Chapter Summary: Chapter 6 – Observational Methods
Quantitative versus qualitative methods of describing behaviours
- Focuses on people behaving in a natural setting, where they describe their surroundings in their own words.
- Focuses on behaviour that can be easily quantified.
- Emphasizes collecting in-depth information on a small number of individuals or in a limited setting.
- Conclusions drawn from qualitative research are based on the interpretations of the investigator.
- Focuses on numerical values from non-observational approaches, such as surveys.
- Generally collect information from much larger samples.
- Conclusions drawn from quantitative research are based upon statistical analysis of data such as averages, mode, etc.
There are 4 types of observational methods:
- Naturalistic observation
- Systematic observation
- Case studies
- Archival research
Naturalistic Observation (aka. field work or field observation)
- Descriptive method in which the researcher’s observations are made in a natural social setting (the field) over an
extended period of time, using a variety of techniques to collect information.
- It is also called field observation.
- Must contain a high level of objectivity.
- Primarily qualitative, however quantitative data may be gathered and interpreted as well.
- Used when researcher wants to describe and understand how people in a social or cultural setting live, work, and
experience their environment.
- Also common for the researcher to immerse themselves in the environment/situation; to have conversations with their
subjects, join groups, etc.
- Researcher must keep detailed and frequent field notes in order to paint a detailed picture of their observations.
- Naturalistic researchers use a variety of ways to gather information: observing using audio and video tape recording,
interviewing, conversing, examining documentation such as newspapers, journals, etc.
- Steps to naturalistic observation:
o Describe the setting, events and people being observed
o Analyze and interpret what was observed, and generate hypotheses
o Produce a report that contains multiple confirmations of the hypothesis.
- Issues and limitations to naturalistic observation:
o Participation – researcher must decide if they want to be either a non-participant observer or a participant
observer, where they interact with the subjects. Participant observation would allow the researcher an insider
view of the situation and they themselves could feel what it is like to be one of their subjects. The only
problem is that there is potential to lose objectivity in their data collected.
o Concealment – researcher must decide if their identity and presence should be concealed from their subjects
or not. Presence of the observer may alter the subject’s behaviour. However, non-concealed observation may
be preferable from an ethical viewpoint. Example of non-concealed observation = MTV’s “Real World”.
There are degrees of concealment that may be used for different scenarios.
o Defining the scope of the observation – researcher should be observing everything going on in a situation,
however this cannot always happen. Limiting the scope of their observation to the central issue of the study
o Naturalistic observation cannot be used to study all issues. Best used for complex social settings, less useful
for studying well-defined hypotheses under specific