Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Walking backwards boosts creativity

The established routines and habits of everyday life can stifle our ability to think creatively. That's according to a new study that's based on the "embodied cognition" idea that performing bodily movements in a conventional manner encourages the mind to follow suit, and vice versa. The researchers say that by breaking out of physical conformity – such as by walking backwards instead of forwards – we can foster a more creative mindset.

The study began by asking 30 students to spend the morning as they normally would, but with one exception – wherever they went, they had to always walk backwards. A control group of 30 students spent a normal morning walking forwards. At lunch time, all the students were tested on two standard tests of creativity: thinking up novel uses for a brick and drawing pictures of aliens.

Five of the students from the walking backwards group were unable to participate in the lunch-time tests due to minor injury or getting lost, including one man who tripped over his cat in the morning, and a woman who walked into a water feature in the university grounds. However, the remaining walking backwards students outperformed the controls on the creativity tasks, coming up with more original uses for bricks and more outlandish aliens.

To gain real-life support for their ideas, in a follow-up experiment the researchers collaborated with a tech start-up company in London. On one floor of the company offices, all staff were instructed to spend a week walking backwards. In light of the student accidents, lead researcher Eve Errs commissioned the production of a special helmet for these staff to wear, providing head protection, but also featuring rear-view mirrors to help the wearer see obstacles behind them, and a beeping noise that sounds during backward locomotion.

At the week's end, based on line manager ratings, the work of the backward walking staff was more creative than the work of staff on the other floors. On the negative side, ratings show the backward walking staff had achieved far less. Observational data suggested this was due to the increased time taken for movement around the building, frequent drink spillages, and several instances of uncontrollable laughing fits among the staff.

In the final strand of the research, Errs and her colleagues analysed the creative output of pop star Michael Jackson before and after he started performing his famous backwards Moonwalk. "Jackson's oeuvre provides a rare historical record of an artist's creativity both before and after the onset of increased time walking backwards," the researchers explained. "On tour, he would [moon]walk backwards several times a night, each night, and that's not to mention all the time he would have spent walking backwards in rehearsals." The researchers claim their analysis showed that Jackson's lyrics and musical style showed increased variation and divergent creativity in the 10 years after he first Moonwalked as compared with the 10 years prior.

Errs and her team conclude that the three studies provide converging evidence for the creative benefits of walking backwards. In an email to the Digest, Errs told us this is just the tip of the iceberg and that she is now expanding her research programme into a full "backwards living" movement. "Take any mundane activity, do it in reverse," she said, "and you encourage your mind to think differently, to shake off the constraints of habit and conformity. Have dinner at breakfast, or have a shower before you exercise, the possibilities are endless." She says she is already working with film studios to produce movie releases that can be viewed backwards, and she hopes her backwards walking helmet will be available commercially very soon.

_________________________________ ResearchBlogging.org

Errs, E., Wards, B., & Walk, M. (2015). Thinking in new directions through reverse locomotion. Journal of Creative Studies, 23 (3), 427-436

--further reading--
Mild intoxication aids creative problem solving
Is group brainstorming more effective if you do it standing up?

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

How time pressure improves decision making in emergencies

A new simulation of a complex, realistic disaster event suggests that time pressure facilitates better decision-making among emergency responders. The two-day training exercise, overseen by Liverpool’s Centre for Critical and Major Incident Psychology, looked at the impact of a hypothetical aeroplane crash over a city. Nearly two hundred professionals were split into different rooms based on the agency they belonged to (14 agencies in all, including police, transport, health and science advisors), and each received realistic data according to their function.

As casualty data trickled into the Ambulance Room, did this give a clue to the cause of the crash? Could terrorism be ruled out? Would the hospital suffer outages, given damage to a power station? These were some of the considerations the teams had to contend with.

The researchers focused on six critical issues identified by a panel of experts as being key, and as emblematic of the wider challenge of the exercise as a whole: effective cross-agency collaboration.

