April 29, 2012

How secrets can weigh us down

We know how much of a burden secrets can be to us, but recent studies have been researching whether keeping a secret can have a physical burden on that individual. Slepian, Masicampo, Toosi and Ambady (2012) conducted a study which examined the behaviour of people who were keeping important secrets, for example infidelity and sexual orientation. The study consisted of forty participants, who were randomly assigned to recall either a meaningful personal secret or a small personal secret. They were asked not to reveal the secret as this would remove the burden of the secret they were carrying. They were then asked to provide numerical estimations on four dependant measures, three of which were controls: sturdiness of a table, durability of a water bottle, and temperature in degrees Fahrenheit of a park, and then the main measure, the steepness in degrees of a hill shown face-on. Participants who were recalling a meaningful personal secret perceived the hill to be steeper than those who were recalling a trivial secret. This suggests that the metaphorical link between secrets and physical burdens influence perception.

Another study they conducted looked at whether burdensome secrets would influence distance perception. Thirty six undergraduates took part and again, they were randomly assigned to recall a meaningful or trivial personal secret, without revealing the secret itself. They were asked to do this whilst tossing a beanbag at a target 265 cm away. Those who were asked to recall a meaningful secret tended to overthrow the beanbag, suggesting they perceived a greater distance to the target. This is supported by Proffitt, Stefanucci, Banton and Epstein (2003). They looked at the effect of wearing a heavy backpack on distance perception and it was found that all participants underestimated the distance regardless of whether they were wearing a backpack or not. However, those who were wearing the backpack made larger distance estimates than those who did not wear a backpack.

However, Hutchison and Loomis (2006) replicated the study by Proffit et al, and found no such effect. This suggests that there may be some demand characteristics or errors in the procedure in one of the two studies, and also raises the question whether there is really an effect on distance perception when wearing a backpack. If there turns out to be no effect, then more research needs to be conducted to see exactly why the result from the study by Slepian et al, where carrying a secret causes people to overestimate distances, is found and if it is due to a different reason than the feeling that the secret is a weight upon them.



Hutchinson, J.J. & Loomis, J.M. (2006). Does energy expenditure affect the perception of egocentric distance? A failure to replicate experiment 1 on Proffitt, Stefanucci, Banton and Epstein. Spanish Journal of Psychology, 9(2), 332-339. http://dialnet.unirioja.es/servlet/articulo?codigo=2202819

Proffitt, D.R., Stefanucci, J., Banton, T. & Epstein, W. (2003). The role of effort in perceiving distance. Psychological Science, 14(2), 106-112. doi: 10.1111/1467-9280.t01-1-01427

Slepian, M.L., Masicampo, E.J., Toosi, N.R. & Ambady, N. (2012). The physical burdens of secrecy. Journal of Experimentsl Psychology: General. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0027598

March 25, 2012

The effect of a Nintendo Wii on loneliness in the elderly

Kahlbaugh et al (2011) investigated the effect on loneliness of elderly people with a Nintendo Wii. Thirty Five older residents with an average age of 82 at an independent living apartment block participated in the study, and they were divided into three groups. The first group consisted of 16 participants and they received a personal visit from a female undergraduate research assistant each week for ten weeks. The assistant played on the Wii console with them for an hour on a bowling game. The second group contained 12 participants and was one of two control groups. These participants also received visits, but they watched TV together for an hour instead of playing games. The third group was the second control group and had 7 participants who received no visits. The assistants in the first two groups were instructed to be “socially responsive”.

After the ten week period, physical activity, loneliness, mood, life satisfaction, and health were assessed for each participant. It was found that participants in the Wii condition found they felt less lonely than they had at the start of the study, and participants in both control conditions experienced an increase in loneliness. However, the physical activity and life satisfaction of the Wii group was no different than the control groups.

However, is it really the Wii that is decreasing their loneliness? Lee and Ishii-Kuntz (1987) would disagree. Even though their research was published many years before the Wii was invented, they would argue that it is the interaction between the elderly person and the student which decreased loneliness. Their study on 2872 participants showed that interaction with friends and neighbours reduced feelings of loneliness and increased morale. Therefore, it is the fact that the two individuals are doing something together which reduces loneliness rather than the Wii itself. For example, playing cards would have a similar effect to playing on the Wii.

In conclusion, the Nintendo Wii can be entertaining for young people and for old, and has different benefits for both ages. But if you are thinking of buying a Wii for your grandparents this Christmas so they aren’t so lonely, make sure they have a friend or neighbour that they can play it with, otherwise its money down the drain.

