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Experiment, Natural

James B. Weaver, III


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Our understanding of several communication phenomena has benefited extensively from informative reports of “natural” experiments. Natural experiments are infrequently detailed in the social and behavioral sciences, however, because they result only when naturally arising circumstances make it possible to separate and examine typically confounded phenomena. Like field experiments (→  Experiment, Field ), natural experiments occur in venues where the researcher has limited control over environmental or situational conditions. Distinctive in the natural experiment, moreover, randomization is impossible and the researcher exercises no influence over the independent variable (→  Experiment, Laboratory ). That is, the independent variable is not manipulated but rather varies (often presence vs absence) due to a naturally occurring event or situation. Natural experiments, consequently, are not actually experiments; but, instead, are observational studies (→  Observation ). In a natural experiment, the researcher identifies and anticipates the progression of an evolving phenomenon (→  Hypothesis ), isolates and defines unique characteristics of the incident or event to articulate different levels of the independent variable (→  Operationalization ), and develops systematic techniques to observe outcomes (i.e., dependent variables; →  Measurement Theory ). Quasi-experimental designs typically ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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