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Using Experiments to Collect Social Research Data

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  • 0:06 Experiment Definition
  • 0:26 Experiment Basics
  • 1:15 Experiment 1
  • 3:02 Experiment 2
  • 4:18 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Devin Kowalczyk

Devin has taught psychology and has a master's degree in clinical forensic psychology. He is working on his PhD.

This lesson explores the basic framework and definition of how an experiment is constructed using two popular social psychology experiments as examples.

Experiment Definition

First off, what is an experiment? We can't look at some of the awesome social experiments until we define what an experiment is! An experiment is a controlled event that is designed to demonstrate the validity of a cause-effect hypothesis or to determine the effects of a unique condition.

Experiment Basics

Basically, you have an idea of how something works so you set up a little situation to see if you're right. Before we explore some examples, let's make sure you have the basics down. The experimenter:

  • Creates a prediction as to what might happen in a situation. This sets the stage for the experiment.
  • Determines what variables can be manipulated and measured to ensure that the experiment is scientific.
  • Manipulates one variable and measures its effects on another variable.

We will explore two psychological experiments that I think are very interesting. An experimenter set up a situation, brought in participants, and then recorded the results to see if their hypothesis was correct. See if you can guess what is being manipulated in each experiment.

Experiment 1

You signed up to be a participant in a professor's experiment. You walk into a classroom and see six other students sitting in a half circle. Only one chair is left, so you sit on the far end of the circle. The experimenter comes in and sets up a board with four lines on it, one standing by itself and the others labeled A, B, C. The experimenter asks a simple question: 'Which one of these labeled lines is the same height as this line?'

The experimenter starts on the other side of the half circle. Here are their responses in order:

  • C
  • C
  • C
  • C
  • C
  • C

Now it's your turn. Which two lines are equal height?

Which line is the same height?
Height experiment lines

This is Solomon Asch's Social Conformity Experiment. The experiment was testing to see if participants would follow group opinion, even if the group opinion was wrong. You see, all of the other participants, the ones who said C, actually worked for Asch.

Solomon Asch was interested in the social phenomena where people go along with groups to avoid being singled out. He designed an experiment where he controlled the group, making his group look like participants. Asch was able to set up a situation where the real participant could be right or could go along with the group.

Some of the findings (not the final, since this study was run several times with variations)? 75% of participants would choose to be wrong at least once so that they didn't have to go against group opinion. Only 1 in 4 refused to give in to group opinion every time.

Experiment 2

You are brought in and asked to answer some questions to help the experimenter decide if you belong to group X or group Y. You're placed into group Y. Each person was then allowed to help decide how some virtual money will be distributed for the rest of the experiment. You were placed in group Y, so you can:

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