Edited by Steven A. Peterson and Albert Somit
This chapter examines the advantages and drawbacks of using observational research in political science and associated academic fields. We argue that observational research provides researchers with more valid and reliable measures of human behavior that would otherwise be difficult to assess, especially when considering political behavior within groups or in response to outsiders. Furthermore, observational research of proximate behavior can be linked with physiological adaptations that have ultimate evolutionary explanations. Specifically, observational research relies on more static cues of behavioral capacity and signals of behavioral intent through non-verbal cues. However, such research is not without its disadvantages. For example, even with pervasive video technologies, researchers are at the mercy of what the camera captures. At the same time, this method of study is also highly time-consuming due to the need to develop and apply theoretically and practically applicable coding methods and tools. However, with digital media inundating the public, it is important to use methods that can account for not just verbal communication, but also the often more reliable non-verbal behavior. We provide an application of observational research methods through a case study of Lance Armstrong’s interview with Oprah Winfrey when he discussed his performance-enhancing drug use. Here, we examine a range of non-verbal behaviors displayed by Armstrong in response to questions by Winfrey including his eye blink rate, hand-to-mouth gestures, and the voiced or unvoiced laughter evoked or emitted in response to difficult questions. Although this study is not directly political, it has applications and insights for interviewers, whether in the mass media or in public, non-profit or private organizations.
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