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Flashcards in Quantitative Research Methods Deck (111)
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According to positivists, why should sociology model its research methods on those of the natural sciences?

In their view, this will produce objective, true, scientific knowledge of society.


Give an example of a pattern of social reality.

There are clear patterns of educational achievement and underachievement.


According to positivists, why do social patterns exist?

They exist because society exerts an influence over its members, systematically shaping their behaviour in various ways.


How can cause and effect be discovered?

Positivists believe through careful observation and measurement , they can discover laws of cause and effect that explain social patterns.


Give an example to show how quantitative data can be used to show patterns of behaviour in society.

Quantitative data on exam results may show class differences in achievement. By correlating this with other quantitative data on class differences in income, we may be able to show that low income is a cause of underachievement.


In what sense is a laboratory experiment a controlled experiment?

The laboratory is an artificial environment on which the scientist can control different variables in order to discover what effect they have.


Briefly explain what happens to the experimental group in an experiment.

The experimental group are exposed to a variable (independent variable) that the researcher believes may have a particular effect.


Briefly explain what happens to the control group in an experiment.

The control group aren't exposed to the independent variable - their conditions are kept constant.


Briefly explain how a laboratory experiment can show cause-and-effect relationships.

The condition of both groups is recorded before and after the experiment. If a change is discovered in the experimental group but not the control group, they may conclude that this was caused by the treatment the two groups received.


Briefly explain the following practical issues associated with laboratory experiments:
- Open systems
- Individuals are complex

Open systems:
- Sociologists such as Keat and Urry (1982) argue that lab experiments are only suitable for closed systems.
- However, society is an open system where countless factors are at work in any given situation, interacting with each other in complex ways.
- This makes it impossible for the researcher even to identify, let alone control, all the relevant variables.

Individuals are complex:
- Therefore it's not really possible to 'match' the members of the control and experimental groups exactly.
- While we can find identical samples of chemicals, no two human beings are exactly alike.


Briefly explain the following practical issues associated with laboratory experiments:
- Studying the past
- Small samples

Studying the past:
- Lab experiments cannot be used to study an event in the past, since we cannot control variables that were acting in the past rather than the present.
- Nor can we keep people in lab conditions for long periods of time so we can study them.

Small samples:
- Lab experiments can usually only study small samples.
- Making it difficult to investigate large-scale social phenomena.
- Ex: we cannot study all or even a large sample of the members of a major religion.


Briefly explain the following practical issues associated with laboratory experiments:
- The Hawthorne effect
- The expectancy effect

The Hawthorne effect:
- A lab experiment is in an artificial environment and any behaviour that occurs in it may also be artificial.
- In particular, if the subjects know they're being experimented on, this may make them act differently.
- Ex: they may feel self-important, anxious or resentful about being in the experiment and act differently as a result.

The expectancy effect:
- Refers to the fact that what a researcher expects to happen in the experiment can affect its actual outcome.
- This can occur by the experimenter consciously or unconsciously treating the subjects in such a way that it influences how they respond and produces the result the experimenter expected.


Briefly explain the following ethical issues associated with laboratory experiments:
- Informed consent
- Harm to subjects

Informed consent:
- This means gaining their agreement to take part, having first explained to them in terms they can understand, the nature and purpose of the experiment, what risks and effects there may be, and the uses to which the findings will be put.
- However, this can create the Hawthorne effect.

Harm to subject:
- Research shouldn't normally harm the participants.
- However, some argue that minor or temporary harm may be justified ethically if the results yield significant social benefits.


According to positivists, what is the theoretical strength of laboratory experiments?

Their reliability. However, in other respects they suffer from important limitations even from a positivist perspective.


Briefly outline three reasons why positivists regard laboratory experiments as highly reliable.

- The original experimenter can control the conditions and specify the precise steps that were followed in the original experiment, so others can easily repeat these steps to re-run it.

- It produces quantitative data, so the results of the re-run experiments can be easily compared to the original.

- It's a very detached and objective method: the researcher merely manipulates the variables and records the results. Their subjective feelings and values have no effect on the conduct or outcome of the experiment.


According to positivists, why is representativeness important?

Because they aim to make generalisations about how the wider social structure shapes individuals' behaviour.


What is meant by external validity?

We cannot be confident the findings are true for the wide population.


Briefly outline two reasons why laboratory experiments may lack external validity.

- As experiments can only study small samples, there's a greater risk that they're not a representative cross section of the population the researcher is interested in. If so, the findings cannot be generalised beyond the experiment itself.

- Lack of external validity arises out of the high level of control the experimenter has. The higher the level of control we have over an experiment, the more unnatural the circumstances this creates.


What is meant by internal validity and why might laboratory experiments lack it?

Their findings may not be true for the subjects of the experiment itself, let alone the wider world.


According to interpretivists, why are laboratory experiments inappropriate for studying human beings.

- Humans are fundamentally different from objects natural scientists study.
- We have free will and choice.
- Our behaviour isn't 'caused' by external forces, so it cannot be explained in terms of cause-and-effect statements as positivists believe.
- Our choices can only be understood in terms of choices we make freely on the basis of meanings we give to events.


Briefly outline two ways in which a field experiment differs from a laboratory experiment.

- It takes place in the subjects natural surroundings.
- Those involved don't know they're subjects of an experiment, thereby avoiding the Hawthorne effect.


What variable did Rosenthal and Jacobson manipulate in their field experiment and how did they do it?

They manipulated teachers' expectations about pupils by giving them misleading information about the pupils abilities in order to discover what effects this had on the children's achievement.


Briefly explain the following types of field experiment:
- Actor tests
- Correspondence tests

Actors tests:
- To test the hypothesis that there's racial discrimination in employment, Brown and Gay (1985) sent a white and a brown actor for interviews for the same post, to see which one would be offered the job.
- Actors were of different ethnicity but matched for age, gender, qualifications etc.

Correspondence tests:
- Wood et al (2010) sent closely matched job applications for almost 1000 vacancies, apparently from three different applicants of different ethnicity.


What is the value of field experiments?

They're more natural and valid for real life, and they avoid the artificiality of lab experiments.


What is meant by the trade-off between naturalism and control in field experiments? Why is loss of control a problem?

The more natural and realistic we make the situation, the less control we have over the variables the might be operating. If so, we cannot be certain that we have identified the true cause.

Ex: while it may have been racism that resulted in the white actors getting more job offers, we cannot be certain because Brown and Gay couldn't control (or even know about) all the other variables in the situation.


Why might field experiment be seen as unethical? How might you counter this view?

Since they involve carrying out an experiment on subjects without their knowledge or consent. However, in Brown and Gay's and Noon's experiment, although the researchers did deceive their subjects (the employers) no harm was done, and something of value to society was learnt as a result.


Briefly outline how the comparative method works.

- Identify two groups that are alike in all major respects except for the one variable we're interested in.
- Then compare the two groups to see if this one difference between them has any effect.


Briefly outline the three advantages of the comparative method over laboratory experiments.

- It avoids artificiality.
- It can be used to study past events.
- It avoids the ethical problems of harming or deceiving subjects.


How does the lack of control in a thought experiment affect the findings?

It gives the researcher even less control over variables than do field experiment, so we can be even less certain whether a thought experiment really has discovered the cause of something.


Briefly define the following types of questions used in questionnaires:
- Closed-ended
- Open-ended

- Closed-ended: respondents must choose from a limited range of possible answers that the researcher has selected in advance (e.g yes/no/idk). These answers are pre-coded for ease of analysis.

- Open-ended: Respondents are free to answer however they wish, in their own words, without any pre-selected choices being offered by the researcher.