Results showed that when issues needed responses from more than two agencies, successful action was actually more likely when there was a sense of time pressure. When this was missing, communication efforts were squandered as workers gathered more and more information from within their agency, as opposed to coordinating decisions and actions with other agencies.

Why did time pressure improve emergency responders’ decision making and communication? It has to do with the way that human beings avoid tough choices when we can – anticipated regret is a powerful deterrent. But imperfect decisions can actually be better than none: once initiated they can be monitored, evaluated and altered, whereas inaction begets inaction. In addition, a deferred decision may continue to eat up mental resources, making other decisions more difficult.

Evidence from this new field of “naturalistic decision making” suggests that time pressure leads experts into accurate intuitive “pattern-matching”. The "natural state" of expert decision-making involves leaps between decision stages rather than examination of every possibility, and time pressure encourages these leaps (or pattern matches).

One of the crisis issues – the handover of disaster management from emergency services to the local authority – had no clear deadlines attached. But in this case, the strategy unit had set the handover as a clear overarching goal, which led to more effective communication on this issue, including less in-agency discussion (less back-covering and abstract debate, perhaps), and more time engaging with other agencies. Even though the handover was required in the later recovery phase, the group were already planning and building contingencies during the initial response phase.

The message for organisations, then, is that human beings are tempted to delay when it’s most vital to act, thanks to anticipated regret. This is "The Psychology of Doing Nothing".  Clearly articulated strategic goals are one way to stave this off. When it comes to time boundaries, the authors consider these "difficult to influence." But artificial deadlines, or making unstated ones more explicit, may be useful ways to keep the urgency in the emergency services.

_________________________________ ResearchBlogging.org

Alison, L., Power, N., van den Heuvel, C., Humann, M., Palasinksi, M., & Crego, J. (2015). Decision inertia: Deciding between least worst outcomes in emergency responses to disasters Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology DOI: 10.1111/joop.12108

Post written by Alex Fradera (@alexfradera) for the BPS Research Digest.

Monday, 30 March 2015

Could you tell the difference between a person's memory and their imagination?

If I gave you a written description of an object – let's say a boat – would you be able to judge whether the author had written about the boat from their memory of it, as opposed to having written about a boat they'd imagined?

It's a question with real-world importance because, in court, we often rely on eyewitness memories and it's up to a jury to determine their source and veracity. But memory, like the imagination, is a creative process. Sometimes the two even become blurred – it's quite common for people to lose faith in an apparent memory, to wonder if they had in fact imagined it. Deliberate deception aside, how well can we judge the source of another person's recall?

Arlo Clark-foos and his colleagues recruited 20 volunteers to either look at pictures of various objects  or to imagine those objects after being prompted by the words denoting them. Examples include boat, microwave, and chair. These volunteers were told they'd later have to recall as much about the imagined or viewed objects as possible. After a five minute distraction period during which they answered maths questions, the volunteers were asked to write about the objects, both those they'd looked at, and those they'd imagined.

The transcripts were cleaned up to remove any overt clues as to the source of the descriptions – such as phrases like "I imagined ...". Then the transcripts were shown to thirty participants recruited from a  university, whose task was to read each one and decide if the description was based on the author's memory for the object, or on their having imagined the object. The participants were told that there had been no deliberate deception in the written accounts.

To the researchers' surprise, the participants were able to make this distinction with modest accuracy. Specifically, descriptions of seen objects were correctly identified as such 63 per cent of the time, descriptions of imagined objects 57 per cent of the time. Although only modestly accurate, this is significantly more accurate than you'd expect had the participants simply been guessing.

The researchers said this result was all the more remarkable because when they'd carefully analysed the accounts of seen and imagined objects looking for qualitative differences along 40 dimensions, they found very few – descriptions of seen objects contained more references to the season of the year (perhaps because the pictures gave relevant clues) and more author doubts about memory accuracy; by contrast, in the descriptions of imagined objects, there tended to be more references to sounds and locations (perhaps because this information was missing from the pictures).

