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The Gerontologist 43:9-18 (2003)
© 2003 The Gerontological Society of America

Practically Relevant Research: Capturing Real World Tasks, Environments, and Outcomes

Sara J. Czaja1, and Joseph Sharit2

Correspondence: Address correspondence to Sara J. Czaja, Dept. of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, University of Miami School of Medicine, 1695 N.W. 9th Avenue, Miami, FL 33136. E-mail: jsharit{at}

Purpose: Development of strategies to optimize the functional performance of older adults requires understanding the behavior of older people doing tasks in real-world settings and capturing these interactions in research protocols. This is a major challenge as there is some degree of tension between capturing the contextual variables and constraints that operate in the real world and the scale of research that can be realistically conducted within controlled experimental settings. This article presents a research approach that can be used to help ensure the ecological validity of research protocols. The intent is to demonstrate how an ecologically valid approach affords greater insight into the performance of older adults in real world settings. Methods: The approach involves techniques such as task analysis and simulation. Examples from two research projects examining aging and the performance of real-world computer-based work tasks are used to demonstrate the application of this approach. Results: The article demonstrates how an ecologically valid research approach yields information about human performance that can be translated into solutions for real-world problems. Implications: Ecologically valid research protocols offer the potential for providing answers to real-world problems and advancing theory regarding aging and functional performance.

Key Words: Ecological validity • Real-world tasks • Task analysis

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Copyright © 2003 by The Gerontological Society of America.