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A quasi-experiment is an empirical interventional study used to estimate the causal impact of an intervention on target population without random assignment. Quasi-experimental research shares similarities with the traditional experimental design or randomized controlled trial, but it specifically lacks the element of random assignment to treatment or control. Instead, quasi-experimental designs typically allow the researcher to control the assignment to the treatment condition, but using some criterion other than random assignment (e.g., an eligibility cutoff mark). [1]


Quasi-experiments are subject to concerns regarding internal validity, because the treatment and control groups may not be comparable at baseline. In other words, it may not be possible to convincingly demonstrate a causal link between the treatment condition and observed outcomes. This is particularly true if there are confounding variables that cannot be controlled or accounted for. [2]

With random assignment, study participants have the same chance of being assigned to the intervention group or the comparison group. As a result, differences between groups on both observed and unobserved characteristics would be due to chance, rather than to a systematic factor related to treatment (e.g., illness severity). Randomization itself does not guarantee that groups will be equivalent at baseline. Any change in characteristics post-intervention is likely attributable to the intervention.


The first part of creating a quasi-experimental design is to identify the variables. The quasi-independent variable will be the x-variable, the variable that is manipulated in order to affect a dependent variable. "X" is generally a grouping variable with different levels. Grouping means two or more groups, such as two groups receiving alternative treatments, or a treatment group and a no-treatment group (which may be given a placebo – placebos are more frequently used in medical or physiological experiments). The predicted outcome is the dependent variable, which is the y-variable. In a time series analysis, the dependent variable is observed over time for any changes that may take place. Once the variables have been identified and defined, a procedure should then be implemented and group differences should be examined. [3]

In an experiment with random assignment, study units have the same chance of being assigned to a given treatment condition. As such, random assignment ensures that both the experimental and control groups are equivalent. In a quasi-experimental design, assignment to a given treatment condition is based on something other than random assignment. Depending on the type of quasi-experimental design, the researcher might have control over assignment to the treatment condition but use some criteria other than random assignment (e.g., a cutoff score) to determine which participants receive the treatment, or the researcher may have no control over the treatment condition assignment and the criteria used for assignment may be unknown. Factors such as cost, feasibility, political concerns, or convenience may influence how or if participants are assigned to a given treatment conditions, and as such, quasi-experiments are subject to concerns regarding internal validity (i.e., can the results of the experiment be used to make a causal inference?).

Quasi-experiments are also effective because they use the "pre-post testing". This means that there are tests done before any data are collected to see if there are any person confounds or if any participants have certain tendencies. Then the actual experiment is done with post test results recorded. This data can be compared as part of the study or the pre-test data can be included in an explanation for the actual experimental data. Quasi experiments have independent variables that already exist such as age, gender, eye color. These variables can either be continuous (age) or they can be categorical (gender). In short, naturally occurring variables are measured within quasi experiments. [4]

There are several types of quasi-experimental designs, each with different strengths, weaknesses and applications. These designs include (but are not limited to): [5]

Of all of these designs, the regression discontinuity design comes the closest to the experimental design, as the experimenter maintains control of the treatment assignment and it is known to "yield an unbiased estimate of the treatment effects". [5] :242 It does, however, require large numbers of study participants and precise modeling of the functional form between the assignment and the outcome variable, in order to yield the same power as a traditional experimental design.

Though quasi-experiments are sometimes shunned by those who consider themselves to be experimental purists (leading Donald T. Campbell to coin the term “queasy experiments” for them), [6] they are exceptionally useful in areas where it is not feasible or desirable to conduct an experiment or randomized control trial. Such instances include evaluating the impact of public policy changes, educational interventions or large scale health interventions. The primary drawback of quasi-experimental designs is that they cannot eliminate the possibility of confounding bias, which can hinder one's ability to draw causal inferences. This drawback is often used to discount quasi-experimental results. However, such bias can be controlled for using various statistical techniques such as multiple regression, if one can identify and measure the confounding variable(s). Such techniques can be used to model and partial out the effects of confounding variables techniques, thereby improving the accuracy of the results obtained from quasi-experiments. Moreover, the developing use of propensity score matching to match participants on variables important to the treatment selection process can also improve the accuracy of quasi-experimental results. In fact, data derived from quasi-experimental analyses has been shown to closely match experimental data in certain cases, even when different criteria were used. [7] In sum, quasi-experiments are a valuable tool, especially for the applied researcher. On their own, quasi-experimental designs do not allow one to make definitive causal inferences; however, they provide necessary and valuable information that cannot be obtained by experimental methods alone. Researchers, especially those interested in investigating applied research questions, should move beyond the traditional experimental design and avail themselves of the possibilities inherent in quasi-experimental designs. [5]


A true experiment would, for example, randomly assign children to a scholarship, in order to control for all other variables. Quasi-experiments are commonly used in social sciences, public health, education, and policy analysis, especially when it is not practical or reasonable to randomize study participants to the treatment condition.

