Comments for weeks 10 and 11

December 9, 2011 1 comment

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Do the ends justify the means?

December 9, 2011 1 comment

Hello there!  Final blog before Christmas!!

So, as I’d like to stay PC, I shan’t say Merry Christmas, but rather:

Anyway! Getting on with the blog at hand, today I shall speak about whether all the ethical guidelines that we  have to abide by today are important enough to stop us from doing really useful research.

Lets start off by discussing ethical guidelines.  Ethics in Psychology is split into 3 sections, which aim to protect:

  1. The individual from physical or psychological harm
  2. The wider social group from harm or prejudice (socially sensitive research)
  3. Animals from abuse whilst being used in psychological experiment

For timekeeping and length, I’m just going to look at number 1.

So, to make sure that individuals are protected from physical or psychological harm, there are a set of ‘rules’ that we must follow.

  • Deception – basically, not informing participants of the full intention of the study.
  • Consent – making sure that you have someone’s full permission to use them as a participant (there are special cases, such as when using children, a parent or guardian’s permission must be given).
  • Protection from physical and psychological harm – participants should be ‘exposed to no more risk than they would be in every day life’ (BPS guidelines). Psychological harm can be anything from a loss of self esteem to anxiety.
  • The right to withdraw at any point in the experiment – participants can leave the study at any point, and can have their data withdrawn if they wish.  They should be made aware of this at the start and finish of an experiment.
  • Confidentiality – simple, anyone used in a study must be confidential and there should be no way to know who the data belongs to.
  • Debriefing – inform participants of the point of the research.  Make sure that there are no negative effects that were unforeseen.  Make sure that they leave in a state of mind that is the same as when they started.  Tell the participant again that they can withdraw at any time and allow them a chance to see the written up results when the study is finished.

Debriefing is particularly important if any form of deception has been used, to make sure the participant knows what the real purpose of the study was.

These guidelines came into use in 1978, before which some of what are still considered some of the most important studies were conducted.
Examples of this are Milgram’s study on obedience, Asch’s study on conformity and Zimbardo’s study on the influence of social roles.

( )

Since I’m sure you’re all aware of these studies, I won’t go into detail describing them.  However, if you’re not, have a read before you continue:




If any of these studies were proposed today, they would break so many ethical guidelines that they would more than likely not be allowed to go ahead.  As I said, these studies provided us with a lot of knowledge and understanding and are still considered some of the most important to date.  If the ethical guidelines are stopping us from conducting important research like this, and there’s so much treading on eggshells that we can’t truly do a great study, should we really have them?

Did you know that 84% of participants said that they were glad that they participated in Milgram’s study?  Surely, this would make you think that even breaking the guidelines may be ok, if we learn something important, and participants obviously aren’t affected too badly.

But, is 84% enough? There were actually 1.3% of participants who said they ‘were very sorry to have taken part.’  While 1.3% isn’t very much out of 100%, does that mean they’re not worthy?  Does the whole 100% of participants not deserve to feel good and well?  The term ‘very sorry to have taken part’ implies to me that they suffered long term damages to their psychological health.

Zimbardo’s experiment was stopped after just 6 days! That says a lot about how badly the participants were being treated and how bad an affect the study was having on them.
I think, personally, that the people who were the prison guards will carry around guilt and fear knowing that they could behave like they did.  Even after 6 days, they were badly affected.  If the ethical guidelines that we have now had been in place then, this could have been avoided and those people may not have had guilt to carry around with them for the rest of their lives.  Of course, I’m just theorising by this point.

However, if the ethical guidelines were around and the study hadn’t gone ahead, would we know what we do now?  Do the ends justify the means?

I don’t think they do. I don’t think people, even that 1.3%, deserve to have a bad life so that we can learn something.  There are always ways to learn things while still complying with ethical guidelines.

Don’t ruin the 1.3%.

So, that brings an end to my blogs for a few weeks.  Have a good Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year and whatever other holiday you lovely people may celebrate.


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All About Autism.

Hello!  Welcome back! Hope everyones exams went well if you had them!

So, I’m back again with another topic, and I have recently become very interested in Autism. So, in this blog I am going to tell you all a little bit about it.


Autism is a developmental disability which has recently become more commonly known as Autistic Spectrum Disorder, and has become recognised as existing on part of a wide spectrum, meaning that it effects different people to different degrees.  At one end of the spectrum, there are people who have very limited language and are isolated within their own world.  Whereas, there are people who are very high functioning, and who may not be recognisable as having Autism, until they get overwhelmed and show some signs of the disorder.  These people may very much want to socialise and fit in, but simply lack the social skills, communication skills and understanding to be able to.

