• Created by: teddyk00
  • Created on: 18-03-19 14:21

Laboratory experiments

  • A test carried out in controlled conditions in an artificial setting, aiming to establish a cause and effect relationship between 2 variables
  • These are rarely used in sociology because of practical and ethical problems
  • Positivists are more likely to favour them because they produce statistical data, however they acknowledge that it could sometimes be hard to carry them out


  • Reliability = laboratory experiments are highly reliable because researchers can replicate them
  • Practicality = it is impossible to control all the possible variables that can have an effect; laboratory experiments cannot be used to study the past; laboratory experiments are usually small- scale, so it is difficult to investigate large-scale phenomena
  • Ethics = it can be difficult to obtain informed consent without revealing what the experiment is, which then leads to deception; some experiments can cause psychological harm to participants
  • The Hawthorne Effect = participants are likely to alter their behaviour because laboratory experiments are not carried out in natural settings
  • Free will = human behaviour is complex and it cannot be explained with cause and effect, people respond differently in different situations
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Field experiments

  • They still aim to find cause and effect, however they do it in a more natural setting
  • The participants of such experiments are often unaware that they are being observed
  • These experiments can produce statistical data (for positivists), however interpretivists might also go for it because it is carried out in a natural setting so it might be able to produce textual data


  • They are more "natural", valid and realistic, avoiding the artificial conditions of laboratory experiments
  • The more natural the setting is, the less control the researcher has on different variables
  • Some critics argue that they are unethical since they involve carrying out experiments without the participants being aware they are taking part
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Comparative method

  • A thought experiment that does not involve the researcher actually experimenting on real people but still designed to find cause and effect
  • This involves looking at statistics
  • Positivists favour the comparative method because it produces statistical data


  • It avoids artificiality
  • It can be used to study the past
  • It has no ethical issues because it doesn't involve real participants
  • Even less control of variables, so it is harder to establish a cause and effect relatuionship
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