Society doesn’t lend itself to be studied in a laboratory and this is because it is so complex and cannot be artificially created. It is also difficult to control and identify all factors that could effect behaviour and this is because society id an ‘open system’, not a ‘closed system’. In addition it is hard to match people into control and experimental groups because there will be individual differences
Other alternatives to laboratory experiments are field experiment and the comparative method. Assuming it is possible to create a controlled environment for sociological experiments; there are still many practical issues with experimental methods; firstly there is no possible way for experiments to research past social trends which reduces the range of information available to a sociologist. Secondly, if a laboratory environment has been created for sociology, this could only be used to study limited sample and therefore would not create very reliable data. Finally it is argued that the artificial environment of and experiment would provoke the ‘Hawthorne Effect (Elton Mayo) ‘because if people know they are being studied, they will behave differently e.g. by trying to second guess what the researcher wants them to do and acting accordingly, which would not give very valid data.
This makes laboratory experiments highly reliable as they are replicable. The laboratory experiment has major advantages as the method can be used to establish cause and effect relationships. For this reasons positivist sociologists use laboratory experiments as they favour a more scientific method. Positivist sociologists however also acknowledge the short comings of laboratory experiments, such as, it is often impossible or unethical to control the variables. Also their small scale means that results may not be representative or generalisable to the wider population.
These non-animal methods replace those archaic animal tests, and take less time to complete. It' shocking that individuals are not informed that non-animal experimentation methods are applicable to human life. The physiological chip is an amazing invention that contains cell compartments that are eligible to test the effects of drugs. Barnard (2007) describes the ability of the chip to “mimic the complex functions of the human body” (p.19). If a simple chip has the power to mimic the functions of the human body, then it is a huge resource to research.
Automatically individuals assume that we would be happy with some of these situations and depressed over others they are in. “Social-psychological research has shown that these intuitively obvious conclusions are not always true” (Smith & Mackie, 2000, p. 25). After a test is over and a good grade is received, the student may be thinking ahead to the next test, rather than being happy about his or her current good grade. Research in social psychology helps to explain why something that seems so simple to understand really is very complex and knowing how a person may react depends on them being in the situation. Social psychologists not only complete research in a laboratory setting, but also try to complete experiments in real world settings, through surveys and other research methods, as some people may not act the same in a controlled setting as he or she do in an uncontrolled.
The experimental method is a study of cause and effect. It differs from non-experimental methods in that it involves the deliberate manipulation of one variable (the independent), whilst keeping all other variables constant and specifically measuring the dependent variable. After an experiment is performed a statistical analysis of the results allows conclusion to be drawn between the relationship of the variables based on rejecting either the research hypothesis or the null hypothesis. The experimental method splits three different types, a field experiment (an experiment conducted in the natural environment), a natural or quasi experiment (when the independednt variable is natrurally occurring outside of the experiment) and finally a lab experiment. A lab experiment is different as it is in a controlled environment with control over the independent variable as well as all confounding variables, the dependent will be being measured.
This type of research is often utilized in situations where conducting lab research is unrealistic, cost prohibitive or would unduly affect the subject's behaviour. One of the advantages of this type of research is that it allows the experimenter to directly observe the subject in a natural setting, therefore allowing a truer insight into the subject’s natural behaviours. The main advantage of a naturalistic experiment is that it uses a naturally occurring situation, therefore it is valid. The disadvantages of naturalistic observation include the fact that it can be difficult to determine the exact cause of behaviour and the experimenter cannot control for outside variables. Furthermore untrue generalisations may be made using the information gathered on one subject and using this as a consensus for all subjects falling into that bracket.
Unlike in a field experiment where the participants are completely unaware that they are being observed so it gives more of a natural response, this allows the researchers to gain results with greater validity. In a laboratory experiment, the researchers have to tell the percipients the reasons for the experiment to allow the percipients to give full consent this is due to the ethical reasons such as if the person doesn’t agree due to religion/beliefs, ethnicity ect. Where as, the percipients of a field experiment have to be unaware of the reasons for the research to allow a higher rate of natural answers. This means that field experiments are less ethically agreed with. An example of a laboratory experiment is Asch (a psychologist) who tested the rate of conformity within groups.
The main type of data collected from scientific methods is quantifiable which in its collection and analysis is less affected by researchers thoughts, feelings and judgements. Without objectivity, there is no way of being certain that the data collected from a scientific study is valid; for example participants may be susceptible to investigator effects which would lead them to behave in an alternative manner. By being objective therefore, the data collected will be accurate as they have avoided researcher bias. Loftus and Palmer collected
Positivists tend to use empirical research methods such as experiments and questionnaires to study sociology (Andrews). By using these methods, Positivists can be certain that they are obtaining the correct information. Not only that but by using empirical research methods, it is much easier for other sociologists to reproduce the same results they received. Durkheim, a strong believer in positivism, said that positivists are “in the same state of mind as a physicist, chemist or physiologist when he probes into a still unexplored region of the scientific domain” (Gordon). When Durkheim said that, he was saying that sociologists study sociology just like how a biologist studies photosynthesis.