As an example, suppose we divide households into two categories: Households in which the parents spank their children, and households in which the parents do not spank their children. We can run a linear regression to determine if there is a positive correlation between parents' spanking and their children's aggressive behavior. However, to simply randomize parents to spank or to not spank their children may not be practical or ethical, because some parents may believe it is morally wrong to spank their children and refuse to participate.

Some authors distinguish between a natural experiment and a "quasi-experiment". [1] [5] The difference is that in a quasi-experiment the criterion for assignment is selected by the researcher, while in a natural experiment the assignment occurs 'naturally,' without the researcher's intervention.

Quasi-experiments have outcome measures, treatments, and experimental units, but do not use random assignment. Quasi-experiments are often the design that most people choose over true experiments. It is usually easily conducted as opposed to true experiments, because they bring in features from both experimental and non-experimental designs. Measured variables can be brought in, as well as manipulated variables. Usually quasi-experiments are chosen by experimenters because they maximize internal and external validity. [8]


Since quasi-experimental designs are used when randomization is impractical and/or unethical, they are typically easier to set up than true experimental designs, which require [9] random assignment of subjects. Additionally, utilizing quasi-experimental designs minimizes threats to ecological validity as natural environments do not suffer the same problems of artificiality as compared to a well-controlled laboratory setting. [10] Since quasi-experiments are natural experiments, findings in one may be applied to other subjects and settings, allowing for some generalizations to be made about population. Also, this experimentation method is efficient in longitudinal research that involves longer time periods which can be followed up in different environments.

Other advantages of quasi experiments include the idea of having any manipulations the experimenter so chooses. In natural experiments, the researchers have to let manipulations occur on their own and have no control over them whatsoever. Also, using self selected groups in quasi experiments also takes away to chance of ethical, conditional, etc. concerns while conducting the study. [8]


Quasi-experimental estimates of impact are subject to contamination by confounding variables. [1] In the example above, a variation in the children's response to spanking is plausibly influenced by factors that cannot be easily measured and controlled, for example the child's intrinsic wildness or the parent's irritability. The lack of random assignment in the quasi-experimental design method may allow studies to be more feasible, but this also poses many challenges for the investigator in terms of internal validity. This deficiency in randomization makes it harder to rule out confounding variables and introduces new threats to internal validity. [11] Because randomization is absent, some knowledge about the data can be approximated, but conclusions of causal relationships are difficult to determine due to a variety of extraneous and confounding variables that exist in a social environment. Moreover, even if these threats to internal validity are assessed, causation still cannot be fully established because the experimenter does not have total control over extraneous variables. [12]

Disadvantages also include the study groups may provide weaker evidence because of the lack of randomness. Randomness brings a lot of useful information to a study because it broadens results and therefore gives a better representation of the population as a whole. Using unequal groups can also be a threat to internal validity. If groups are not equal, which is sometimes the case in quasi experiments, then the experimenter might not be positive what the causes are for the results. [4]

Internal validity

Internal validity is the approximate truth about inferences regarding cause-effect or causal relationships. This is why validity is important for quasi experiments because they are all about causal relationships. It occurs when the experimenter tries to control all variables that could affect the results of the experiment. Statistical regression, history and the participants are all possible threats to internal validity. The question you would want to ask while trying to keep internal validity high is "Are there any other possible reasons for the outcome besides the reason I want it to be?" If so, then internal validity might not be as strong. [8]

External validity

External validity is the extent to which results obtained from a study sample can be generalized "to" some well-specified population of interest, and "across" subpopulations of people, times, contexts, and methods of study. [13] Lynch has argued that generalizing "to" a population is almost never possible because the populations to which we would like to project are measures of future behavior, which by definition cannot be sampled. [14] Therefore, the more relevant question is whether treatment effects generalize "across" subpopulations that vary on background factors that might not be salient to the researcher. External validity depends on whether the treatments studies have homogeneous effects across different subsets of people, times, contexts, and methods of study or whether the sign and magnitude of any treatment effects changes across subsets in ways that may not be acknowledged or understood by the researchers. [15] Athey and Imbens and Athey and Wager have pioneered machine learning techniques for inductive understanding of heterogeneous treatment effects. [16] [17]

