Herbert Bless, Axel M. Burger
A Closer Look at Social Psychologists' Silver Bullet Inevitable and Evitable Side Effects of the Experimental Approach

Perspectives on Psychological Science, 2016: 11, issue 2, pp. 296-308
ISSN: 1745-6916 (print), 1745-6924 (online)

The main advantage of experimental research lies in the possibility of systematically investigating the causal relation between the variables of interest. The well-known advantages result from (a) the possibility to manipulate the independent variable, (b) random assignment of participants to the experimental conditions, and (c) the experimenter’s control over the operationalization of the variables and the general experimental setting. We argue that it is exactly these elements that constitute core advantages of experimental research but that are—at the same time—associated with side effects, which are often out of focus when researchers derive theoretical conclusions from their experimental findings. We discuss potential restrictions linked to these core elements of experimental research. Implications for both theory development and research design are discussed.