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Systematic Observation: Engaging Researchers in the Study of Daily Life as It Is Lived

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Observational methods applied to natural or habitual contexts are scientific procedures that reveal the occurrence of perceptible behaviors, allowing them to be formally recorded and quantified. They also allow the analysis of the relations between these behaviors, such as sequentially, association, and ...

Observational methods applied to natural or habitual contexts are scientific procedures that reveal the occurrence of perceptible behaviors, allowing them to be formally recorded and quantified. They also allow the analysis of the relations between these behaviors, such as sequentially, association, and covariation. In many situations observational methods are the best strategy, or even the only strategy possible: examples are the assessment of low level intervention programs, interactions between peers, between children and adults, between the deaf and the hearing, etc., social interactions at different ages, disputes between couples or in the workplace, the behavioral repertoire of the baby, poor body posture for specific tasks, kinetic non-verbal communication (of teachers, sportsmen and women, actors and actresses, etc.), analysis of movement in multiple activities, occupation of a particular space, and the analysis of norms of socialization and desocialization.

Assessment in natural contexts through observation is unquestionably complex. In all settings we find a range of behaviors which form a pyramid structure. Starting from the top of the pyramid, we can break down daily life in a natural context into different levels such as family, work, sports, health, school, leisure, etc., revealing a tree structure with a hierarchical subdivision of situations in which behaviors that tend towards molarity interact with their natural contexts. Towards the base of the pyramid, the perceptible behaviors are increasingly molecular.

Its greater flexibility and naturalistic approach offers a wide range of possibilities, although it is also methodologically more complex, unlike what was believed a few decades ago. The impressive technological developments made in recent years have left in their wake a long tradition of ‘pencil and paper’ recordings, and have also ushered in an important series of benefits.

On the one hand, they avoid errors due to analogical viewing, in which a series of operations had to be carried out manually and where there was always a high risk of inaccuracies. Secondly, they render the process easier to conduct and enable ever shorter time units, such as the frame, to be considered. Thirdly, it is now possible to transform recording files, thus offering a highly functional and versatile degree of interchangeability in accordance with the syntactic structure of the respective software programs. And finally, the information, in the form of databases, is available to be subjected, in the third stage of the process, to quality control and quantitative analysis; thus, there is a certain degree of technological automation in the process, which is only influenced by the decisions made by the researcher in accordance with the specific determining factors of each study.

In this Research Topic we welcome theoretical and empirical contributions from observational methodology in the broad range of contexts: ethology, physical activity, sport, school, clinical psychology, work psychology, leisure, community psychology, social psychology, etc. Authors should write about observational methods applied to natural or habitual contexts or scientific procedures that reveal the occurrence of perceptible behaviors.


Keywords: observational designs, observation instruments, coding, control of quality of data, analysis of observational data, sequential, T-Patterns, polar coordinates


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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