It’s five years to the day that the first ever post was published on the BPS Research Digest blog. Although the Research Digest began as a fortnightly email newsletter in 2003, it wasn’t until February 2005 that the blog was born. The first post was on the topic of driver and car stereotypes and how these can influence people’s judgements about culpability in car crashes – more on that later. Since then, the Digest has covered more than 700 peer-reviewed psychology studies (nearly 1000 if you count from 2003!).
My aim has been to trawl the world’s journals, including lesser known titles, looking for the most thought-provoking, intriguing, ground-breaking and fun studies from across the whole breadth of psychology. I’ve attempted to provide journalistic flair to the reporting of psychological science, hopefully marrying an engaging style with a depth of detail that you won’t find in the mainstream media.
Along the way the Digest blog has hosted some occasional special features, including bloggers on their favourite studies, guest contributions on the most important psychology experiment Never done, a series of posts for students, and most recently, some of the world’s leading psychologists on one nagging thing they don’t understand about themselves. As well as the regular study reports, I’ve also introduced the Special Issue Spotter, providing you with links to the latest journal special issues, and Extras – a round-up of links to eye-catching studies that I couldn’t cover in full.
This is a timely opportunity for me to thank the journals publishers who give me access to their articles; Dr Jon Sutton for his advice; other bloggers who link to and promote the Digest; everyone who has contributed to the guest features; and finally, thanks to you, the readers, who continue to visit these pages in ever increasing numbers. Please do tell your friends and colleagues about the Digest and maybe together we can raise the profile of psychological science still higher. Don’t forget that the Digest now has its own Facebook fan page and I also Tweet about psychology-related articles, public lectures, TV shows etc (these Tweets also get piped through to the Facebook page). Of course, we’ve got to pay the bills somehow … if you’d like to find out more about advertising here on the blog or in the Digest email, please do get in touch.
To mark the Digest blog’s fifth birthday, I contacted the author of the study that was the focus of the first ever Digest post – Prof Graham Davies at the University of Leicester. I asked him to look back at the research of his that I covered, and to reflect on his field more widely. Here’s what he had to say:
“Introductory texts tell you to start research by reading the literature and only then design your experiment… There is another way: look around you, see an interesting phenomenon and ask ‘Has anyone done research on this?’ Not so much bottom-up, as top-down thinking. This was the approach advocated by the great British psychologist, Sir Frederic Bartlett, and one which I followed in exploring car and driver stereotypes.
In my academic career, I had reached a mid-life crisis which only a BMW might resolve. On the test-run, we nosed out of a side road into traffic and an obliging driver let us out. The salesman commented that this would be the last time this would happen if I drove a BMW! Rather surprisingly perhaps, I went ahead, bought the car and began to wonder whether other cars might hold equally strong stereotypes. I had kept a perfunctory interest in stereotype research through the career of Neil Macrae, an old student from my Aberdeen days and was struck by his finding that stereotypes could have a positive function in making quick decisions, which form the essence of driving: ‘Will this young guy in the red Mini-Cooper stay in his lane or pull out in front of me?’
My initial study demonstrated that undergraduates could consistently rate the potential aggressiveness of different makes and models of car and this extended to car colours and drivers. To see if these stereotypes could influence judgements, I mocked up a vehicle insurance claim form supposedly filled in by two drivers involved in an accident who were driving contrastingly rated cars. I reasoned that in the absence of detailed information, stereotypes might colour readers’ judgements. Sure enough, there were powerful effects in a student sample and Darsharna Patel confirmed these findings with a more representative community sample.
The reaction to the published paper was initially disappointing. The stereotype people yawned and said ‘we know this’ and went back to their esoteric ways. Among the more applied researchers, only Dan Wright picked up the ignition keys and won three years of ESRC support for his research (damn!). I did some further studies on estimating the speed of contrasting stereotypical vehicles, also reported in the Digest. Cars are so central to modern living, yet research on their significance remains limited – a great opportunity for the next generation of researchers!”
I’m considering asking the authors of other studies covered by the Digest to look back and reflect on their research. Please let me know via comments if you think this would be a good idea. Here’s to the next five years!