A social experiment is a research project conducted with human subjects in the real world that typically investigates the effects of policy intervention and social institutions by randomly assigning individuals, families, businesses, classrooms, or other units to different treatments or to a control condition that represents the status quo. The qualifier “social” distinguishes social-based experiment from a “clinical” experiment, typically a medical intervention within the subject’s body, and also from a laboratory experiment. In a social experiment, randomization to assigned treatment is the only element in the subject’s environment that the researchers control; all other elements remain exactly what they were.

Social Experiments typically have:

  • A testable hypothesis looking at a meaningful relationships between variables
  • Have a randomly assigned control and experimental group


While statistics are not required for this method, they can still be used. SPSS is a wonderful program that allows you to run a wide array of statistics on the data set of your choosing

How to Learn Experiments


This Video is an example of a experiment done by Paul Piff. He is looking at if money will make people mean. He gathered hundreds of participants and asked them to play everyone’s favorite and most frustrating game, Monopoly. He created a set up where he put some individuals at a greater advantage by giving them more money and then observed their behavior. Paul also talks about other experiments he conducted to see if individuals behaviors changed based off the value of other things such as cars and money.

These two videos cover the Stanford Prison Study that Philip Zimbardo conducted. The first video is a Ted talk that Zimbardo completed where he discusses evilness, and the causes. The Prison study is a great example of an experiment and risks that come with working with individuals such as college students as your participants. The second video is the documentary that covers the Prison Study as well that was produced by the BBC.

Stanford Prison Study by Philip G. Zimbardo

The Asch Experiment by Solomon Asch study that looks into conformity of individuals to large groups ideas and opinions.

Written by: Caitlin Plese and Janae Teal
Last updated: 18 January 2016

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