May 04, 2013

Move over, Pop Ev Psych, you may have a new bedfellow

The "replication" phenomena in social psychology, and first cousin behavioral psychology, depending on your phrase of choice, is getting to be bigger and bigger. The latest problem, or casualty? Research claiming to have demonstrated the priming effect.

Nearly as big a problem? The way supporters claim there's no problem. Or maybe a bigger one?
Bargh, Dijksterhuis and their supporters argue that social-priming results are hard to replicate because the slightest change in conditions can affect the outcome. “There are moderators that we are unaware of,” says Dijksterhuis.
Geez, this sounds just like psi phenomena researchers!

More evidence that's bollocks?
Hal Pashler, a cognitive psychologist at the University of California, San Diego — a long-time critic of social priming — notes that the effects reported in the original papers were huge. “If effects were that strong, it is unlikely they would abruptly disappear with subtle changes in procedure,” he says.
Bingo.

Then, there's more special pleading:
Dijksterhuis says that “focusing on a single phenomenon is not that helpful and won’t solve the problem”. He adds that social psychology needs to get more rigorous, but that the rigour should be applied to future, not historical, experiments. The social-priming debate will rumble on, he says, because “there is an ideology out there that doesn’t want to believe that our behaviour can be cued by the environment”.
You don't venture much closer to at least junk science, if not pseudoscience, with a Red Queen comment like that.

Now, the Nature story says there's no suspicion of fraud at this time. But, this did come from the Netherlands, and Nature mentions the name of known Dutch research fraudster Diederik Stapel.

I, like Daniel Kahnemann, would like (in part) to believe that priming is real. It fits with some ideas I have about subconscious or semiconscious subselves. But, my thoughts on subselves aren't dependent on ideas of priming. And, the whole idea of "pliability" behind priming may be more iffy in general than some would wish.

Per Kahneman's phrase, "fast thinking" is possible without any such pliability in general or priming in particular.

And, since both behavioral and social psychology are partial spinoffs and developments from good old fashioned B.F. Skinner behavioralism, there's other reasons to be skeptical, eh?

Even worse, they and ev psych are arguing the same issues from other ends of the stick. And they're both apparently making inflated claims, tho ev psych, especially in its pop version, still appears worse, and has started most of these tempests.

That said -
A: Two wrongs don't make a right;
B: This shows just how little we know, yet, about human mental development.

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