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Lab Experiment

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Lab Experiment

A laboratory (or lab) experiment is an experiment conducted in a highly controlled environment. This does not necessarily need to be conducted in a laboratory. In other words, all the variables, including independent, dependent, extraneous and confounding variables, should all be regulated by the researchers.

Lab experiment psychology

Laboratory experiments usually employ contrived or artificial materials in the experimental procedures. Participants are aware that they are taking part in the lab experiment and sometimes may not know the aim of the experiment.

Lab Experiment, scientists working in a lab, StudySmarterScientists working in a lab, freepik.com/katemangostar

Strengths of laboratory experiments

In the following, we will present the advantages of laboratory experiments. This discusses the controlled setting, standardised procedures and causal conclusions. Evaluation points are presented in the format of PEEL: Point/ Evidence/ Explanation/ Link.

Highly controlled

Laboratory experiments are conducted in a well-controlled setting. All the variables, including extraneous and confounding variables, are rigidly controlled in the experiment. Therefore, the risk of experimental findings being altered by extraneous or confounding variables can be greatly reduced. As a result, the well-controlled design of laboratory experiments implied the research with high internal validity.

Standardised procedures

Laboratory experiments have standardised procedures, which means the experiments are replicable. Laboratory experiments employ standardised procedures, which means all elements in the procedure on testing are identical.

Therefore, standardised procedures allow replication in subsequent occasions, ensuring data reflects a meaningful pattern and was not a one-off chance result. As a result, the replicability of laboratory experiments allows for verifying the initial research's reliability.

Causal Conclusions

A well-designed laboratory experiment can draw causal conclusions. Ideally, a laboratory experiment can rigidly control all the variables, including extraneous and confounding variables. Therefore, laboratory experiments provide great confidence to researchers that any observed changes in DV are caused by the IV.

This allows researchers to draw causal conclusions.

Disadvantages of laboratory experiments

In the following, we will present the disadvantages of laboratory experiments. This discusses ecological validity and demand characteristics.

Lack of ecological validity

Laboratory experiments have low ecological validity.

For example, laboratory experiments are conducted in a highly controlled environment in which contrived or artificial materials are employed.

The materials employed in the experiment have no real meaning to the participants and cannot resemble the actual situation in real life. As a result, findings generated in laboratory experiments can only be poorly generalised to real-life, due to the low mundane realism (the extent to which materials in a lab experiment are similar to events in real life).

Demand characteristics

A disadvantage of laboratory experiments is that the research setting may lead to demand characteristics. Demand characteristics mean the cues that make participants aware of what the experimenter expects to find or how participants are expected to behave. The participants are aware they are involved in an experiment. So, participants may have some ideas of what is expected of them in the experiment, which may influence their behaviours.

As a result, the demand characteristics presented in laboratory experiments can arguably change the research outcome, which reduces the validity of findings.

Field experiments

A field experiment is an experiment conducted in a natural, everyday setting. IV and DV are still deliberately controlled by the experimenter. However, as the field experiment is conducted in a natural setting, extraneous and confounding variables may not be rigidly controlled. Participants may not be aware that they are taking part in the field experiment, so their behaviour may be more natural.

Lab Experiment, Real Life Field Experiment, StudySmarterA real life setting, freepik.com/pch.vector

Advantages of field experiments

In the following, we will present the advantages of field experiments. This discusses ecological validity and demand characteristics.

High ecological validity

Field experiments have high ecological validity.

For example, field experiments are conducted in real-world everyday settings

Also, field experiments employ realistic materials and procedures that are comparable to real life. As a result, findings generated in field experiments can be generalised to real-life, contributing to the high mundane realism.

Ecological validity looks to determine whether the results of a study can be generalized to real-life settings.

Reduced demand characteristics

An advantage of field experiments is reduced demand characteristics. As participants may be unaware they are actually taking part in an experiment and the experiment's aims. This can reduce the risk that participants modify an aspect of their behaviour in response to their awareness of the research hypothesis. So, in this way, reducing demand characteristics can enhance the research validity.

