Planning your course effectively – exploiting the overlaps

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Here is some support when planning for the new school year. This is one of the most useful exercises I have ever done before teaching a course on psychology. Using a table, or a simple Venn diagram, as above, identify the overlaps between the core approaches and the options. Putting these posters around your class, sharing them with students, and using them for your own planning can clarify and structure your thinking and theirs. This is so useful when it comes to revision.

For example, as we can see, the biological approach to human relationships comprises mainly evolutionary psychology arguments. The same overlaps mapped between biology and abnormal psychology would identify brain neurochemistry as a key conceptual argument. The biological approach to childhood development looks at brain development and neuronal networking.

Doing this helps immensely with understanding the big picture, and also minimising the studies one needs to cover. If teaching the human relationships option later in your course, when students are learning about evolutionary psychology in the biological approach earlier in your course – here are their examples.

I will be mapping more of these over the following weeks, so watch out for them before term starts!

Research from Psychology Sorted: Social Identity Theory

sitHow we develop our social identity is still a hot topic today, and for those of you studying the effect of technologies, especially social media, on social identity, there is a developing literature on the subject.  But we should start with the classic minimal groups paradigm from Tajfel (1971), found in our new book Psychology Sorted, as it is still so relevant today.

The predominant 1960s theory of social identity formation came from Sherif et al.’s (1961) study which led to the development of his 1966 realistic conflict theory that competition for scarce resources is the foundation for group (social) identity, and also one cause of conflict. Think of the worldwide competition for water and oil on a large scale and maybe sporting competitions on a smaller scale. Why do you think that schools have ‘houses’, ‘sporting colours’, ‘house badges’?

However, Tajfel’s research contradicted this, demonstrating that only minimal conditions were necessary for group identity to form: his experiment randomly allocated schoolboys to two groups.  The boys thought they had been allocated their group according to their preference for a painting by either Klee or Kandinsky, but this was a deception and the allocation was random. This perception of belonging to a certain group was enough for boys to show in-group favouritism when allocating virtual money via a complex matrix of rules.  The minimal groups paradigm formed the basis of Tajfel and Turner’s social identity theory, which remains a powerful explanation of in-group favouritism and out-group discrimination.

The three sequential steps Tajfel & Turner (1979) deemed necessary for social identity to form are:

  • social categorisation – we understand that people (and things) can be grouped
  • social identification – we identify with a group
  • social comparison – we compare ourselves favourably with another group

Social comparison underlies stereotyping, gang fights (though these can also be seen as competition for scarce resources), between-class competitions, girl/boy competition, online identities…how many more can you think of?

Tajfel’s theory can be used extensively in the curriculum, from his lab experiments in the 1970s (research methods), to an argument for the formation of stereotypes (sociocultural approach), to an explanation of how competition and maybe even conflict is generated in human relationships, to how images are cultivated socially on Snapchat, Instagram and (amongst us oldies) Facebook for cognitive psychology.  This is an example of a classic theory that can be easily accessed through Psychology Sorted.

The new IA process for IB Diploma – get started!

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Let’s get started! This is a useful summary for teachers and students of the process for the new IA (internally-assessed student-conducted experiment…now you see why the name is shortened ūüôā¬† This will first be assessed in May 2019, and I’m sure some of you are getting started soon.

Group work¬†is mandatory.¬† Up to 4 students in a group, and preferably each group conducting a different experiment, so you don’t run out of participants.¬† The experiment is run together by the group to collect the raw data, but every section, and all data calculations, have to be performed and written about individually.¬†¬†

Statistical Analysis must be conducted by everyone.  Descriptive statistics identify if there is a difference between the two conditions and inferential statistical analysis tells you whether or not this difference is significant at the p<0.05 level.  Unless you are an expert statistician, it is easier to just manipulate the independent variable once to give two conditions under which you measure the dependent variable. Plan how you are going to do this, and which tests you need to use before even starting your experiment.

Ethical Considerations –¬†be sure that your experiment will cause no harm or stress to the participants, who may not be animals or young children.¬† Conformity experiments are not allowed, because they are stressful, and you may not ask your participants to eat or drink anything in order to test the effects. Neither may you deprive them of sleep.¬† Your appendices¬†at the very end of your report should contain a blank copy of the informed consent form, a copy of your briefing and debriefing notes, raw data tables and your calculations for the analysis.

IA Report РThis needs a header containing the following information:  title; your IB candidate code and the codes of all group members; date, month and year of submission; no. of words.

