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Sgoil Cheumnaichean Saidheans Sòisealta na h-Alba

When Methods Meet

Laboratory and natural experiments


In this 16-minute film two researchers who use different types of experiments discuss points of connection and difference between laboratory and natural experiments. Martin Corley and Charlie Kemp’s conversation reveals that researchers with an interest in how people learn can go about this in a variety of ways, including ones that take advantage of classroom situations as ready-made environments for the collection of data as well as more conventionally-designed experiments. In both cases the use of eye-tracking can be revealing of the process of how people learn, and the rapid development in recent years of the technology for capturing and analysing eye movements has allowed knowledge in the field to become much more sophisticated. These methods can also be used in conjunction with interviews in which people are asked about how they experience learning, together with the collection of data on heart rate as a measure of the anxiety experienced by learners and teachers. The findings generated by the use of these methods are of great practical benefit to teachers in understanding how people learn, and the situations in which they have confidence, although they also highlight that experimental methods are incremental in the knowledge that they generate as in each experiment attention focuses on one part of a more complex whole comprising numerous variables.

Academics in conversation: Martin Corley and Charlotte Kermp, both University of Edinburgh.


  • T. Dunning,  Natural experiments in the Social Sciences: A design-based approach, (2012) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • F. Huettig, J. Rommers and A. S. Meyer ‘Using the visual world paradigm to study language processing: A review and critical evaluation’, Acta Psychologica137(2), pp.151-171 (2011) doi:10.1016/j.actpsy.2010.11.003
  • J.E. Loy, H.  Rohde and M. Corley, ‘Effects of disfluency in online interpretation of deception’, Cognitive Science. (2016) doi:10.1111/cogs.12378
  • W.R. Shadish, Thomas D. Cook, and Donald T. Campbell, Experimental and quasiexperimental designs for generalized causal inference (2002) Boston: Houghton-Mifflin


We have created a downloadble resource sheet for this video. It has a transcript of the conversation, the list of references, and suggested seminar questions.