Internal Validity

Did the Independent Variable Cause the effect? When an experiment is properly conducted, its results are said to have internal validity: There is reasonable certainty that the independent variable did, in fact, cause the effects obtained on the dependent variable. both experimenter control and random assignment seek to rule out al- ternative explanations of the research results, thereby strengthening the internal validity of the research. If some other factor varies consistently along with the manipulation, this other factor is called a confound. A confound is a serious threat to internal validity and, therefore, makes the issue of cause and effect in the experiment uncertain. For example, if the students in the presidential debate study who watched the unedited version of the debate did so in one room and the stu- dents who watched the edited versions did so in a different room, then this would be a confound. It would be impossible to know if it was the manipulation of the version of the debate or if it was some difference between the rooms (such as the temperature, the art on the wall, etc.) that caused the effect on ratings of Reagan’s performance. Fortunately, the experimenters knew to avoid this problem.

Experiments often include control groups for purposes of internal validity. Typically, a control group consists of participants who experience all of the pro- cedures except the experimental treatment. In the debate study, for example, the participants who watched the unedited video were the control group, which pro- vided a baseline against which to compare the judgments of participants who watched the other versions.

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