In research, there are multiple methods to find out the best way to describe our reality . Experimental research is the most popular method, thanks to its high control in the variables and its ability to establish cause and effect relationships.
There are many disciplines in which this method is used, being fundamental in sciences such as psychology, sociology, chemistry and pharmacy, among others.
In this article we will see the advantages and disadvantages of this method , describing some examples applied in various disciplines.
Advantages of experimental research
Below we have summarized the advantages of experimental research.
1. Control of the variables
This method allows you to isolate the variables you want to study and modify them depending on the objective of the study . You can also combine variables to study how they interact with each other.
Thanks to this, experimental research allows the greatest degree of control of the variables.
2. Identification of the cause-effect relationship
By studying the variables in isolation, the direct relationship between an action incorporated by the researcher and the results obtained can be easily established .
3. There are no study limits
Any subject can be approached through the experimental method , you just have to know how to introduce it in the experimental design and extract the variables to analyze.
4. The results can be duplicated
By having control over the variables and the context in which the experiment is carried out, it can be replicated and repeated as many times as desired .
In addition, another research group can perform the same experiment following the guidelines of who originally did it and duplicate their results.
5. Can be combined with other research methods
To ensure that the results obtained are reliable , it is beneficial to combine experimental research with other methods.
By doing this, you can compare the results of the investigations and see if there are striking discrepancies.
Despite all the advantages we have seen in the previous points, experimental research may also have some drawbacks and weaknesses .
1. Non-operable aspects
Love, happiness and other abstract ideas are hard to study . That is, unlike variables such as length, height, temperature and so on, emotions, for example, cannot be measured accurately.
2. Artificial situations
In the laboratory, situations are created according to the objective to be investigated. These situations are very controlled and can hardly represent a real situation .
Due to this artificiality, it may be the case that variables that in nature always occur together are excluded.
3. Human error
Human beings are imperfect and, although the experimentation is rigorous, it may be the case that the experimenter himself is wrong when measuring the variables .
Although human error does not have to be a very serious event, in the most serious cases it may mean having to invalidate all the results and it is necessary to repeat the study.
4. The environment influences the participants
If the laboratory or any other place where the study is conducted has any distracting factor or that can alter the mood of the participant, their responses will be affected.
5. Variable manipulation may not be objective.
It is possible that, whether due to a researcher’s bias or intentionally, the results are manipulated and interpreted in a way that confirms the hypotheses to be verified in the study.
6. It can take a long time
Scientific research requires many steps . First you have to choose the object of study, then you have to find out what its variables, then you have to develop an experimental design and there are still a few more steps.
Having to go through all these phases implies a lot of time. In addition, it may be the case that, once the experiment has started, failures that must be corrected and pause data collection are detected.
Obtaining participants for the sample is a long process, and it is not a guarantee that they will finally carry out the experiment.
7. Ethical problems
Throughout history there have been cases of experiments that have generated controversy because they have touched on violations of ethics .
To give an example, Nazi doctors experimented with the prisoners of the concentration camps in an inhuman and cruel way, without any qualms about torturing and killing them.
Another ethical aspect to consider is animal experimentation. Many environmentalists and defenders of animal rights are totally opposed to the use of animals for scientific purposes, although this may mean saving human lives as it is in the case of pharmaceutical research.
8. The investigation does not offer a real explanation
On many occasions, experimental research aims to answer questions related to very specific aspects . As a real situation is not being studied, neither can an accurate explanation of why certain phenomena occur in nature.
It is good to know what influences a certain variable in isolation, since it facilitates the prediction, however, in nature that same variable does not occur separately from the rest.
9. Strange variables cannot always be controlled
Although one of the main advantages of experimental research is to achieve greater control of foreign variables, this does not mean that they cannot be overlooked.
10. Sample may not be representative
Although it is a rare phenomenon, the truth is that it can happen that the participants have significantly different characteristics compared to the population where they have been extracted.
For example, let’s imagine that we want to study the degree to which young women feel obsessed with thinness. We decided that our sample will be between 18 and 25 years old and we recruit them in our own city.
The predictable thing would be to find women with various concerns: some will worry a lot about their weight while others will consider that it is not a key aspect in their life.
In our research we have had a sample composed mostly of women with obesity, a factor that clearly generates concern for weight in terms of health
11. Groups may not be comparable
If the study compares two or more groups, it may be the case that these are not comparable for different reasons .
Let’s take the following example: Imagine that we want to study how sports performance is influenced by the sex variable. We managed to recruit 30 men and 30 women and let them all go through the same physical tests.
It turns out that all these people already practiced sports before participating in the study, giving the chance that most women perform contemporary dance and most men practice football.
When analyzing the results of physical tests, we see that men have more resistance and strength while women have higher levels of coordination and flexibility.
Based on this, we do not know if it has been the type of sport or the sex variable that has influenced the qualitative differences in sports performance.
- Neuman, WL, and Neuman, WL (2006). Social research methods: Qualitative and quantitative approaches.
- Punch, KF (2013). Introduction to social research: Quantitative and qualitative approaches. Sage