__________________________

The Report should be between 1800 and 2200 words and split into the following 4 sections:

Introduction¬† (6 marks) –¬† Contains the aim of the experiment, and explains the link between the experiment and the model or theory on which it is based.¬† (Most likely your experiment will be based on another study or experiment, but you need to know the underlying theory and show the link).¬† The hypotheses should be written out carefully, and contain the operationalised independent and dependent variable.¬† It is probably easier to write these separately first and then combine them to make the hypothesis.

Exploration (4 marks) РThis is where you describe your procedure, including the design, sampling technique, participant characteristics, controlled variables and materials.  Write it very carefully, as you will want to refer back to it later in your last (Evaluation) section.

Analysis (6 marks) РConsists of correctly chosen and applied descriptive and inferential statistics.  The descriptive statistical analysis results should be shown in a bar chart (graph) that is carefully labelled.  The inferential statistics results need to be interpreted in terms of what they show about the hypothesis.  Do you have to accept or reject your null hypothesis, and why?

Evaluation (6 marks) РThis is where you explain your results, in relation to the theory/model and study on which you based your experiment.  You need to explain the strengths and limitations of your design, sample and procedure and suggest how you could have improved upon what you did.  We cannot always anticipate the effect of decisions we made earlier when deciding how to conduct the experiment, but we can explain their effect at the end.

All IAs need a list of references at the back, and the appendices follow this.  They do not count towards the word count.

__________________________

Remember – it doesn’t have to be a complex experiment.¬† The simpler the better.¬† Old ‘favourites’ from Cognitive Psychology always do well: Loftus and Palmer, Stroop, Peterson & Peterson and Bransford & Johnson are all tried and tested studies from the area of memory.

 

 

Social media ‘addiction’ – the evidence.

screen timeWhile most of us think of addiction as the physical and psychological dependence on a substance such as alcohol, cigarettes or any kind of drugs, the word has also been used for psychological dependence on behaviours like shopping, eating, gambling, and now screen time – especially the time that adolescents spend on social media. But what is the evidence for this?

Well, as everyone knows, when doing research, first of all the terms have to be operationalised.  Given that screens are multi-media, and the person could be reading a book, Skyping with a grandparent, watching a TED talk for their homework, contacting a friend, or posting their latest pics on Instagram, we need to be clear that it is time on social media that is causing the moral panic.  Though it is also worth noting that every time a teenager is seen staring at a screen, the assumption is always that they are on social media. In his latest letter to social media firms, Jeremy Hunt (UK Secretary of State for Health and Social Care) proposed a future where every child gets a state-imposed social media limit, similar to the alcohol units recommended by government. After a child surpasses a set cutoff point, their social media access is stopped for the day.

To implement such an extreme policy, scientific evidence of damage would be needed.  And this is where the problem begins:  the evidence is controversial.  Social media use has been found to be correlated with depression and  sleep disturbance  in young adults. The popular press has many alarming stories of permanent damage done to young people.

However, longitudinal studies of social media suggest that frequent social media use is generally associated with increases in self-esteem and empathy for adolescents.  As Professor Sonia Livingstone notes in her TEDx talk on how children engage with the internet, research suggests that little has changed in terms of youth mental well-being since the pre-internet era which makes the causal connection between internet use and lower mental well-being unwarranted.  Moreover, US statistics on crimes against children showed a significant decrease in physical and sexual abuse and neglect of children between 1990-2014, with sexual abuse (the crime most often associated in the public imagination with internet use) showing the biggest decrease.

All new forms of media, especially those used predominantly by young people, tend to disturb the equilibrium of older people.  Newspapers, radio, TV, video games and now social media all receive or have received negative attention and been blamed for a perceived decrease in moral values amongst the young. Socrates blamed writing for weakening memory, and allowing the pretence of understanding, rather than true understanding.

Online research

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Most of the studies you will want to read can be found online, but some will be behind what is called a ‘pay wall’.¬† This means that your school librarian should be able to help you with access, in that most school libraries will subscribe to at least one online data repository of resources.¬† However, that is no guarantee of availability, and you may have to do some online searching of your own.

The best place to start your search is Google Scholar, where you can type in key words, or the study title and authors, and a list of versions will come up.¬† If one of these is a ‘pdf’ then you are in luck.¬† If it is not, sometimes a site like Researchgate will have a pdf version for free. If they don’t, then they may have the abstract and, unlike other sites, if you join them (it’s free, and also spam-free) you can then request the full text direct from the author.¬† (This works for teachers, who can declare their interest in Psychology, but I am not sure if students would be able to join). I have put in 65 requests over the past few years, and received 12 texts, so while it’s not a sure method, it’s worth pursuing.

