In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Experiments

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • Methodology
  • Laboratory Experiments
  • Field Experiments
  • Survey Experiments

International Relations Experiments
Vanessa Lefler
  • LAST REVIEWED: 13 July 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 May 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0174


Experiments, broadly defined as any research design in which “the researcher intervenes in the [data generating process] by purposely manipulating elements of the environment” (Morton and Williams 2010, p. 30; cited under Methodology), occupy a small but growing place in international relations (IR) researchers’ methodological toolboxes. This bibliography introduces the reader to the opportunities for experimental research in IR. Many of the authors featured in this bibliography cite Alvin Roth, who writes that experiments may serve three research goals: (i) “searching for facts,” (ii) “speaking to theorists,” and (iii) “whispering in the ears of princes” (Kagel and Roth 1995, p. 22). More specifically, experiments give researchers the opportunity to uncover processes that are difficult to observe because of selection effects or spurious correlation. Experiments also isolate explanatory variables and perform direct tests of formal models and other theories. Furthermore, as some of the scholarship in this review will demonstrate, policy and nonprofit organizations are welcoming collaborations with scholars to use experiments to more systematically assess their programming. While experiments are not appropriate for investigating all research questions, IR scholars should become more familiar with them as they provide specific advantages for making causal inferences and, contrary to many common criticisms of experimental methods, help bridge political science and policy. This bibliography attempts to provide sufficient coverage of technical and applied research on experiments. It begins with a set of general overviews on the field and lists journals that regularly publish experimental IR research. Next, the core concepts of experimental methods are reviewed, followed by specific entries for laboratory, field, and survey experiments. In addition to being characterized by methodological approach, experiments in IR are also separated by ontology, and the next section covers the economic and psychological traditions in the field. The last sections of this bibliography are dedicated to reviewing substantive research that uses experiments in the four major IR research areas: conflict processes, foreign policy analysis, international political economy, and international organization. Throughout these sections, annotations note the experimental methodology used, in addition to their substantive contributions, so that interested readers may also identify projects by their methodological approach.

General Overviews

While the use of experiments in IR and political science more generally has grown tremendously since the mid-1990s, the surge is more of a renaissance than a revolution. As Druckman, et al. 2011 and Green and Gerber 2002 document, the use of experiments in political science research dates to the 1950s. Experimental political science rose in prevalence in the 1970s, when there was even a (now out-of-print) specialized journal, The Experimental Study of Politics, that published research using experimental methods. IR, McDermott 2011 adds, enjoys one of the longest traditions of conducting experiments in the field of political science. The three overviews in this section guide the reader through this tradition, navigating the different methodologies and approaches used across political science scholarship. McDermott 2011 is an appropriate segue to other recent overviews by Hudson and Butler 2010 and Hyde 2015, which all direct the reader to innovations in the use of experiments specifically for the field of IR. These three articles also highlight a number of opportunities for new research that makes use of experiments to address unresolved puzzles and answer significant policy questions.

  • Druckman, James N., Donald P. Green, James H. Kuklinski, and Arthur Lupia. “Experimentation in Political Science.” In Cambridge Handbook of Experimental Political Science. Edited by James N. Druckman, Donald P. Green, James H. Kuklinski, and Arthur Lupia, 3–11. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511921452.001

    A brief overview to the highly useful Handbook of Experimental Political Science. The authors describe the general history of experimental political science, particularly its tremendous growth after 1990, as well as the multiple purposes, methodologies, and epistemologies of the research approach.

  • Green, Donald P., and Alan S. Gerber. “Reclaiming the Experimental Tradition in Political Science.” In Political Science: State of the Discipline. Edited by Ira Katznelson and Helen V. Milner, 805–832. New York: Norton, 2002.

    Though primarily focused on the utility of field experiments, a concise overview of the historical use of experiments in political science and a guide around their common challenges. Examples from American politics field experiments highlight the advantages of experiments for inferring causation, resolving empirical puzzles, and accumulating knowledge.

  • Hudson, Natalie Florea, and Michael J. Butler. “The State of Experimental Research in IR: An Analytical Survey.” International Studies Review 12 (2010): 165–192.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-2486.2010.00927.x

    Review essay on experiments in IR research, including a discussion of their origins in classroom simulations and examples in new technologies (e.g., neuro-politics, agent-based modeling). Authors devise a unique and useful classification heuristic, emphasizing experimental IR’s interdisciplinary and subfield linkages, bridges with other methods, and analysis of new phenomena.

  • Hyde, Susan D. “Experiments in International Relations: Lab, Survey, and Field.” Annual Review of Political Science 18 (2015): 403–424.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev-polisci-020614-094854

    An impressively comprehensive discussion of recent experimental research in IR. With a focus on laboratory, field, and survey examples, the author advises on the use of convenience, elite, and representative subject pools; demonstrates how experiments may be useful in testing midrange theories; and chronicles the accumulative research process through experimentation.

  • McDermott, Rose. “New Directions for Experimental Work in International Relations.” International Studies Quarterly 55 (2011): 503–520.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-2478.2011.00656.x

    Chronicles experimental methods in IR research through conflict processes (negotiation, arms races, crisis and war) and foreign policy decision-making. The author reviews new ways to experimentally test questions traditionally important to IR, including those on identity, personality, and social status, through an interdisciplinary lens.

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