Disadvantages of field experiments

In the following, we will present the disadvantages of field experiments. This discusses the control of variables and ethical issues.

Less control

Field experiments are conducted in a less controlled setting. There is a risk that the potential effects of experimental findings may be altered by extraneous or confounding variables. Field experiments cannot ensure standardised procedures, which means the experiments may not be replicable. As a result, the less controlled design of field experiments implies the research may suffer from low internal validity and reliability.

Ethical issues

Field experiments may induce ethical issues. Researchers have an ethical duty to protect their participants from harm and ask for informed consent. In a field experiment, participants are not aware they are in an experiment or asked for consent. As a result, researchers employing field experiments are criticised for failing their moral responsibility to protect participants’ ethical rights properly. Participants must be debriefed after their participation in the experiment.


Lab Experiment - Key takeaways

  • The advantages of lab experiments are good internal validity, standardised procedures and the ability to draw causal conclusions.

  • The disadvantages of lab experiments are low ecological validity as contrived or artificial materials are employed. Also, the participants may be aware of the lab experiment’s aims which give rise to demand characteristics.

  • A field experiment is an experiment conducted in a natural, everyday setting.

  • The advantages of field experiments are high mundane realism and reduced demand characteristics which implies good external validity.

  • The disadvantages of field experiments are they are conducted in a less controlled setting, implying the risk of low internal validity and reliability. In addition, field experiments may not gain informed consent from the participants, leading to ethical issues. Participants should be debriefed after their participation in the experiment.

Frequently Asked Questions about Lab Experiment

A laboratory experiment is an experiment conducted in a highly controlled environment. All the variables, including independent, dependent, extraneous and confounding variables, should all be regulated by the researchers. 

Lab experiments investigate cause-and-effect. They aim to find out the effect of an independent variable on the dependent variable. 

A field experiment is an experiment conducted in a natural, everyday setting. IV and DV are still controlled by the experimenter; however, due to the natural setting extraneous and confounding variables may not be controlled. Participants may not be aware that they are taking part in the field experiment. 

To increase both the reliability and validity of their findings, laboratory experiments allow for highly controlled experiments that can allow researchers to draw causal conclusions. 

Lab experience allows researchers to come to grips with the research field, and gain knowledge on how the processes work within that scientific area of study. 

Final Lab Experiment Quiz

Question

What is a laboratory experiment?

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Answer

A laboratory experiment is an experiment conducted in a highly controlled environment. 

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Question

Why are laboratory experiments criticised for having demand characteristics?

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Answer

The participants may be aware of the experiment’s aims and how the researcher expects them to act, which may influence their behaviours.

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Question

Why are laboratory experiments criticised for having low ecological validity?


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Answer

Laboratory experiments have low ecological validity as contrived or artificial materials are employed.

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Question

What are the advantages of laboratory experiments?


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Answer

Laboratory experiments are conducted in a well-controlled setting, which implies good internal validity, standardised procedures and the ability to draw causal conclusions.

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Question

What is a field experiment?


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Answer

A field experiment is an experiment conducted in a natural, everyday setting. 

Show question

Question

What are the advantages of a field experiment?


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Answer

Field experiments have high mundane realism and reduced demand characteristics which implies good external validity.

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Question

Why are field experiments criticised for having low internal validity and reliability?


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Answer

Field experiments are conducted in a less controlled setting which may not have standardised procedures, implying the risk of low internal validity and reliability.

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Question

Why are field experiments criticised for having ethical issues?


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Answer

Field experiments may not ask for participants informed consent before the study, leading to ethical issues.

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Question

Are lab experiments necessarily carried out in the laboratory?


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Answer

No, a lab experiment does not necessarily need to be conducted in a laboratory. Any well-controlled setting is fine.

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Question

What are the differences between lab and field experiments?


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Answer

Extraneous and confounding variables are well-controlled in lab experiments compared to field experiments. Lab experiments are in an artificial setting and field experiments in a natural setting.

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