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Field Experiment

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Field Experiment

Sometimes, when conducting research, a laboratory setting isn't the best option for investigating a phenomenon. Whilst lab experiments offer a lot of control, they are artificial and do not truly represent the real world, which causes issues with ecological validity. This is where field experiments come in.

Despite its name, field experiments, whilst they can be conducted in a field, are not restricted to a literal field.

A field experiment is a research method where the independent variable is manipulated, and the dependent variable is measured in a real-world setting.

Both laboratory and field experiments manipulate a variable to see if it can be controlled and affect the dependent variable. Also, both are valid forms of experimentation.

Field Experiment, real-world setting for conducting field experiments, StudySmarterReal-life environment, freepik.com/rawpixel

Field Experiment Definition

As we have established above, a field experiment is a research method where the independent variable is manipulated, and the dependent variable is measured in a real-world setting.

If you had to conduct research on travel, a field experiment could be performed on a train. Also, you could analyse a car or bike ride out in the streets. Similarly, someone might conduct an experiment in a school investigating different phenomena present in classrooms or school playgrounds.

How are Field Experiments Carried Out?

Field experiments are usually designed and used in psychology when researchers want to observe participants in their natural environment, but the phenomenon is not naturally occurring. Therefore, the researcher must manipulate the investigated variables to measure the outcome. This is the key variable.

Field Experiments in Psychology

The procedure of field experiments in psychology is the following:

  1. Identify a research question, variables, and hypotheses
  2. Recruit participants
  3. Carry out the experiment
  4. Analyse data and report results

An Example of a Field Experiment in Social Psychology

Hofling (1966) conducted a field experiment to investigate obedience in nurses. The study involved 22 nurses working in a psychiatric hospital on a night shift. During their shift, a doctor, who was actually the researcher, called the nurses and asked them to urgently administer 20mg of a drug to a patient (double the maximum dosage).

  • The doctor/researcher told the nurses that he would authorise the administration of the medication later.

The purpose of the research was to identify if people were obedient to authoritative figures. Overall, multiple rules would have been broken if the nurses had obeyed the order. The results showed that 95 percent of nurses obeyed the order, despite breaking the rules. Only one questioned the doctor.

The Hofling study is an example of a field experiment. It was carried out in a natural setting, and the researcher manipulated the situation (instructed nurses to administer high-dosage of medication). After carrying out the experiment, they analysed the data and measured the outcome (whether nurses complied with authoritative figures' instructions).

Field Experiment, doctors and nurses outside the hospital representing a real-life surrounding for conducting experiments, StudySmarterDoctors and nurses, freepik.com/pch.vector

What are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Field Experiments?

Just like any type of research, field experiments have certain advantages and disadvantages that have to be taken into consideration before opting for this research method.

Advantages

Some of the advantages of field experiments include the following:

  • The results are more likely to reflect real-life in comparison to laboratory research. This is because the research design has high ecological validity.
  • There is less likelihood of demand characteristics and the Hawthorne Effect influencing the participant's behaviour. This increases the validityof the findings.

    Hawthorne effect is when people adjust their behaviour because they know they are being observed.

  • It is high in mundane realismin comparison to lab research.

    Mundane realism is when an experiment is similar to a real- setting. Therefore, the research has high external validity.

  • It is an appropriate research design to use when carrying out research on a large scale that cannot be carried out in artificial settings.

    A field experiment would be an appropriate research design to use when investigating children's behaviour changes at school. More specifically, to compare their behaviours around their usual and a substitute teacher.

  • It can establish causal relationships because researchers manipulate a variable and measure its effect. However, certain issues might arise when establishing changes certain variables cause in another variable. We will address these issues in the next paragraph.

Besides these advantages, researchers should be aware of some disadvantages listed below.

Disadvantages

The disadvantages of field experiments are the following:

  • Researchers have less control over extraneous/confounding variables, which reduces the confidence in establishing causal relationships.
  • It is difficult to replicate the research, making it hard to determine the reliability of the results found.
  • This experimental method has a high chance of collecting a biased sample.
  • It may be difficult to record data accurately with so many variables present. Overall, field experiments have less control.
  • Potential ethical issues of field experiments include: difficulty getting informed consent, and the researcher may need to deceive participants.

