The Experimental Method

There is no single opinion on any scientific problem and there are always debates about whether or not the experimental method has made a major contribution to the social sciences or is it inappropriate to the study of complex human societies. The purpose of this paper is to give the answer to this question studying different sources: books, articles, and websites. The social sciences are the disciplines, which deal with human life and behaviour, though some scholars consider that there should be one single social science.

 The experimental method is relatively new approach in studying sociology, philosophy, politics, and other disciplines, which are in the core of the social sciences.  Many social scientists are rather reluctant to rely on laboratory evidence or experiment. There is also a widespread view that the experiments produce unrealistic data because of small sizes. We argue that many of the objections against evidence from the experimental method suggest the wisdom of conducting more experiments, not fewer (Heckman 2009, p.2). Experiments are a widely used methodology in the physical sciences, while the adoption of the laboratory experiments has been much slower in the social sciences, except for psychology. Experimental methods have been designed for students who study economics in order to rethink methodological connections between theory and data (Friedman & Sunder, 1994, p. 172).

There is an opinion that the experimental method in the social sciences lacks realism (Heckman 2009, p.6). In this paper, the author intends to prove the importance and validity of the experimental method in the social sciences and the importance of its result while studying the different spheres of life that may be under the core of philosophy, sociology, politics, economy, etc. We also discuss the advantages and limitations of the experimental method and the ways to improve it.

What are Social Sciences?

Different scholars give different definitions to the social sciences. Though it is hard to come to the single conclusion, we can identify the social sciences as follows: anthropology, philosophy, economics, political science, psychology, linguistics, geography, and sociology. These disciplines differ from each other in various ways. For example, some researchers consider that psychology and economics are the main social science disciplines. There is also an opinion that sociology and philosophy have a great influence on the development of the social science methodologies and models (Morton 2006, p. 36). As the social sciences deal with humans, their condition, and the society as a whole, the social sciences can allow individuals to organize the society and make it better.  Human behaviour is the key point of the disciplines that are part of the social sciences. Where there is a human being, there must be culture and institutions that humans create, which are under the purview of the social sciences with the emphasis on research that provides scientific investigation, prediction, interpretation, and identification of human behaviour. Historically, Marxists (Karl Marx, Fredrick Engels, and Lenin) viewed an individual as a part of the social sciences, because they mainly studied the human behaviour and social aspects of the human life, for example religion (Iyengar 2009, p.4). While humans are observing humans, the question of validity and objectiveness has become the main point of arguing, because it is difficult to measure human behaviour. Sociology is using different methods of research studies to arrive at the certain conclusions in their studies and experiments, for example, background information, such as a brief review or sending messages or proposal for better communication (Friedman & Sunder, 1994, p. 182).

All the social sciences are open to external disciplines and often borrow research from other disciplines, which are more or less related to the social sciences. The social science specialists work in different fields, i.e.: business, education, public health, law, journalism, and social work among others. The social sciences are relatively new, because the development of social studies began in 1920 with the aim to improve education among people through history and geography. In the USA, the core studies have been the political and military history of the country, which is supposed to develop better citizens and patriotism.

Orientation on the Experimental Method

As the main purpose of this paper is to prove the importance of the experimental method in the studying of the social sciences, we should mention some historical facts. As the theory of experiments in the social sciences is relatively new, there were not many resaurches until the middle of the 20th century (Iyengar 2009, p.23). Later, in 1950s, the social disciplines moved under the purview of political science, which provided experimentations to investigate world politics and economics. The founders of the experimental methods in politics were Bositis and Steinel 1987; Green and Gerber 2003, who also studied the ensuing methodology. The amount of the experimental methods has gradually grown among different scholars. More and more researchers have found the importance and necessity of the scientific experiments in the social sciences, using new approaches and methods. The evidence of a positive effect of the experimental methods on the social sciences makes the experiment an effective tool in studying related subjects for students, scholars, politicians, etc.

Using various tools and approaches in the experimental methods, scientists and researchers can predict political and economic changes in the society, thus making the life of people easier. Though historically, experiments had been the core of the natural sciences, the experimental method in the social sciences won a widespread recognition in the United States and Europe only in the middle of the 20th century. Due to Manzi, “In theory, social scientists, too, can use that approach to evaluate proposed government programs. In the social sciences, such experiments are normally termed “randomized field trials” (RFTs).” (Manzi, 2010, web). It is hard to imagine such sciences as sociology, politics or economics without experiments evaluating their validity. Experimentation in economics greatly increased in 1980s. In the well-known economics journals – the American Economic Review, Econometrica, and the Quarterly Journal of Economics – the fraction of laboratory experimental papers in relation to all published papers was between 0.84 percent and 1.58 percent in the 1980s; between 3.06 percent and 3.32 percent in the 1990s; and between 3.8 percent and 4.15 percent between 2000 and 2008 (Iyengar 2009, p.3).

Is the Experimental Method Inappropriate to the Study of Complex Human Societies?

