PSYB01 - Chapter 6
The crux of nonexperimental research is that behaviour is observed or measured. There are many ways
of conducting nonexperimental research.
These approaches include: observing behaviour in natural settings, asking people to describe their
behaviour (self-reports), and examining existing records of behaviour, such as census data or hospital
Survey research will be covered in a different chapter.
Quantitative And Qualitative Approaches
Observational methods can be broadly classified as primarily quantitative or qualitative.
Qualitative research focuses on people behaving in natural settings and describing their world in their
Qualitative researchers emphasize collecting in-depth information on relatively few individuals
or within a very limited setting
The conclusions of qualitative research are based on interpretations drawn by the investigator.
Quantitative research tends to focus on specific behaviours that can be easily quantified
Quantitative investigations generally include larger samples.
Conclusions in quantitative research are based upon statistical analysis of data.
Example: You’re interested in describing the ways in which the lives of teenagers are affected by
You could take a quantitative approach by giving them a questionnaire where you could ask
things like the number of hours they work, type of work, grades, stress levels, etc.
After collecting the data, you subject the numbers to statistical analysis.
The findings would focus on things like the percentage of teenagers who work and the way
this percentage varies by age.
You could also take a qualitative approach, whereby you conduct a series of focus groups where
you gather 8-10 teens and engage them in discussion about their perceptions and experiences
with the world of work; you would ask them to tell you about the topic using their own words
and cognitive frameworks.
To record this, you could take a video-tape or audio-tape and record transcripts later, or
you could have someone take notes.
A qualitative description of the findings would focus on the themes that emerge from
discussions and the manner in which the teenagers conceptualized the issues.
Naturalistic observation is also called field work or field observation.
In a naturalistic observation study, the researcher makes observations in a particular natural setting (the
field) over an extended period of time, using a variety of techniques to collect information.
The report includes these observations and the researchers interpretations of the findings.
This method is used when researchers want to describe and understand how people in a social
or cultural setting live, work, and experience the setting.
Description and Interpretation of Data
Naturalistic observation demands the researchers immerse themselves in the situation so that they can
observe everything. The goal is to provide a complete and accurate picture rather than to test a hypotheses formed
prior t the study.
Must keep detailed field reports – they must write or dictate on a regular basis (at least
once per day) everything that has happened.
Field researchers use a variety of techniques to gather information:
Observing people and events.
Interviewing key “informants” to provide inside information.
Talking to people about their lives.
Examining documents produced in the setting (ie. newspapers, letters, memos).
Use of audio- video-tape recordings.
The researcher’s first goal is to describe the setting, events, and persons observed.
The second goal is to analyze what was observed. The researcher must interpret what occurred and
generate hypotheses that explain the data.
The final report, while sensitive to the chronological order of events, is usually organized around the
structure developed by the researcher.
The data in naturalistic observation studies are primarily qualitative in nature; however, if circumstances
allow it, quantitative data can be also be gathered (ie. on income, family size, etc.)
Issues In Naturalistic Observation
Participation and Concealment:
Two related issues facing the researcher are whether to be a participant or non-participant in the social
setting, and whether to conceal their purposes from the people in the setting.
A non-participant observer is one who does not become an active part of the setting.
In contrast, a participant observer assumes and active, insider role. This allows the researcher to
observe the setting from the inside, and experience events the same way as the natural participants.
Friendships and other experiences may yield valuable data.
But a potential problem arises too: the observer may lose objectivity.
Concealed observation may be preferable because the presence of the observer may influence and alter
the behaviour of those being observed.
Concealed observation is less reactive than non-concealed observation because people are not
aware that their behaviours are being observed and recorded.
Non-concealed observation may be preferable from an ethical point of view, and people often become
used to the observe and act natural.
Deciding whether to conceal your purpose or presence depends on ethical issues and the nature of the
participant group and setting being studied.
Informed consent may not be necessary due to being in a public place.
Defining The Scope Of The Observation:
Sometimes a researcher using naturalistic observation may want to study everything in a particular
setting, but this is not possible when the settings and questions one asks are complex. Thus, researchers
must limit the scope of their observations to behaviours that are relevant to the central issues of the
Limits Of Naturalistic Observation:
Naturalistic observation is most useful when investigating complex social settings both to understand
the settings and to develop theories based on the observations.
It is less useful for studying well-defined hypotheses under precisely specified conditions. Field research is also hard to conduct because:
It can be scheduled at an odd place or time, and it can take the researcher to unfamiliar settings
for long periods of time.
There is an ever-changing pattern of events which may have different levels of importance.
Researchers have to record everything and then later during analysis the researcher must sort
the data to develop hypotheses to explain the data, while making sure all the data are
consistent with the hypotheses.
If some of the observations aren’t consistent