There are a number of theories that have tried to provide an understanding of the disorder, to help to understand why people with Autism behave in the unique ways that they do, and to try to explain how it may have developed.

In 1999, Baron-Cohen found that autistic individuals reading facial expressions had less activation in the front part of the brain (a part of the brain that is involved in empathy), and no activation in the amygdala (the emotional centre of the brain), compared to others, who showed a lot of activity in both regions.  This suggests that people with autism did not show empathy as much as others without autism – they couldn’t understand how other people were feeling.  It also suggests that autistic individuals did not show emotional understanding – they couldn’t read other people’s facial expressions or understand the emotions they may be feeling.  This supports the idea that Autistic people lack the social skills that a lot of us take for granted. )

Imagine how hard it would be not being able to read a person’s face…if they’re bored, sad, angry etc.  How hard would it be to interact with others?

Autism has been linked to the MMR vaccine, with a lot of mothers noticing that their children started to develop autistic tendencies shortly after receiving the vaccine.  Research has been done  into the area, mainly statistical studies of large populations.  Studies have overwhelmingly found no link between autism and MMR.

On top of all this people with Autism will probably have trouble making eye-contact, reading facial expressions and being able to read body language.  For example, if a person with Autism is speaking with you and you’re bored – rather than telling them you’re bored you may decide to be polite and subtly yawn.  However, a person with Autism would not be able to read this.  They would probably take it very literally and assume that you’re tired, rather than bored with the conversation.  If you ask someone with Autism ‘What’s up?’  they would take this question very literally and tell you that clouds are up, the sky is up etc.

People with Autism like to have a solid routine, and may get very distressed when this routine is disturbed.   An Autistic person may get up every single day at 6.30am, go to the bathroom, eat their breakfast etc.  While you may think that we all have routines from day to day, this is very different if you’re autistic.  If this routine is disturbed, it can lead to the person feeling like they don’t have control and panicing.   When Autistic people do get overwhelmed, they have certain ways to deal with this.  Common behaviours include arm- or hand-flapping, finger-flicking, rocking, jumping, spinning or twirling, head-banging and complex body movements.  People with Autism also have sensory sensitivity, and may be over/under sensitive to things such as light, sound, smells and touch.  Autisitc people generally do NOT like being touched.   However, when they do get overwhelmed, pressure seems to help.  Weighted blankets are often used to help calm people on the autism spectrum.

Interestingly enough, this was discovered after looking at cows on their way to slaughter…lovely.

Temple Grandin, who was herself on the autism spectrum, realised that nervous cattle seemed to relax when they entered a squeeze chute (a piece of equipment that squeezed the cows).   Grandin decided to try out the method on herself to try and tackle her own anxiety issues.  Further research into this found that the pressure depresses the sympathetic nervous system and slows the heart and metabolic rates, which helps to calm people (and cows, I guess..) down. )

Autistic people are also very intelligent.  They often have photographic memories and have very high IQs.  A study found that people with Autisim scored, on average, 30 percentile points, and in some cases 70 points higher than people without Autism.  ( ).

For anyone who does want to learn more, a simple google search will bring you tons! However, I found this website:

which is the National Autistic Society website.  There is so much to learn from there, including first hand testimonials from people who have Autism and understanding the behaviour.

Also, for anyone who likes to read, I would highly reccomend the novel which got me interested in Autism in the first place:

House Rules, by Jodi Picoult.  This gives first person story lines from Jacob, a boy who has autism, his brother, his mother and more.  I found it amazingly interesting to read from Jacobs point of view and it truly sparked an interest.

There is so so so much more I could tell you about Autistic people, but I would more than likely lose your attention.  Even though there are a lot of theories, nobody knows for sure what causes autism. If it is something that you find interesting, please do some more research on it.  It is very interesting to learn about, but most importantly, it helps us to understand different people and maybe next time you see a person flapping their hands or moving strangely, you’ll think about other causes for the behaviour rather than simply that they’re strange.  Maybe you can understand how an autistic mind works and interact with someone socially in a way they can enjoy, which is something the majority of autisic people want desperately, but simply don’t know how to do.  This is certainly what’s happened for me.  Autistic people are no different from you or me, they just have ‘quirks’ and have a unique way of seeing things.

Thanks for reading again. Cya next time.

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Comments for weeks 8 and 9

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Comments for week 4 and 5

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Why is reliability important?

October 28, 2011 12 comments

Hello!  So, the blogs have changed slightly.  This is going to be my blog for weeks 4 and 5.  I’m going to be discussing why reliability is important when we’re doing research.

So first, what is reliability? And how can we measure it?
I’m pretty sure that if you’re reading this blog then you know all about reliability in a study, but I shall briefly explain anyway.