Comparing advantages and disadvantages of the experimental methods in the social sciences invokes opinions of many social scientists as for the validity of the experiments and their evidence. Common objections that the size of samples is small and the student subject pools are unrepresentative make the scholars to be suspicious of the validity of the experimental methods. Some researchers and scientists consider that experiments produce unrealistic data, which cannot give the explanation of many phenomena and events. This view does exist, but we cannot agree with it because such reasoning may lead to misunderstanding of the experiment and its importance in any discipline in the purview of the social sciences (Friedman & Sunder 1994, 182).

Of course, laboratory facilities in the experimental methods in the social sciences may have some difficulties and obstacles in the study of complex human societies, especially on the early stages of studying. In the course of development of the social sciences and experimental methods, scientists and researchers have acquired more experience and become more sophisticated in the matter.

Both the experiments in the natural sciences, where the studies are drawn from the students` works, those in the social sciences, where the experiments are usually free, cannot involve a large audience.

Resistance concerning laboratory evidence, often centres on an appeal to realism. This appeal has recently manifested itself in a debate in economics about field versus laboratory experiments. Many scholars are arguing whether the experimental method is favourable for studying the social sciences or not, suggesting provide more realistic conditions with the aim to manipulate them (Levitt 2009, p.38). A lot of scholars tested the experimental methods in their works, researches and practice that gave them an opportunity to tastify that most of the experiments really work. 

What Kind of Method to Choose?

In the 1980s different sciences, such as politics, economy and sociology have used laboratory experiments as the main methodology in differentiating and evaluating data. Many scholars did not trust the experimental method, because of their scepticism. Their opinion of the experimental method was rather controversial, though they also provide different experiments in their studies searching fast results.  For now, there is no unique opinion as for the validity of the experimental methods in the social sciences. Laboratory experiments has become an important source of data that  helps economists discover markets, committees, voting, law, commodities, collect and analyze data, create laboratory environment, reporting the results, conducting the experiments, etc (Friedman & Sunder, 1994, p. 215).

Many laboratory experiments like the gift-exchange have provided some evidence of social preferences in the lab settings for certain values, usually, but not always, using the populations of undergraduates and different bargaining and market institutions.The relevance of these findings has been questioned in recent field experiments analysing behaviour in a population of sports card traders in a natural setting, i.e., for another set of conditions including, e.g., different institutional details, payoffs, and a different participant population (List 2006, p.51). In this particular market, the evidence for social preferences is weaker. If one is interested in the effect of social preferences under a third condition, neither the undergraduate nor the sports cards field study may furnish a satisfactory answer. It is not obvious whether the lab or the field experiment is more informative for the third condition unless a more tightly specified economic model is postulated (Winden, 2010, p.12).

The Strength of the Experimental Methods in the Social Sciences

The principal advantage of the experiment over the survey or other observational methods – and the focus of the discussion that follows – is the researcher’s ability to isolate and test the effects of specific components of specific causal variables. The researchers are intending to find out the mechanism which can be essential in providing experiments. We can cite the role of advertisement in the process of experimental technologies including verbal and visual. Due to the experimental methods, researchers and scholars make it possible to distinguish and practice verbal and text-based tools to capture the audience. Surveys, on the other hand, can only provide indirect evidence after self-reported exposure to the causal variable in question (Morton &Williams 2006, p. 36-39).

Our study of the experimental method in the social sciences should have the main importance for political and economic research. First, consider those instances where the self-reported media exposure is correlated with political predispositions, whereas the actual exposure is not. This is generally the case with televised political advertising. Many researches encounter commercials as one of the successful tools in providing the experimental methods among the public in the wide range, especially making political predictions during voting campaigns.

The External and the Internal Validity of the Experimental Methods in the Social Sciences

The external and the internal validity of the experimental methods in the social sciences has become a question of discussion among the many scholars and scientists which consider it to be of great importance in the process of their research during the last fifty years. Every experiment must be valid if the researchers are able to apply its results in practice and prove the significant role of their investigation for the science. This statement has been proved by ample research and is not arguable any more. If we want to achieve certain results in the methodological experiment, we have to be sure of its validity (List 2006, p.32). By evaluating the experiment, one can prove that there is something relevant in the science we are experimenting and studying. After the theoretical definition by Cook and Campbell, internal validity means that a relationship between two variables does exist; therefore, the absence of such relationship means that there is no causality. On the other hand, external validity shows that the relationship between different variables may be generalized due to the certain measures that affect people, settings, or time. We should consider that there is a permanent interaction between internal and external validity of the experiment that we intend to compare (Iyengar 2009, p.14).

In comparing the quality of internal and external validity, most researchers can prove that internal validity can be valid if it interferes with the external world; thus, it is dependent on external validity (Smith 1994, p.12). In other words, internal validity stands as a prerequisite for external validity. The problem of the conceptualization of these two ideas is still in progress and many scientists are still working on it. It is not enough to understand the theoretical validity of these two concepts, but it is more important to use them in practice.  Since the external and the internal validity of the experimental methods determine the advance of the social sciences, we can prove that experiments are of the greatest importance while studying complex human societies.

