FES | Federación Española de Sociología

XII Congreso de la FES

Reactividad e Inferencia Causal en experimentos de Ciencias Sociales.

GT 30 Sociología Analítica

María Jiménez-Buedo (UNED)


Sesión de comunicaciones orales Franja 1
Tipo de sesión: Sesión de comunicaciones orales
Día: jueves, 30 de junio de 2016
Hora: 09:30 a 11:30
Lugar: S02

Reactivity, or the phenomenon by which subjects tend to modify their behavior when being observed, is often cited as one of the most important difficulties involved in social scientific experiments. This paper tries to understand the phenomenon of reactivity in terms of the challenges it poses in inferring causal relations from experimental data. To this avail, we use a manipulationist notion of causality (Woodward 2003) in order to analyze different mechanisms by (and different degrees to) which reactivity may be an obstacle to causal inference.

 Surrounded by a fair degree of conceptual ambiguity, the notion of reactivity (and related terms such as Hawthorne effects, demand effects of experimentation, etc.) has recently been the subject of renewed interest on the part of experimental economists (Bardsley 2005, 2008; Zizzo 2010, 2011;Levitt and List 2011). In this paper, we first review some of the works that have put the focus on reactivity and its role in the new experimentalist practices in the Social Sciences.  We then contrast these analyses with more classical contributions on the subject by social psychologists (Orne 1962,1969; Rosenthal 1963).


The paper then enumerates the conceptual and methodological difficulties that these attempts have yet not addressed in a fully satisfactory manner. We argue that a manipulationist or interventionist framework sheds light to an important number of issues that were previously defined ambiguously, or underlooked, namely:

  1. The difference between placebo effects and demand effects of experimentation.
  2. The parallels and differences in the way deception and dominance have been used, respectively, in social psychology and in experimental economics to counter the biasing effects of reactivity.
  3. The different biasing effects that alternative forms of reactivity (depending on their sources) can have on experimental results.





Bardsley, N. 2005. “Experimental Economics and the Artificiality of Alteration.” Journal of Economic Methodology 12:239-51.

Bardsley, N. 2008. “Dictator Game Giving: Altruism or Artifact?” Experimental Economics 11:122-33.Levitt

Levitt, Steven D., and John A. List. 2011. "Was There Really a Hawthorne Effect at the Hawthorne Plant? An Analysis of the Original Illumination Experiments." American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 3(1): 224-38.

Orne, M. T. 1962. “On the Social Psychology of the Psychological Experiment: With Particular Reference to Demand Characteristics and Their Implications.” American Psychologist 17:776-83.

Rosenthal, R. (1963). “On The Social Psychology Of The Psychological Experiment: 1, 2 The Experimenter’s Hypothesis As Unintended Determinant Of Experimental Results”. American Scientist 51: 268-283.

WoodwardW, J. Making Things Happen: a Theory of Causal Explanation, Oxford, 2003

Zizzo, D. (2010) “Experimenter Demand Effects in Economic Experiments”, Experimental Economics 13: 75-98.


Palabras clave: reactividad, efectos de demanda, inferencia causal, causalidad.