Experimental Studies: a Common Ground for Discourse Communities

The relationship between economic competition and physiological status is examined by Buckert et al. in “How stressful are economic competitions in the lab? An investigation with physiological measures” (2017). Specifically, Buckert et al. attempt to investigate whether economic competition – within a laboratory setting – may function as a stressor. To do so, Buckert et al. rely on an experimental study to present an argument that is well-supported by statistical analysis of data and findings. The overarching argument is that a competitive environment (even in a laboratory setting) elicits physiological reactions that are indicative of stress.

Typical experimental studies set the null hypothesis as the default stance, which assumes that there are no relationships between the variables in the study unless proven otherwise. Thus, there is a chronological time-order to the formation of the final argument, as it is directly derived from the study itself. This is to say that the experimental procedure must occur before the formation of any concluding argument. Such a time-order is reflected in this study, as Buckert et al. present their experimental methodology and process.

First, prior to the experimental procedure, Buckert et al. conceptualize and operationalize economic competition and physiological status. The reason for doing so is that this conceptualization and operationalization process is crucial in the discourse community of experimental research. Recognizing this, Buckert et al. provides a detailed outline of the variables that are to be used in the study. Ultimately, this process is an impactful rhetorical strategy that caters to the expectations of this audience; this process is incorporated within this study as an attempt to promote the credibility of this study.

Buckert et al. conceptualize economic competition within a lab setting as the independent variable and physiological status as the dependent variable.

The operationalization process is one in which the variables under study are made to be measurable and/or quantifiable. Economic competition is operationalized as whether the individual in the experiment participates in the ‘economic tournament game’ or not. On the other hand, physiological status is operationalized using heart rate, blood pressure, and hormonal measures.

Trevor mentions that the language incorporated in this study resemble that of a laboratory-manual. Interestingly, Trevor finds that this language caters toward members of the economic discourse community. However, content that is presented in this study is not explicitly restricted in its narrow reach to the economic discourse community. Rather, the rhetorical strategies used in this study (i.e. its formatting, organization, and language used) appeals to members of a broader academic community. In addition to the economic discourse community, those who are familiar with experimental research methods may access and understand the contents of this study.

For what the article does – which attempts to present and support an argument using statistical evidence – I think that Buckert et al. do a fantastic job at recognizing their audience and framing their findings accordingly.

However, I think this article has greater implications…

Rather than examining the specific methodology and findings of this study, there is something of greater significance in Buckert et al.’s article that is worth focusing on: the actual incorporation of an experimental design.

Trevor and and I both agree that competition, and other concept terms, are susceptible to unique interpretations across discourse communities. When we look at the variance in definitions of competition, there is a seemingly unbridgeable gap between the communities. Beware: such gaps should be taken seriously within the academic community as they make it difficult to transfer useful information between the discourses.

This is where – I believe – experimental designs can provide a common lens from which to process and understand information. More importantly, this perspective is NOT exclusive to any particular discourse community. Since there is disagreement between the communities that fixate on definitions, shifting the focus to a common systematic methodology can be useful.

Again, my reluctance to fully agree with Trevor’s statement (that this article appeals to the economic discourse community) illustrates why experimental studies are so powerful. Experimental designs are powerful as they appeal to a broader audience. I disagree with Trevor’s statement because my background in sociology equips me with the appropriate knowledge to comprehend the contents of this article, and I would assume the same goes for those in the discipline of political science, psychology, biology, and so on.

Ultimately, disagreement on definitions can produce gaps between the discourse communities, but these gaps can be bridged using a systematic approach to obtaining knowledge – such as incorporating an experimental study design.

Image Source: https://blog.kevineikenberry.com/communication-interpersonal-skills/finding-common-ground-leadership-and-communication-lessons-in-a-fractured-world/


  1. Great analysis!

    I also agree with the ideas you brought up that this experiment is relevant not only to the economic discourse community but to the much broader academic community. The results obtained in this experiment can be generalized to real world workplaces where the winner-takes-it-all style of economic competition is used.


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