Observation

The most basic of all procedures employed by scientists, including demographers, is observation—taking note of events or occurrences and making a record of what is seen, heard, or otherwise observed. Most of the information that behavioral scientists have about people has been obtained from careful observations made in clinics, classrooms, and naturally occurring situations. These observations are usually uncontrolled, in the sense of being uncontrived and representing behavior "on the wing," with no attempt to influence or control the situation. Uncontrolled observation is also referred to as naturalistic when it takes place in the field or in a "natural" situation. Standing on a street corner and watching people pass by or watching children play in a park are examples of naturalistic observation.

In many investigations, a better understanding of the factors that are responsible for a particular characteristic or behavior can be obtained by setting up a situation and making planned observations and measurements of what occurs. Thus, we might observe the reactions of a group of students to teachers who conduct a class in different, preplanned ways. To make certain that our observations are unobtrusive-that the students do not behave unnaturally because they know they are being watched, we may observe them by means of a closed-circuit television monitor.

Much available information concerning the personality characteristics of adults comes from observations made in clinical situations. A counselor or psychotherapist observes the verbal and nonverbal behavior of a client or patient in response to certain questions, assessment materials, tasks, and other purposefully or accidentally presented stimuli. Clinical observations also provide information that contributes to the making of psychiatric and medical diagnoses.

Observations made in naturalistic or field situations are typically uncon trolled, but the observers usually attempt to remain as unobtrusive as possible. On the other hand, social anthropologists, who spend months and even years observing people in other societies or cultures, have argued that valid information on the typical behaviors, norms, roles, and customs of a society can be obtained by participant observation, becoming a participant in the activities of the group they are observing. This technique only works, however, when the observer is successful in being accepted as an unobtrusive member of the group.

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