What is observational research, what are the examples, and ad why is it important to do observational research?
We will be discussing observational research and a few examples that have been conducted to monitor behaviours.
Observational research involves monitoring the behaviour of people or animals in their natural environment. Famous English primatologist. Dame Jane Morris Goodall spent over 5 decades observing chimpanzees in Africa.
Just like the famous English primatologist, other researchers also observe individuals in their natural environment. For example, an educational researcher will conduct observation in the classroom to better understand how students learn.
What Is Observational Research?
Observational research involves monitoring the action of individuals or animals in their natural environment. It also refers to several types of non-experimental studies where behaviour is observed and recorded as well.
The aim of observational research is to define a variable or sets of variables. Observational research is usually conducted to obtain specific characteristics of an individual or a group.
Researchers can also conduct observational research to observe the behaviours of animals in the wild.
Generally, the data collected in observational research studies are usually quantitative.
Why Do Observational Research?
Anthropologists and psychologists usually conduct observational research because;
Anthropologists usually study cultures and indigenous people in remote areas. Some of the isolated indigenous people live in the Amazon, Central Africa, and several islands on the Pacific.
Living in isolation means that the only way to observe these indigenous people’s behaviour is to visit their natural environment.
For psychologists, observing a person’s behaviour in a laboratory setting is not natural. It feels more artificial to study an individual’s character in a lab.
However, people will change their behaviour once they know their behaviour will later be supervised and analysed by a psychologist.
While observational research also involves observing animal behaviour, there are several phenomena which cannot be observed in a laboratory. For example, observing an animal’s foraging behaviour as well as mate selection.
The only option to determine animal foraging behaviour or mate selection is observational research in their natural environment.
Observational Research Examples
How do researchers observe certain behaviours and early development in humans? One we will look at is linguistic development in children.
Linguistics Development of Children
Children are born with natural survival abilities but learn how to do other things while growing up. For example, an infant only needs his or her mother’s direction to the food source. With their innate abilities, they can suck from their mother’s breast.
However, they need to learn how to speak as they grow up. How they learn to speak from a young age can only be observed while growing up at home.
Before a child gets to first grade, his language skills are already well developed and can communicate just fine with an adult.
For researchers to conduct their study, they need to observe a child at home with the parents. A data collector needs to be around the child to take detailed notes on how parents speak to the child.
Data collected from such observation may be codded to describe the number of words the parents spoke. After analysing the collected data, it might reveal how patterns of parental comments help a child’s linguistic development.
Consumer Product Design
Consumer product design is among the examples of observational research.
This involves a company conducting extensive analyses of how new products will be used by consumers before releasing the product to the market.
The aim is to know and understand consumers’ experiments while using the new product. Certain questions the company need to ask themselves are, does the new product fit perfectly to serve its suppose, and will more consumers buy the new product?
Additionally, the company will invite a small group of prospective customers to the lab. In the lab is a two-way mirror with a qualified team behind it, observing and taking detailed notes of what the small invited group is doing.
Jane Goodall’s Research
Famous English primatologist and anthropologist, Dame Jane Morris Goodall observed chimpanzees in the wild for decades.
Goodall carried out her observation by entering the natural habitat of the animals. She took detailed notes of every behaviour she observed in the wild.
Her observations were later transformed into research papers that help the world understand more about animal behaviour.
Goodall’s amazing discovery of chimpanzees using twigs to hunt termites was an outstanding discovery.
Spying on Farms
With the help of infrared imaging software from satellites, companies are able to observe crops anywhere on Earth.
Images from the satellite provide measures of chlorophyll absorption which can help predict yields.
The images also help analysts to know the number of acres and crops planted across the world. In commodities like corn and wheat, the prediction can yield huge profits.
Decision-Making Group Dynamics
When big corporations make huge decisions, there are usually some consequences that are detrimental to the company’s survival.
It’s important to understand the decision-making process and how it works.
Psychological research conducted over the decades has primarily focused on statements that people usually make to each other during important meetings.
To closely observe the interactions of people in meetings, professional observers need to watch meetings from a two-way mirror or observe through CCTV.
This can help identify who said what to whom ad the type of statements made.
Satellite Image of Walmart
Observational research can lead people to spend millions of dollars observing businesses.
According to a report by NPR, stock market analysts observed Walmart parking lots to predict its earnings. Analyst purchase will go on to purchase satellites of selected car parks in a region, a country, or even the entire world.
With the collected data and their market experience, it will be easier to understand customer purchasing patterns.
Ethnography is a kind of observational research which allows the researchers to automatically become part of a specific group or society.
The researcher operates undercover, collects data, and interacts with the group as a member. The researcher keeps his primary duty hidden from the community and secretly observes the natural behaviour of members of the community.
This type of research can help us understand how small groups will accept a stranger in their midst.
Time and Motion Studies
This type of observational research involves observing the work process in the office. The aim is to make procedures to be more efficient. Achieving this may involve reducing the number of movements required to complete a task.
By reducing the movement needed to complete a task, efficiency increases and productivity improves. A time and motion study can point out safety issues that might harm employees.
Frank Bunker Gilbreth and his wife Lilian Gilbreth were the early pioneers of the time and motion study.
A case is a form of observational research which involves the researcher spending more time with a single individual to acquire a detailed understanding of their character.
The researcher may decide to conduct interviews with the individual, take detailed notes, or take video records of the individual’s behaviour.
Generally, case studies provide detailed information which cannot be acquired by studying a large group of people.
This type of observational research involves observing mother/infant bonding, one of the examples that involve close research in a natural environment.
Just like Goodall, Mary Ainsworth conducted her research to better understand mother/infant bonding.
In 1954, Mary Ainsworth travelled to Uganda to study mother/infant bonding. Her research took her to several family homes for two years. She interviewed mothers to find out about their parenting practices and took detailed notes as well.
Mary Ainsworth’s research papers were transformed into academic papers and formed the basis for the Strange Situation test.
Observational research involves monitoring the action of individuals closely in their natural environment. Several researchers have conducted observational research to understand certain behaviours.
Observational research tends to provide more insight than observing a subject in a laboratory.
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