8.6: Experimental Research (Summary)
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- An experiment is a type of empirical study that features the manipulation of an independent variable, the measurement of a dependent variable, and control of extraneous variables.
- An extraneous variable is any variable other than the independent and dependent variables. A confound is an extraneous variable that varies systematically with the independent variable.
- Experimental research on the effectiveness of a treatment requires both a treatment condition and a control condition, which can be a no-treatment control condition, a placebo control condition, or a wait-list control condition. Experimental treatments can also be compared with the best available alternative.
- Experiments can be conducted using either between-subjects or within-subjects designs. Deciding which to use in a particular situation requires careful consideration of the pros and cons of each approach.
- Random assignment to conditions in between-subjects experiments or counterbalancing of orders of conditions in within-subjects experiments is a fundamental element of experimental research. The purpose of these techniques is to control extraneous variables so that they do not become confounding variables.
- Studies are high in internal validity to the extent that the way they are conducted supports the conclusion that the independent variable caused any observed differences in the dependent variable. Experiments are generally high in internal validity because of the manipulation of the independent variable and control of extraneous variables.
- Studies are high in external validity to the extent that the result can be generalized to people and situations beyond those actually studied. Although experiments can seem “artificial”—and low in external validity—it is important to consider whether the psychological processes under study are likely to operate in other people and situations.
- There are several effective methods you can use to recruit research participants for your experiment, including through formal subject pools, advertisements, and personal appeals. Field experiments require well-defined participant selection procedures.
- It is important to standardize experimental procedures to minimize extraneous variables, including experimenter expectancy effects.
- It is important to conduct one or more small-scale pilot tests of an experiment to be sure that the procedure works as planned.
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