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Threats to Research

Jeneen D. Graham
When conducting or analyzing research, one has to be very careful with potential
threats that could potentially undermine the resulting data. The first threat is called
Sampling Bias, which is when a sample doesnt properly represent the intended
population for research. For example, if I was researching drug use in high school
aged students in the United States, and I only sample one public school in an affluent
neighborhood, I would have a bias toward one socioeconomic group or one region
of the country. Furthermore, my sample would not include dropouts or
homeschooled students. In this case, many members of the proposed population
would have zero probability of entering the study, which creates a bias.
If I were to draw conclusions about high school drug use based on my
unrepresentative sample in an affluent neighborhood, I could potentially commit
another research crime, which is Overgeneralization. Based on my sample, which
is small and doesnt represent high school students in general, I could make
erroneous conclusions which could overgeneralize my data. If I find that drug use is
minimal in this small sample, and conclude with the sweeping statement that drug
use is no longer an issue for high school students, this conclusion would be a strong
overgeneralization of my data.
Furthermore, if my study of drug use in high school students is a naturalistic study
and is based on my observations of their behavior and habits, I could be setting the
stage for potential Hawthorn Barnum Effects. This means that the sample of
students may show improvement in their behavior simply by virtue of knowing they
are being observed. This improvement in behavior, which is due to the novelty of
being research subjects, is called the Hawthorn Barnum effect.
Suppose Ive realized that my research study is flawed and I decide to begin the
experiment again. Perhaps Im frustrated with the whole topic of drug use in high
school students and am now interested in determining whether one month of 20
minute daily exercise routines at a local gym increases individual subjective wellbeing. My research participants may get a sense of what Im looking to observe, and
if Im not careful in my body language and/or my conversations, they may conclude
that my hypothesis is that well-being increases because of a 20 minute exercise
routine. In this case, my study is threatened by Demand Characteristics, which
occurs when participants form beliefs about the research hypothesis which affects
their behavior and perceptions. I may have participants who play a role to confirm
or even disconfirm the expected hypothesis. Demand characteristics are considered
an extraneous variable that impacts research participant behavior and would need
to be recognized in the results of my study.
Lets assume that my research study on the effects of exercise and well-being prove
the hypothesis that 20 minutes of daily exercise for a month improves well-being. I
might then be interested in determining if my treatment works as well as a

commonly known pill that increases well-being. If I begin another experiment, and
either randomly assign participants to the exercise condition or to the pill condition.
I also need to be aware of a possible Placebo Effect. The placebo effect happens
when research participants show a response from the treatment simply because of
their expectation or belief that the treatment will work. In this experiment, I might
have two control conditions for comparison. I might have one group that does
nothing and another that takes a sugar pill. To limit another threat to my research, I
could employ a double-blind procedure where neither the researcher nor the
participant know which pill is the placebo. This process would eliminate the risk of
Experimenter Bias, which is when scientists influence the results in order to
produce certain results. A double-blind procedure is the best way to eliminate
experimenter bias.