Q. What is an experiment? Explain why is it more difficult to conduct experiments in social – behavioural sciences than in physical sciences. 10 marks

Model answer outline :

An experiment is a method of observation under controlled condition. This method enables us to understand the cause – effect relationship between variables. In a typical experiment, the hypothesized cause of an incident is manipulated to see its effect by keeping other potential influences under control. Triplett, for instance, examined the hypothesis that social condition influences one’s performance. He repeatedly examined how rate of response is influenced by the presence of other people while keeping other factors under control. Data collected by him confirmed this hypothesis.
The science of Methodology emphasizes that an experiment is nothing but its control. Greater control means more internally valid inferences about the cause – effect relationship.
But controlling variances are not that easy in the social – behavioural sciences due to practical and ethical reasons. We can’t deprive infants, for example, of maternal love to see its impacts on their emotional and social development. As an alternative, we try to understand the results by conducting expost facto researches where effect has already taken place and we move in the backward direction from “effect to cause”. This method however, lacks the control over individual differences called randomization.
Even in the case of normal experiments in the social science with human subjects, it is more difficult than physical science because
1) we can not control everythings including hidden individuals difference
2) human subjects think and thus could make different interpretations of the same experimental treatments
3) human beings are not only reactive but proactive also. Demand characteristics of the experiment may predispose subjects to respond on the expected lines.
4) social reactions like impression formation , by the subject of the experimentor, may add and impurify the findings.
Moreover, a social reality unlike a physical reality often has several, rather than, single causes. Poverty for example has multiple causal factors that interact to produce the result. It necessitates to use a multi factorial design of the experiment which is more difficult to conduct than a linear experiment.

2 thoughts on “Q. What is an experiment? Explain why is it more difficult to conduct experiments in social – behavioural sciences than in physical sciences. 10 marks”

  1. Experiment is a method in which the experimenter manipulates the relevant variables to establish a cause-effect relationship. It is studied in a control environment, where the independent variables are manipulated and extraneous variables, which can affect the objectivity of the cause – effect relationship, are kept constant or they are eliminated.

    For e.g. in the famous experiment of Pavlov on his dog, he kept the lab noise in control to let that dog focus upon sound which was voluntarily made.

    In physical sciences, the matter related to study is constant in nature, i.e. the ice will melt when the temperature rises, the candle will extinguish in the absence of oxygen, etc.
    Here, in physical science the constructs are fixed, like the water will always boil at 100 degrees and acceleration due to gravity will always be 9.8m/sec2.

    But in the study of social-behavioural science exact cause effect relation is not possible, because here the subject is human and thus to study human, a controlled environment is almost impossible to make because the control environment may in itself could act as an extraneous variable. Moreover, lack of sample to study upon and most important due to ethical reasons also, conducting experiments in social-behavioural science is a daunting task.

  2. An experiment is the technique for studying relationship between variables under controlled conditions. Here the effect of one variable (independent variable) on other variable (dependent variable) is studied after controlling the extraneous variables. Ex. Effect of specific music on concentration can be studied by controlling demographic factors through matching.

    Conducting experiments in social behavioral sciences is more difficult than phsycial sciences because

    – the reason lies in the very nature of respective subject matters of these domains. Physical sciences study inorganic world which is accurate ,objective and deterministic by nature. Whereas subject matter of social and behavioral sciences involve organisms who are very dynamic and cognitive beings which in turn makes these sciences subjective and probablistic in nature. For ex. Participant might give positive responses in Test based on team effectiveness to be under social desirability. This distortion by the subject himself is less possible in physical science where for a fixed mass and velocity one will get certain momentum.
    Hence we see control is limited in behavioral sciences which makes precision and replication a challenge.

    – Also behavioral sciences are multidimensional involving social, cultural, personality factors etc which leads to less universal results unlike in physical sciences where results are absolute. For ex. Children from Western and asian societies give contrasting response on tests based on social cohesion, irrespective of controlled settings.

    -Being multidimensional, there is are several metrics in behavioral sciences which lead to high degree of measurement errors and disagreements among behavioral scientists. Ex. Nature nurture debate!

    – Ethical and lawful codes are to be followed in behavioral sciences as experiments are related to living beings. Informed consent, participant’s confidence in experimenter, standardized procedures with other ethical principles are crucial (Berg). For ex. Animal researches need to abide by natural and animal rights, beneficence of the study in social sciences is always under scrutiny, deception by the experimenter though needed for true results is debatable today!

    Hence scientific enquiry in social and behavioral sciences faces more challenges than natural sciences.

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