As discussed earlier, true experiments meet certain criteria (manipulation of an independent variable, measurement of a dependent variable, and holding constant all other variables). Field experiments, or experimental studies conducted in real world environments, may meet these criteria, but often they do not. However, there are benefits of field studies, namely absence of artificiality, that make such research valuable, even when it does not meet the criteria for a “true” experiment.
Field experiments are often quasi-experiments, which occur when researchers have limited control over the experimental design. For example, random allocation may not be possible in these studies, or the researcher may have limited control over the independent variable. Alternatively, non-experimental designs take advantage of existing difference in the population. By examining difference along meaningful groups (e.g., victims versus non-victims of abuse; high school graduates versus high school dropouts), researchers can compare the characteristics of groups that they cannot reasonably (ethically or otherwise) manipulate.
The primary advantage of laboratory studies is the greater control that researchers can exert over the research design. However, there are a number of limitations as well. Variables of interest become necessarily narrow in a laboratory setting and may lead to a sense of artificiality. As such, generalizability may be limited, particularly in cases where laboratory research does not have clear real-world corollaries.
Field studies inherently have greater real-world relevance, but can be difficult to control. The precision of laboratory studies oftentimes cannot be replicated in the field. This is particularly important when we consider confounding variables. It may be impossible to determine the direct source of an effect when examining real-world phenomena.
Comparison studies focus on group differences across different categories of people. Within a specific environment or location, one way we can look at developmental differences is by tracking certain individuals or groups over time, repeatedly checking back in to measure variables of interest. This is known as a longitudinal study, and while very valuable, these can be incredibly time- and resource-consuming. A quick alternative to longitudinal studies is cross-sectional research, in which different age groups are sampled at the same time and compared. This allows researchers to look at ostensible developmental differences by considering groups at various levels. However, cross-sectional research is subject to cross generational effects, in which significant life occurrences may be relevant for some groups but not for others.
Cross-cultural research can also be used to compare differences across groups. One of the greatest challenges for cross-cultural research is the equivalence of phenomena across different cultural environments. One way researchers seek to ensure equivalence in cultures with different languages is back translation. The primary psychological difference that appears to drive theory in cross-cultural research is the division of individualism and collectivism. Researchers are often interested in the implications of these concepts for psychological phenomena. In addition, cross-cultural research is interested in determining the extent to which psychological phenomena are emic (culturally-specific) or etic (universal) processes. In all cross-cultural studies, researchers must be careful to avoid ethnocentrism (the tendency to judge others based upon one’s own cultural standards).
Additional Online Resources
Module further discussing quasi experimental designs: http://www.socialresearchmethods.net/kb/quasiexp.htm
Peruse Hofstede’s comparisons of differences across cultures: http://geert-hofstede.com/countries.html
Distinguishing between etic and emic concepts in psychology: https://tdixonblog.wordpress.com/sociocultural-loa/cultural-norms/emicetic/
Video example of longitudinal research on fear of the dentist: http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/video/fears-and-beliefs-about-pain-and-dentistry-predict-treatment-seeking-behavior.html
Test your knowledge of the keywords and definitions in the chapter.
Interactive Quiz for Chapter 12
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