In further experiments, the researchers established that people could be trained to be even more accurate at this task by giving them multiple examples of object descriptions written from memory and descriptions written from the imagination, with each labelled as such. Feedback also boosted performance during blind testing – that is, telling participants whether each memory/imagination judgment they made was accurate or not.

"Although the current results are curious," the researchers said, "they only begin to explain how participants made their judgments. Future experimental work investigating the characteristics and decision processes that aid in resolving the source of others' memories will increase the applicability of these findings."
_________________________________

  ResearchBlogging.org
Clark-Foos, A., Brewer, G., & Marsh, R. (2015). Judging the reality of others' memories Memory, 23 (3), 427-436 DOI: 10.1080/09658211.2014.893364

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Link Feast

Our pick of this week's 10 best psychology and neuroscience links:

The Exciting Side of Boredom
Ella Rhodes at The Psychologist meets psychologists who think boredom has had a bad press.

How are Pilots Psychologically Screened?
Tom de Castella investigates for BBC News Magazine.

What Spending a Year in Space Does to Your Mind
"It's stressful, but transcendental too," says Francie Diep at Pacific Standard.

Brain Balance Centers: An Insider’s Perspective
Worrying revelations about a programme in the US that promises to rebalance kids' brain hemispheres (Neurobollocks Blog).

Lifelines
For an artist with amnesia, the world takes place through her pencil (profile by Daniel Zalewski in the New Yorker).

Does Student Motivation Even Matter?
Engagement isn't necessarily a recipe for academic gains, suggests a new report on global education (The Atlantic).

How Do You Make Other People Feel?
Melissa Dahl reports on a fascinating study that suggests a key unexplored aspect of personality is how we make others feel (NY Mag Science of Us).

Rethinking The Brain
The Human Brain Project's aim to simulate the entire human brain is unrealistic – one of the conclusions of a damning report (coverage from Nature).

Disremembered
"Dementia undermines all of our philosophical assumptions about the coherence of the self," writes Charles Leadbeater at Aeon. "But that might be a good thing."

Why Some People Have Trouble Telling Left From Right (and Why It’s So Important)
"A significant proportion of our population has difficulty in telling right from left," says Gerard Gormley, including, worryingly, medical students (The Conversation).
_________________________________
   
Post compiled by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

Friday, 27 March 2015

Why it's important that employers let staff personalise their workspaces

The sparring mitt, yellow stitches spelling "SLUGGER" casually lying on the desk. The Mathlete trophy on a high shelf. A Ganesha statue, slightly chipped. Why do people bring these kinds of personal objects into the workplace?

Researchers Kris Byron and Gregory Laurence found answers by consulting 28 people in a range of jobs and workplaces. They used the "grounded theory" approach, starting with a clutch of more open-ended interviews and then pursuing the lines of inquiry that emerged, in every case inventorying the person’s workspace and exploring the significance of each object.

The conventional understanding is that personal objects are territorial markers used to communicate who we are to co-workers. And indeed many interviewees emphasised this function, a "unique fingerprint" that expresses difference. This might be an indicator of character –  I’m a happy-go-lucky person – but participants also used objects to emphasise their organisational roles. A framed MBA certificate reminds others that this cubicle bunny is made of management material, thank you, whereas doodles show that the person is part of the creative class. An event planner explained that the thank-you notes pinned to their board were to reassure others of her reliability – a core requirement in her role.

As well as showing differences, personalisation can also affirm shared identity. Star Wars memorabilia across multiple desks shows that "a lot of us have, you know, that techie background". Similarly, some items were inside jokes, with meaning only apparent to those sharing in its history. And although personalisation could emphasise status – think of that MBA certificate – some managers attempted to de-emphasise status differences by presenting everyday objects that made themselves more approachable.

