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Natural Experiment

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Natural Experiment

Natural experiments examine a natural situation that occurs in the real world. They are often used when it is not possible to change an independent variable (IV) intentionally for ethical or practical reasons.

In a natural experiment, researchers take advantage of events that occur or have already occurred naturally. Therefore, the researchers cannot change or control the IV of the natural experiment. The IV varies naturally even without intervention in the experiment, e.g., by a natural disaster.

Natural Experiment Natural disaster StudySmarterNatural experiments may investigate events like natural disasters, Pixabay

What are the advantages of natural experiments?

In the following section, we will present the advantages of natural experiments. We will discuss the new research possibilities and causal conclusions. The evaluation points will be presented in the format of PEEL: Point/ Evidence/ Explanation/ Link.

New research opportunities

P: Natural experiments provide opportunities for research that cannot be done for ethical and practical reasons. E: For example, it is impossible to manipulate a natural disaster or maternal deprivation on participants. E: So, natural experiments are the only ethical way for researchers to investigate the causal relationship of the above topics. L: Consequently, natural experiments open up practical research opportunities to study conditions that cannot be manipulated.

Great ecological validity

P: Natural experiments have high ecological validity. E: This is because natural experiments study real-world problems that arose naturally. E: Researchers study a naturally occurring IV, strictly referring to high ecological validity. L: The findings obtained in natural experiments can be well applied to real-life because of the high realism.

What are the disadvantages of natural experiments?

In the following, we will show the disadvantages of natural experiments. These involve rare opportunities, pre-existing sampling bias, and ethical issues.

Rare opportunities

P: There are scarce opportunities for researchers to conduct a natural experiment. E: Most natural events are ‘one-off’. E: Because natural events are unique, the results have limited generalisability to similar situations. L: Therefore, it is difficult for researchers to prepare for a natural event.

Pre-existing sampling bias

P: In natural experiments, pre-existing sampling bias can be a problem. E: In natural experiments, researchers cannot randomly assign participants to different conditions because naturally occurring events create them. E: Therefore, in natural experiments, participants’ variables may act as confounding variables that cause changes in the dependent variable (DV). L: As a result, sample bias in natural experiments can lead to low internal validity and generalisability of the research.

Ethical Issues

P: Although natural experiments are considered the only ethically acceptable method for studying conditions that cannot be manipulated, ethical issues may still arise. E: Because natural experiments are often conducted after traumatic events, interviewing or observing people after the event could cause additional harm to participants. E: Therefore, researchers must strictly follow the code of ethics to prevent additional harm to participants. L: If researchers have not met their moral responsibility to protect research participants from harm, natural experiments can still be considered unethical.

What is a quasi-experiment?

Quasi-experiments can be used when it is impossible or unethical to conduct a laboratory experiment. However, they can be conducted in a laboratory setting. They are often conducted in a natural environment.

A quasi-experiment is an experiment that examines pre-existing differences between people. There is an IV, but it already exists and is not manipulated by the researcher. The effect of this IV is studied on the DV.

What would be an example of a quasi-expermient?

The IV can be gender, age, ethnicity, family socioeconomic status, etc.

What are the advantages of quasi-experiments?

In the following, we will present the advantages of quasi-experiments. In the following section, we will discuss the controlled setting and interpersonal differences.

Controlled setting

P: Quasi-experiments can be conducted in a controlled setting. E: The potential impact of experimental results extraneous or confounding variables alter is greatly reduced. E: Quasi-experiments can also ensure standardised procedures, which means that experiments can be replicable. L: The controlled design of quasi-experiments in the laboratory means that research can benefit from high internal validity and reliability.

Interpersonal differences

P: Quasi-experiments allow comparisons between people based on their pre-existing differences. E: Sometimes researchers cannot manipulate differences for ethical or practical reasons, e.g., in people who may or may not have experienced traumatic events in childhood. E: So quasi-experiments allow psychologists to study real-world problems better. L: Therefore, the findings obtained in quasi-experiments can be better generalised to real life, which contributes to a high degree of realism.

What are the disadvantages of quasi-experiments?

In the following section, we will present the disadvantages of quasi-experiments. These are the already existing sampling bias and doubts about causal conclusions.

