Study under lockdown, the Sociocultural Approach: Enculturation

Here is my narrated ppt on Enculturation – please ignore any references to my own work situation as this was written specifically for my students. The Basu et al. (2017) study I use is featured in Psychology Sorted Book 2, The Options (Development option). Hope you find it useful.

Here is the link:

Study under lockdown – how to write the Evaluation section of the IA

Here is the final unit of four, giving advice as to what to include in the Evaluation section and how to avoid mistakes. Enjoy!

‘Psychology Sorted’ Book 1 second edition (including all the new additions) out now on Amazon!

Laura and I have been working hard to get the second edition of ‘Psychology Sorted’ Book 1, Core Approaches out – and here it is! This second edition includes key study summaries for all of the new additions to the Core Approaches – yes, those pesky topics that could come up on Paper 1, Section A. So, if you have been wondering about which study to use for agonists, antagonists, excitatory/inhibitory synapses, neural pruning etc. (I mention the Biological topics as these are the ones that seem to have caused us all so much grief!) then do not fear, we have them here!

You can order the book here

And if you love it please leave a review to say that you do!

Experimental methods explained

brain-153040_640True experiment, field experiment, quasi-experiment or natural experiment? The answer is often a wild look in the eyes and a shrug of the shoulders.  It is not always easy to be certain! See below for an explanation of the differences. All sources used are referenced at the bottom of the page, and linked study summaries are, of course, from Psychology Sorted.

The easiest one to define is the true experiment. 

Often called a ‘laboratory/lab’ experiment, this does not have to take place in a lab, but can be conducted in a classroom, office, waiting room, or even outside, providing it meets the criteria.  These are that allocation of participants to the two or more experimental (or experimental and control) groups or conditions is random and that the independent variable (IV) is manipulated by the researcher in order to measure the effect on the dependent variable (DV).  Other variables are carefully controlled, such as location, temperature, time of day, time taken for experiment, materials used, etc. This should result in a cause and effect relationship between the IV and the DV. Examples are randomised controlled drug trials or many of the cognitive experiments into memory, such as Glanzer and Cunitz_1966.

A field experiment is similar, in that individuals are usually randomly assigned to groups, where this is possible, and the IV is manipulated by the researcher. However, as this takes place in the participants’ natural surroundings, the extraneous variables that could confound the findings of the research are somewhat more difficult to control.  The implications for causation depend on how well these variables are controlled, and on the random allocation of participants.   Examples are bystander effect studies, and also research into the effect of digital technology on learning, such as that conducted by Hembrooke and Gay_2003.

A quasi-experiment is similar to either or both of the above, but the participants are not randomly allocated to groups.  Instead they are allocated on the basis of self-selection as male/female; left or right-handed; preference for coffee or tea; young/old, etc.  or researcher selection as scoring above or below and certain level on a pre-test; measured socio-economic status; psychology student or biology student, etc.  These are therefore, non-equivalent groups.  The IV is often manipulated and the DV measured as before, but the nature of the groups is a potential confounding variable.  If testing the effect of a new reading scheme on the reading ages of 11 year olds, a quasi-experimental design would allocate one class of 11 year olds to read using the scheme, and another to continue with the old scheme (control group), and then measure reading ages after a set period of time.  But there may have been other differences between the groups that mean a cause and effect relationship cannot be reliably established: those in the first class may also have already been better readers, or several months older, than those in the control group. Baseline pre-testing is one way around this, in which the students’ improvement is measured against their own earlier reading age, in a pre-test/post-test design.  In some quasi-experiments, the allocation to groups by certain criteria itself forms the IV, and the effects of gender, age or handedness on memory, for example, are measured. Examples are research into the efficacy of anti-depressants, when some participants are taking one anti-depressant and some another, or Caspi et al._2003, who investigated whether a polymorphism on the serotonin transporter gene is linked to a higher or lower risk of individual depression in the face of different levels of perceived stress.

Finally, natural experiments are those in which there is no manipulation of the IV, because it is a naturally-occurring variable.  It may be an earthquake (IV) and measurement of people’s fear levels (DV) at living on a fault line before and after the event, or an increase in unemployment as a large factory closes (IV) and measurement of depression levels amongst adults of working age before and after the factory closure (DV). As with field experiments, many of the extraneous variables are difficult to control as the research takes place in people’s natural environment. A good example of a natural experiment is Charlton (1975) research into the effect of the introduction of television to the remote island of St. Helena.

