December 2012 Archives

Effects of Visual Stimuli Pre-Exposure on a Memory Task

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Memory-Game-Final.jpgI did a study in one of my psychology courses I took. The purpose of the study was to see if there was anything you could do prior to a memory task, that would improve performance on that memory task. In other words, if participants were pre-exposed to pictures that they would later be tested on in a memory matching game, would they do a better job at completing the memory game if they were not pre-exposed. Participants were randomly selected and asked to participate in the classic memory matching game. They were either shown the images that were going to be in the matching game, or they were not. The number of turns needed to complete the game were recorded. The pre-exposed group was compared to the non-pre-exposed group to see if there were any differences. The results did not support my hypothesis. Some possible reasons why it was not supported was the design of the test was a between-subjects design when it may have been preferable to do a within-subjects design. In a within-subjects design, the same participant would have taken a test without being pre-exposed then taking a test being pre-exposed. The differences might have found a significant difference. Individuals are different than groups. Another possible reason was that the task itself was too easy. The number of pairs was 8, it may have supported our hypothesis with a harder test, such as 16 pairs.

Study Reveals Why Some Like It Hot

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peppers.jpgResearchers from Pennsylvania State University have found that people who like spicy foods, don't necessarily have a high tolerance but rather have a specific type of personality. Researchers found that a love of chilli is associated with sensation seeking and reward. It was suggested that chilli lovers get desensitised to chilli burn over time, but there was no conclusive evidence.

100 volunteers were given liquid samples of capsaicin (the compound that gives chilli its burn) and asked to swirl in in their mouth of three seconds before spitting it out. They were then asked to rate the burning sensation and, in a separate questionnaire, rate their liking of various foods.

The article was very short and didn't follow through on how exactly the study got sensation and reward from the study. I was interested in this study initially because I love to eat spicy foods, and the study made sense. I haven't always liked spicy foods but now I love to try hotter and hotter foods. I would be interested in finding a follow up study that had more reliable results.

My boyfriend was telling me about the research study that he conducted for his senior thesis of undergraduate. I thought this would be a good thing to blog about. It looked at the operational sex-ratio in the environment and how it influenced romantic relationships. In other words, how would an environment with many males and fewer females (or vice versa) be perceived by a male or a female in a romantic relationship? Getting the idea from evolutionary principles and animal studies , they found that when males perceived a favorable sex-ratio (many females and few males) they were less likely to try and maintain their current relationship because sperm is cheap whereas if the ratio was unfavorable, they would put more effort into the relationship to make sure they could reproduce and pass on their genes. If a female perceived a favorable sex ratio, they would display more promiscuous behavior, increasing their chance to pick a mate that would be able to provide resources for them. If they perceived an unfavorable sex ratio, they would try and hold onto the partner they had to make sure there were resources available.

They conducted the research by recruiting couples that had been in a romantic relationship for at least 6 months. The majority age group was made up of college-aged students. They sent out a survey, which they were told not to discuss with each other about, to measure a baseline perception of themselves with their partner. Then a week later, they came into the lab where they read an article that unconsciously manipulated their perceived environment by either becoming a more favorable or less favorable sex ratio.

Research is still going on, but preliminary results were going against the evidence. One possible explanation is that the participants used may only have been in a relationship for 6 months, which may not be long enough for these perceptions to kick in. Also, the majority age group was college-aged students. The results may be different with a much larger age group.

college.jpgWhen I stumbled across this article, it made me think of the College Drinking Survey Assignment we did for class. The February 2012 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research says that young women who already show a tendency toward impulsive behavior when distressed are at particular risk of developing alcohol-related problems, such as alcohol dependency.

The study recruited 319 female freshman from a large southeastern U.S. university, of whom 235 were drinkers. All participants took the Short-form Michigan Alcoholism Screening Test, which has 13 questions about drinking behavior and alcohol-related disorder symptoms. The five impulsivity traits that were assessed from the beginning (and assessed again 3 months later) were: lack of deliberation, lack of persistence, sensation seeking,negative urgency, and positive urgency.

Results showed that negative urgency (or negative emotions) predicted increases in alcohol dependence symptoms in the participants first semester of college.

This study attempted to connect alcohol dependence issues with personality trait. While it may seem plausible, the study used a simple 13 question survey. In order to understand why some women are more susceptible to alcohol problems, we need to use focus groups and in-depth interviews. The had a large sample but only a small portion represented the non-drinking control group. The study lacks validity.

trad research.jpgAfter my group's In the News presentation (Los Cincos), I started writing a list of pros and cons, to see if digital research is really better than traditional research. Here is what I came up with:


-qualitative focus groups--enables sharing, building,
-in depth interviews---face-to-face, more personal, understanding individuals
-allows moderator to ask questions based off the responses of the participant.
-we can trust the results of traditional methods because they have proven to work
-gain insight by examining a participant's body language

-time consuming
-finding and recruiting a specific sample takes energy


-can reach a wider geographic target, even across cultures
-anonymity of online world can encourage participation
-digital media provides an almost instant sample
-visual aids or sound clips are easy to use during surveys or focus groups
-cheap and time efficient

-understanding and interpreting text is difficult
-can't ask questions as a follow-up to a participant's response


Digital methods can benefit the traditional research world and vice versa. Digital methods can not be ignored because that is where the participants are found these days---online. Participants prefer to be reached by email, social media, or texts. We need to incorporate basic fundamentals from traditional research to insure digital research is effective.

