Decide what you will observe and develop a hypothesis – What do you THINK you will see during…

Naturalistic Observation

Naturalistic observation (i.e. unstructured observation) involves studying the spontaneous behaviour of participants in natural surroundings. The researcher simply records what they see in whatever way they can.

Compared with controlled/structured methods it is like the difference between studying wild animals in a zoo and studying them in their natural habitat.

With regard to human subjects Margaret Mead used this method to research the way of life of different tribes living on islands in the South Pacific. Kathy Sylva used it to study children at play by observing their behaviour in a playgroup in Oxfordshire.


1 By being able to observe the flow of behaviour in its own setting studies have greater ecological validity.

  1. Like case studies naturalistic observation is often used to generate new ideas. Because it gives the researcher the opportunity to study the total situation it often suggests avenues of enquiry not thought of before.


  1. These observations are often conducted on a micro (small) scale and may lack a representative sample (biased in relation to age, gender, social class or ethnicity). This may result in the findings lacking the ability to be generalized to wider society.
  2. Natural observations are less reliable as other variables cannot be controlled. This makes it difficult for another researcher to repeat the study in exactly the same way.
  3. A further disadvantage is that the researcher needs to be trained to be able to recognise aspects of a situation that are psychologically significant and worth further attention.
  4. With observations we do not have manipulations of variables (or control over extraneous variables) which means cause and effect relationships cannot be established.


A classic example of naturalistic observation can be found in many experimental psychology courses. In one study, a student researcher stands on a corner with a stop sign. He or she is holding a pad of paper or a similar recording device. The student notes whether passing drivers completely stop at the sign. The second phase of the observation takes place on the same corner, except this time the student is hidden. Equal time is given to both sections of the study. In general, people will make sure to come to a complete stop when they know they’re being observed. For this study to have real weight, it needs to be done a statistically significant number times. For the purposes of experimental psychology in a college course, however, one or two rounds will suffice.

Another example of naturalistic observation is a study at a local mall or shopping center. An observer notes how many individuals in a group open the door for other members of the group.


For this assignment you are to perform and write up a brief naturalistic observation. Follow the guidelines below. You may work with one partner.

1) Decide what you will observe and develop a hypothesis – What do you THINK you will see during your observation. For example, ‘It is hypothesized 60% of women will look in the mirror while only 25% of men will look in the mirror while passing by.”

2) Choose a setting and time for the observation. You are to spend approximately fifteen to twenty minutes watching and making a detailed record of the subject(s), gathering data which will “begin” to test your hypothesis. Plan your observational “method” to be sure you are not “discovered” (so that the “naturalistic” quality of the observation is not lost). Take notes on everything you can observe about the subject(s). Attach the notes to your write up. (The notes do not need to be typed.)

After you have finished with the observation, 3) write a minimum of 500 words reporting of your observations. Try to be as objective as possible, but feel free to make well-reasoned inferences about what you have seen.

Your report should include the following:

An introduction which tells what the observation is about. You should explain how you came up with your hypothesis and why you chose the particular setting and subject(s) to test.

A detailed account of the subject(s) and of the behaviors you observed is needed (Data either in the form of percentages or raw numbers is needed)

Also, a discussion of any conclusions you can draw from the observation should be included.

Finally, an evaluation (or critique) of your observation, mentioning any problem areas where you feel you could have improved your results is also required. You could, for example, explain any flaws in your “method” which led to inaccurate data.

Be creative!!!!!!!

· Observe a homeless person asking for money, how many people help?

· Observe students leaving school, walking in the mall, or sitting in a restaurant, how many are on their cell phone?

· How many people driving are on a cell phone?

· How many people go through a yellow light?

· Observe parenting behavior. How may raise their voice?

· Observe children interacting at a playground. What types of behavior do they show?

· Observe a particular ‘social group’. What similarities do they show? What differences https://www…com/strengths-and-weaknesses-of-using-observation-as-a-data-collection-method/do they show?

· How many people wipe down the gym equipment after they use it?

· How many people return their shopping carts to the cart area?

· What percentage of people order water rather than soft drinks? Is there a correlation in body size?