Interviewees raised another reason for personalisation: to build relationships. These items were seen as icebreakers or ways to find "common ground", whether through the contents of a bookshelf, or a photo denoting parenthood. Byron and Laurence photographed every desk-setup from the perspective of an outside visitor, and found that 75 per cent of such conversation-starters were positioned to be clearly visible from that view. Many participants felt that these personalisation functions were vital and companies prevent them at their peril: "They want to have such strong relationships with customers but they’re taking away the personal elements that I think can lend towards building those types of relationships with clients."

In contrast, a certain proportion of personalisation objects – about a third in all – were positioned to only be visible to the owner themselves. These exemplify a final function of personalisation – not to communicate to others, but to remind ourselves of our identity.

This could be an aspirational symbol – the poster put up by a designer that showed "the kind of design I eventually want to do", or the gift from an inspiring role model. Or it might be a way to put work into a larger context, so on the tough days, "you can look at your picture [of children] and realize this is only a job."

Many objects had multiple functions – communicating difference, starting conversations, and reminding oneself of identity. Byron and Laurence conclude that "organizations would be unwise to put excessive limits on employees’ personalization of their workspaces," as an innocuous paperweight may turn out to carry a lot inside.

_________________________________ ResearchBlogging.org

Byron, K., & Laurence, G. (2015). Diplomas, Photos, and Tchotchkes as Symbolic Self-Representations: Understanding Employees' Individual Use of Symbols Academy of Management Journal, 58 (1), 298-323 DOI: 10.5465/amj.2012.0932

--further reading--
The supposed benefits of open-plan offices do not outweigh the costs

Post written by Alex Fradera (@alexfradera) for the BPS Research Digest.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

10 hellish psychology studies you'll be glad not to have participated in

Many psychology studies involve nothing more challenging for participants than sitting down with a short paper questionnaire and ticking off agreement or not with a series of anodyne statements. This post is not about that kind of research. Here, we take a tour of some rather more arduous and quirky experiments from the psychology archives. Participants in these studies were prodded, embarrassed, disgusted, scared, teased, bored and more (though not at once). It was all in the name of science, to better understand the darker, less pleasant aspects of being human. We salute the men and women who volunteered their minds and bodies to take part. Their pain is our gain. It's important to note that in line with international ethical protocols, any psychology studies from the modern era would have required participant informed consent, with careful debriefing upon study completion (for further information, see the British Psychological Society's own Code of Human Research Ethics). Now, let's get this Digest tour underway:

1. "Smell These Dirty Nappies" (purpose: studying disgust)
In this research from the noughties, 13 brave mothers smelt successive pairs of buckets, one containing a soiled nappy produced by their own infant, the other containing the soiled nappy belonging to someone else's baby. Even when the origin of the nappies was concealed from the mothers, they rated the smell of their own baby's nappy as less disgusting. The researchers said this result provides an example of how our disgust reactions can be tempered. This makes evolutionary sense, they explained – in the case of mothers and babies, excess disgust could impede the ability to care for offspring. Also, we often share microbial flora with relatives, making their bodily products less of a hygiene threat. Whether the mothers' reduced disgust for their own babies excrement was due to habituation, or to some airborne signal of relatedness, remains unknown. [2006: My baby doesn't smell as bad as yours: The plasticity of disgust].

2. "Lie in Bed in a Cell Doing Nothing For Days" (purpose: studying sensory deprivation)
At McGill University in Canada in the 1950s, male college students were paid $20 a day to don translucent goggles, wear cotton gloves and to lie on a bed in a tiny room, air conditioning humming in the background. They stayed for as many days as they could bear, with breaks for meals and toilet visits. The idea wasn't to test complete sensory deprivation but to see "how human beings would react in situations in which nothing at all was happening". The students soon became irritated and paranoid, their mental function impaired, and they experienced increasingly disturbing hallucinations, including seeing squirrels marching with bags over their shoulders, and having the feeling of being hit by pellets from a miniature rocket ship. "Prolonged exposure to a monotonous environment has definitely deleterious effects," one of the researchers concluded in his write-up. [1957: The Pathology of Boredom; pdf].

