Participation and Concealment
Researcher may choose to be a participant or nonparticipant in the social
setting and may choose to conceal their purposed from others in the setting
A nonparticipant observer is an outsider who doesnt become an active part
of the setting
A participant observer assumes an active, insider role
PARTICIPANT OBSERVATION: allows the researcher to observe the setting
from the inside
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o The researcher may be able to experience events in the same way as
natural participants
Friendships and other experiences of the participant observer may yield
valuable data, particularly from a qualitative perspective where the
researcher aims to completely describe the context
A potential prob with participant observation is that the observer may lose
the objectivity necessary to conduct scientific observation
o Remaining objective may be hard when the researcher already
belongs to the group being studied
o If a researcher has some prior reason to find fault with people in the
setting or to report only pos behaviour of a group, theres great risk
that the observations will be biased and conclusion will lack
The presence of the observer may influence and alter behaviour of those
being observed
CONCEALED OBSERVATION: less reactive than nonconcealed observation bc
people are not aware that their behaviours are being observed and recorded
People seem to forget about begin observed and spontaneously reveal their
Choosing to use concealed observation depends on ethical concerns and the
nature of the group and setting being studied
o Sometimes a participant observer is non-concealed to certain
members of the group, who give the researcher permission to be part
of the group as a concealed observer
o A concealed observer usually decides to say nothing directly about
their purposes but will completely disclose the goals of the research if
asked by anyone
Nonparticipant observers arent concealed when they gain permission to
hang out in a setting or use interview techniques to gather info
Degrees of participation and concealment:
o A nonparticipant observer may not become a member of the group,
but may over time become accepted as a friend or simply part of the
ongoing activities of the group
o Researchers who use naturalistic observation to study behaviour
must carefully determine what their role in the setting will be
Observation in public places when anonymity is not threatened is considered
o Informed consent is usually unnecessary but researchers must still be
sensitive to ethical issues when conducting naturalistic observation
Must consider whether the observations are made in a public
place with no clear expectations that behaviours are private
i.e. personal facebook page is public or private?
Defining the Scope of the Observation
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