Pre-existing sampling bias

P: Pre-existing sampling bias is also a problem in quasi-experiments. E: In quasi-experiments, researchers cannot randomly assign participants to different conditions because the differences between people create the conditions. E: Therefore, participants’ variables may act as confounding variables that cause changes in the DV in quasi-experiments. L: As a result, sample bias in quasi-experiments may lead to low internal validity and generalisability of the research.

Doubts on causal conclusions

P: In a natural setting, quasi-experiments cannot demonstrate causal relationships. E: Researchers cannot be sure that the IV causes the changes in DV because there is no control over IV in natural quasi-experiments. E: There may be unknown, uncontrolled confounding variables that affect DV. L: As a result, researchers cannot draw a causal conclusion.

Natural Experiment - Key takeaways

  • Natural experiments are often used when it is not possible to alter an IV for ethical or practical reasons intentionally.

  • The advantages of natural experiments are that they provide opportunities for research that researchers cannot do for ethical or practical reasons. They also have high ecological validity.

  • The disadvantages of natural experiments are infrequent opportunities for researchers, pre-existing sample bias, and ethical issues, such as conducting a study after traumatic events that may be harmful to participants.

  • A quasi-experiment is an experiment that examines pre-existing differences between people, so the IV already exists.

  • The advantages are that quasi-experiments are conducted in the laboratory in a well-controlled environment, which implies good internal validity and reliability. Also, quasi-experiments allow comparisons between people based on their pre-existing differences, so they have higher external validity.

  • The disadvantage is that there is a bias in the sample in natural quasi-experiments, and researchers can only draw causal conclusions tentatively.

Frequently Asked Questions about Natural Experiment

Natural experiments study a natural situation that occurs in the real world. The IV is a natural phenomenon, so researchers simply observe the effects of this IV on a DV.

Beckett (2006) investigated the effects of deprivation on children’s IQ at age 11. They compared 128 Romanian children who UK families had adopted at various ages and 50 UK children who had been adopted before six months of age. They found Romanian children who had been adopted before six months of age had similar IQs to the UK children; however, Romanian children adopted after six months of age had much worse scores. 

Natural experiments are frequently used when it is not possible to change an independent variable (IV) intentionally for ethical or practical reasons. In a natural experiment, researchers take advantage of events that occur or have already occurred naturally. Therefore, the researchers cannot change or control the IV of the natural experiment.

The advantages of natural experiments are that they provide opportunities for research that researchers cannot do for ethical or practical reasons. They also have high ecological validity. The disadvantages of natural experiments are infrequent opportunities for researchers, pre-existing sample bias, and ethical issues, such as conducting a study after traumatic events that may be harmful to participants.

Final Natural Experiment Quiz

Question

What is a natural experiment?

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Answer

In a natural experiment, researchers take advantage of events that occur or have already occurred naturally. Therefore, the researchers cannot change or control the IV of the natural experiment.

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Question

What are the advantages of natural experiments?

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Answer

Natural experiments provide opportunities for research that may not be conducted due to ethical and practical reasons. Also, natural experiments have good ecological validity.

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Question

What are the disadvantages of natural experiments?

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Answer

There are scarce opportunities for researchers to conduct a natural experiment and pre-existing sampling bias can be an issue. Also, ethical issues can still arise in natural experiments.

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Question

What is a quasi-experiment?

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Answer

A quasi-experiment is an experiment that examines pre-existing differences between people. There is an IV, but it already exists and is not manipulated by the researcher.

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Question

What are the advantages of quasi-experiments?

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Answer

Lab-based quasi-experiments are conducted in a well-controlled setting, which implies good internal validity and reliability. Also, quasi-experiments allow comparisons between peoples according to their pre-existing differences.

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Question

What are the disadvantages of quasi-experiments?

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Answer

Researchers can only tentatively draw causal conclusions in natural setting quasi-experiments and pre-existing sampling bias can be an issue.

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Question

When are natural experiments conducted?

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Answer

Natural experiments are conducted when it is not possible or ethical to intentionally manipulate an IV.

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Question

Why can't researchers draw cause-and-effect conclusions from natural experiments and natural setting quasi-experiments?

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Answer

Researchers cannot be sure that the IV causes the changes in the DV as they lack control on the IV and extraneous variables.

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Question

When might you use a quasi-experiment?

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Answer

To investigate relationships between an IV and DV in a situation where the IV is a pre-existing difference between people.

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