The differences between quasi experiments and correlational research, and between natural experiments and case studies are sometimes hard to determine, so I would always encourage students to explain exactly why they are designating something as one or the other. We can’t always trust the original article either – Bartlett was happy to describe his studies as experiments, which they were not! Here’s hoping these examples have helped.  The following texts are super-useful, and were referred to while writing  this post.:

Campbell, D.T. & Stanley J.C. (1963). Experimental and Quasi-Experimental Designs for Research. Boston: Houghton Mifflin (ISBN 9780528614002)

Coolican, H. (2009, 5th ed.). Research Methods and Statistics in Psychology. UK: Hodder (ISBN 9780340983447)

Shadish, W.R., Cook, T.D. & Campbell, D.T. (2001, 2nd ed.). Experimental and Quasi-experimental Designs for Generalized Causal Inference. UK: Wadsworth (ISBN 9780395615560)

Ethics of animal research

monkey-3512996_1280A few months ago, we posted about how we could use animals for research.  Today we are looking at the ethics surrounding the decision to conduct research using nonhuman animals. Most students can reel off the ethics involved in conducting research on humans (informed consent, lack of harm, right to withdraw, privacy, etc.) but when we talk about the ethics of conducting research using nonhuman animals as proxies for humans, they are less clear. Often the argument gets stuck at the level of “It’s OK for medical research, but not for cosmetics.”  This is not good enough for an understanding of the complexities (nor for an exam answer).  For students that wish to argue that conducting research on nonhuman animals in order to avoid causing pain or distress to humans can never be ethical, point out that this is a worthy philosophical question, and could even be a counter-argument in a psychology debate on the topic, but again, it cannot constitute the main argument of an exam essay on ethics.

The APA,  BPS and Australian government publish guidelines for conducting nonhuman animal research ethically. What emerges from the guidelines are the ‘3 Rs’ of animal research:

  • Replace animals with other alternatives – such as computer simulations, use of lesser species (such as single‐cell amoebae and nematode worms),  use micro-dosing, CRISPR DNA editing, or human cell cultures – known more colloquially as ‘patient in a dish’ or ‘body on a chip’.  But animals are used to generate new hypotheses, so CRISPR editing was tried out on animals first, as was stem cell research. 
  • Reduce the number of individual animals used, by using data from other researchers, or by repeated micros-sampling on one animal in a repeated measures design.
  • Refine procedures to minimise suffering, by using appropriate anaesthetics and painkillers, and training animals to cooperate with procedures to minimise any distress. Imaginative research, where faecal matter is analysed to investigate stress levels, rather than drawing blood from an obviously stressed animal, has a part to play here.

In Psychology Sorted Book 1, we provide summaries of studies by Xu et al. (2015) and Stanton et al. (2015) which show how nonhuman animals may be used more ethically, to contrast with others such as Barr et al. (2004) and Weaver et al. (2004) which cause more stress to the animals used. These will help to keep your students more closely focused on the complexities of whether and how we should use nonhuman animals in psychological research.

Extended Essays made easier


It’s that time of year again, when students who have only been studying psychology for a few months are asked to think of an area of research in which they are interested.  And out come the titles, and questions: ‘What makes a psychopath?’  ‘Does the media cause eating disorders?’ ‘Why do more girls than boys get depressed?’ Aaargh!

Teachers sigh and raise their eyebrows, because none of these is a good question for an extended essay, though of course all are potential topics, and students’ interest in them is understandable.

This is where Psychology Sorted can help.  Underneath the overview tables are links to stimulating news articles, journal discussions and TED talks that will extend the students’ thinking beyond the superficial.  The hyperlinks and QR codes are included, and an hour or two of browsing can help direct students’ interests. For example, if students are interested in the area of new biological treatments for mental disorders, see this page.  If they would like to research the effects of digital technology, see here, and if they are interested in strategies of acculturation and immigrants, see this section.

Even if some students are determined to stick to eating disorders, the book can give them a new approach  – to opportunistic eating and obesity, for example.  Preface any of these topics with ‘To what extent?’ and you get much more nuanced, in-depth and interesting questions to research:

  • To what extent can neural feedback techniques treat phobias?
  • To what extent can artificial intelligence enhance working memory?
  • To what extent may marginalisation be responsible for terrorism?
  • To what extent can brain chemical dysfunction explain overeating?

It is not that there are any ‘off-bounds’ topics; just that a new approach is needed, to get your students out of the trees and on the sunlit route to extended essay success!