Field and Natural Experiments In Psychology: Part 3 of 3

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Their protests cause the school board to suddenly install the new method in the control classrooms. Any possibility of a control comparison is destroyed-and so is the experiment. These sorts of real-world phenomena intrude on the scientific purity of field experiments frequently enough to cause field researchers considerable worry. But often such intrusions can be avoided by hard work and planning by the researcher. For instance if a new teaching method is shown in an experiment to work better, it can later be used on students in the former control group as an enhancement of what they have already been taught.

A second set of flaws may creep into the field experiment if the experimenter is not rigorous in following good experimental procedure taking care to avoid experimenter bias, Suppose. for instance! chat the school superintendent had decided to let the teachers who were most enthusiastic about the new geometry teaching method be the ones to try it out.

From many perspectives this seems a sensible decision but it markedly changes the conclusions that can be drawn from the experiment. Suppose the experiment came out as we suspect the superintendent anticipated: The students taught by the new method do better on a final test of geometry than those taught by the old method. What can be concluded? Not that students taught by the new method learn better but rather that students taught by the new method learn better when taught by teachers wbo are enthusiatic about that method. As a result, one cannot conclude that it is a good idea to impose the new teaching method on teachers who favor the old teaching method. The action implications of the research have becomed blurred.

Thus the effects observed in field and naturalistic studies are subject to a variety of related concerns. Although such studies have potentially important social applications, they do not provide easy or unequivocal answers to questions of social policy or psychological causality.

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