3. "Imitate a 5-Year-Old Having a Temper Tantrum" (purpose: studying embarrassment)
When we're embarrassed we're more willing to answer other people's calls for help. That was the finding from this 70s classic, which involved student participants arriving at the psychology lab only to be told they had to perform a series of four ridiculous tasks while another student watched them from behind a one-way mirror: "turn on a tape recorder and dance to the record; laugh for 30 sec as if they had just heard a funny joke; sing the Star Spangled Banner; and imitate a 5-year-old having a temper tantrum because he does not want to go to kindergarten." Students who performed these embarrassing stunts subsequently showed enhanced willingness to help other people when asked (e.g. help them with a class project), as compared with controls who'd performed non-embarrassing tasks. The researchers concluded that complying with requests for help generates positive feelings that offset the awkwardness of embarrassment. [1975: Effects of embarrassment on behaviour towards others].

4. "Lie in a brain scanner with a live snake" (purpose: studying the brain circuits associated with fear)
Participants with a fear of snakes were invited to lie in brain scanner and to press a button to transport a 1.5M long corn snake into the scanner with them, near their heads. Crucially, the participants had control over the snake's position, allowing the researchers to monitor brain activity associated with overcoming or succumbing to fear. A part of the frontal cortex buried under the corpus callosum (the sgACC) emerged as a key area involved when participants chose to overcome their fear. When people reported high fear but chose to bring the snake closer, sgACC activity increased, while physiological markers of fear dropped, and activity in emotion processing regions, such as the amygdala, was reduced. The fact that bodily signs of fear were reduced during moments of courage, even while subjective fear was high, raises a concern with studies that use physiological measures (such as sweatiness of the skin) as a marker for fear. [2010: Fear Thou Not: Activity of Frontal and Temporal Circuits in Moments of Real-Life Courage].

5. "Think about what will happen as you die" (purpose: studying existential threat)
In this study from 2007, researchers wanted to test the idea that we have an inbuilt psychological defence mechanism that protects us from the potentially paralysing fear of death. To do this, they prompted students to contemplate their own death via two instructions: "Briefly describe the thoughts and feelings that the thought of your own death arouses in you" and "Please describe in as much detail what you think will happen as you die and once you are physically dead." After this, the students completed word stems, like "jo_". Compared with a control group who thought about a painful dentist visit, the students who'd thought about their own death were more likely to complete the stems to create positive words such as "joy". "Death is a psychologically threatening fact, but when people contemplate it, apparently the automatic system begins to search for happy thoughts," the researchers said. [2007: From terror to joy. Automatic tuning to positive affective information following mortality salience].

6. "Lie in a brain scanner while your partner brings you to orgasm" (purpose: investigating the function of the pituitary gland)
Eleven participating women and eleven men each lay in a PET brain scanner for this study, while their partners stimulated their (the participants') genitals until they reached orgasm. Shy people need not apply! The idea was to see if it were possible to monitor pituitary gland activity, which previous brain scanning studies had failed to achieve. The pituitary controls hormone release, and this study found that female orgasm increased pituitary blood flow (thought to be a marker of increased activation) whereas fake orgasm or stimulation without orgasm did not. By contrast, male orgasm was not correlated with increased pituitary activity. The researchers explained this difference is likely due to the fact that female orgasm is associated with increased release of the hormones oxytocin and prolactin (controlled by the pituitary), whereas male orgasm is not, or far less so. [2013: Female orgasm but not male ejaculation activates the pituitary. A PET-neuro-imaging study].