Firstly, reliability is very closely linked with validity, but it’s important not to get the 2 mixed up. Validity is whether your test measures what you want it to measure.  Reliability is a little different.

What is it?

Reliability is simply the consistency of a measure.  We could consider our result reliable if we get the same one repeatedly.  So, if we conducted an experiment to see if mood is affected by weather and found that it was, would we also find that same result when the test was conducted again? (this is an example of test-rest reliability…which I’ll come to in a second).

If so, the results could be considered reliable.

How can we measure it?

There are actually many ways to test reliability:

  • Test-retest reliability – which is when a test is administered at 2 different points in time to assess the consistency of a test across time.
  • Inter-rater reliability – this uses 2 or more experimenters to score the test. The scores are then compared to compare the consistency of the rater’s estimates.
  • Parallel-forms reliability – this uses 2 different tests, which were created using the same content.
  • Internal consistency reliability – this is when 2 questions (most often on a questionnaire) ask the same thing.  If the 2 answers match, that shows reliability.

I have gone into these in very brief detail, and there is more detail if anybody wants it here:


Now, is reliability important in Psychological testing?   Well, of course it is.  If an experimenter got different results every time they did the test, then how would they know which results were the true ones?  They couldn’t answer their research question.  If they found from one test that weather does affect mood, and on another they found that weather has no effect on mood – does weather affect mood?  There’s no way to know because those results aren’t reliable.

Now, if that were the case then that’s when they might look at the validity of the study and see if it was something other than the weather affecting people’s mood – were they actually measuring what they set out to measure? (Which is where reliability and validity are so closely linked, and where it might be easy to get the 2 confused).

So, I shall end by saying that if results aren’t reliable, there’s probably no point in putting any store in these results at all.

I’m going to be having a couple of weeks off from writing my blogs (please, don’t cry), so see you all after exam week, and if you’re a 2nd year Psychology student at Bangor (which I’m sure you are) good luck in your exams!!


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Is it possible to prove a research hypothesis?

October 13, 2011 4 comments

Hello! Back again for week 3! (isn’t the year just flying by!).
We’ve been given a wild card this week! I got to choose what I was going to discuss all by myself (well..I kinda choose it off a list of possible blog topics, but we won’t worry about that).

So, I have decided to tell you all about research hypothesis.

I’m sure the majority of you are aware what a research hypothesis is, but for those who don’t allow me to explain.

There are a few definitions of ‘research hypothesis’, but generally, this one seems good enough to illustrate my point:  ‘A proposition about the nature of the world that makes predictions about the results of an experiment.’  (Taken from: ).   So, I think that the key word here is ‘predictions’.  You’re making a prediction about what you think will happen when you carry out your research.

OK…an example.  Imagine that you want to research what colour swans are.  Now, in your life, I’m sure that most, if not all, of you have only ever come across white swans and therefore may think that all swans are white.  So, you make your research hypothesis that all swans are white.  You go out, scour several places in search of swans, and you keep count of how many different coloured swans you find.  At the end of your research, you take a look at your data, and sure enough all the swans you saw were white.  Great, your research hypothesis was right, right?

Nope…you can’t say unequivocally that all swans are white, because you didn’t see all the swans in the world. Would you ever be able to be absolutely sure that you have seen all the swans in the world?  Could you ever prove, for sure that your research hypothesis is correct?  I’m afraid not.  It’s never possible to prove a research hypothesis, but only to collect a lot of data that can strongly support it.

You can, however, disprove a research hypothesis.  Thinking about the swans again, you could have spent years and years finding all the swans you could. Searching high and low in all the parks and ponds you could find, and STILL, you could have only found white swans!  Someone could come along, and in an instant ruin your years of work by finding a black swan.  Well, there we go….your research hypothesis was that all swans are white. You have tons and tons of data showing that swans are white, and this person goes and finds a black swan!! So, if this black swan exists, ALL swans can’t be white. Which means, unfortunately, your research hypothesis is wrong (and you’ve wasted years of your life looking at swans…good job this is hypothetical).

As a side note, I hope that nobody did actually do this research, because black swans have been discovered in Australia:


Not that I stole the swan story from a famous example or anything…but there is a book by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, called ‘The black swan: the impact of the highly improbable’ which discusses this in detail.

The idea of a black swan may have been highly improbable, but it’s never impossible (clearly as my picture above demonstrates).  You can never say that a research hypothesis has been proven. Even if all the data in the world strongly supports it, that only makes it highly probable.  We can never say that it is never impossible to find proof of the opposite.


To finish off, here’s a video of Nassim himself giving a talk on ‘black swans’.  (I personally think I explained it better 😉  but there you go).





Thanks for coming again, next week I have another wild card…so who knows what’s in store for you!

Au revoir.

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