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Abstract

Psychological inquiry into social phenomena has become virtually indistinguishable from controlled experimentation. Although the assets and liabilities of psychological experiments have been subject to periodic debate, a continued increase in the reliance placed experiments is evidenced. The present paper re-examines the adequacy of experimentation in light of major features of social interaction. Significant failures of the experiment emerge when the following characteristics of social events are considered: their imbeddedness in broader cultural patterns, their position within extended sequences, their open competition within real-life settings, their reliance on psychological confluences, and their complex determination. The additional consideration of social phenomena within historical context indicates that all reasonable hypotheses are valid and that critical testing between hypotheses about social behaviour is fruitless. Criteria for the productive usage of experiments are detailed.