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April 1960

Observing Interactional Behavior in Residential Treatment

Author Affiliations

Bethesda, Md.
Biosocial Growth Center (Dr. Goodrich); Laboratory of Psychology (Dr. Dittmann), National Institute of Mental Health, U.S. Public Health Service.

AMA Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1960;2(4):421-428. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.1960.03590100061006

The present paper reports experiences with the method of peripheral observation gained at the Child Research Branch of the National Institute of Mental Health; these experiences will serve as a frame of reference for discussing problems encountered when one attempts to obtain reliable and psychologically meaningful observations of natural interpersonal processes within the setting of residential treatment. This application of the nonparticipant observational method raises clinical and research issues which have received relatively little attention in the literature. From 1954 to 1956, we studied the residential treatment of hyperaggressive children by means of “peripheral observations.” These are observations of interaction situations involving one or more children made by an adult stationed in the room, peripheral to the situation. During these years approximately 500 such observations were carried out for various research purposes.* Subsequent to 1956, this program was continued and the

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