Kahlbaugh, P.E., Sperandio, A.J., Carlson, A.L. & Hauselt, J. (2011). Effects of playing wii on well-being in the elderly: physical activity, loneliness, and mood. Activities, Adaptation & Aging, 35(4), 331-344. doi: 10.1080/01924788.2011.625218

Lee, G.R. & Ishii-Kuntz, K. (1987). Social interaction, loneliness, and emotional well-being among the elderly. Research on Aging, 9(4), 459-482. doi: 10.1177/0164027587094001

March 11, 2012

The Placebo Effect

In this blog I shall be describing what the Placebo Effect is and how it works

A Placebo is a treatment that is medically ineffective which is used to deceive the recipient. The most common placebos are sugar pills, empty casing and injections of saline solution. These will be given to a patient who is told that it may improve his/her condition, and this causes some patients to have a perceived or actual improvement in their medical condition. This is called the Placebo Effect.

Irving (1997) proposes that the effects that appear are due to response expectancies which are the anticipations of the occurrence of responses such as pain, joy, intoxication and alertness. This effect can be enhanced by the enthusiasm of the doctor, differences in size and colour of placebo pills etc. Another explanation is that the effects are due to classical conditioning. This is achieved when a placebo and a stimulus are used simultaneously until the placebo is associated with the effect from the stimulus. An example of this is giving a patient a drug which improves their condition, and then replacing the drug with an identical sugar pill. The patient should still get better as they are conditioned to believing this shape and colour of pill treats their condition.

However, Kienle & Kiene (1997) debate that spontaneous improvement, fluctuation of symptoms, additional treatment etc. provide false impressions of placebo effects. Therefore researchers have to be extremely careful when they’re interpreting results using placebos as the effects that they see may just be due to the patients getting better naturally or their symptoms change rather than an actual placebo effect. This leads us to wonder whether there is actually a placebo effect or not.

Fuente-Fernández et al (2001) provide evidence for a placebo effect in patients with Parkinson’s disease (PD). They have found that when PD patients are given a placebo, their dopamine system is activated and endogenous dopamine is released. The release of dopamine after taking the placebo would not be due to chance as the dopaminergic system is involved particularly in the reward mechanisms. This experiment did not involve a direct reward and so the release of dopamine was due to expectation of a reward (therapeutic benefit).

In conclusion, it is difficult to know exactly how much a placebo effects a patient as there are many factors which improve the patients condition that are not involved with the placebo. However, in certain conditions, placebos have an obvious effect on the patient and it is relatively easy to explain the effect through expectancy and classical conditioning.

Fuente-Fernández, R., Ruth, T.J., Sossi, V., Schulzer, M., Calne, D.B. & Stoessl, A.J. (2001). Expectation and dopamine release: mechanism of the placebo effect in parkinson’s disease. Science, 293(5532), 1164-1166. doi: 10.1126/science.1060937

Irving, K. (1997). The placebo effect: an interdisciplinary exploration. The Placebo Effect: An Interdisciplinary Exploration, 166-186.

Kienle, G.S. & Kiene, H. (1997). The powerful placebo effect: fact or fiction? Journal of Clinical Epidemiology, 50(12), 1311-1318. doi: 10.1016/S0895-4356(97)00203-5

February 19, 2012

Differences between a case study and a Single Case Design

In this blog I am going to discuss and compare case studies and single cases designs; pointing out the pros and cons of each procedure.

Case studies and Single Case Designs are similar in that they can both be an analysis of a single individual. Single Case Designs (also known as Single Subject Designs) use one individual to view how a certain intervention can change their behavior. There can be many participants in the study taking part but the results are independent and so they are individually analyzed. This design shows us the effects of a variety of interventions on individual cases and can show how certain interventions can differ between individuals. However, the order of the intervention or treatment can affect the results and so pilot studies should be used to decide which order would give optimum results.

Case studies can focus on one individual and how a certain situation has affected them. On the other hand, they can also be used to analyze a group or event. This would involve looking at all the individuals as a whole and how the event has affected how they interact with each other. Case studies give us valuable insights into situations that would be unethical to create, for example deprivation. However, cause and effect cannot be established, as the researcher has not manipulated any variables.

