Tuesday, May 26, 2015

From the "Apparently Too Good To Be True" Department

Check this out:

From what I gathered, the original published results seemed to fly in the face of what had been accepted wisdom, based on a fairly substantial body of evidence. In and of itself, that is not necessarily a problem. Sometimes someone comes up with a novel way to examine a research question and finds something useful. Needless to say, Brockman and colleagues attempted to replicate the LaCouris and Green findings and instead found some glaring anomalies that suggested potential fraud. There's an old saying in the business world: "trust but verify." That is true in the sciences as well. Sometimes that verification process breaks down, and when it does, it opens up the risk for very regrettable outcomes. For those pushing for open archiving of published data and the like, I think this will give some needed fuel for the fire.

In the meantime, we're left with another truism: "If it seems to good to be true, it probably is."

Sunday, April 19, 2015

You're not yourself when you're hangry

Oddly enough, one can fined some educational value in television commercials, even if that was not the original intention. Case in point:

 

The basic premise of this commercial is that the experience of hunger makes you angry, and that may have an impact on your impulse control. So, you're no longer reacting the way you normally would to the frustrations and provocations (in this case accidental) that you experience in day-to-day life.

A friend of mine gave a TED talk last fall discussing some of his research on hunger, in the process coining a term, hangry. The scenario in the commercial is one that can be demonstrated under carefully controlled lab conditions. The lack of food leads to lower levels of blood glucose in the brain. When individuals become hangry, they tend to show less impulse control and they show greater aggression levels when provoked.

So, how do we prevent becoming hangry? Apparently, it may be as simple as having a snack to elevate your brain's blood glucose level to optimal levels. However, keep in mind that the sorts of snacks likely to reduce hanger will be ones far more nutritious than the product in the commercial.

In the meantime, enjoy my friend's TED talk. And keep in mind that in a sense, whether intended or not, a simple TV commercial had some educational value.





Wednesday, April 8, 2015

With Google Plus On The Way Out, Is Blogger Next?

I recently saw an article on the apparent demise of Google Plus (a product that never really impressed me) and its potential implications for users of some of Google's other products. One of those products is Blogger, the host of this particular blog. The article is a bit short on details regarding what Google might have in store for Blogger, and so for the time being I am not planning on shopping around for a new host. If I did, WordPress would be near the top of my list in part because of what the authors state regarding the increased flexibility and lack of strict terms of service that come with Blogger. Obviously, my main challenge in making a move would be what to do with the data on this blog. If transferring my earlier posts to a new blogging platform ends up relatively seamless, I might be considerably more tempted. Until then, I think that it is wise not to rely strictly on the Google Plus share button to spread the word about particular posts, and to make links available on other platforms, such as Twitter.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

George Miller on giving away psychological science in the public interest

“Our responsibility is less to assume the role of experts and try to apply psychology ourselves than to give it away to the people who really need it — and that includes everyone.”
-- George Miller, from the article Giving Psychological Science Away Online

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Some Odd Experiments in Social Psychology

A friend of mine, Ron Riggio, recently posted a list of the oddest-ever experiments in psychology. A couple of them are ones I regularly discuss in my Social Psychology course, and one in particular (what Ron dubs The Urinal Study) makes its way into any conversation I and my students have regarding research ethics in my methodology courses:
This study looked at how the presence of other people in a men’s bathroom caused negative arousal, and affected performance—of urination! The dependent measure in this study was the time that it took for the stream of urine to begin flowing. The independent (manipulated) variable was the presence or absence of another person at the adjacent urinal. How did the researchers measure onset of urination? An observer was stationed in a nearby stall with a periscope so that he could observe the onset of urine flow! The study was designed to see how invasion of personal space affected people, but it sounds like a major invasion of privacy itself.
There are a couple other candidates for oddest-ever experiment in my particular field. One I've briefly mentioned before. That would be the Cockroach Experiment by Bob Zajonc. The experiment examined social facilitation effects in, you guessed it, cockroaches. There were two independent variables. As I understand it, cockroaches are biologically prepared to run down simple paths to move from light to dark spaces. So, one independent variable was the type of maze the cockroaches were required to navigate. Some cockroaches ran a simple maze and others ran a complex maze. The other independent variable was the presence or absence of other cockroaches. In one condition, cockroaches ran through their maze without any other cockroaches present. In the other condition, cockroaches ran through their maze with other roaches present in an audience box. The dependent variable was the time necessary for the cockroaches to complete the maze. In the simple maze condition, cockroaches completed the maze faster when there were other cockroaches present, thus providing evidence of a social facilitation effect. This is always one of my favorite experiments to discuss, simply because students find it so difficult to believe that such complex social phenomena can be found in such a simple animal.