Advantages and Disadvantages of the Experimental Method in the Social Sciences

Like any scientific phenomenon the experimental method in the social sciences may have advantages and disadvantages. There is no doubt that experimentation is the main tool that gives the opportunity to settle certain kinds of arguing and debates. The main goal of the experimental method in the social science is to prove and evaluate its theories and use them in practice like approved ones. Despite the scientific approach to the experimental method as a way to improve theories and knowledge, the empirical analysis remains profound. There are not too many social programs which can really make improvements in the practice (Manzi, 2010, p. 2).

It is worth mentioning the role of the test and control groups, which are widely used in experimentation, especially in sociology. Random assignment allows the participants of the experiment to show their opinion, knowledge and approach to a certain problem, what later can help a theory to become a practice. Random assignments, which have the term “randomized field trials” can be rather helpful in developing government programs. In the third decade of the 20th century the experimental sociology captured the minds of many American scientists, who believed that randomized social experiments could be of great help in developing various programs and theories, but they were not always true and to some extend even naïve. The problem has appeared with the generalization, which can be doubtful.

Many researchers consider that it is really hard to predict events in the social behaviour, history, sciences or life as a whole. We can use experimental methods in the social science, but there could be a problem of high casual density. For example, any human social behaviour is complex, therefore it is difficult to predict reliably. The experimental method may be proved when is used repeatedly. As comparing the experimental method in the social science with the natural science, it is obvious that the social science is less predictable, therefore the positive results of the experimental method could be rather doubtful.

Researches show that in the developed communities with stable economy the experimental methods can have more positive impact on the social sciences than those ones with unstable or stagnant economy. Running an experiment may be an endless cycle which takes the time and very little result, besides the human society with its high causal densities cannot guarantee any predictions. In the era of information technology the scientists and researchers have used experimenting more widely using the internet. That makes an access for the experimentations more open and provide more precise results as well as a successful online company. Through the internet, very large test groups of participants can be involved and tested (Manzi, 2010, p. 12).

The statistics shows that people are often sceptical as for results of certain experimental methods as they are not always effective in practice. Furthermore, there are no any universal programs for the experimental methods in the social sciences. Recipients, who take part in these experimental programs often become witnesses that most of these programs are far more likely to fail than succeed (Manzi, 2010, p. 14).

Complex Human Societies and Experiments

Living in a certain society means to interact with people and different groups in many different ways. We are social beings and have to combine socialization with the various changes in social behaviour according to the standards of living, cooperation, communication, culture, and traditions. Thus, human society is a complicated organ through which we can live, work, trade, and feel comfortable as far as it is possible. The social sciences have the great influence on the human societies and their people from the point of view of their cultural, economic, political, and historical development (Levitt & List 2009, p. 36). Every society has certain rules of behaviour that can be common for human beings in spite of the various differences that they may have. Using the experimental methods in the development of the society has been proved essential in practice. The purpose of the theory is to prove that the methods are valid and can work in the real world.

When analysing different events in the American history, we can conclude that slavery, for example, had had serious consequences for the U.S. economy, cultural life, educational system (when there were separate schools for the whites and the blacks), etc., that later led to the Civil War.  If people and their governments do not know how to solve the problem, they start wars or terrorist actions. In my opinion, experiments may help complex human societies to solve their problems in a peaceful manner (Friedman & Sunder, 1994, pp. 240-245). The social sciences are one of the main sources of regulating national and international conflicts. Thus, under the purview of sociology, there is a special sub-field which studies how to regulate conflicts between humans, business owners, politicians, governments, and countries. The experimental method in sociology is the most vital way of predicting events and interactions among people. With the development of the social sciences, people have learned how to settle the conflicts peacefully. Nations with the highly developed system of the social sciences are able to solve various political, economic, religious, and military conflicts without getting reduced to the power of armed forces (Morton & Kenneth 2006, p.136). Social changes can lead to a conflict. Therefore, it is important for politicians and scholars to use the results from the experimental methods in the social sciences in the practice, e.g., to prevent conflicts and catastrophes. In the democratic and highly developed industrial countries, the power of laws depends on the level of the experimental methods in the social sciences and their capacity to aid complex human societies.


In the course of our study of the experimental method in the social sciences, we came to the conclusion that it helps to study complex human societies. Though there are different views and approaches to the validity of the experimental methods, the majority of scholars and researches use experiments in their work and investigations. Due to the different studies, the standard theories offer rather narrow solution for many real social or any other problems and many theories cannot be empirically tested (.Henk & Stenman, p.337). Nevertheless, the experimental method helps understand and study the social sciences as well as the complexity of human societies, their integration and development in the world environment. Politics, economics, sociology, history, and other social sciences are still developing as they are relatively new subjects and require more exploratory work. As we are living in the society, we have to be interested in everything that can improve its current system. That is why we realize the importance of the experimental method which can be effective if using appropriate strategies. In spite of some scepticism, many scholars understand that the experimental method can remove the traditional barriers in studying the social sciences.

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