Field experiments across the social sciences

Delia Baldassarri, Maria Abascal

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

    Abstract

    Using field experiments, scholars can identify causal effects via randomization while studying people and groups in their naturally occurring contexts. In light of renewed interest in field experimental methods, this review covers a wide range of field experiments from across the social sciences, with an eye to those that adopt virtuous practices, including unobtrusive measurement, naturalistic interventions, attention to realistic outcomes and consequential behaviors, and application to diverse samples and settings. The review covers four broad research areas of substantive and policy interest: First, randomized controlled trials, with a focus on policy interventions in economic development, poverty reduction, and education; second, experiments on the role that norms, motivations, and incentives play in shaping behavior; third, experiments on political mobilization, social influence, and institutional effects; and fourth, experiments on prejudice and discrimination. We discuss methodological issues concerning generalizability and scalability as well as ethical issues related to field experimental methods. We conclude by arguing that field experiments are well equipped to advance the kind of middle-range theorizing that sociologists value.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)41-73
    Number of pages33
    JournalAnnual Review of Sociology
    Volume43
    DOIs
    StatePublished - Jul 31 2017

    Keywords

    • Audit studies
    • Causal inference
    • Experiments
    • Field experiments
    • Generalizability
    • Lab-in-the-field experiments
    • Middle-range theory
    • Randomized controlled trials
    • Replicability
    • Research methods

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Sociology and Political Science

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