Finally, while most teachers will say steer clear of Wikipedia because of sometimes inaccurate information, the list of references at the end of the entry may prove very useful.¬† For example, it is well known that in 1986 researchers Yuille and Cutshall published research into eyewitness testimony of a crime that can act as a useful critique for Loftus and Palmer.¬† However, it is behind a pay wall, though may be requested through Researchgate.¬† But, if you go to Wikipedia and find Canadian psychologist John C. Yuille, scroll down and look at the references, you will find some that can be tracked and are freely available – such as this one on the effect of alcohol on eyewitness memory.¬† All of the hyperlinked articles at the bottom of Yuille’s Wikipedia page come up in PsycNET first, where they must be paid for, but by taking the article title and typing it into Google Scholar, or even into your usual search engine, the pdf can often be found.

This does take time, but once you have these items, you have them forever, which is a useful thought for teachers, or for students hoping to take their study of Psychology further. And if you don’t want all of your online searching to be tracked by Google, try using DuckDuckGo as a search engine.¬† Happy hunting!

Exam tips – for the days themselves.

First tip is – don’t panic. Once the exams are upon you, then make sure you know the¬†Panicdates and times (timetable on fridge, on bedroom wall, in school bag, on phone, etc.) Once you have sat an exam, no matter how badly – or how well – you feel it’s gone, it is gone.¬† Forget it and move on mentally, and physically, to some revision for the next exam, or move on to eat lunch if the your next exam is in an hour or two. And avoid any panicking friends if possible!

Be prepared, with several pens and pencils and any other necessary equipment.¬† Make sure your phone is not even in the room – leave it in your locker, or at home. (Radical thought, I know!)¬† Have a bottle of water, and make sure you have visited the loo and have eaten something.¬† Otherwise your rumbling stomach will be all anyone is thinking about! If you have allergies/a cold make sure you have tested any medication beforehand to ensure it doesn’t make you either twitchy or sleepy, and have plenty of tissues.¬† Tell the invigilator, who may be able to move you away from any open windows, or to the back corner of the room so you don’t feel you’re disturbing others.¬† Don’t forget your glasses if you wear them.

On non-exam days, revise for the next exams, but give yourself an hour extra in bed first.¬† It will feel like a reward and lighten your mood.¬† Don’t let yourself dwell on anything.¬† Revision by now should be going over your weak points,¬†handwriting test answers, book closed, and going over them either alone or with other ‘study buddies.’

If you don’t have to wear school uniform, dress in comfortable layers. Exams that start early in the morning in a cool room can make you feel like you’re in a sauna several hours later.

Bad handwriting needs space so the examiner can read it – write on every second line.¬† Everybody should leave a couple of lines or more between paragraphs and start each answer on a new page.¬† This gets rid of the need to write vertically in the margin if you think of something that you want to put into your essay.¬† Exams are marked on screen nowadays, and these inserts run the risk of not being read if they can’t be seen easily.

Plan your time carefully, answering questions you know first, and those you will find harder last.  Leave at least ten minutes for looking over your answers.

Never leave an exam early.¬† Ask if you need to use the bathroom, and then come back and stay for the whole of the exam.¬† If you have finished very early, then you have done something wrong, and need to check your work again.¬† If you have missed out answering one question, because you don’t know the answer, then go back and try it; even one or two marks are better than zero.¬† There is usually something you can add, so use the time allotted to you.

Finally, try and ignore the other people in the room, whether they look confident and are writing away like crazy, or look as if they are about to burst into tears.¬† Try and think a ‘little bubble’ around yourself as you focus on answering the questions.

Good Luck!

 

Later School Start Times Help Students

asleep-3126444_640It has long been suspected, and now research is supplying the evidence: delaying school start times results in students getting more sleep, and feeling better.  The most recent study in Singapore investigated the impact of a 45-min delay in school start time on sleep and well-being of adolescents.  They shifted the start of the school day from 7.30am (which though early is not uncommon in Asian countries) to 8.15am, without making the day end later.  After one month, researchers interviewed students and found that bedtimes on school nights were delayed by nine minutes while the times students got up were delayed by about 32 minutes, resulting in an increased time in bed of 23 minutes.  This may not seem like much, but the percentage of students getting at least 8 hours of sleep in the school week rose from 6.9% to 16%, and all reported more alertness and feelings of well-being.

These findings support studies from the USA and UK.¬† However, it has proved difficult to change practices, even in face of this evidence, and calls in 2015 by Paul Kelley¬†of the Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute at the University of Oxford, to delay the start of school and college in the UK for the benefit of students largely went unheard or unheeded.¬† Teenagers don’t get to make educational policy!