Reactivity in TA Research

In CM, getting around the reactivity problem involves staying with the program long enough to get people accustomed to your being around. Eventually, people just get plain tired of trying to manage your impression and they act naturally.

In TA research, the trick is to catch a glimpse of people in their natural activities before they see you coming on the scene—before they have a chance to modify their behavior.

Richard Scaglion (1986) did a TA survey of the residents of Upper Neligum, a Sama- kundi Abelam village in the Prince Alexander Mountains of East Sepik Province in Papua New Guinea. ‘‘It is not easy,’’ he says, ‘‘for an anthropologist in the field to come upon an Abelam unawares. Since I did not want to record ‘greeting anthropologist’ as a frequent activity when people were first observed, I often had to reconstruct what they were doing immediately before I arrived’’ (p. 540).

Monique Borgerhoff-Mulder and Tim Caro (1985) coded the observer’s judgment of whether people saw the observer first, or vice versa, and compared that to whether the Kipsigis (in Kenya) they were studying were observed to be active or idle. People were coded as being idle significantly more often when they spied the observer coming before the observer saw them.

Did people become idle when they saw an observer approaching? Or was it easier for idle people to see an observer before the observer saw them? Borgerhoff-Mulder and Caro found that people who were idle were sitting or lying down much more often than were people who were active. People at rest may be more attentive to their surroundings than those who are working and would be judged more often to have seen the researcher approaching.

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