When is Lab research more important than Applied research

Clearly, there are different philosophies as to whether it is more important to maintain experimental rigor or to direct one’s studies toward practical problems (or, field research) even if at the cost of some experimental rigor. As in most arguments of this type, each side has its merits, and under some conditions one approach is more important than the other, but for other approaches, the relative balance of the two arguments reverses.

Under what conditions (questions, conceptual or applied problems, task, etc. would you expect that maintaining theoretical rigor is more important and under what conditions would you expect the practical applied aspect of research to be more important. Try to address this question from a research perspective and not from a political perspective. When asking what questions or trying to solve what applied problems or tasks would it be vital to maintain strict experimental procedures or try to focus their studies on practical problems (or field research), I draw a blank at first.

I believe that the advances and problems tackled in one area of research often call upon the other for verification or clarification. The practical application of research lets us to define and develop the problem we want to solve or the research question we seek to answer. We do this through observation, and this is commonly done in “real world” settings. After the problem is developed, we can use existing theories (that often were produced by rigorous, laboratory research) to predict what may happen.

Often times, in order to further study the problem, we operationalize the variables and utilize the strict, rigorous guidelines of the laboratory to test our findings, attempting to control our variables and see if our findings are repeated. In some fields, research is considered useless or wasteful if its results and findings are not applicable. In legal psychology, for example, a common goal of researchers is to apply the findings to the legal context so that they can be used in courtroom situations. It is not uncommon for judges to not allow research as evidence because it was done with students or took place in a laboratory.

However, what they often do not understand is that most of these lab studies are based on observations in real cases and without the controlling the variables, one would not be able to study the phenomena without confounds. Therefore, this type of research must be done, however, with the use of both applied (field) research and laboratory studies. I will note an example of this within the legal arena. Psychologists have investigated whether an experts credentials influence a jurors perception of the evidence or research they present, this problem was initially observed within the natural setting of the courtroom.

But, in order to gather data to answer this question, one can ask jurors after the trial their ideas and thoughts and impressions of the experts testimony (which is real life, however may be influenced by a number of extraneous variables, such as final verdict, other evidence, the juror’s role in deliberation, etc), or the study can be moved to the laboratory, where we would manipulate and control certain variables to try and avoid the influence of them on the variable that we are actually looking at.

The benefits of rigorous research can be seen in certain aspects more than others. In developing theoretical frameworks the lab may be more appropriate than field research because it gives us the ability to determine cause and create a theory or model to describe the phenomena. This is not as easy to do in field research. Then, after the theory is developed in the lab, we can apply to real world.

In jury research or IO, we often pull theories developed by more basic areas of psychology and use them to help explain psychological phenomena that exists in our applied settings of the courtroom and the workplace. Lab experiments are also needed to study certain situations under controlled conditions, that otherwise, due to the nature or complexity of the study would be impossible to replicate or observe naturally.

For example situations in which harm could be caused to participants if done in real applied settings, for example Milgrams lab studies on obedience to authority or , as Mook mentioned Harlow’s study on monkeys and mother love. These results aimed to predict real-world behavior without which resulting in theoretical validation, rather than the external validity of the results. Although lab studies may help develop a theory and define causes of phenomena more than field research, application is the ultimate true test of theory for which applied field research is necessary.


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