Most experiments are conducted in laboratories, where researchers can achieve the maximum possible control over treatment conditions. But as we have already indicated, findings obtained in laboratories may not apply to natural situations. In field experiments, investigators assign participants randomly to treatment conditions in natural settings. In the experiment just described, we can conclude that inducing effective family communication in the laboratory yields improved parent-rated child adjustment. But do findings like these carry over to everyday life?
Another study sheds light on this question. Ethnically diverse, poverty-stricken families with a 2-year-old child were scheduled for a home visit, during which researchers assessed family functioning and child problem behaviors by asking parents to respond to questionnaires and videotaping parent–child interaction. Then the families were randomly assigned to either an intervention condition, called the Family Check-Up, or a no-intervention control group. The intervention consisted of three home-based sessions in which a consultant gave parents feedback about their child-rearing practices and their child’s adjustment, explored parents’ willingness to improve, identified community services appropriate to each family’s needs, and offered follow-up sessions on parenting practices and other concerns. Findings showed that families assigned to the Family Check-Up (but not controls) gained in positive parenting, which predicted a reduction in child problem behaviors and higher academic achievement when the children reached school age. Lessening of aggression was greatest for children living in neighborhoods with the deepest poverty.
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