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Eye on Psi Chi: Spring 2020

Psychology in the Headlines

Shawn R. Charlton, PhD
University of Central Arkansas

https://doi.org/10.24839/2164-9812.Eye24.3.6


In This Edition


Keeping New Year's Resolutions

Welcome to 2020! Depending on how you choose to calendar (https://psichi.com/NewDecade), 2020 is more than the start of a new year, it is also the beginning of a new decade, which is an idea that I find extremely stress inducing. My anxiety centers around two questions: (a) If we develop resolutions to accompany the new year, should we also be developing decade-spanning resolutions at the onset of a new decade? and (b) If yes, should our disappointment be 10 times greater when we hit February and the realities of the present have already disrupted our resolutions for both the year and the decade? As I pondered these questions, I found useful direction in a 2019 article in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being.

Bettina Höchli, Adrian Brügger, and Claude Messner (2019) from the University of Bern, Switerzerland, found greater success maintaining New Year’s resolutions when participants included both superordinate (abstract, “get better grades”) and subordinate (concrete, “meet with a study group 3 times weekly”) goals. The authors summarized their findings as:

  • While preliminary, our results show that after 3 months, people invested more effort in pursuit of their goals if they focused on both superordinate and subordinate goals when compared to focusing solely on a superordinate goal, and that combining these goals may be a helpful strategy to effectively pursue long-term goals.

Whether we plan for this year or the entire decade, we are best served to keep in mind both the big picture of our goals and the specific “baby step” goals that keep us moving forward. We can also keep in mind the goal-setting advice offered by the APA’s Psychology Help Center (https://apa.org/helpcenter/resolution):

  • Start small
  • Change one behavior at a time
  • Talk about it
  • Don’t beat yourself up
  • Ask for support

Is the Replication Crisis the Top Psychology Event of the Decade?

In addition to thoughts of goal-setting and planning, the end of the year—and decade—encourages reflection on the major events of the past year. With the end of the 2010s, these reflections focus on the major events that best characterize the past decade. (For example, according to the American Dialect Society, the word of the 2010s decade is the singular pronoun they; https://psichi.com/SingularThey). What would the major event of the decade be for psychology? Personally, I believe it is very likely that the 2010s for psychology will be defined more by its major crisis than advances in our science or technology. The replication crisis in both psychology and the social sciences overall represents an awakening as we become more self-aware of the technical and cultural challenges involved in studying human behavior. Fortunately, the past decade brought both awareness and the beginnings of solutions. For example:

  • Dalmeet Singh Chawla (2019) with NPR.org reported on the Psychological Science Accelerator (https://psysciacc.org/). According to Chawla, the first research report from the Accelerator is available on PsyArXiv preprints and is under review for publication. The project includes more than 10,000 participants from 41 countries. The Accelerator aims both to address specific research questions and to create studies that are globally representative and systematically replicated. As Chawla writes, “The accelerator's founder, Christopher Chartier, a psychologist at Ashland University in Ohio, modeled the project in part on physics experiments, which often have large international teams to help answer the big questions.”

The Psychological Science Accelerator exemplifies how psychological researchers are addressing replication and generalizability in our science. Along with the Accelerator, Psi Chi is also a leader in this movement. Psi Chi’s NICE (Network for International Collaborative Exchange) offers several ways (CROWD and CONNECT) to assist researchers with creating collaborative networks for their research (https://www.psichi.org/Res_Opps). Another example of Psi Chi’s engagement with better scientific practices is the open science badges awarded to Psi Chi Journal articles that incorporate better transparency and availability of data and processes (https://www.psichi.org/journal_Badges). Please check out these resources to see how Psi Chi is meeting its mission of “Recognizing and promoting excellence in the science and application of psychology” through encouraging best research practices.


Revisiting the Classic Milgram Studies in a Surprising New Way

Although psychology is becoming more self-aware in our science practices by producing more accurate understanding of human behavior, a more open view of our science also brings painful moments, such as an updated understanding of one of the most discussed and cited studies in psychology, Milgram’s obedience studies. Here are the “shocking” (I couldn’t help myself) findings reported in a recent article published in Social Psychology Quarterly:

  • Gina Perry, Augustine Brannigan, Richard A. Wanner, and Henderikus Stam (2019) explored how individual characteristics influenced the obedience of participants in Milgram’s studies. Participants who believed the deception rebelled against the authority figure earlier than participants who were not deceived. The expanded analysis was based on an unpublished study by Taketa Murata, a research assistant working with Milgram. In summarizing their findings, Perry and colleagues wrote, “This is part of a shift away from the historical assumption that subject behavior was primarily about ‘obedience’ and introduces neglected notions of empathy and altruism as influences on subject behavior.”

Perry and colleagues work will force a change in how Milgram’s findings are covered in psychology textbooks and classrooms. This work also provides a higher resolution understanding of Milgram’s experimental procedures and how participants responded in these studies.


