Social Research Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012-20, Social Research Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 19 December, 2019 , © Lee Harvey 2012–2020.


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Field experiment

core definition

A field experiment is one that takes place outside the laboratory but in which the experimenter is able to allocate subjects to different treatment groups at random.

explanatory context

The experiment takes place in an otherwise natural or field setting.


This may be done, for example, to study the effects of specified policy changes or of a goverment publicity campaign.


By contrast, in a quasi-experiment the researcher is not able to allocate subjects to different treatment groups randomly, and is restricted to groups that occur naturally.

analytical review

Holah (2009) wrote:

An experiment which is carried out in ‘the field ’. That is, in a real world situation.

In field experiments the participants are not usually aware that that they are participating in an experiment. The independent variable is still manipulated unlike in natural experiments.

Field experiments are usually high in ecological validity and may avoid demand characteristics as the participants are unaware of the experiment.

However in field experiments it is much harder to control confounding variables and they are usually more time consuming and expensive.

In field experiments it is not usually possible to gain informed consent from the participants and it is difficult to debrief the participants.

associated issues


related areas

See also

Researching the Real World Section 9


Holah, M., 2009, 'Field Experiment', updated 19 November 2009, available at, accessed 28 Januatry 2013, page not available 20 December 2016.

copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2020


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