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Natural experiments are designs that occur in nature and permit a test of an otherwise untestable hypothesis and thereby provide leverage to disentangle variables or processes that would otherwise be inherently confounded. Experiments in nature do not, by definition, have the sort of leverage that traditional experiments have because they were not manufactured to precise methodological detail; they are fortuitous. They do, however, have distinct advantages over observational studies and might, in some circumstances, address questions that randomized controlled trials could not address. A key feature of natural experiments is that they offer insight into causal processes, which is one reason why they have an established role in developmental science.

Natural experiments represent an important research tool because of the methodological limits of naturalistic and ...

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