control group | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Introduction / Policing / Research Methods

In a scientific experiment, a control group is a group that does not receive the experimental treatment, so it can serve as a baseline with which to compare the group that did receive the experimental treatment.

In scientific research, it is essential to establish causality between an independent variable (the experimental treatment) and a dependent variable (the outcome). The experimental group is the group that receives the experimental treatment, while the control group is the group that does not.

The control group provides a standard of comparison for the experimental group. By comparing the two groups, researchers can determine the effects of the experimental treatment. For example, if a group of participants is being studied to determine the effect of a new medication, one group would receive the medication (experimental group), and the other would receive a placebo (control group).

The control group is critical in determining whether the results of the experiment are due to the experimental treatment or other factors. The experimental group and control group must be as similar as possible to isolate the effects of the independent variable. This means that the two groups must be matched for age, sex, and other relevant characteristics to eliminate potential confounding variables that could affect the outcome.

The use of controls is essential in the scientific method. It allows researchers to make valid inferences and conclusions about the effects of the independent variable on the dependent variable. The control group helps to establish the baseline level of the dependent variable, which allows researchers to assess the magnitude of the effect of the independent variable.

Control groups are used not only in medical research but also in other fields, such as psychology, education, and social sciences. For example, in educational research, the group might be a group of students who receive traditional teaching methods, while the experimental group receives an innovative teaching approach. In social sciences, a control group might be a group of people who do not receive a particular intervention or treatment, while the experimental group does.

The use of controls is also essential in determining the effectiveness of interventions and policies. For example, in a study of a new anti-crime program in a particular neighborhood, one group would receive the program, while the other would not (control group). The crime rates of both groups would then be compared to determine the program’s effectiveness.

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Last Modified: 04/11/2023


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