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?Examine the problems some sociologists may face when using different kinds of experiments in their research (20 Marks) To have control over variables and the environment they are researching, sociologists often use laboratory experiments in research. Lab experiments are used to test a hypothesis in a controlled environment, by altering an independent variable to see the dependant variable being tested changes.
Positivists favour this method of research as it is a more scientific approach to research, which aims to identify correlations and patterns in behaviour whilst gathering quantitative data.
Carrying out such experiments can cause practical issues for sociologists. One of the main practical issues is that the effect of society on people’s behaviour is very complex, and it is very difficult for researcher’s using lab experiments to identify and control all the variables that may have an influence on behaviour.
It would be impossible for a sociologist to research all the influencing factors in a lab experiment, as this is far too complex to carry out in one controlled environment.
Furthermore, lab experiments usually involve the study of a small sample as it would not be possible to study a large group of individuals in a controlled laboratory, unless you had a lot of time and this could become costly. This makes it difficult to research large scale social issues that affect behaviour and may also reduce the representativeness of research carried out.
For example, Stanley Milgram carried out research on obedience to an authorative figure.
He wanted to investigate whether Germans were particularly obedient to authority figures as this was a common explanation for the Nazi killings in World War II. To do so he studied 40 Americans all of whom were male. This is a small scale sample which only represents males and is ethnocentric to American males; therefore it would be difficult to generalise findings to the wider population and other countries.
The unnatural settings of a lab experiment means the participants are aware of the experiment taking place. This creates what is called the ‘hawthorne effect’ where the behaviour the participants changes in response to the artificial surrounding and the fact they know they are being studied. As a result this reduces the validity of the results as the participants are not behaving in true-to-life ways and this would not provide a true account of the behaviour being researched.
Interpretivists argue that the unnatural setting and low validity means that sociologists cannot gain verstehen, an empathetic understanding of the world from the viewpoint of those being studied. Furthermore, there are ethical issues when conducting experiments on human beings. As a general rule, researchers must gain the informed consent from the research participants. However, when researching child participants or people with learning difficulties it may be difficult to gain informed consent as they would not full understand what they are consenting to.
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