Snowball Sampling: Good or Bad?

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snowball.pngI recently came across an article called, "3 Bad Research Techniques That Will Ruin Your Work." The author, Dana Grinshpan, rips on the sampling method of snowballing. Snowball sampling is a research method in which you identify a group you wish to study, and then ask members of the group to identify acquaintances to also join the study.

Grinshpan demonstrates snowball sampling with Sudhir Venkatesh's study of gang life in the south side of Chicago. Veankatesh immersed himself in the gang and started by talking to a few crack dealers and prostitutes. They in turn referred him to other in the gang, and the sample "snowballed" from there. The downside to snowball sampling is that the group is no longer random, and no longer represents the population at large. Without random sampling, the researcher cannot make valid generalizations about the population at large, thus diminishing the value of the study.

Grinshpan then dives into snowball research, which is using the same process to find sources for a report. By reading one article, you can look at the author's sources and use them to find more and more sources. Again, this narrows your field of view and gives the researcher a limited perception with gaps in their argument.

A confirmation bias, a.k.a a snowball-point-of-view, is the tendency to test their hypothesis with positive examples rather than negative ones. People find sources that confirm their argument rather than ones that challenge it.

Snowballing can be effective if you are reaching out for a defined and very hard to reach audience (such as the Chicago mafia or gangs). Otherwise, the method should not be used. Snowballing creates biases, removes random sampling, and lowers the validity of a study.

choco.jpgI found this study on this morning and instantly related to the topic. Every women who has tried a diet, understands how good treats taste when you are supposed to be dieting. Is there any actual psychological or physical response or is it all in our heads? Researchers have found an association between guilt and pleasure.


The results of a study published in the Journal of Marketing Research suggest that the more guilt you feel, the more pleasure you may experience from consuming a delicious (and forbidden) treat.

Lead researcher Kelly Goldsmith and her team conducted a series of six studies. The researchers attempted to manipulate participants' taste perception by manipulating the type of guilt people associate with eating certain foods.

In Study One, 103 participants were randomly assigned to 2 groups. The control group looked at 6 magazine covers unrelated to health and wrote about their photography. The variable group examined 6 health-related magazine covers and wrote about their popularity. Then both groups ate a candy bar and rate how tasty the treat was. The group variable group that felt guilty, reported linking the chocolate significantly more than the group that was not thinking about health.

The other 5 studies were similar but used different methods to associate guilt such as a word scramble, a writing prompt, and entertaining videos. All studies revealed a connection between guilt and pleasure.


This study has high reliability because it was repeated six different times with six different groups of participants. The researchers used different methods to insure there weren't other variables effecting the results, thus giving the study high validity. In each study, the researchers had a control group to compare the results with. I would be interested to see the researchers expand this study to other relateable pleasures like smoking, drinking and sex. Also, what is the extent guilt plays in our everyday lives? Does it effect our consumer habits? This study is thought-provoking and makes me curious to know more.


Ethics in Research

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View imageResearch, primarily psychological research, goes hand in hand with ethics. Ethics come up when dealing with confidentiality, researcher-participant relationships, recording/monitoring behavior without consent, and deception. When is it okay to not tell the whole truth to participants in cases of blind-studies? Where is it, even if it is for the sake of research, do we draw the line?

Money & Relationships
Is it okay to offer money or some other incentive to participants to take a survey? Ethically, probably not but why would you want to limit your participants to people who are just looking to make a quick buck? Now your pool is no longer random sampling. Relationships are harder to gauge what is ethical and what is not. In some studies, focus groups or interviews are need to gain qualitative responses. Still, researchers need to remain impartial and not intimately involved in order to receive accurate results.

Confidentiality & Privacy
Confidentiality means not releasing any personal information about the participants. Anonymity means not linking participants in ant way to your study. Consent forms and debriefing must take place before any study is conducted. If not, you may not have just an ethical issue on your hands but a legal one as well.

Honesty Vs. Deception
Honesty sometimes is not the best policy. In some cases, revealing the whole nature of the study can affect and weaken the whole design. The professional code of ethics states that deception can be allowed at times as long as the participants are not harmed, and the deception is admitted immediately following the end of the study.

Ethics in research is usually shades of gray. It is hard to pinpoint what is right and what is wrong. Before every study, researchers should ask themselves: how are we protecting the confidentiality of the participants? Have we outlined specifically what will happen to participants as part of the trial? What can't we tell them? Is this harmful to them? Answer these questions and take a step back to make sure you are upholding your ethical duties as a researcher, then you can begin.

