Thursday, October 24, 2013

A Russian, a Frenchman, and a Cognitive Psychologist Walk into a Convenience Store...

Let me tell you about psychological research.

For the past several weeks we in Prof. Hawi's research course (PSYC 221: Research in Social Psychology) have been engaged in coding data collected from an experiment on intergroup relations. What's coding you ask? How shall I say this? It takes... a certain type of person to find the enjoyable aspects of coding. (So far, I'm not too sure what they are, but I have faith that they exist.) Coding is basically organizing data into categories. For example, if you asked 100 people what their favorite colors were, you might get 70 who say blue, 10 who say red, 10 who say yellow, and 10 who say green. For your purposes, you might be concerned with whether there's a relationship between the warmth of a person's favorite color and... predisposition to neurosis. Or something. So you'd group them into categories of warm (red, yellow) and cool (blue, green). That was a terrible example; let me try again. Let's try a more qualitative approach.

Say you ask people how they feel about an experiment in which they've just participated. Depending on their responses, you could put them into different categories. One person might say "I really enjoyed it," and be placed in one category, and another could say they hated it and be placed in another.

Coding is one of the areas in which Psychology can readily be compared to hard sciences. I mean, we use numbers, physicists use numbers. Same thing, right?

Depending on the study one's conducting, anything can be coded -- from how well participants performed the tasks asked of them to whether the researcher was suspicious that the participants knew the true nature of the experiment.

From these values one can determine if the experiment is proving unreasonable in terms of what's asked of participants, whether certain data should be considered abnormal, etc.

There're a lot of steps on the road to writing (much less publishing) research. You've got to plan a study, get it approved by an IRB (internal review board), actually conduct it (making sure to get enough participants to yield enough data), code the data, analyze it, and make inferences about the results. Hopefully your study is reasonable or, as psychologists would say, valid. As in, did some of your participants have wildly different experiences while participating in the study? Did you control for all the variables you could? Of course not, that's why you have to write about it in the Discussion section of your write-up.
This ties in with my Cognitive Psych class (PSYC 120), as well, for which I've had to write two lab reports so far. They're fairly simple, short pieces which use data collected from the class. As with learning how to write any type of paper, especially those of the academic variety, it's all about the practice. Hopefully one will write a fair number of lab reports during one's tenure, and will learn this necessary skill through repetition alone. Actually, no; that won't happen. If you repeatedly make gross errors on your papers and never learn from your mistakes, you won't get very far in that department. Hopefully you'll realize that it's necessary to change your behavior, or go somewhere more suited to your abilities. Ostensibly we're all here to learn. Learn what? Learn how to make friends, mostly. How to get along with others. How to live. But also how to write lab reports.
Two or three times recently I've told people that if I had to do it over again, I'd be a political science and a philosophy major. Truth is, I wouldn't do anything differently, I just want to clone myself and do more. The thing is, everything at this school is pretty accessible if one applies oneself. I'm not saying life in general is easy but, once you're in the door of opportunity, people expect you to be there, and they have little reason to throw you out unless they don't like you.
French (FR 137: Studies in French Culture) has been either ridiculous or extremely reasonable; I can't tell. I have reading and at least one assignment due for every class. Last week I had a paper and a presentation due on the same day. Crafty like the fox I am, I was able to combine the topics and talk about the effects of WWII on France. Again. It's a topic that doesn't really go out of style in French class -- France during The War. Or maybe it's just that I always try to shape papers to fit my areas of interest. For example, with my other class, Modern Drama (TA 153).

Prompt excerpt: "In 4-5 pages do an in-depth analysis of [a play we haven't read in class] using the critical 'lenses' we have discussed in class." We vaguely touched on existentialism a couple of times. Which I took to mean I could write an entire essay on the subject as it relates to Chekhov's Ivanov. Can I help it if I identify with grace-fallen 19th century Russians and their coming to terms with their universal power and identities? Because I do, and I can't. I also re-watched the movie Clerks this weekend, and was sorely tempted to do a comparative analysis between Ivanov and Dante, the lead in Clerks. And myself, obviously. I didn't, but it took every ounce of will I had.
It's said that you should write what you know. I know a little about existentialism, I know less about theatre, less about cognitive psychology, and far less about French. But you should always keep writing.

Here's a good one: Malin comme un renard: Crafty like a fox. Are foxes crafty? Maybe "sly" is better.
Anyway, I'll be going as the Invisible Man for Halloween, so you may or may not see me around on that day.

A bientôt.

1 comment:

  1. I think you should still compare Dante Hicks and Ivanov.