I think the Paralysis Experiment would also make for a good candidate for oddest-ever experiment, not the least because it placed the participants under such extreme distress. In fact, it usually makes my list of most ethically challenged experiments. Campbell, Sanderson, and Laverty (1964) wanted to demonstrate that a conditioned fear response to a previously neutral stimulus could be conditioned in a single trial. In order to accomplish this feat, the authors gave their participants a drug that introduced temporarily paralysis from the neck down and caused them to lose the ability to breathe on their own (again, temporarily). This horrifying experience was paired with the sound of a tone. When the participants recovered from their paralysis, they were exposed to the tone by itself. The authors found that the participants showed a pronounced fear response simply to hearing the tone. Not only was this a rather strong effect, it did not extinguish over time. In fact, the emotional response to the tone increased in strength over time. The experiment was one that arguably created a very mild form of PTSD in its research participants. Obviously, this is not one that would pass muster with an IRB nowadays, and for good reason.

I am sure that there are a few others that would be good candidates for odd social psychology experiments, but the above trio would top my list.

References

Campbell, D., Sanderson, R. E., & Laverty, S. G. (1964). Characteristics of a conditioned response in human subjects during extinction trials following a single traumatic conditioning trial.
Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 68, 627-639.

Middlemist, R., Knowles, E., & Matter, C. (1976). Personal space invasions in the lavatory: suggestive evidence for arousal. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 33, 541-546.

Zajonc, R. B., Heingartner, A., & Herman, E. M. (1969). Social enhancement and impairment of performance in the cockroach. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 13, 83-92.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Childhood poverty and brain development

I was checking one of my news feeds when I noticed an article describing some recently published research on childhood poverty and brain development. Needless to say, subsisting at a poverty level does the developing brain no favors, and leaves those from more affluent circumstances at a neurological advantage. The impacts were found not only on brain structure, but on cognitive function. Taken together with some research I highlighted previously, the message is clear: the structural features of our environment play a tremendous role in our ability to function. There is a sort of violence at an institutional level that has taken place for an extremely long time, and its consequences are dire for those who are the innocent victims. If there is some good news, it is that we know there is evidence that efforts to reduce poverty, along with efforts to provide adequate nutrition and intellectual stimulation to those most affected by poverty do at least minimize the damage. Those efforts have often been the first on the chopping block in recent years, which is not only unfortunate,  but is arguably a form of negligence on the part of our policymakers.

Penn & Teller on Anger Management

This video is from Penn & Teller's old Showtime series, Bullshit! It is an entertaining and informative video in its presentation of what works and what fails to work when it comes to current approaches to anger management. A friend of mine, Brad Bushman, appeared on this episode as one of the interviewees. Bottom line is that much of what passes for "anger management" is untested and quite probably ineffective. Much of it seems to be based on the concept of catharsis. According to some mental health professionals, by venting (by, say, punching pillows, screaming, etc.) one can release anger and become less aggressive. Bushman runs a demonstration experiment showing that, contrary to the claims made by those mental health professionals, catharsis only serves to make aggression worse. Using catharsis as a means of reducing aggression is somewhat akin to using gasoline to put out a fire. Also, it appears that anger management courses are ineffective for those perpetrating abuse, as their behavior is often motivated by dominance needs as opposed to impulse control problems. All anger management programs do for these individuals is to make them smarter about how they abuse their victims. I would hardly call that therapeutic.

Please note that there is a lot of strong language. This is Penn & Teller, after all. If you are easily offended, avoid this. If not, have fun, and learn something in the process.