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Psychology 2810

Cozby and Rawn Chapters 1, 2, and 3 ▯ Our first goal is to understand the foundations of science as the tool we use to understand our world. What is often problematic for a consumer of information is distinguishing what is science and what is pseudo-science. Pseudo-science often wraps its nonsense in the language of science. Pseudo-science can also be notoriously “slippery”, often making those who question “facts” feel as though their questions are somehow demonstrating a lack of “faith” in either the theory or the person or persons putting forth the theory. Please watch Michael Shermer’s Bologna Detection Kit video which appears here on this page below. ▯ Also, check out a site called Quackwatch which is a great source for information concerning fraudulent health practices and has been online for nearly two decades as this source. I'd suggest checking out the topics under "General Observations", "Questionable Products, Services, and Theories", "QuestionableAdvertisements", and "Recommended Links". What makes us natural born scientists is an innate curiosity to question the world around us and a disposition to see relationships in the world around us. We are walking, talking, and categorizing machines (WTCM)! We categorize things we see, things we hear, things we know, things we touch, feel and smell all so that we can have a sense of the world as an organized whole. When the world around is organized then we can anticipate behaviours (snarling dogs often bite when approached) and we can know how to behave ourselves (we should comfort a loved one who is crying). However, these two innate behaviours (being curious and wanting to understand the cause/effect relationships in the world) sometimes lead us to false assumptions and false beliefs. For instance, we believe that thunder follows lightning because these things occur contiguously. This is a smart way to see relationships; they often occur one before the other, therefore one causes the other. A lot of the world works this way. But this is also how superstitious behaviors arise (always wearing the same shoes to an exam because you wore them to an exam right after you bought them and you aced that exam). One is a real scientific fact (what causes lightning causes thunder but because light travels faster than sound, one reaches you first and therefore one will always be followed by the other) and the other is not (there is no relationship between footwear and exam grades that can be demonstrated scientifically) but you believe both. How can this be? And if this can be, this rational and this irrational belief in the same thoughtful person, how can we protect ourselves and discover the truth? Science is the best tool we have to uncover what is fact and what is fiction. Scientific method, as it is applied to the science of human behavior, is what we will learn in this course. Even if you never become a psychologist, even if you never go into a field where science is used directly, you will come out of this course with an appreciation for the application of science and scientific research. You will become a wiser WTCM and you will be a better consumer of information, particularly statistical information (what does it mean, anyway, that 4 out of 5 dentists think you should chew sugarless gum?). One important thing to understand when we begin this course is that in everyday talk we often use words differently than they are actually intended (e.g., how many people use "literally" in every other sentence or "ironically" when they mean “coincidentally” or just “interestingly”). Some of these words make up the language of science such as "theory", "hypothesis", and "significance". For instance, a theory is a set of statements that define the behaviours, the parameters, and the conditions of a particular phenomenon. Theories are not "written in stone". Indeed, theories are written and described in order to be able to further test assertions made about the theory. These assertions are known as hypotheses. Hypothesis testing helps us establish positive evidence for theories but it also demonstrates when theories need adjustment. The theory is then amended to better describe the phenomenon. In everyday parlance, we often speak of theories as unchanging and even more often we use the terms hypothesis and theory as interchangeable though they certainly are not. As an example, one contentious debate, which is really a non-debate, is that between the theory of evolution and the belief in intelligent design. It isn't that huge a debate here in Canada but certainly in many areas of the United States it became a critical debate when some school boards pushed to have the intelligent design introduced into the classroom. Now, I have no interest in describing that debate here. I introduce it in order to briefly describe how intelligent design proponents have used the language of science. For instance, one statement proponents of intelligent design will make is that because evolution is a theory it can't "prove" anything. The reason they use this statement as a counter to the theory of evolution is because it is entirely true and sounds damning when it really isn't. That means that scientists have to save that, yes, it is true that evolution can't be proven. Then these same proponents will claim intelligent intelligence is also, therefore, a theory and deserves equal time in the classroom even though it can’t be proven. However, evolution as a theory has decades and decades of evidence that "support" the statements that make up the theory and has no evidence against it whereas intelligent design is not submitted to scientific methodology at all and if it were would fail to find evidence to support it. As we learn more and more of research methods and the statistical methods employed to test our hypotheses we will learn to use these terms more "intelligently". In brief, for the moment, let's make it clear that the number one reason the scientific method works is because it forces us to work hard to avoid subjectivity and bias. The most important bias it avoids is known as the confirmation bias. This is a basic human bias to confirm what we believe. An offhand example of this is that let's say I believe myself to be a Grade A teacher, an excellent teacher. What I do then, when someone asks me for evidence of this, is pull out all the emails I have from former students who have written to tell me how much they enjoyed my class, I go through my evaluations to pull out "quotes" that say things like "Prof Hussey is the best professor I've ever had at Western" and I fail to look for the comments that criticize my methods. Now, this wouldn't necessarily make me the world's greatest narcissist because we ALL do this. Think of any of the following questions and how you would respond to them: "What kind of friend are you?" "Why would anyone want to spend time with you?" "What can you contribute to society?". So, the first thing to note as you think about your responses is that we all have a very extra-positive belief of ourselves and our behaviours and part of our cognition that promotes this is our confirmation bias. You don’t jump to any potential negative answersThis applies to all aspects of our belief system. If you believe your favourite team is the best team you tend to remember the wins, not so much the losses and therefore your belief is confirmed by what you "know" about the team. There's a more in depth explanation of how science terms get used in the design argument at the site below: In a more critical example let's say that Dr. Poindexter has developed a drug, called Drug A that she believes will alleviate some of the devastating symptoms of Disease A. She administers the drug to 50 patients who have Disease A and after two weeks of treatment she finds that 25 of the patients found some amount of relief from symptoms. She therefore concludes that Drug A should be administered to all who have Disease A. This is potentially a case of confirmation bias because I'm sure we can all come up with numerous possible reasons why those 25 patients had some relief. For one, I can mention that these patients probably had alleviation due in part to what is called the placebo effect alone. We'll learn more about this in Chapter Nine of C&R but for now the placebo effect is alleviation of symptoms based solely on patient expectations. That is, because the patients are aware that they will be getting a drug that claims to alleviate symptoms they may themselves fall to confirmation bias and not notice symptoms as much as notice times when they’re not suffering from symptoms. Indeed, the placebo effect is so robust that we can improve the effect by administering a sugar pill but telling people it's a drug and they will feel improvement. We can administer twice the amount of sugar pill and find that there is more alleviation of symptoms. Furthermore we can administer the drug intravenously (that is, a sugar solution) and find even greater alleviation of symptoms still. And that's just one possible explanation for Dr. Poindexter's findings. There are others and you might have thought of them already. In order to avoid confirmation bias we test a hypothesis known as the null hypothesis. So, for instance, in the example above, what would be tested is that Dr. Poindexter would be testing the hypothesis that Drug A does NOT alleviate anymore symptoms of Disease A than would a sugar pill. She would then take many precautions (that again, we'll discuss in more detail in later chapters) such as ensuring that she had two groups of patients with Disease A; one group who are administered Drug A and one group who are administered a sugar pill. No patient is made aware of which group they are in and even more stringently, those administering the drug and sugar pill also don't know which one they are administering. Then, if there are a greater number of participants in the drug group alleviated of symptoms than in the placebo group, and if that difference is great enough (determined by statistics) then Dr. Poindexter can say that the null hypothesis is wrong and her alternative hypothesis has su
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