As both of these designs involve individual cases or people, the results for either design cannot be generalized to the general population, as the effects are specific to the individual or event. The major difference between the two is that single case designs are experimental whereas case studies are descriptive. In single case designs an intervention can be applied and removed to see how it affects the participant’s behavior, giving cause and effect. In case studies, the researcher has not manipulated any variables and the event has already happened, so they can only describe the event and outcome.

In conclusion, even though these two research strategies seem very similar by name, their individual procedure, design, pros and cons are very different. Single Case Design is experimental and the researcher has a lot of control over the experiment, whereas Case Studies are descriptive and there is no control from the researcher.

November 18, 2011

Why do we want what we can’t have?

This can range from something as simple as you joining the dinner queue to get a muffin but they have none left, or liking a potential partner who is already taken, or as extreme as discovering the parts of the earth or the universe that we were unable to explore before or were too dangerous to explore.

The first two can be placed into the category of self-destructive (or self-defeating) behaviours. There are three types of self-destructive behaviours, which are, primary self-destruction – the person foresees and desires harm to self, tradeoffs – the harm is foreseen but not desired, and counterproductive strategies – the harm is neither foreseen nor desired (Baumeister & Scher, 1988). It has been found that there is no clear evidence of primary self-destruction, but there are several tradeoff patterns that have been found. Counterproductive strategies have also been found and they are usually based on misjudging self or misjudging contingencies.

Liking a potential partner that is already taken is an example of tradeoffs. You know that this person is unavailable (foreseeing harm) however you still chase them even though it will hurt you (undesired harm). The muffin situation is an example of counterproductive strategies. You go up to get a muffin (no harm foreseen) but there are none left and therefore you become upset or hungry (undesired harm) and this is a result of misjudging contingencies as you had left it too late to get a muffin.

Psychological reactance (Brehm, 1966, as cited by Burke, Lake & Paine) can explain why we want something that we can’t have. Psychological reactance is when a person’s freedom is threatened and that person resists doing or taking what they originally intended. An example of this is a parent telling their son that he is only allowed one hour per day to play on his computer game. The child’s freedom is threatened as he cannot play on his game whenever he wants to. This could cause him to sneakily play on his computer game when his parents are busy cooking/gardening etc. or intentionally keep playing longer than an hour because he hasn’t been told to stop playing.

Perceived scarcity (http://www.selfgrowth.com/articles/Wallin22.html) is another factor in wanting what you can’t have. Perceived scarcity is when something is in short supply, its perceived value increases. This can explain the need to explore every inch of the earth and universe. The amount of space un-explored is running out, therefore the reward of exploring these areas will be massive. This aspect of wanting something that we can’t have is more rewarding than harmful as we are inventing better equipment and finding better materials which will aid us in many situations other than exploring the earth.

There are many factors which motivate us to chase something that we can’t have, and these forces cannot be avoided as they are part of human nature. They may not be desirable but they are part of who we are.



Baumeister, R.F. & Scher, S.J. (1988). Self-defeating behaviour patterns among normal individuals: review and analysis of common self-destructive tendencies. Psychological Bulletin, Vol 104(1), 3-22. doi : 10.1037/0033-2909.104.1.3

Burke, W.W., Lake, D.G. & Paine, J.W. (2008). A theory of psychological reactance. Organization Change: a Comprehensive Reader. 377-390

October 21, 2011

The issues of eye witness testimony

Eye witness testimony is very important when it comes to identifying an individual from a crime scene. However, there are factors which can cause eye witness testimony to become false.

Leading questions have a huge effect on eye witness testimony and when used incorrectly can cause false memories. For example, Loftus and Zanni (1975) conducted an experiment on the wording of a question put to a person about a recently-witnessed event. After watching a short movie of a multi-car accident, 100 students were given a questionnaire which contained six critical questions. Three questions asked about items which had appeared in the film and three asked about items not present in the film.  Half the subjects were given questions such as “Did you see a broken headlight?” whereas the other half were given questions such as “Did you see the broken headlight?” It was found that those who were asked “the” question were more likely to report having seen it whether or not it had really appeared in the film, than those who were asked “a” questions. This highlights the importance of wording questions in a way that won’t cause false information to be collected.

The age of the eye witness is also an important issue to consider. Poole and Lindsay (2001) studied whether age affects the accuracy of eye witness testimony. Children aged three to eight were engaged in a science demonstration then listened to a story from their parents which described experienced and non-experienced events. When asked about the experiment, the children incorporated the story from their parents into the original memory. At this stage of the study there was no difference in suggestibility between ages. However, when asked to think carefully about where they had got their information from (I.e. source monitoring) some of the older children retracted many of their false reports whereas the younger children did not. Therefore when receiving eye witness testimony from a child, it is very important that the possibility of exposure to misinformation prior to questioning is taken into account and more specific interviewing may be necessary.

