The naturalistic observation of university students: some theoretical and measurement issues



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



Ecologists have studied the behavior-environment systems of many populations in many different settings. The present study investigated the behavioral ecology of college students at an urban university. Naturalistic observation was used to study the verbal and non-verbal behavior patterns of 58 college students within classroom settings and outside of them. Trained observers recorded behavior-environment interrelationships of college students at the University of Houston at the beginning and ending of Spring semester, 1977. The results documented several stable relationships between behavior and environment across the two panels of observations. The non-verbal behavior of students formed dramatic and repeated patterns within locations across time. The verbal behavior of students formed strong patterns within classroom settings. Verbal behavior outside the classroom setting was more flexible and less predictable. The results offered direct support for many of the tenets of behavioral ecology. In addition, the theory of undermanning was explored and partially supported. Class participation was curvilinearly related to class size. Additions and qualifications of undermanning theory were presented and discussed. The properties of naturalistic observation of active populations in open settings were investigated. Interobserver agreement rates documented the high quality of the data. Naturalistic observations were successfully employed to study the behavioral ecology of an urban university campus.