5 Naturalistic Observation Strengths and Weaknesses


Psychologists and other social scientists make use of the naturalistic observation research method to observe subjects in their natural environment. This kind of research is mostly used when lab research is proven to be unrealistic, cost prohibitive or may affect the behavior of a subject.

Naturalistic observation differs from structured observation in that the observer doesn’t intervene with what the subject is doing. For instance, a school principal might want to sit in a certain class to observe the interaction between students and teachers. Having to do this in a lab would require setting up a classroom which would likely alter the behavior of participants. But is it the most useful king of research method? Here’s a look at its strengths and weaknesses:

List of Naturalistic Observation Strengths

1. It allows for observation without having to manipulate anything
How do you study group behavior in a prison setting? Do you forcefully imprison people just to get results? That wouldn’t be fair to them and it raises a lot of ethical concerns as well. So the best thing to do would be to gain a permit to observe inmates at an actual information. There, you can gather by the hour and daily information which you can use to draw conclusions for your research.

2. It helps bring validity to the research
An event that happened in the lab isn’t proof that the same would happen in a real-world scenario. Lab settings are different from a natural setting. And every detail matters. This is why your research would be so much more reliable if you can observe your subjects when they are in their natural setting. It would be difficult to conclude that this is how a koala behaves if you only observe them in a lab setting.

List of Naturalistic Observation Weaknesses

1. Subjects behave differently when they know they are being observed
Take the classroom observation example, it is difficult to determine the true behavior of students based on one sit-in alone. For one, they know you are there and are paying attention and would most likely behave rather than do what they normally do. This may impact your findings even though the setting is already natural but the behavior may not be as much.

2. Researchers have different opinions
If there is more than one researcher involved, conflicts may arise due to a difference in opinion. Or, researchers couldn’t come to conclusion about why a certain animal behaves in a particular way. Actions are open to interpretation and an act done by a kangaroo might be interpreted as playing by one researcher while the other argues it was aggression.

3. Results will be affected by outside influences
Suppose you want to observe a bear during mating season. What happens when that bear couldn’t find a mate? After all, the world is changing and their environment is surely changing. Can you guarantee that a potential mate would appear during the season? What all this means is you could get results or you couldn’t.

-Flow Psychology Editor