Research Methods

Naturalistic Experiment

A naturalistic experiment is an experiment that some sociologists refer to as a ‘quasi-experiment’. Here, the researcher is ‘taking advantage’ or using a natural occurrence as the basis for their study. An example from the study of differential educational achievement could be a comparison of GCSE results between first born and second born children. Here the subjects – the children – are already in pre-existing groups. That is, they are already a first-born or a second born child, the researcher has no control over it and cannot manipulate it.

This clip introduces us to the story of David Reimer – a child born a boy but, due to an error during a surgical procedure, is raised as a girl. This short nine minute clip outlines the background to the study and so for this reason, is helpful for the research methods ‘angle’ of the material. A more complete account can be found referenced in the ‘Introduction to Sociology’ section of the site:

Questions which can form the basis of discussion with the class include:

  • How is this an example of a naturalistic experiment?

  • Make links to gender role socialisation as well as the wider nature versus nurture debate.


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