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Surprising Science

Psychological Research Stuck in the Lab?

The field of psychology appears to be way overinvested in lab studies and strikingly underinvested in field studies. Should researchers get out in the real world more?

What’s the Latest Development?


Psychologist Douglas L Medin admits he loves experiments but on reflecting on three of his favorites among the “Greatest Studies in Psychology”, finds all were field based research from social psychology. Yet as psychology sits today, it “appears to be way overinvested in lab studies and strikingly underinvested in field studies.”

What’s the Big Idea?

The second study on Medin’s list is one where the stated attitudes on a survey did not correspond to actual attitude-relevant behaviors. This was the case in Richard LaPiere’s (1934) classic study illustrating the point that attitudes and behaviors are not perfectly aligned. LaPiere surveyed motel, hotel, restaurant, and campground owners on whether they’d accept members of the Chinese race as guests. (Back in the days when racial segregation was official policy in many states.) While the majority said they wouldn’t, field work found that in practice most were actually willing to accept a Chines person.


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