Psychology experiments

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Psychology experiments
Age Range 8-11 (grades 3-5), 11-14 (grades 6-8), 14-18 (grades 9-12), 18+ (adult), 65+ (senior)
Group Size small (1-5), medium (6-20)
Setting indoors
Setup Time medium (6-30 min)
Duration medium (11-30 min)
Subjects psychology
Key terms selective attention, social pressure illusions, nerves
Materials computer with internet connection, 2 pens, paperclips or dowels
Presentation Style interactive, student led

Brief Description

Students will perform some basic psychology experiments including the stroop effect, social pressure, selective attention, 2 point discrimination and spotting fake smiles.

Scientific Background

Stroop Effect

  • In psychology, the Stroop effect is a demonstration of interference in the reaction time of a task. When the name of a color (e.g., "blue," "green," or "red") is printed in a color not denoted by the name (e.g., the word "red" printed in blue ink instead of red ink), naming the color of the word takes longer and is more prone to errors than when the color of the ink matches the name of the color. The effect is named after John Ridley Stroop who first published the effect in English in 1935. The effect had previously been published in Germany in 1929. The original paper has been one of the most cited papers in the history of experimental psychology, leading to more than 701 replications. The effect has been used to create a psychological test (Stroop test) that is widely used in clinical practice and investigation. The Speed of processing theory suggests there is a lag in the brain's ability to recognize the color of the word since the brain reads words faster than it recognizes colors. This is based on the idea that word processing is significantly faster than color processing.

Selective Attention

  • This is when you try to focus auditory or visual attention on one particular thing while filtering out a range of other visual or auditory stimuli. This is adaptive so that humans don't try to process every stimulus in their environment, but this often means that we miss a lot too.

Social Pressure

  • Want to see how people will change to fit in? In 1962, groundbreaking social psychologist Solomon Asch teamed up with the television show Candid Camera to demonstrate how quickly a basic social norm (how people stand in an elevator) could be reversed using group conformity. Just imagine all the behaviors and beliefs you could get tricked into following, via the power of social pressure. (The elevator experiment was still effective when replicated in the present day on the University of South Florida campus.) Among other findings, Asch also examined whether decreasing or increasing the majority size had an influence on participants' level of conformity. It was discovered that the smaller the size of the opposing group (confederates), the lower the level of conformity, and by simply increasing the opposing group to two or three persons, the level of conformity increased substantially. However, an opposing group beyond three persons (e.g., four, five, six, etc.) did not increase conformity.

2 Point Discrimination

  • What areas of our bodies are most sensitive to touch? Hands? Neck? We have more nerves in our fingers than we do on our neck. To find out, perform a 2-point discrimination exam on a friend. Bend a paper clip into the shape of a U with the tips about 2 cm apart. Make sure the tips of the U are even with each other. Lightly touch the two ends of the paper clip to the back of the hand of your subject. Your subject should not look at the area of skin that is being tested. Do not press too hard! Make sure both tips touch the skin at the same time. Ask your subject if he or she felt one or two pressure points. If your subject reported one point, spread the tips of the clip a bit further apart, then touch the back of the subject's hand again. If your subject reported 2 points, push the tips a bit closer together, and test again. Measure the distance at which the subject reports "I feel two points." These data (rounded) are from a 2-pt discrimination threshold experiment (published in The Skin Senses, edited by D. R. Kenshalo, Springfield, IL, 1968).
Site Threshold Distance
Fingers 2-3mm
Upper Lip 5mm
Cheek 6mm
Nose 7mm
Palm 10mm
Forehead 15mm
Foot 20mm
Belly 30mm
Forearm 35mm
Upper arm 39mm
Back 39mm
Shoulder 41mm
Thigh 42mm
Calf 45mm

Spot the Fake Smile

  • Most people are surprisingly bad at spotting fake smiles. One possible explanation for this is that it may be easier for people to get along if they don't always know what others are really feeling. Although fake smiles often look very similar to genuine smiles, they are actually slightly different, because they are brought about by different muscles, which are controlled by different parts of the brain. Fake smiles can be performed at will, because the brain signals that create them come from the conscious part of the brain and prompt the zygomaticus major muscles in the cheeks to contract. These are the muscles that pull the corners of the mouth outwards. Genuine smiles, on the other hand, are generated by the unconscious brain, so are automatic. When people feel pleasure, signals pass through the part of the brain that processes emotion. As well as making the mouth muscles move, the muscles that raise the cheeks – the orbicularis oculi and the pars orbitalis – also contract, making the eyes crease up, and the eyebrows dip slightly. Lines around the eyes do sometimes appear in intense fake smiles, and the cheeks may bunch up, making it look as if the eyes are contracting and the smile is genuine. But there are a few key signs that distinguish these smiles from real ones. For example, when a smile is genuine, the eye cover fold - the fleshy part of the eye between the eyebrow and the eyelid - moves downwards and the end of the eyebrows dip slightly. Scientists distinguish between genuine and fake smiles by using a coding system called the Facial Action Coding System (FACS), which was devised by Professor Paul Ekman of the University of California and Dr Wallace V. Friesen of the University of Kentucky.

This Is How You Play

Stroop Effect

  1. Show students color words that have been colored different from their spelling (e.g., the word "red" with the font color "orange.")
  2. Have students read the words. Afterwards, have them say the color of the words. Saying the color of the words should be much harder.

Selective Attention

  1. Show video, instructions are in the video. Your students most likely missed the man in the gorilla suit. Be sure to tell students not to give away the "answer."

Social Pressure

  1. Show the video, talk about if they have ever changed what they were doing because of social pressure.

Spot the Fake Smile

  1. Take the BBC Fake Smile test together. See how many fake smiles you can spot!

2 Point Discrimination

  1. Bend a paperclip (or two pens or dowels) into a U shape.
  2. Gently press the paperclip on the hand of a partner and ask if they felt 1 or 2 points. You can rotate between pressing both ends or one end of the paperclip or pen(s).
  3. Do the same thing on your partner's neck. Because they have less nerves in their neck, they should be less likely to guess whether you pressed one or two points on their neck.


See Also

  • Illusions - These are pictures of some classic illusions.

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