Lab or natural experiments?

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
their behaviour.

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.


4 thoughts on “Lab or natural experiments?

  1. I totally agree with your argument about which study is the best along with its pros and cons. It might be a better idea if when doing a laboratory study the participants were told that the study was on where in fact the study would be totally different meaning that they may be acting normally, making the results more accurate. Obviously before the tests were to take place they would sign something going over the types of tests and observations that may take place. Also for people being observed in their natural environments: maybe a agreement can be made that they can be tested and observed anytime in the next few months, meaning that they can be observed when they are acting normally as they are unaware that they are being observed. They can then be tested after this, when they are aware that they have been being observed.

  2. Your suggestions sound really good however in psychology we need to consider ethics and deception raises ethical issues so this might not be desirable.For example, in milgrams experiment, he did not tell the participants he’ll be testing their reactions to authority however his experiment caused a lot of psychological harm because if you were told that you admitted a dangerous amount of voltage on to someone just because you were told to then you would be devestated and begin to feel guilty. Even so if they were lied to, then they could act the way they think the experimenter wants them to act according to the false experiment so either way, it is difficult to completely eliminate demand characteristics in lab studies. I also belive your second point is quite good too however, if i was told that i’d be tested in the next month, for that whole month i’d be anticipating being observed so i may always consider that someone is watching me till after that month is over which would influence my actions a lot. Overall i think it is difficult to find a research method in psychology which ticks all the boxes but maybe we could find one which is both ethical and depicts the natural environment.

  3. I agree with the above, that demand characteristics are near impossible to eliminate without using ethically questionable methodology, such as deception and limitied participant consent. This is a well structured blog with decent analysis of the subject. My only criticisms would be that you could have expanded your point about how the choice of experiment type can affect whether the research is viewed as scientific or not, plus how lab experiments are much more reliable as in most cases they are replicable unlike some natural experiments and observations. I strongly agree with your conclusion, that experiment type used should depend on the context as neither type is more appropriate for all situations.

  4. I agree with points you made regarding the pros and cons of both research methods. I think that there needs to be a balanced approach when conducting research, maybe try to integrate both methods into the research study if possible. I think the ethical topics of consent and deception are also very interesting. It is very hard to eliminate demand characteristics without the use of some deception, but the question is is this ethically appropriate? Overall I found your blog to be very well written and informative.

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