How An Experiment Works

An experiment is a process to test a hypothesis or discover an unknown effect or law. A hypothesis is an expectation about how something works, and experiments aim to validate, support, or disprove that theory. There are various types of experiments, ranging from what kids do in school to tests in a business setting. For something to be considered a scientific experiment, it must be able to be tested repeatedly for anyone wanting to test the hypothesis.

There are different methods of experimentation depending on the discipline and field. Experiments typically involve controlled variables that ensure consistency when seeing how an independent variable being tested affects a situation. Ideally, scientists should control all variables besides the one tested. For example, if you want to test how water affects bean sprout growth, the differing amount of water is the independent variable, and you must control all other variables such as:

  • The number of seeds.
  • Size of the pot.
  • Sunlight exposure.

In business, companies often use experiments for market research. For accurate results, the process of having controls is similar to scientific experiments. Marketing experimentation allows companies to test a market for new opportunities. By recording consumer behavior and reactions, companies can make decisions regarding their business strategies.

Examples Of Experiments

Companies can use various types of research methods to guide product production and marketing decisions. For example, companies can determine what types of calls to action or images generate the most engagement among consumers by conducting A/B testing. In email campaigns, this test will send out two different emails to two groups of subscribers. Marketers can then determine which email version generates the most click-through rates.

Companies with new products they want to launch can also use field research to determine how successful a product will be before full roll-out. For example, suppose a frozen food company has an idea for a new entree they want to sell in supermarkets. In that case, they can test the product in a few key supermarkets that represent their total market first. By analyzing data gathered on sales from these test supermarkets, the company can decide whether to produce more and distribute the product to more supermarkets.

Companies can also conduct focus groups to determine what consumers think of their products or services. For example, Amtrak may want to know why people use their train services, why they choose flights instead, and how their experience with Amtrak was. Restaurants can also hire mystery shoppers to determine the quality of food and services within their establishment. Mystery shoppers will enter a restaurant unannounced, try certain foods, and later complete a survey to provide feedback on their experience.

Significance Of Experiments

Experiments are important for various reasons, including making discoveries, building knowledge, helping businesses succeed, and improving healthcare. Without experiments, we would not have the numerous databases of research studies that exist today. These studies contribute significant knowledge to processes such as developing vaccines for viruses like COVID-19.

For businesses, marketing experiments can help a company decide how to target a certain demographic, launch a new product, or improve their existing products or services. Companies use gathered data and analytics to guide marketing decisions. For example, field research can help companies better understand consumer behaviors and gauge what the consumer wants. Without this knowledge, projects can easily fail.

In the science classroom, experiments are important to support student learning. They provide hands-on experience to understand how something works. Even a simple experiment like dropping different objects to the ground to confirm gravity and how object density determines speed can engage students.

Types Of Experiments

There are different types of experiments depending on the field of study and hypothesis you are testing. You can generally assign experiments to one of the following categories:

  • Controlled experiments
  • Natural experiments
  • Field experiments

Controlled experiments compare results against control samples. An example is drug trials. The group receiving the drug is the experimental group, and the group receiving the placebo is the control group. When a controlled environment is not possible, researchers will use natural experiments. Natural experiments will observe all the variables in a system and create conclusions from the observations without manipulating any of the variables in its natural environment.

Similar to natural experiments, field experiments differ from laboratory ones because they observe outcomes in the natural setting. However, field experiments will manipulate a variable to see how it affects a dependent variable. Social scientists and economists conduct field experiments to understand human behavior or develop interventions in healthcare or education. Field experiments are also common in marketing (for example, manipulating how products are placed in a grocery store to observe consumer purchase behavior).

History Of Experiments

The word experiment is derived from the Anglo-French word "esperiment," which means testing, proof, and experience. It is also a combination of the words "experīrī" and "mentum."

The Arab scholar and mathematician Ibn al-Haytham was the first to use the inductive-experimental method to obtain results for his work in optics. In the 17th century, an English philosopher and scientist, Francis Bacon, denounced Ibn al-Haytham's process of deduction and instead supported experimental science. Bacon developed a method that encouraged repeatable observations; that is the foundation of the scientific method we know today.

There are many notable scholars following Bacon who used the scientific method to make significant discoveries. For example, Galileo Galilei measured time and created conclusions about the speed of a falling body.

Experiment vs. Investigation

Experiments and investigations are very similar in definition. However, investigations do not study something in a controlled environment. Investigations are similar to field experiments without controlled environments or natural experiments that observe people or things in their natural environment without manipulating any variables.

Investigations also involve the process of inquiring into something or examining a situation. We often use investigation in the context of criminal investigations where detectives or agents study people and make inquiries to determine who caused a crime.