Group glee in preschool

The following is a sample Paper 3 that looks at a naturalistic observation. Below you will first find the stimulus piece, followed by the static questions.  A copy of the mock paper is included to give students as an in-class assessment.

Potential answers are included in the hidden boxes below.

Student copy


Stimulus piece

Sherman (1975) carried out a non-participant naturalistic observation to study the phenomenon of group glee in preschoolers. Group glee was defined as "joyful screaming, laughing and intense physical acts" which quickly spread in the group. Sherman made video recordings of 596 preschool classes taught by 36 student teachers over a period of two years. The schools were chosen because of their relationship with the teacher education program at Sherman’s university.

Each day, three separate groups of children from each class were taken from the free play area to participate in a directed lesson. Each lesson was scheduled for 20 minutes. A stationary video camera with a wide-angle lens was used to video-record the session. The children were divided into age groups but were mixed with respect to sex and race.

Lessons contained a variety of activities such as story readings, simple construction, teacher demonstrations, singing, dancing, role-playing, and general discussions. When the activity was completed, the children left the room and return to the larger free play area.

Two independent researchers separately viewed the same 10 videotaped lessons. Of the 596 videotaped lessons, 241 (40.4%) contained one or more separate and independent incidents of group glee. A total of 633 incidents were recorded in these lessons. Nearly 44% of the incidents involved total group participation.

Using a pre-defined coding system, the researchers found that group glee was often the result of suspense, taboo-breaking, physical stimulation or simply moments of unstructured play.  They also observed that group glee was sustained when the teacher joined in with the students.

Sherman, Lawrence W. An Ecological Study of Glee in Small Groups of Preschool Children. Child Development, 1975, 46, 53-61.


1a. Identify the method used and outline two characteristics of the method.

This study is a naturalistic non-participant observation. The study is naturalistic because it takes place in the natural pre-school setting. This is done in order to have high ecological validity. There is no change in the environment which may result in a change in normal behaviour by the preschool students. In addition, it is non-participant. This means that the researcher is not interacting with the children. This prevents reactivity on the behalf of the children. Having the researcher present could affect the children's behaviour resulting in demand characteristics. The fact that the researcher is not present in this situation is another way to promote high ecological validity.

1b. Describe the sampling method used in the study.

The researchers used a sample of opportunity.  They used student teachers' classrooms that were linked to their university.  This was a non-random sample that allowed the researchers to easily obtain the sample. 

1c. Suggest an alternative or additional research method giving one reason for your choice.

The researchers could build on this study by carrying out an experiment.  The experiment would take a specific type of activity - for example, one that involves physical activity, to see to what extent this would lead to group glee.  This would help to establish a cause and effect relationship between the two variables. In addition, the researcher could interview or give a questionnaire to the teachers to determine what they believe leads to this behaviour in children.  This could then be compared to the findings of the observations to see if the perceptions of the teachers match the observed behaviour of the children.  This would make the results more credible.

2. Describe the ethical considerations that were applied in the study and explain if further ethical considerations could be applied.

There are several ethical considerations for this study.  First, consent would have to be obtained, but this is complicated because young children are being observed. The researcher would first have to get the study approved by an ethics board.  Then they would have to obtain consent from both the school and the parents of the children.  As part of the informed consent, the goals of the study would have to be shared with the parents and school - and the rights of the children would have to be explained.  For example, the use of the video would have to be explained and how the film will be used.  The film should not be used in a way that would reveal the identities of the children.  The children should remain anonymous. Parents who are not willing to have their children participate have a right to withdraw from the study at any time. There is no deception in the study, but the parents should still be debriefed on the findings of the study. As this is a naturalistic observation, the children should not experience any undue stress or harm.

3. To what extent could you generalize the findings of this study?

Group glee is a phenomenon that we see in young children, so the goal would not be to generalize this to other age groups.  The goal would be to generalize the results to other groups of pre-schoolers. The sample size is quite large, so it makes it more possible to generalize the results to the population from which the sample was taken. In order to "transfer" the findings to other populations, some considerations would have to be taken.  First, the other population would have to have access to preschool education.  If preschool education is only for those with wealth, then the sample would be very different and it would not be possible to simply generalize the findings.  In addition to socioecomomic factors, the homogeneity of the group, the number of children in the classroom and the experience of the teachers could all play a role in whether the findings can be generalized.  Finally, if there are other studies that show similar findings, then it makes the case for generalization stronger.
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