Using experiments to study families and intimate r | Newswise


Newswise — Social scientists increasingly are using experiments to examine causal processes and mechanisms in their research. Yet, experiments work much better for some research aims than others. Some goals that are of great interest to family scholars, such as testing theoretical arguments, are well-suited to experimental approaches; other goals, such as documenting real-world experiences, may be best served by another research design. Our aim in this article is to discuss the power and limits of experimental methods for the study of family, with an emphasis on describing the types of topics and approaches that work best in an experimental framework. We begin by briefly reviewing the current state of the literature and the types of experiments that are commonly used to study families and intimate relationships. We discuss recent examples and “best practices” to illustrate the potential strengths of experiments for the study of family. After walking through an in-depth example of an experimental research design, we describe some unresolved theoretical puzzles in the family literature from the previous mid-decade review that seem ripe for experimental study. In doing so, we demonstrate that experiments, when used appropriately, can provide powerful evidence of causal mechanisms that resonate with scholarly audiences and the public.

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