To learn more about ethics in research:

6 Ways to Use Social Media to Your Advantage

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Social-Media-Research-big.jpgIf you haven't figured it out yet, social media is not just a trend or fad. Social media has become a daily routine for many people and is not going away anytime soon. Popular sites like Facebook and Twitter are now at the top of every advertisers list to place an advertisement. However, advertisements are not the only way businesses and organizations can benefit from these social forums. Investing money in social media research is vital to gain deeper insights about brand identity, brand awareness, competitors, psychographics of your target audience, product flaws, etc. Check out these 6 ways to use social media to your advantage by fellow researcher Annie Pettit.

1. Measure An Advertising Campaign
Track the campaign from launch date to finish. Measure any changes in conversation volume of either positive or negative comments. Is the anticipation building or burning out?

2. Discover Hidden Competitors
Pay attention to who users are comparing your brand to. It is easy to pick out the well-known competitors but what about local or small businesses?

3. Identify Product Flaws
While some consumers may look up your business's Facebook page in order to thank you, others have had a problem with your product and want to complain in a fashion that is easiest for them. Take into account what issues are being brought up and remember to RESPOND. Social media forums will never fully replace traditional call-in customer service, but ignoring their questions or complaints will only make you look poorly.

4. Learn About the Psychographics of Your Audience
Lets say your product is fashionable rain boots. Social media research can show you more about these people like: what types of cars they like, sports they watch, clothing stores they hate and what they grow in their garden (based on pages they 'liked', posts they 'retweeted' or text analytics)

5. Identify Celebrities That Should Sponsor Your Product
Again, this goes hand-in-hand with psychographics. Who does your audience follow and want to see in nothing but fashionable rain boots?

6. Build on Traditional Research
The best surveys are no more then fifteen minutes long which means any questions that go beyond that time frame have to be cut. But if you haven't got space to ask consumers a specific question on your survey, chances are people are already talking about it in social media. Your data isn't gone. It's just somewhere else.

Check out Anne Petitt's full 12 tips at

Mobile Research: The Next Big Thing?

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mobile research.jpgLet me throw some impressive statistics at you to begin. There are 500 million mobile subscribers in the world. 12-14 million new mobile subscribers are being added every month. That means, mobile penetration is growing at a whopping 30% per annum in rural areas.

The difference between mobile phones and computers is that, users operate computers in their "personal" space, while users operate mobile phones in their "intimate" space. That means that unlike laptops and tablets, mobile devices accompany most users everywhere they go, every single day. Mobile technology is opening doors for researchers to reach the masses in diverse and culturally complex countries, like India.

Mobile research is beneficial for 3 reasons: cost-effective, surveys are executed in real-time and it allows researchers to contact hard-to-reach target audiences across a wider geography. Unfortunately, many researchers today are hesitant to try out this new technology for reasons such as: surveys would require participants to have a smart phone, qualitative questions would be difficult to scale, battery-life and reception issues could play a factor, and difficulty of designing a simple questionnaire for that tiny screen.

Regardless of the constraints, researchers need to be flexible and adapt to our constantly-changing digital society. Here are some key ways researchers have begun to harness the information that is available now as a result of mobile devices.

Digital Ethnography: Respondents send text and pictures to researchers at random times of the day of what they are doing and where they are. This application allows immediate responses and enhances the richness of the data collected.

Social networking on mobile: Social networking through mobile provides access to moving online focus group discussions to mobile 'Tweet' surveys.

Whether it is convenient or not, mobile devices seem to be the way to reach a broad range of participants and retrieve immediate responses, In my opinion, researchers need to put the pen and paper down, and start to develop digital, simple (maybe even one question) surveys.

Mobile Research IS most definitely the next big thing.

gq-brain-injury-football.jpgI recently came across the article, "Brain disease is linked to routine hits in contact sports, study finds." The article give little information about the research, a study with many holes in it, and led readers to believe that the research was conclusive, when really it was not.

Researchers from Boston University studied post-death brain samples from 85 people, ages 17 to 98, who had subjected themselves to repetitive mild traumatic brain injury such as concussions throughout their lives, comparing them to the brains of those without such a history (the control group).

The findings, recently published in the journal Brain, showed that nearly 80 percent of all the people with repetitive hits to the head showed evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a condition that results in gradual degradation of brain tissue.

This study lacks validity because it does not prove that "repetitive mild traumatic brain injuries" took place on the field. All it shows is that if you have routine severe head injuries in your life, you are more likely to develop CTE. Another problem I found with this study was the age range of the participants. Shouldn't there be a difference between a 17 year old brain and a 98 year old brain? And is that how all of the participants died--because of head trauma? The study seems invalid. There sample was only 85 brains, which is quite small in the research world.

Review the full article:

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This page is an archive of entries from December 2012 listed from newest to oldest.

November 2012 is the previous archive.

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