The Case for the Natural Science Model
For Research in Organizational
Behavior and Organization Theory
Is it appropriate to apply the
natural science approach in
organizational behavior and
Five key objections
• Lack of Realism
• Epistemological Differences
Each organization, group, and person
differs to some degree from all others;
General laws in organizational behavior
and organization theory is thus
• The key is taxonomy & classification.
• Focus on important though relatively
narrow populations =>homogeneity↑
• The phenomena of concern to researchers
in the field change frequently, making it
extremely difficult to combine data
obtained at different times in order to
arrive at general laws.
• Scientific research seeks laws that transcend
time and place, not empiric generalizations that
often are specific to certain situations.
• To assume that all phenomena of interest to
organizational behavior and organization theory
are ephemeral is as much an error as to assume
that even the most specific aspects of them
remain constant over long periods. Some
phenomena change more rapidly than others.
The awareness of hypotheses in the social
sciences inevitably changes the behaviors
of the persons involved.
– Self-fulfilling prophecies
The research process would create rather than measure the
importance of “need for A”
– Suicidal predictions
• Keep participants in the dark or use unobtrusive
measures of increasing the chance that the
behavior of participants in research studies
represents their real world actions.
• Participants can change relatively few key
dependent variables. The likelihood that they could
and would change others in an attempt to support or
reject the research’s hypotheses is small.
• Given reasonably sophisticated experimental
designs, suicidal and self-fulfilling effects can be
identified and separated from the true effects of the
variables of interest.
Lack of Realism
The study of social phenomena necessarily
changed them to such an extent that the
researcher cannot generalize from such
studies to behaviors of organizations,
groups, and individuals in the real world.
• 7 potential threats to realism
• Use elaborated research designs to
minimize key threats to realism.
• A flawed study – one which do not control
all threats to internal and external validity –
still can yield useful information.
• Natural science strive to generalize about why
things happen by identifying causes.
• Social science seeks to explain the significance
or meaning of phenomena in terms of their
implications for the unique social systems in
which they occur and as manifestations of
important social trends, forces, and conflicts.
=> The best way is to immerse the researcher in
the organization under study and allow time for
the development of intuitive appreciation of its
• Such research is inevitable to have biases in the
personal perception and interpretation of complex
stimuli. But the natural science approach has built
in extensive means for protecting the researcher
against personal biases.
• Such research generates a highly affective kind of
knowledge – very personal information. It causes
the loss of both completeness and richness.