7.  "Look at these photos of delicious food while you're hungry" (purpose: to investigate attention to food)
After fasting for 17 hours, female participants (half of whom were obese or overweight) were asked to visit a psychology lab and assessed via eye tracking and EEG (brain wave recording) while they looked at pictures of foods such as doughnuts and and chocolate. For comparison, other women performed the same task after being given a milkshake to satisfy their hunger. The study revealed a number of differences between the obese and normal weight women, among them the fact that the hungry obese women's brain waves showed evidence of reduced attention to food. The researchers surmised this might reflect their attempt to inhibit their interest in food, perhaps driven by a fear of eating too much once food was available again. Possibly consistent with this, the hungry obese women (compared to hungry normal weight women) ate significantly more food during the next part of the study, which they were told was a taste test of snack food. [2010: Differences in attention to food and food intake between overweight/obese and normal-weight females under conditions of hunger and satiety].

8. "Solve these frustrating anagrams while I wind you up" (purpose: studying the effects of provocation on subsequent aggression)
Imagine trying to solve some tricky anagrams, while an experimenter keeps telling you that you're not uttering the answers loudly enough. In a final rebuke the researcher says: "Look, this is the third time I have had to say this! Can't you freshman follow directions." Oh, and all the while the "storm passage" from Beethoven's 6th symphony is playing the background. This was the scenario encountered by half the participants in a study published in 2000. The researcher wanted to find out what effect this initial provocation would have on so-called "displaced" aggression towards a third party. After student participants endured the annoying anagram situation, they received feedback on their performance from another student (and in turn they rated him). When his feedback was neutral, provoked students actually showed reduced aggression towards him compared with unprovoked controls. However, provocation followed by unfair feedback produced a toxic combination – in this case the provoked students lashed out, giving their partner participant particularly harsh ratings and feedback, including saying they wouldn't hire him for a job opening. [2000: The moderating effect of trivial triggering provocation on displaced aggression].

9. "Complete this psychology test with an uncomfortably full bladder" (purpose: to test the idea that inhibitory signals generalise)
In one experiment from this IgNobel-winning research, half the participants were first put into a state of having a full bladder. They were told they were taking part in a water taste test and as part of this they drank 5 cups of water (approx 700ml), then waited 45 minutes, then answered a series of questions about whether they'd choose smaller financial rewards now, or larger rewards later. Participants put into a state of urination urgency showed greater restraint in their choices, as compared with control participants who'd only sipped at the cups of water. The researchers said this shows how inhibitory signals involved in bladder control "spill over" (their words) into other domains, "resulting in increased impulse control"). [2011: Inhibitory Spillover Increased Urination Urgency Facilitates Impulse Control in Unrelated Domains].


10. "Swallow this balloon so we can inflate it inside you" (purpose: studying pain)
If you agree to take part in pain research, full credit to you – this is an incredibly important field that ultimately strives to understand and help reduce people's suffering. Often such research involves relatively mild heat stimuli, ice buckets or mild electrical shocks. This study from 2009 is a little different because it was about visceral pain – to this end, participants were asked to swallow (or insert nasally) a special deflated balloon, which was then repeatedly inflated once it was in their oesophagus. The level of every inflation was determined by each participant's pain threshold. Among their findings, the researchers (led by Peter Paine; seriously) uncovered an apparent effect of personality – in participants who scored more highly in neuroticism, repeating the visceral pain stimulus led to increases in parasympathetic nervous system activity, as identified through heart-rate variability, whereas repetitions of the pain in those lower in neuroticism led to reduced parasympathetic activity. One possible explanation is that increased parasympathetic nervous system activity corresponds to a ‘freeze’ response in the participants higher in neuroticism. [2009: Exploring relationships for visceral and somatic pain with autonomic control and personality].

--
Which studies did we miss? Please add any suggestions to the comments and maybe we'll publish a sequel. We're also planning a tour of lovely psychology studies you'll wish you had taken part in – again, all suggestions welcome. 
_________________________________

--Further reading--
The 10 most controversial psychology studies ever conducted, plus many more theme posts from our archive.
   
Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Textbook coverage of this classic social psychology study has become increasingly biased

One of the pairs of cards used in Asch's
1950s research. Image from Wikipedia
Like Zimbardo's prison study and Milgram's so-called "obedience experiments", the research that Solomon Asch conducted at Swarthmore College in the 1950s has acquired an almost mythical quality, being distorted and exaggerated in frequent retellings over time. Asch's studies arguably showed the power of people's independence in the face of an apparently misguided majority, and yet paradoxically they've come to be known widely as the "conformity experiments".

This biased characterisation is found on Wikipedia and even on Google auto-complete. Worse still, an analysis of textbook coverage of Asch's work from the 50s to the 80s found that, here too, coverage of the findings was highly tendentious.

Now Richard Griggs, emeritus professor at the University of Florida, has assessed some of the most popular contemporary introductory psychology texts and his finding is that coverage of Asch's seminal work has grown increasingly biased and misleading, not less.

First a recap of Asch's research. Lone participants were embedded in groups of what they thought were other participants, but were in fact actors working for Asch. The apparently simple task was to say, on each trial, which of three comparison lines matched a reference line for length. On most trials, the participant heard the other group members unanimously choose the wrong line, and the key test was whether the participant would go along with the blatantly wrong consensus, or stay true to their own judgments.

The results arguably provide a powerful demonstration of people's confidence in their own perception and their willingness to defy majority opinion. The majority of participants’ responses (63.2 per cent vs. 36.8 per cent) went against the erroneous majority. Stated differently, 25 per cent of the sample consistently defied majority opinion, compared with just 5 per cent of participants who were always swayed by the crowd. In 1952, Asch himself wrote: "... the facts that were being judged were, under the circumstances, the most decisive."

But that's not the account you'll find in most popular introductory psychology textbooks, at least in the US. Griggs' new assessment of 20 such books published or re-issued in the last few years finds the conformity narrative dominates stronger than ever – just one book reported the larger percentage of participant responses that defied majority opinion, compared with 14 of them that reported the smaller percentage of responses that were swayed by the crowd.

Moreover, sixteen of the books mentioned the proportion of participants (75 per cent) who were influenced by majority opinion at least once, yet none of the books mentioned the far larger proportion of participants (95 per cent) who "rebelled" at least once. Only three books included mention of studies that have criticised the popular conformity interpretation. And just one book mentioned the interview data that Asch published, which reinforces the independence perspective (many participants said that although they had agreed with the group on occasions out of awkwardness, they were certain all along that the group were wrong).

Comparing the results from this new contemporary analysis with the analysis of textbook coverage from the 50s to the 80s, shows an increasingly biased portrayal of the Asch studies. The mischaracterisation of Asch's work as demonstrative of people's readiness to conform has not waned, it has become more entrenched. This disappointing picture was repeated and reinforced when Griggs conducted a follow-up analysis focused on modern social psychology texts (to match the social psych focus of the earlier textbook analysis).

Griggs calls the state of affairs "truly baffling" and he appeals to textbook authors to modify their coverage to "add some discussion of Asch’s findings on independence". Why do modern textbooks get this so wrong? In fact the situation with Asch is part of a wider bias in social psychology towards narratives of obedience and conformity, to the neglect of discussion and investigation of dissent. For example, historically, the resistance to tyranny shown by many participants in Zimbardo's prison study has been largely been ignored, and so too has the disobedience shown by many participants in Milgram's seminal work. It is surely time for more psychology textbook authors to show a little independence of their own, and to cease regurgitating the popular but inaccurate trope of men and women as obedient, conformist minions.

_________________________________ ResearchBlogging.org

Griggs, R. (2015). The Disappearance of Independence in Textbook Coverage of Asch's Social Pressure Experiments Teaching of Psychology, 42 (2), 137-142 DOI: 10.1177/0098628315569939

--further reading--
Asch's "conformity study" without the confederates
What the textbooks don't tell you – one of psychology's most famous experiments was seriously flawed
Foundations of sand? The lure of academic myths and their place in classic psychology


Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

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