Field Experiment - Key Takeaways

  • A field experiment is a research method where the independent variable is manipulated, and the dependent variable is measured in a real-world setting.
  • Field experiments are usually used in psychology when researchers want to observe participants in their natural environment. The phenomenon is not naturally occurring, so the researcher must manipulate the variables to measure the outcome.
  • Hofling (1966) used a field experiment to investigate if nurses wrongfully obeyed authoritative figures in their workplace. They found that 95% percent of nurses obeyed, despite having to break multiple rules. This is an excellent example of a field experiment as it was carried out in a natural setting. The researcher manipulated the situation (instructed nurses to administer high-dosage of medication) and measured the outcome (whether nurses complied with authoritative figures' instructions).
  • Field experiments have high ecological validity, establish causal relationships, and reduce the chances of demand characteristics interfering with research. However, they offer less control and suffer from issues with confounding variables. From the ethical perspective, participants cannot always consent to take part and may need to be deceived to be observed. Replicating field research is sometimes difficult.

Frequently Asked Questions about Field Experiment

A field experiment is a research method where the independent variable is manipulated, and the dependent variable is measured in a real-world setting.  

In field experiments, researchers manipulate the independent variable. On the other hand, in natural experiments, the researcher does not manipulate anything in the experiment. 

Hofling (1966) conducted a field experiment to investigate obedience in nurses. The study involved studying 22 real nurses in a psychiatric hospital. This is an excellent example of a field experiment as it was carried out in a natural setting. The researcher manipulated the situation (instructed nurses to administer high-dosage of medication) and measured the outcome (whether nurses complied with authoritative figures' instructions).  

A disadvantage of a field experiment is that researchers cannot control the extraneous variables. This may reduce the validity of the findings. 

The steps for conducting a field experiment are: 

  • identify a research question, variables, and hypotheses 
  • recruit participants
  • carry out the experiment
  • analyse the data and report the results 

Final Field Experiment Quiz

Question

What is a field experiment? 

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Answer

A field experiment is a research method where the independent variable is manipulated, and the dependent variable is measured in a real-world setting.  

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Question

Which of the following statement is correct? 

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Answer

The researcher manipulates the variables in a controlled setting.

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Question

What type of validity is mundane realism related to? 

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Answer

External validity 

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Question

Why are field experiments considered to have low reliability?

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Answer

The researcher cannot replicate the study. Because of that, it is difficult to find similar results.

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Question

What is the Hawthorne effect? 

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Answer

Hawthorne effect is when people adjust their behaviour because they know that they are being observed.

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Question

What is the procedure for field experiments? 

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Answer

The procedure of field experiments are: 

  1. identify a research question, variables, and hypotheses 
  2. recruit participants
  3. carry out the experiment 
  4. analyse the data and report the results 

Show question

Question

Why do researchers use field experiments?

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Answer

Researchers use field experiments when they want to measure phenomena in real-life settings.

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Question

What are the advantages of field experiments?

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Answer

The advantages of field experiments are: 

  • high ecological validity 
  • less likelihood of the Hawthorne effect affecting the validity of the results 
  • high mundane realism 
  • a good experiment design to use when attempting to collect data from a large sample

Show question

Question

What are the disadvantages of field experiments? 

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Answer

The disadvantages of field experiments are: 

  • researchers cannot control extraneous variables
  • it is difficult to establish the reliability of research 
  • sample bias may influence results 
  • difficulties recording data 
  • potential ethical issues 

Show question

Question

What are the potential ethical issues that may happen when doing a field experiment? 

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Answer

Deception of participants

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Question

What did Hofling (1966) investigate using a field experiment? 

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Answer

Hofling (1966) used a field experiment to investigate if nurses wrongfully obeyed authoritative figures in their workplace.

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