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Some Aspects of Research Design and Their Implications in the Observational Study of Behaviour

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This paper has been concerned with examining the effects of choosing different behavioural parameters to investigate a particular research problem. Social relationships among a set of animals were estimated in seven different ways. Three behavioural parameters (social contacts, grooming and spatial associations) were selected and a number of sampling strategies were used to quantify them. Although the measures yielded results which correlated significantly, there were marked numerical differences between them due to the fact that they measured different aspects of a complex biological system. The differences between frequency and durational measures were investigated and the accuracy of two common durational measures was determined. One-Zero sampling was found to provide a poor estimate of the proportion of time spent grooming, whereas instantaneous or point sampling always gave a reliable estimate. Finally, the relationships between the different stages of research design were discussed. Emphasis was laid on four aspects of choosing parameters to quantify, namely, the precise delineation of the research problem, the validity of the parameters in relation to the research question, the differences between the various measures and the requirements and limitations of the other key features of research design.

Affiliations: 1: (Department of Psychology, University of Bristol, England

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