Psychologists are required to carry out experiments in order
to test their hypothesis. These experiments must be as valid and reliable as
possible for their work to be considered useful in the field of psychology. However
it is always debatable as to what experimental method is the most effective.
As part of psychology’s drive to be considered a science, it
would be desirable to use lab experiments as it maximises control and recognises
relationships. Lab experiments are also useful in gathering large amounts of
data and information from participants which would be difficult to collect any
other way. However, just like many methods, there are downsides to using labs
when studying human behaviour. For example, although it may be the most
effective method for gaining the maximum IV and DV control, it lacks external
control because a highly controlled situation wouldn’t be like everyday life.
This means that we are not able to assume that what happened in the laboratory
would happen in the real world. Secondly, as the participants know they are
taking part in an experiment it is possible that they would give in to demand
characteristics whereby they figure out what the experiment is about and they
change their behaviour according to what they think the researcher wants them
to do. This creates invalid results as the behaviour is not a true depiction of
Another method of investigating human behaviour is using a
natural experiment whereby the participants are not aware they are being tested
and the setting is a lot more realistic. These experiments are useful for
obtaining behaviour which is far less artificial and far more valid. However,
it is unethical to do an experiment on people without their consent and people
in natural experiments are unable to give voluntary informed consent. Another
problem is that it is very difficult to control any variables without the
participants figuring out that they are being observed. This limits the
internal control in the studies.
In conclusion, although both experimental methods have their
fair share of advantages and limitations it would be easier to sum up that
laboratory experiments are useful in obtaining high internal validity whereas
natural experiments are better at attaining external validity. So maybe it
would be fair to say that different investigations require different methods
for example, memory recall requires a lab setting while aggression at football
matches requires natural observations.
But where would studies such as Bandura’s Bobo doll study
fit into this? As mentioned in my last blog, Bandura tested whether children
were influenced by TV violence. However her child participants were heard
telling their parents ‘mom look! Theres the doll we have to hit!” this is an
example whereby they have given in to experimenter effects therefore making the
study invalid and unreliable.