Non-experimental Methods

Although experiments are the best way of determining cause and effect, there are many circumstances where they are practically not feasible. If we are interested to know how gender, ethnicity or age affects behaviour, we cannot assign participants to different conditions of the as experimental method. Moreover, when social psychologists are interested to study psychological phenomenon on a broad societal level, the experimental method cannot be used. In such instances, several non-experimental methods are available to social psychologists. These are:

Observation Method

In social psychology, the observers are trained as social scientists who set out to answer questions about a particular social phenomenon by observation and coding it according to a prearranged set of criteria. This method varies according to the degree to which the observer actively participates in the scene. At one extreme the observer is a non-participant. She/He neither participates nor intervenes in any way as a researcher is interested in children’s social behaviour may stand outside a playground to observe. Children at play in some situation, by their very nature, require observer participants, who observe but tries not to alter the situation in any way, for example- to get to know the intricacies of certain social phenomenon like rituals, cultural way. The observer can be a participant as a friend or relative. Certain behaviour is difficult to observe as they occur rarely or privately. It is confined to one particulaar group of people, setting, and activity.

Archival Method

Another way that social psychologist can observe a social phenomenon without experimenting is to reanalyse existing data. The researcher examines the accumulated document or archives of a culture, for example; diaries, novels, suicide notes, television shows, movies. magazines, newspaper articles, advertising, sexual violence etc.

Archival analysis can tell us a great deal about society’s values and beliefs. It has got two advantages. It is inexpensive and it can study the change overtime frame. This is particularly useful when researches are interested in the effect of societal events on behaviours, which have occurred in the past. This research comes under ‘archival research’ first conducted by Hovland and Sears (1940).

Case Study Method

Other non-experimental methods are field studies and case studies. A case study is a study of a particular participant or a small group of participants which involve a detailed and often descriptive investigation. Example: Behaviour of people after the earthquake.

Survey Method

It is a research method that involves asking participants to respond to a series of questions, through interviews or questionnaires. The poll survey, marketing survey are best examples. Surveys can be administered to a large, sample with relative ease and at little expense because surveys are gathered from large numbers and researchers can be sure of it is genuinity.

The downside to the questionnaire is that if they are not very carefully designed they can be misinterpreted by participants. There are also several response biases that participants tend to blindly agree with a positively worded question and frequently fail to use the full range of possible responses like ‘I don’t know’ etc.

Correlation Method

In correlation studies, the researcher carefully observers and records the relationship between two or more factors technically known as a variable. For example: Is physical attractiveness is related to a student’s popularity with other students. In a correlation design, the research does not influence the student’s behaviour in any way but merely records information.

The hallmark of an experimental design is an intervention – with putting people in a controlled situation or have confederates. Correlation research asks if there is an association between the variables and whether this association is high (+ve) or low (-ve) or neutral (no correlation). Example: whether or not watching violence on television is related to aggressive behaviour.

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Correlational method are:

  1. Correlation design enable research to study problems in which intervention is impossible.

  2. This design is efficient. It allows research to collect more information and relationship.

  3. No clear cut evidence of cause and effect.

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