Posts Tagged ‘Psychology’
“Mistakes are, after all, the foundations of truth, and if a man does not know what a thing is, it is at least an increase in knowledge if he knows what it is not”*…
Controversy is essential to scientific progress. As Richard Feynman said, “science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.” Nothing is taken on faith, all assumptions are open to further scrutiny. It’s a healthy sign therefore that psychology studies continue to generate great controversy. Often the heat is created by arguments about the logic or ethics of the methods, other times it’s because of disagreements about the implications of the findings to our understanding of human nature. Here we digest ten of the most controversial studies in psychology’s history…
From “the Stanford Prison Experiment” and “the Milgram ‘Shock Experiments'” to “Voodoo correlations in social neuroscience” and “Libet’s Challenge to Free Will”– The British Psychological Society‘s “The 10 most controversial psychology studies ever published.”
(Lest one wonder whether all of this has any purchase in the real world, this review of Hooked…)
* Carl Jung
As we brace ourselves on our lab benches, we might spare a thought for Gustav Theodor Fechner; he died on this date in 1887. A philosopher and physicist with a keen interest in human behavior, Fechner is recognized (with Wilhelm Wundt and Hermann von Helmholtz) as the founder of experimental psychology. He formulated the rule known as Fechner’s law–that, within limits, the intensity of a sensation increases as the logarithm of the stimulus– a result indicative of his approach to studying the relationships between physical stimuli and the sensations and perceptions they cause. His approach, which came to be known as Psychophysics, has been influential ever since.
Lisa Wade, in Pacific Standard:
Earlier this year I reviewed a study that found that, simply by changing the weight of an object in hand, psychologists can manipulate how seriously a person takes an issue. In other words, when holding something heavy, matters seem heavy. Or, concerns seem weightier when one is weighed down.
Thanks to an email from University of Southern California professor Norbert Schwarz, I was introduced to a whole series of studies on what psychologists call metaphorical effects. These are instances in which a metaphor commonly used to describe a psychological state or social reality can, in turn, induce that state or reality. So, for example, holding a warm cup of coffee makes people feel warmly toward each other (here), getting the cold shoulder makes people feel cold (here), people placed in a high location seem to be high in a hierarchy (here), and cleaning one’s hands makes a person feel morally clean (here).
Schwarz was the co-author, with Spike W.S. Lee, on another example of a metaphorical effect. They wanted to know if smelling something fishy made people suspicious. It did.
Read the noisome news in full at “Smelling Something Fishy Makes People More Suspicious.”
* Lyall Watson (in Jacobson’s Organ)
As we hold our noses, we might recall that it was on this date in 1969 that “An Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music” opened in the Ctaskills in New York State. The organizers of the Woodstock Music and Art Fair– or Woodstock, as it is remembered– had hoped to sell 50,000 tickets; but by the week before the event, had moved 186,000. A last-minute change of venue presented them with a hard choice: hastily erect more/stronger fences and install additional security on the new site (the famous Yasgur’s Farm) or offer the event for free. The night before the event, with attendees already arriving in huge numbers, the promoters cut the fence. Ultimately an estimated 400,000 people enjoyed a (somewhat rainy) weekend of performances from 32 acts. It was, as Rolling Stone opined, a defining moment in Rock and Roll.
“An uninspiring canvas becomes a glamorous masterpiece when it is reattributed to a better-known artist”*…
Cornell psychologist James Cutting wondered why it is that when a work of art is considered “great,” we too often stop thinking about it for ourselves…
The intuitive answer is that some works of art are just great: of intrinsically superior quality. The paintings that win prime spots in galleries, get taught in classes and reproduced in books are the ones that have proved their artistic value over time. If you can’t see they’re superior, that’s your problem. It’s an intimidatingly neat explanation. But some social scientists have been asking awkward questions of it, raising the possibility that artistic canons are little more than fossilised historical accidents.
Cutting wondered if a psychological mechanism known as the “mere-exposure effect” played a role in deciding which paintings rise to the top of the cultural league. In a seminal 1968 experiment, people were shown a series of abstract shapes in rapid succession. Some shapes were repeated, but because they came and went so fast, the subjects didn’t notice. When asked which of these random shapes they found most pleasing, they chose ones that, unbeknown to them, had come around more than once. Even unconscious familiarity bred affection.
Back at Cornell, Cutting designed an experiment to test his hunch. Over a lecture course he regularly showed undergraduates works of impressionism for two seconds at a time. Some of the paintings were canonical, included in art-history books. Others were lesser known but of comparable quality. These were exposed four times as often. Afterwards, the students preferred them to the canonical works, while a control group of students liked the canonical ones best. Cutting’s students had grown to like those paintings more simply because they had seen them more.
Cutting believes his experiment offers a clue as to how canons are formed. He points out that the most reproduced works of impressionism today tend to have been bought by five or six wealthy and influential collectors in the late 19th century. The preferences of these men bestowed prestige on certain works, which made the works more likely to be hung in galleries and printed in anthologies. The kudos cascaded down the years, gaining momentum from mere exposure as it did so. The more people were exposed to, say, “Bal du Moulin de la Galette”, the more they liked it, and the more they liked it, the more it appeared in books, on posters and in big exhibitions. Meanwhile, academics and critics created sophisticated justifications for its pre-eminence. After all, it’s not just the masses who tend to rate what they see more often more highly. As contemporary artists like Warhol and Damien Hirst have grasped, critical acclaim is deeply entwined with publicity. “Scholars”, Cutting argues, “are no different from the public in the effects of mere exposure”…
Get the complete picture at “Why the Mona Lisa Stands Out.”
