Ability to Generalize Experimental Findings

Part: 
Four
Chapter: 
3

The problem of the "artificiality" of the experimental situation is an issue not new to social psychologists (see discussions by Berkowitz and Donnerstein, 1982; Littman, 1961). While it is true that the experiment is indeed "artificial," it is so by design. If one wanted to examine if X "causes" Y, a necessary condition for establishing such a casual connection is the elimination or control of other factors which may also affect Y. Such a condition then obviates a "real-world" setting in which numerous factors interact and jointly impinge on the individual. Littman (1961) maintains that systematic experimental designs are designed to test "more universal theoretical propositions that apply to large groups of human beings." That is, they are designed to test theorized relationships about human behavior that makes the issue of representativeness of the experimental setting and subjects of lesser consequence. Berkowitz and Donnerstein, 1982, offer a cogent summary of arguments on this point. (See also Kruglanski, 1975).