Difference Between Experimental and Observational Study

Key Difference – Experimental vs Observational Study

 

Experimental and observational studies are two types of studies between which a number of differences can be identified. When conducting research studies, the researcher can adopt various types of research in order to arrive at conclusions. Experimental and observational studies are two such categories. The key difference between experimental and observational study is that an experimental study is a study where the researcher has control over most of the variables. On the other hand, an observation study is a study where the researcher merely observes the subject without controlling any variables. This article attempts to clarify the difference between the two in depth.

What is Experimental Study?

An experimental study is a study where the researcher has control over most of the variables. Once the research problem has been formed, the researcher organizes a study that will allow him to find answers to the research problem.  In this case, the researcher conducts the study in a specific setting such as a laboratory where he can control the variables. This, however, does not entail that all variables can be controlled. On the contrary, some variables can be beyond the control of the researcher.

Experimental studies are mainly conducted in the natural sciences. This does not denote that experimental studies cannot be conducted in the social sciences. They can be conducted. The issue is that, in the social sciences, the controlling variables can be a tricky business. This is because we are dealing with human beings.

Difference Between Experimental and Observational Study

What is Observational Study?

An observational study is a study where the researcher merely observes the subject without controlling any variables. These types of studies are mainly used in the social sciences. In disciplines such as sociology, anthropology, etc., observational studies are used to comprehend human behavior. Observational studies can also be conducted in the natural sciences as well in order to comprehend behavioral patterns.

When speaking of observational studies, there are two main research techniques that can be used. They are the natural observation and the participant observation. In the natural observation technique, the researcher observes the research subjects, without becoming a part of them. However, in participant observation, the researcher becomes a part of the society so that he gains an inside perspective. He also becomes part of the community of the research subjects and comprehends the subjective interpretations that people have.

When conducting observational studies, the researcher has to be extremely careful because human behavior can easily change when noticed of being observed. This is a natural process. But, this can have an effect on the final results that the researcher wishes to gain. Hence, in order to gather accurate data, it is vital that the researcher does not intrude and not gain the attention of the research subjects, which will reduce the validity of the research findings.

As you can observe, there is a clear difference between the experimental and observational study. Both studies have certain advantages and disadvantages and can only be applied in specific settings. This difference can be summarized as follows.

Experimental vs Observational Study

What is the Difference Between Experimental and Observational Study?

Definitions of Experimental and Observational Study:

Experimental Study: An experimental study is a study where the researcher has control over most of the variables.

Observational Study: An observational study is a study where the researcher merely observes the subject without controlling any variables.

Characteristics of Experimental and Observational Study:

Variables:

Experimental Study: In experimental studies, the researcher has control over the variables. He can manipulate variables in order to make changes in the environment.

Observational Study: In observational studies, the researcher does not control the research environment, he merely observes.

Usage:

Experimental Study: Experimental studies are mostly conducted in the natural sciences.

Observational Study: Observational studies are mostly conducted in the social sciences.

Setting:

Experimental Study: The laboratory setting is mostly suitable since variables can be easily controlled.

Observational Study: The natural setting is used, where the research subjects can act naturally without being controlled.

 

Image Courtesy:

1.”Milgram experiment v2” by Fred the Oyster. [CC BY-SA 4.0] via Wikimedia Commons

2. “Observación de aves en Nador” by Kokopelado – Own work. [GFDL] via Wikimedia Commons