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10.6: Perils of Experimental Research

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    Experimental research is one of the most difficult of research designs, and should not be taken lightly. This type of research is often best with a multitude of methodological problems. First, though experimental research requires theories for framing hypotheses for testing, much of current experimental research is atheoretical. Without theories, the hypotheses being tested tend to be ad hoc, possibly illogical, and meaningless. Second, many of the measurement instruments used in experimental research are not tested for reliability and validity, and are incomparable across studies. Consequently, results generated using such instruments are also incomparable. Third, often experimental research uses inappropriate research designs, such as irrelevant dependent variables, no interaction effects, no experimental controls, and non-equivalent stimulus across treatment groups. Findings from such studies tend to lack internal validity and are highly suspect. Fourth, the treatments (tasks) used in experimental research may be diverse, incomparable, and inconsistent across studies, and sometimes inappropriate for the subject population. For instance, undergraduate student subjects are often asked to pretend that they are marketing managers and asked to perform a complex budget allocation task in which they have no experience or expertise. The use of such inappropriate tasks, introduces new threats to internal validity (i.e., subject’s performance may be an artefact of the content or difficulty of the task setting), generates findings that are non-interpretable and meaningless, and makes integration of findings across studies impossible.

    The design of proper experimental treatments is a very important task in experimental design, because the treatment is the raison d’etre of the experimental method, and must never be rushed or neglected. To design an adequate and appropriate task, researchers should use prevalidated tasks if available, conduct treatment manipulation checks to check for the adequacy of such tasks (by debriefing subjects after performing the assigned task), conduct pilot tests (repeatedly, if necessary), and if in doubt, use tasks that are simple and familiar for the respondent sample rather than tasks that are complex or unfamiliar.

    In summary, this chapter introduced key concepts in the experimental design research method and introduced a variety of true experimental and quasi-experimental designs. Although these designs vary widely in internal validity, designs with less internal validity should not be overlooked and may sometimes be useful under specific circumstances and empirical contingencies.

    This page titled 10.6: Perils of Experimental Research is shared under a CC BY-SA 3.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Anol Bhattacherjee (Global Text Project) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform.

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