As we cathect on connoisseurship, we might send fantastic birthday greetings to Roger Zelazny; he was born on this date in 1937. Probably best known for his Amber series, Zelazny was a prominent member– with Philip K. Dick, Samuel Delany, Thomas Disch, Ursula K. LeGuin, and Harlan Ellison– of the American “new wave” science fiction movement; he won three Nebula awards and six Hugo awards. In 1976, Zelazny helped Philip K. Dick, who wasn’t able to continue on his own, finish Deus Irae; having learned in the process of Dick’s financial straits, Zelazny voluntarily reduced his royalty from one-half to one third.
Readers can tender their own trepidations, and see them turned into cartoons like these…
Illuminating the dark night of the soul: Deep Dark Fears.
As we wrestle with our demons, we might spare a thought for Marie-Louise von Franz; she died on this date in 1998. A student of, and long-time collaborator with Carl Jung, von Franz practiced in Switzerland, where she founded the the C. G. Jung Institute (in Zurich).
As her obituary in The New York Times observed, she believed, with Jung, that “all humanity shares a collective unconscious of genetically replicated archetypal forms reflecting and embodying the entire spectrum of human aspirations, feelings, fears and frustrations,” and that these archetypes are played out in dreams. In The Way of the Dream (one of her two dozen books and monographs), she claims to have interpreted over 65,000 dreams.
University College London proudly displays the remains of one of its founders, the Father of Utilitarianism, Jeremy Bentham. They’re also anxious to display his works… but they comprise 60,000 manuscript folios– lots of handwriting to transcribe. The college has been at it since 1959, and the going has been slow– until relatively recently:
The genesis of Transcribe Bentham was in 2009, when the Co-Director of the UCL Centre for Digital Humanities, Melissa Terras, was asked by the head of the Bentham Project, Professor Philip Schofield, for advice on procuring funding to digitise the 60,000 folios. “The days for getting funding for pure ‘scan and dump’ digitisation projects are over,” explains Terras, “and I wondered if we could do something more interesting.”
Around the same time, the MPs expenses scandal had broken in the UK, and Terras noticed something interesting: “The Guardian newspaper had built a platform to allow their readers to sift through the thousands of pages of MP’s receipts and I wondered — could we do the same? Could we ask people to read these manuscripts?”
The answer is a definite “yes.” Transcribe Bentham has been a certifiable success, and continues to grow in scale. With funding from the Mellon Foundation, the project has now expanded to encompass the British Library’s collection of 12,500 manuscript folios by Bentham…
[Read the whole story at Gizmodo.uk]
As the digitization has proceeded– in many cases, the first reading of Bentham’s scrawls– some interesting discoveries have been made; the exploration has shed new light, for instance of his stance on animal rights. But perhaps most surprisingly, volunteer readers have discovered a tranche of recipes (complete with the costs of their ingredients) from the great thinker. An excerpt from the manuscript page above:
The husks of ripe
walnuts at the time
They separate most
easily from the walnut
& before they begin
6 tb — 1d
Salt 1 tb 1
Pound the husks adding the salt when they are nearly bruised into an uniform mass so that it may be perfectly mixed. This & all other pickles must be kept in close vessels, casks headed down, jars with bladder tied over the mouth, or cloth or paper covered with melted pitch &c. When a stone vessel is opened it should be emptied into smaller ones, so that no more than sufficient for two or three weeks consumption may be put into each.
See Bentham’s other culinary creations– and the rest of his work– at Transcribe Bentham.
As we clear our palettes, we might send unorthodox birthday greetings to Otto Gross; he was born on this date in 1877. A psychoanalyst by training (he was an early disciple of Freud), Gross became a champion of an early form of anti-psychiatry (“depth psychology“) and sexual liberation, and an anarchist. His impact on psychology was limited (though Jung claimed that Gross “changed [his] entire worldview”); but he was an important influence on D. H. Lawrence, Franz Kafka, and other artists– including the founders of Berlin Dada.
Conventional wisdom has it that Monday is the dimmest of days. But recent research suggests that, in fact, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday are equally loathed…
US investigators who looked at a poll of 340,000 people found moods were no worse on Mondays than other working days, bar Friday. People were happier as they approached the weekend, lending support for the concept of “that Friday feeling”. The report authors told the Journal of Positive Psychology that the concept of miserable Mondays should be ditched…
Read the whole story at The BBC…
As we remind ourselves that Dorothy Parker (whose birthday this is) would surely have had something witty to add, we might recall that this is the date ascribed by many to St. Columba’s meeting with “Nessie” in 565– the first sighting of the Loch Ness Monster. The date (not to mention the details) are a little fuzzy, provenance-wise, as the encounter was first reported in Adamnan’s The Life of Saint Columba nearly a century later…