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Naturalistic Observation
and Case-Study Research
Descriptive Methods
Naturalistic Observation Examples
 Charles Darwin’s voyage on the HMS Beagle
(the basis for his theory of natural selection)
 Jane Goodall's study of chimpanzees
 Dian Fossey’s study of the mountain gorilla
 Adeline Levine’s study of the Love Canal
 Rosenhan’s study of psychiatric hospitalization
Case-Study Examples
 Sigmund Freud’s study of patients, which formed the
basis for his psychoanalytic theory
 E. L. Witmer’s study of children in the first psychology
clinic in North America
 Jean Piaget’s study of the development of children,
which led to numerous theories of child development
When to use Descriptive Methods
 Studying natural flow of behavior
 New research area
 Testing feasibility of a procedure
 Testing generalizability of laboratory findings
Problem Statements
and Hypotheses
Problem statements
are often general and
flexible
Often evolve to
accommodate new
results
Unable to test causal
hypotheses with
descriptive methods
Value of these methods
 Provide new
descriptive
information
 Can negate a general
proposition
 Low cost
Challenge of
Descriptive Research
 Can be very difficult to observe behavior in
natural surroundings
 Often we are not sure what behaviors are
important until after we have observed for a
while
 Without the controls of the laboratory,
participants are free to do what they want to do,
and not what we are hoping to observe
Evaluating the Data
 The data from descriptive research is a rich
set of information
 Must be cautious in interpreting data
 Limitations:
Poor representativeness
Poor replicability
Limitations of the observer
Going beyond the data
Poor Representativeness
Small samples; nonrandomly selected
Rarely do the samples
represent the
population
Dangerous to
generalize findings to
the general population
Poor Replicability
In descriptive research
Procedures are often not specified
They may change as the study continues
They are often unique to the observer
Therefore, replication is very difficult
Limitations of the Observer
Observational skills of the researcher
Ex. specificity of observation procedures
Specific procedures decrease flexibility
Non-specific procedures increase possibility of
experimenter biases (experimenter reactivity)
Going Beyond the Data
One must be careful
in drawing strong
conclusions (don’t
“over-interpret”)