March 11, 2012

Ed Yong's response and a few comments

Ed Yong's initial coverage* of Doyen's** and Bargh's*** study was, in my opinion, quite brutal. I have been taught through my undergraduate to criticise constructively and I do not think the initial post has the depth to do so. For example, a close look at Doyen's study indicates that one of the few last alternatives at explaining participant's slower walking speed was experimenter expectation (and a very well conducted piece of research to demonstrate it). The difference in the walk-fast/expect-fast condition was explained by the difference between manual and automatic measuring, not so in the walk-slow/expect-slow condition. I wrote this in my previous blog entry too, but with a different emphasis. This finding means that an environmental stimuli (experimenter expectation manifested in subtle behaviour) was internalised by the participants and subsequently affected observable behaviour (walking slower). This entails that the Doyen study, in fact, supports the original proposition of the Perception-Behaviour Link. This mitigates my criticism of Bargh's work, since, the theory from which he based his 1996 experiment was conceptually replicated in the Doyen study. The PBL is not mentioned in Ed Yong's initial coverage.

In Ed Yong's reply**** to Bargh, he mentions Doyen to "[have] timed volunteers with infrared censors rather than a stopwatch" But they timed both with sensors and manually. This was one of the central reasons that they came to the conclusion that experimenter expectation was the only alternative left to explain their result.

It does strike me from having reviewed large parts of the literature surrounding priming that the published articles are all conceptual replications. The studies following Bargh et al. (1996) have differences in methodology to that study. The issue that has been raised in comments to Bargh's reply to Ed Yong is that "purer" replications that have not given the same results are subject to the file-drawer phenomenon. I.e. publishers have not accepted them and so they've been put in the file-drawer. The issue with this statement is obviously that it is very hard to know (for an outsider like myself) if publishers have denied these studies because they show null-results (not very exciting and from comments it seems there are other rather valid reasons for them not to publish these) or if they contain errors of various types (making them unpublishable).

In either case, I believe I argue in my literature review, strongly, for the theory underlying priming (the Perception-Behaviour Link) but at the same time believe that researchers are getting ahead of themselves and testing advanced hypotheses, when really what this theory needs is the grunt-work of establishing even its simplest tenets. Be that an actual replication of the methodology in Bargh et al. (1996), even though I believe there exist other research more suitable to exemplify the Perception-Behaviour Link.

I should have chosen another topic to do my 30-page literature review on.

*http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/notrocketscience/2012/01/18/primed-by-expectations-%e2%80%93-why-a-classic-psychology-experiment-isn%e2%80%99t-what-it-seemed/
**http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0029081
***http://www.yale.edu/acmelab/articles/bargh_chen_burrows_1996.pdf
****http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/notrocketscience/2012/03/10/failed-replication-bargh-psychology-study-doyen/

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