There are many more issues with eye witness testimony which all have to be taken into account during an investigation otherwise very misleading information will be classed as true which could cause an innocent person to be put into prison. The factors such as leading questions should be controlled when conducting an interview and the age of the witness needs to be noted and errors in their memories expected.



Loftus, E. F. (1975). Leading questions and the eyewitness report. Cognitive Psychology, 7, 550-572. Doi:10.1016/0010-0285(75)90023-7

Poole, D. A., & Lindsay, D. S. (2001). Children’s eyewitness reports after exposure to misinformation from parents. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 7(1), 27-50. Doi:10.1037/1076-898X.7.1.27

October 14, 2011

Questionnaires Vs. Interviews

Questionnaires and Interviews are both important in Psychology for collecting information and opinions from participants for a study, but which is better?

A questionnaire is used to collect information from a large sample of people about their views, attitudes and behaviours. It can be used to gather data on a wide variety of topics and once constructed they are easy to administer, large amounts of data can be gathered quickly and relatively cheaply and both quantitative and qualitative data can be produced from them. However, you cannot be sure that respondents will answer questions truthfully as they may not want people knowing about a certain situation (e.g. a drinking problem). Respondents may also interpret questions differently therefore giving unreliable information or they may answer questions in a way that they think the researcher wants (demand characteristics) and usually very few of the people given the questionnaires actually fill them in and return them.

Interviews involve direct verbal questioning of participants by the researcher. This technique can obtain private aspects of behaviour and collect detailed qualitative data about sensitive issues. They are relatively easy to replicate if structured interviews are used (e.g. all interviewees are asked the same questions.) However, if unstructured interviews are used (exploring a general topic in depth which can uncover additional information that you didn’t plan on obtaining) makes interviews very difficult to replicate. During interviews, the researcher can expand and clarify the question if the participant doesn’t understand, but on the other hand the researcher may cause problems e.g. investigator effects where the participants may find the investigator attractive and therefore make themselves sound better which causes false information to be gathered. The interviewer himself may have a bias towards some people and may interpret the behaviours of some participants as meaning one thing when it means something else.

Overall, it seems that questionnaires are better because they collect more reliable and true information for research as they have fewer variables which can alter the information or cause false data to be collected.

October 7, 2011

How do situational factors affect obedience?

We all know the study by Milgram on obedience, but what factors caused his participants to obey? Well, Milgram ran further studies into obedience and this is what he found. In his initial experiment, Milgram found that around 65% of the participants continued up to 450v. However, when he moved the experiment to down town offices instead of in a lab, this percentage dropped to 47%. Here we can clearly see that the setting has a crucial impact on obedience and that people are much more obedient in an area which appears more professional.

The presence of the experimenter is also very important with obedience as when Milgram had the experimenter in a separate room giving instructions to the ‘teacher’ by telephone, the percentage of participants continuing past 450v dropped to 20%. This can be explained by the fact that there seems to be no legitimate authority as it could be anyone on the phone so therefore the participants don’t feel obliged to continue onto 450v. Finally, one of the most shocking results in this experiment is when the teacher was paired with an assistant who throws the switch for them. In this situation the percentage of participants who continued up to 450v soared up to 92%.

These results show that it is extremely important to consider situational factors while designing a study as it can seriously affect the results. We have seen examples like this in everyday life for example, in schools pupils obey teachers (most of the time) but if the pupil sees a teacher out of school, they will be unlikely to obey them.

September 29, 2011

Just because its significant doesn’t mean its significant

The significance of a piece of research is usually determined by using statistics. However, statistics is a tricky concept to get your head around and therefore some researchers may use statistics incorrectly. For example, a researcher may use the wrong stats test for their design or choose a probability value that is too lenient for their experiment. Therefore insignificant results may come out as significant and the researcher may accept this without question.

Another example is that some studies are conducted on certain ages, genders and cultures and so the findings can be significant for people in those specific groups but not for others. For example, if a researcher found that females are able to retain six pieces of information in their short term memory, it doesn’t mean that males can also retain six pieces of information. They may be able to retain more or less due to the way the male brain works or due to hormones which may affect memory that only males have. Therefore, significant information can be significant for females but not for males, and vice versa.