External validity is more than skin deep: Some answers to criticisms of laboratory experiments

Leonard Berkowitz, Edward Donnerstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

490 Scopus citations


Discusses some criticisms of laboratory experiments in psychology, emphasizing the claim that these experiments lack external validity. It is suggested that representative designs are inadequate for testing causal hypotheses, that ecological validity may facilitate the formulation of population estimates but is not necessary for causal hypothesis testing, and that experiments are not conducted to establish population estimates. The meaning that Ss assign to the laboratory setting and their actions, rather than the laboratory setting's mundane realism, affects the generalizability of the laboratory results. It is emphasized that whether laboratory results are generalizable to other situations is an empirical question. Research on aggression, especially in regard to the "weapons effect," is employed to illustrate the possible extension of laboratory findings to more natural situations. (47 ref) (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2006 APA, all rights reserved).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)245-257
Number of pages13
JournalAmerican Psychologist
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1982


  • aggression experiments
  • external validity of laboratory experiments in psychology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)


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