March 9, 2012

Bargh, Doyen and conclusions thereof.

I have just witnessed an interesting phenomenon.

I am concurrently to writing this blog-post, writing a literature review on priming and the Perception-Behaviour Link*. Another paper whom closely replicated the findings of Bargh et al. (1996)*, Doyen et al. (2012)**, were unable to replicate findings as well as provide an interesting demonstration of experimenter expectation. It is however presumptious to assume that the original literature* then also is explained by this bias. The reason is given in a reply by Bargh*** to the Doyen study, basically stating that the experiment was run as a blind study and so experimenter expectation can be safely ruled out. While Bargh's reply unfortunately contains personal attacks and evidence towards being technologically unwilling, he is defended by others in that his experiment _has_ been replicated successfully and that one study cannot refute several made on the same topic. The studies given (by others than Bargh -he did not give any studies as support in his criticism) as support for this claim are these; Elderly prime effect on simulated driving speed, Gay male prime effect on hostility, elderly or youth prime effect on walking time and accessibility as precursor to goal-fulfilment and high vs. low self-conscious difference in being primed by an elderly stereotype on walking speed (xps 2 & 3). I have reviewed one of these in my literature review and it is at best a conceptual replication with several issues in methodology and statistical interpretation (specifics available on request).

In my book, it is not enough to conceptually replicate, since one is then stuck with reviewing another piece of research with its own flaws and fallacies. Granted, Doyen comes close to replicating but did differ on the point of blind experimenters (it was one of the manipulations in Doyen). The assumption was that Bargh's work was non-blind (something I came to the conclusion of as well, although I've read the paper a gazillion times). This was not the case, and hence, it is also a conceptual replication. What _is_ interesting with the Doyen study is that it still supports the PBL, albeit unintentionally. The most important statistic presented is the believe-slow-walking speed comparison between automatic and manual measurement. Believe-fast-walking's significant difference was removed when considering both automatic and manual, not so for believe-slow. A last alternative for this significant difference is then experimenter expectation. The thing is though, experimenter expectation is also an environmental stimuli that is unconsciously internalised and evidently had an effect on observable behaviour! Well, this is what the Preception-Behaviour Link strictly posits.

Again, it is a bit of a shame that many of the arguments Bargh uses in his criticism of the Doyen study are arbitrary, unsupported and, on occasion, false in light of other research (even some from the area of priming)****. It does however not reflect on his prior research. In conclusion, Doyen does not specifically cut Bargh's research down, but rather, introduces another concept able to be accounted for within the Perception-Behaviour Link's framework.

On a second note, if you have unpublished research on the replication of Bargh et al.'s 1996 study, I would very much like to read it. I believe it is of central importance to be open-minded to one's own fallacies and others' criticism (even if I very much like the Perception-Behaviour Link theory), the only way is forward and it is only obstructed when self-preserving opinions and values are set before empirical research.

*Bargh, J.A., Chen, M., & Burrows, L. (1996). Automaticity of social behaviour: Direct effects of trait construct and stereotype activation on action. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 72, 230-244.
**Doyen, S., Klein, O., Pichon, C., & Cleeremans, A. (2012). Behavioural priming: It's all in the mind, but whose mind? doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0029081
***Bargh, J.A. (2012, March 5). The natural unconscious: Nothing in their heads. [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-natural-unconscious/201203/nothing-in-their-heads.´
****See comment section of Bargh's blog post, specifically the one referring to Assimilation and Contrasting (which is found in Dijksterhuis, A., Spears, R., Postmes, T., Stapel, D.A., van Knippenberg, A., & Scheepers, D. (1998). Seeing one thing and doing another: Contrast effects in automatic behaviour. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75, 862-871.)

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