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Examine the Reasons Why Some Sociologists Choose Not to Use Experiments When Conducting Research?

  • Date Submitted: 01/24/2011 02:25 PM
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Examine the reasons why some sociologists choose not to use experiments when conducting research?

An experiment is an example of a research method used to collect primary data. Experiments are very rarely used in sociological research, and are far less common than questionnaires, interviews and participant observation.
Laboratory experiments are designed to test an hypothesis, with a view to accepting, modifying or rejecting it. They are far easier to conduct in the natural sciences than in the social sciences. This is because it is necessary to hold all other variables constant while focusing the experiment on those variables that have been put forward as significant in the hypothesis. In normal circumstances this is practically impossible to achieve with human beings in any sociological experiment. Moreover, people tend to act in terms of their definitions of situations - they are likely to define laboratories as artificial situations and act accordingly. As a result, their actions may be very different from their normal behaviour in the real world, and thus the sociologist would learn little of value.
Sociologists sometimes try to get round this problem by conducting 'field experiments'. These are conducted in normal social situations such as the classroom, the factory, the pub or the street corner. For example, in order to test the effect of social class on interaction between strangers, an actor stood outside Paddington Station and asked people for directions. The request never altered, but the actor's dress varied from that of a businessman to that of a labourer. The experiment indicated that people were more helpful to the 'businessman'. So, arguably, they were responding to their perception of social class. But such experiments are bound to be inexact; it is not possible to identify and control all the variables that might affect the results. In the above example, people might have been responding not to social class but rather to the level of...

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