Laboratory experiments are perceived as the most ‘scientific’ method of obtaining data within Psychology. This is due to the fact that generally, most lab experiments are in a controlled setting, which means that the researcher can easily manipulate the independent variable and record the dependent variable. This method usually leads to the researcher gaining objective, quantitative data, which is regarded as ‘scientific’. This is a strength of Lab experiments, due to the fact that if something is classified as ‘scientific’ it is taken more seriously. Therefore, this method is an easy, relatively quick, and scientific way of researchers to collect data.
On the other hand, although there are many strengths of using a laboratory experiment, there are also weaknesses. The ecological validity of laboratory experiments is a huge criticism. Lab experiments are extremely artificial settings, which leads to the problem of the lack of ecological validity. Due to the fact that participants are not in a real life situation, this may encourage artificial behavior. An example of where lack of ecological validity may affect participant’s behavior is in Milgram’s obedience study. As many of you will know, in this experiment, he got participants to believe they were potentially harming a confederate by giving them electric shocks. The majority of participants carried on inflicting the shocks even when they were lead to believe that the confederate was suffering a lot from the shocks or may have even died. This suggests that the participants may have acted differently to how they would in this situation in a real life scenario, due to the fact that the setting was extremely artificial. This makes us question whether the results gained from laboratory experiments are in fact reliable, as the behaviour being observed isn’t natural behavior due to the artificial setting in the laboratory.
Therefore, are laboratory experiments useful in research within Psychology?