Beyond Experiments

Ed Diener, Robert Northcott, Michael J. Zyphur, Stephen G. West

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

It is often claimed that only experiments can support strong causal inferences and therefore they should be privileged in the behavioral sciences. We disagree. Overvaluing experiments results in their overuse both by researchers and decision makers and in an underappreciation of their shortcomings. Neglect of other methods often follows. Experiments can suggest whether X causes Y in a specific experimental setting; however, they often fail to elucidate either the mechanisms responsible for an effect or the strength of an effect in everyday natural settings. In this article, we consider two overarching issues. First, experiments have important limitations. We highlight problems with external, construct, statistical-conclusion, and internal validity; replicability; and conceptual issues associated with simple X causes Y thinking. Second, quasi-experimental and nonexperimental methods are absolutely essential. As well as themselves estimating causal effects, these other methods can provide information and understanding that goes beyond that provided by experiments. A research program progresses best when experiments are not treated as privileged but instead are combined with these other methods.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalPerspectives on Psychological Science
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - 2022
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • causal inference
  • research design

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)

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