Groundbreaking Social Priming Study Fails to Hold Up

A Nature news feature published December 11, 2019, further highlighted the importance of replications of psychological research. In exploring the state of research on priming, the influence of small environmental prompts on judgment and decision-making, Tom Chivers (2019) of Nature wrote that a replication report published in June in the journal Basic and Applied Social Psychology failed to replicate findings from a 2006 work in social (behavioral) priming.

This failure to replicate agrees with a 2019 meta-analysis in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General that failed to support the large effect sizes often reported in published studies of priming. Researchers are responding to these negative replications and meta-analyses with revised theories and more transparent research practices. Chivers concludes:

  • The move towards open, reproducible science, according to most psychologists, has been a huge success. Social priming as a field might survive, but if it does not, then at least its high-profile problems have been crucial in forcing psychology to clean up its act.

In addition to discussing the shifting nature of the priming research, the Nature news story also highlights the work of pioneers such as Brian Nosek, cofounder of the Center for Open Science (https://cos.io), and his Many Labs project (https://psichi.com/ManyLabsOverview). Many Labs, the Psychological Science Accelerator, and Psi Chi’s NICE projects are all examples of psychology’s response to and growth from the replication crisis.


U.S. Secret Service Report Explores the Characteristics of 41 School Shooters

While the changing state of psychological science is a major historical shift in our field, there were several other important and newsworthy events from the field of psychology over the past several months. One of these features a report released by the U.S. Secret Service authored by Dr. Lina Alathari, a cognitive neuropsychologist (George Washington University) and chief of the U.S. Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center (NTAC). As described by WFLA (2019) in Tampa, Fl:

  • The 35-page report explored characteristics and background of the shooters involved in 41 school shootings in the United States between 2008 and 2017. A selection of the primary findings from the report include: (a) there is no common profile of either attackers or targeted schools; (b) attackers typically show multiple motives, including past grievances with classmates or school officials; (c) guns used in the attacks are most commonly acquired at home; (d) most attackers showed evidence of behavioral, psychological, or neurological/developmental symptoms; and (e) attackers experienced social stressors involving peers or romantic partners, bullying, and negative home life events. (The full report can be read at https://psichi.com/USSSanalysis)

Instagram Seeks to Create a Less Competitive Online Environment

And our final news story of this column provides additional details on changes made by Facebook to hide the number of “likes” seen on Instagram (https://psichi.com/InstagramLikes). As reported by Bradley Cannon from the Psi Chi Central Office:

  • This change, announced November 21, 2019, is one of many possible steps that social media platforms could take in order to create a less competitive experience online. Although controversial, especially among social media influencers, empirical research has suggested that creating a less competitive environment could lead to better wellness (Berger, 2018). Notably, published experimental data by Hunt, Marx, Lipson, and Young (2018) established a causal connection between use on Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram, and increased fear of missing out, loneliness, and depression. Hunt suggested that the reason for feeling depressed likely has to do with comparison; when viewing highlights of others’ lives, you may be more likely to think that their lives are better than your own.

As suggested by the work of Berger and Hunt and colleagues, psychological scientists will continue to influence the functioning of social media platforms such as Instagram. Also, as our science continues to adopt open science practices and greater research transparency, the overall impact of our science will grow. This growth will come with its share of pains, such as re-evaluating Milgram’s work and the changing nature of priming research, but will result in better, more representative projects such as the Psychology Science Accelerator. Overall, the 2020s are shaping up to be both fascinating and exciting for our field.


Submit to This Series

Do you know about a major contemporary event related to one of the many areas of psychology?

Share it with us for potential publication in this series! Recurring Contributors are also wanted. Visit www.psichi.org/page/PsychologyInTheHeadlines


References

Berger, M. W. (2018, November 9). Social media use increases depression and loneliness. PennToday. Retrieved from https://penntoday.upenn.edu/news/social-media-use-increases-depression-and-loneliness

Chawla, D. S. (2019, December 13). Can a research accelerator solve the psychology replication crisis? Retrieved December 18, 2019, from https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2019/12/13/787567309/can-a-research-accelerator-solve-the-psychology-replication-crisis

Chivers, T. (2019). What's next for psychology's embattled field of social priming. Nature, 576(7786), 200. https://10.0.4.14/d41586-019-03755-2

Höchli, B., Brügger, A., & Messner, C. (2019). Making New Year's resolutions that stick: Exploring how superordinate and subordinate goals motivate goal pursuit. Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being. https://doi.org/10.1111/aphw.12172

Hunt, M. G., Marx, R., Lipson, C., & Young, J. (2018). No more FOMO: Limiting social media decreases loneliness and depression. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 37, 751–768. https://doi.org/10.1521/jscp.2018.37.10.751

Perry, G., Brannigan, A., Wanner, R. A., & Stam, H. (2019). Credibility and incredulity in Milgram’s obedience experiments: A reanalysis of an unpublished test. Social Psychology Quarterly. https://doi.org/10.1177%2F0190272519861952

WFLA Tampa. (2019, November 14). Secret Service releases findings on school violence after studying attacks, attackers. Retrieved from https://www.wfla.com/news/local-news/secret-service-releases-analysis-on-school-violence/

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