What Is a Laboratory Observation?

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Laboratory observations, as used in the social sciences, bring study subjects into a laboratory setting to complete research. While the laboratory observation gives greater control over the subjects, it has the potential of introducing variables that do not exist in the real world. Laboratory observations allow researchers to gather data more efficiently than they are able to do in the natural environment.

In a laboratory observation study, the researcher ensures he will be present at the time he wants to observe and record data regarding the subjects. In this setting the researcher is able to observe behaviors that he is unable to observe using the subject's natural environment. However, this artificial setting introduces concerns that the behaviors observed might never happen outside the lab.

Another option for the social scientist is to complete the study in the subject's natural environment. The researcher observes subjects' behaviors in the setting where they normally occur. This type of experiment provides the researcher with opportunities to observe more realistic behaviors. However, the natural environment creates greater difficulty in making observations. Such experiments are generally more costly and require more time. In certain studies, the natural environment presents physical dangers to the scientist, which are easily eliminated in a controlled laboratory observation.