Conduct an Observation of Human Social Behavior in a Public Place Supermarket Term Paper

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Human Behavior Observation: Supermarket Context

Human behavior is largely defined in the field of psychology as a result of the interaction of mental states and immediate social situations (Lewin, 1951, p.12). While the observation of human behavior has been conducted over the centuries in many different settings, the aspect of this observation that has had the tendency to alter how people interact with their surroundings and with one another in terms of their daily behavior is the knowledge that they are being studied. Much like anthropologist Jane Goodall studied the aspects of chimpanzee social and family life through viewing them in their naturalistic setting, so have psychologists taken on a more anthropological role in observing human behavior through the utilization of naturalistic observation.

In observing human behavior in the context of a supermarket for instance, psychologists and researchers have the capacity to garner a truly unfettered look at certain aspects of human behavior due to individuals' unknowing participation in the observations being carried out. In conducting human behavior observations in a local supermarket, two distinct goals were set in place. First is the goal of discovering the differences present between male and female shoppers. And second is the goal of revealing the differences between employees of different age groups in terms of customer service.

II. Research Question

In looking at the first goal of the human behavior observation at hand: discovering the differences present between male and female shoppers, several research questions have been determined in order to frame the basis of the observations. Are there discernible differences between the sexes in viewing their physicality and mannerisms? What do these physical manifestations say about the mental state of male and female shoppers respectively? Do women hold the upper hand in terms of comfort level and ease whilst in the supermarket setting?

Next is the research goal of determining whether the age of a supermarket employee affects his or level of customer service. In gauging this question in terms of the supermarket setting, a series of research questions have been set in place to determine the answer. Do older employees interact better with shoppers? Are younger employees acting in manner that denotes their lack of personal investment in the customer service positions that they hold? Does the presence of an older employee alter the actions of a younger employee when dealing with a customer?

III. Populations

In viewing the general population of the supermarket in terms of observing the aforementioned aspects of human behavior being researched, the presence of certain psychological typologies -- or classifications used by psychologists to describe distinctions between individuals- pose the capacity to alter the overall findings of the observation sessions (De Cuyper, 2008, p.544). For instance, in viewing women within the supermarket setting as opposed to men, women often assert themselves as what can be deemed a "Smiling Samantha," for the purposes of this research observation -- smiling and interacting socially with the people she comes in contact with in the supermarket. In aligning with this typology, women tend to assert an air of ease and familiarity with the setting in which they are present. This is exceedingly different from the average male shopper present in the supermarket. For the purpose of the research at hand, this "Nervous Ned" walks cautiously down the aisles, furrowing his brow and analyzing each product he chooses off the shelf as if it were a bomb in need of disarming. His discomfort with the supermarket setting is nearly palpable and easily gauged by the unknown observer.

Such typologies are further present in viewing the populations at hand in the second research question. The older customer service employees act generally in a manner that could deem them "Wise Will/Wendy." These individuals tend to view their position in customer service as their career rather than a stopping-off point like their younger counterparts. These older workers tend to add more knowledge and patience to their interactions than do younger workers. These younger workers, often teenagers and young adults in their early-20s can be viewed as an "Apathetic Andy/Andie." These employees are seemingly at work only for the paycheck, and they will likely check out of employment upon receiving a better offer. This facet of their reality allows these young employees to be more generally dismissive of customers, providing them bare-bones information without the extended knowledge-base or improved customer-service base that would come from interaction with an older employee.

IV. Abstracts

There are many underlying variables that have been found to shape the dynamics within a retail situation such as a supermarket, especially between the customers and employees (Boone and Koene, 1997, p. 273). Additional research related to the forming of the aforementioned research questions and tools for observation can be found in viewing contemporary literature in the field. In viewing the attached psychology-based literary abstracts, future researchers and observers alike can garner a basis for the human behavior observation undertaken within this specific supermarket setting. For instance, a recent study found that men tend to view the supermarket setting as a "hit-and-run," purchasing necessities and leaving immediately while women lingered and purchased more, which can be attributed to comfort levels (Brinkley, Summer, and Wynes, 2002, pp. 286). Additionally, the specific task of grocery shopping has been long-viewed by men as primarily a woman's responsibility (Dholakia, 1999, p.154).

In viewing literature on teen and adult customer service, differences in attitude can be attributed to differing facets of each group's everyday lives respectively. For instance, teens average 7.6 hours of part-time work a week in addition to schooling, while adults in the customer service field generally work in the field full time (Marshall, 2007, p.5). Full time employees, who are also typically older get far more training and utilization of their customer service skills than do teens who spend less frequent hours and receive less structured schedules within work environments (Jensen, 2000, p. 469).

V. Setting

The setting at hand for the human behavior observation under research is a local mid-sized supermarket. The supermarket boasts a fairly large staff of customer service employees who are situated throughout the store in different areas of products as well as several employees utilized to monitor customers on the shopping floors in order to assist them with any issues that may arise during their stay. The store at hand is consistently crowded and services a wide demographic of individuals in terms of age, sex and race.

VI. Observational Sessions

In undertaking the research at hand, I spent three separate sessions within the store setting for the purpose of customer observation. Each session lasted one hour, during which I made notes as to the behaviors I witnessed respective to the research questions being posed. In viewing the behaviors of men and women in the store in terms of differences that exist in viewing their general behavior, I was able to establish a series of characteristics that set male and female shoppers apart from one another. Further, the same can be said for the differences found between older and younger employees in terms of customer service, both of which follow in the results section.

VII. Results

In viewing the research questions at hand, I discovered the following results through my observations. Men and women possess discernible differences in their shopping experiences, especially in viewing their physicality and mannerisms whilst shopping. While women appeared to shop with both ease and efficiency -- often making their way steadily through the aisles with lists in tow -- men appeared hesitant, unsure, and uncomfortable, taking exceedingly longer to make decisions and appearing to second guess themselves more frequently. In viewing the behavior of both sexes, it appears that despite several men who appeared comfortable and product savvy, the women who appeared to behave in a manner aligning with this was far superior. In viewing the behavior of men and women in the supermarket, it appeared that indeed women held the upper hand in terms of comfort and efficiency, which may be attributed to long-standing societal norms.

The results found in observing whether the age of a supermarket employee affects his or level of customer service appeared to also exist upon observation. Older customer service employees appeared to closely engage with customers posing questions to them in a manner that appeared generally genuine and productive, while customers who posed questions to younger customer service employees, often in their teens or early twenties, were generally treated to a quick answer and an even quicker brush-off. Older employees appeared to interact on a completely different level than their younger counterparts, which could be attributed to many of these individuals holding full-time status. Throughout my three sessions of observation, I noted many of the same older employees, while the younger set seemed to be continually circulating on a part-time basis. Additionally, younger employees appeared to only engage significantly with customers when in the presence of an older employee or manager.


Boone, C. And Koene, B. (1997). Organizational factors influencing homogeneity and heterogeneity in organizational cultures. Cultural Complexities in…[continue]

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