Design types

"Person-by-treatment" designs are the most common type of quasi experiment design. In this design, the experimenter measures at least one independent variable. Along with measuring one variable, the experimenter will also manipulate a different independent variable. Because there is manipulating and measuring of different independent variables, the research is mostly done in laboratories. An important factor in dealing with person-by-treatment designs are that random assignment will need to be used in order to make sure that the experimenter has complete control over the manipulations that are being done to the study. [18]

An example of this type of design was performed at the University of Notre Dame. The study was conducted to see if being mentored for your job led to increased job satisfaction. The results showed that many people who did have a mentor showed very high job satisfaction. However, the study also showed that those who did not receive the mentor also had a high number of satisfied employees. Seibert concluded that although the workers who had mentors were happy, he could not assume that the reason for it was the mentors themselves because of the numbers of the high number of non-mentored employees that said they were satisfied. This is why prescreening is very important so that you can minimize any flaws in the study before they are seen. [19]

"Natural experiments" are a different type of quasi-experiment design used by researchers. It differs from person-by-treatment in a way that there is not a variable that is being manipulated by the experimenter. Instead of controlling at least one variable like the person-by-treatment design, experimenters do not use random assignment and leave the experimental control up to chance. This is where the name "natural" experiment comes from. The manipulations occur naturally, and although this may seem like an inaccurate technique, it has actually proven to be useful in many cases. These are the studies done to people who had something sudden happen to them. This could mean good or bad, traumatic or euphoric. An example of this could be studies done on those who have been in a car accident and those who have not. Car accidents occur naturally, so it would not be ethical to stage experiments to traumatize subjects in the study. These naturally occurring events have proven to be useful for studying posttraumatic stress disorder cases. [18]

Related Research Articles

Design of experiments Design of tasks set to uncover answers

The design of experiments is the design of any task that aims to describe and explain the variation of information under conditions that are hypothesized to reflect the variation. The term is generally associated with experiments in which the design introduces conditions that directly affect the variation, but may also refer to the design of quasi-experiments, in which natural conditions that influence the variation are selected for observation.

Experiment scientific procedure performed to validate a hypothesis

An experiment is a procedure carried out to support, refute, or validate a hypothesis. Experiments provide insight into cause-and-effect by demonstrating what outcome occurs when a particular factor is manipulated. Experiments vary greatly in goal and scale, but always rely on repeatable procedure and logical analysis of the results. There also exists natural experimental studies.

Randomization is the process of making something random; in various contexts this involves, for example:

Experimental psychology refers to work done by those who apply experimental methods to psychological study and the processes that underlie it. Experimental psychologists employ human participants and animal subjects to study a great many topics, including sensation & perception, memory, cognition, learning, motivation, emotion; developmental processes, social psychology, and the neural substrates of all of these.

Field experiment

Field experiments are experiments carried out outside of laboratory settings.

Internal validity is the extent to which a piece of evidence supports a claim about cause and effect, within the context of a particular study. It is one of the most important properties of scientific studies, and is an important concept in reasoning about evidence more generally. Internal validity is determined by how well a study can rule out alternative explanations for its findings. It contrasts with external validity, the extent to which results can justify conclusions about other contexts.

Scientific control Methods employed to reduce error in science tests

A scientific control is an experiment or observation designed to minimize the effects of variables other than the independent variable. This increases the reliability of the results, often through a comparison between control measurements and the other measurements. Scientific controls are a part of the scientific method.

External validity is the validity of applying the conclusions of a scientific study outside the context of that study. In other words, it is the extent to which the results of a study can be generalized to and across other situations, people, stimuli, and times. In contrast, internal validity is the validity of conclusions drawn within the context of a particular study. Because general conclusions are almost always a goal in research, external validity is an important property of any study. Mathematical analysis of external validity concerns a determination of whether generalization across heterogeneous populations is feasible, and devising statistical and computational methods that produce valid generalizations.

Random assignment or random placement is an experimental technique for assigning human participants or animal subjects to different groups in an experiment using randomization, such as by a chance procedure or a random number generator. This ensures that each participant or subject has an equal chance of being placed in any group. Random assignment of participants helps to ensure that any differences between and within the groups are not systematic at the outset of the experiment. Thus, any differences between groups recorded at the end of the experiment can be more confidently attributed to the experimental procedures or treatment.

