In scientific studies, free-living organisms are those that are left in their natural habitat without extensive human intervention. I've mostly seen it applied to humans, for whom the opposite is institutionalized (in the sense of being confined to a hospital, lab, or other institution, not the Shawshank Redemption sense).

A study that makes significant lifestyle changes (such as controlling major dietary parameters) is far easier and has greater compliance when carried out on institutionalized subjects. However, confining and controlling them potentially introduces confounds, such that your experimental findings might actually be an unusual interaction between the experimental manipulation and the unusual experiences of confinement or loss of liberty. Ultimately the same changes should be imposed on free-living subjects to test the findings under more environmentally valid circumstances.

Free"-liv`ing, n.

Unrestrained indulgence of the appetites.


© Webster 1913.

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