Confounding A variable that influences both the dependent variable and independent variable causing a spurious association

In statistics, a confounder is a variable that influences both the dependent variable and independent variable, causing a spurious association. Confounding is a causal concept, and as such, cannot be described in terms of correlations or associations.

Randomized experiment Experiment using randomness in some aspect, usually to aid in removal of bias

In science, randomized experiments are the experiments that allow the greatest reliability and validity of statistical estimates of treatment effects. Randomization-based inference is especially important in experimental design and in survey sampling.

In fields such as epidemiology, social sciences, psychology and statistics, an observational study draws inferences from a sample to a population where the independent variable is not under the control of the researcher because of ethical concerns or logistical constraints. One common observational study is about the possible effect of a treatment on subjects, where the assignment of subjects into a treated group versus a control group is outside the control of the investigator. This is in contrast with experiments, such as randomized controlled trials, where each subject is randomly assigned to a treated group or a control group.

In causal models, controlling for a variable means binning data according to measured values of the variable. This is typically done so that the variable can no longer act as a confounder in, for example, in an observational study or experiment.

Statistical conclusion validity is the degree to which conclusions about the relationship among variables based on the data are correct or "reasonable". This began as being solely about whether the statistical conclusion about the relationship of the variables was correct, but now there is a movement towards moving to "reasonable" conclusions that use: quantitative, statistical, and qualitative data. Fundamentally, two types of errors can occur: type I and type II. Statistical conclusion validity concerns the qualities of the study that make these types of errors more likely. Statistical conclusion validity involves ensuring the use of adequate sampling procedures, appropriate statistical tests, and reliable measurement procedures.

The average treatment effect (ATE) is a measure used to compare treatments in randomized experiments, evaluation of policy interventions, and medical trials. The ATE measures the difference in mean (average) outcomes between units assigned to the treatment and units assigned to the control. In a randomized trial, the average treatment effect can be estimated from a sample using a comparison in mean outcomes for treated and untreated units. However, the ATE is generally understood as a causal parameter that a researcher desires to know, defined without reference to the study design or estimation procedure. Both observational studies and experimental study designs with random assignment may enable one to estimate an ATE in a variety of ways.

Impact evaluation assesses the changes that can be attributed to a particular intervention, such as a project, program or policy, both the intended ones, as well as ideally the unintended ones. In contrast to outcome monitoring, which examines whether targets have been achieved, impact evaluation is structured to answer the question: how would outcomes such as participants' well-being have changed if the intervention had not been undertaken? This involves counterfactual analysis, that is, "a comparison between what actually happened and what would have happened in the absence of the intervention." Impact evaluations seek to answer cause-and-effect questions. In other words, they look for the changes in outcome that are directly attributable to a program.

In statistics, econometrics, political science, epidemiology, and related disciplines, a regression discontinuity design (RDD) is a quasi-experimental pretest-posttest design that elicits the causal effects of interventions by assigning a cutoff or threshold above or below which an intervention is assigned. By comparing observations lying closely on either side of the threshold, it is possible to estimate the average treatment effect in environments in which randomisation is unfeasible. First applied by Donald Thistlethwaite and Donald Campbell to the evaluation of scholarship programs, the RDD has become increasingly popular in recent years. Recent study comparisons of randomised controlled trials (RCTs) and RDDs have empirically demonstrated the internal validity of the design.

In the statistical analysis of observational data, propensity score matching (PSM) is a statistical matching technique that attempts to estimate the effect of a treatment, policy, or other intervention by accounting for the covariates that predict receiving the treatment. PSM attempts to reduce the bias due to confounding variables that could be found in an estimate of the treatment effect obtained from simply comparing outcomes among units that received the treatment versus those that did not. Paul R. Rosenbaum and Donald Rubin introduced the technique in 1983.

Although often used interchangeably, confounds and artifacts refer to two different kinds of threat to the validity of social psychological research.

A multiple baseline design is used in medical, psychological, and biological research. It has several advantages over AB designs, which only measure a single case. The start of treatment conditions is staggered across individuals. Because treatment is started at different times, changes are attributable to the treatment rather than to a chance factor. By gathering data from many subjects (instances), inferences can be made about the likeliness that the measured trait generalizes to a greater population. In multiple baseline designs, the experimenter starts by measuring a trait of interest, then applies a treatment before measuring that trait again. Treatment does not begin until a stable baseline has been recorded, and does not finish until measures regain stability. If a significant change occurs across all participants the experimenter may infer that the treatment is effective.


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