Come see PsySociety at its new home!

As many of you have likely realized by now…we’ve moved!

PsySociety has officially transitioned over to the new Scientific American MIND blog network. Launched just last month, the MIND network now features all of the brain- and psych-related blogs from the original Scientific American network, plus six brand new blogs — Scott Barry Kaufman at Beautiful Minds, Julie Hecht at Dog Spies, Stephen Macknik and Susana Martinez-Conde at Illusion Chasers, Adam Waytz and Jamil Zaki at The Moral Universe, Felicity Muth at Not Bad Science, and yours truly at the new PsySociety!

I hope you will update your RSS feeds and bookmarks so you can follow PsySociety at its new digs. In the meantime, I intend to use this site as a repository for links to posts at the new site (and anywhere else where my writing might appear), so people who would like to use the e-mail signup function on this page can still continue to do so!

Again, I do hope that you will continue to read, comment on, and enjoy PsySociety over at the new Scientific American MIND network:

See you there!

New APS replication initiative aims to open the file drawer, heralding a positive step for psychological science.

During the past couple of years, psychological science has been in the midst of a PR disaster. Academics have publicly announced that they failed to replicate some of the most classic findings in our field, bringing the original effects themselves — and often the integrity of the original researchers reporting them — into question. These pronouncements and subsequent push to estimate the true effect sizes of various findings led to the even more disturbing realization that it is far too difficult to publish these failed replications — or successful replications, for that matter — in the peer-reviewed, academic journals that serve as our bread and butter.

A new initiative, backed by the Association for Psychological Science and co-headed by Dr. Daniel Simons of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Dr. Alex Holcombe of the University of Sydney, is ripping the dirty laundry  that’s been airing in public for the past two years off of the clothesline and finally giving it the good, thorough cleaning that it has so desperately needed. This initiative aims to make rigorous replication a rewarding and beneficial aspect of a productive scientific career by establishing a special section dedicated to publishing replications in one of the top journals in our field, Perspectives on Psychological Science (one of the official journals of the Association for Psychological Science).

Psychologists have been calling for a widespread replication effort for years. However, there are several good reasons why this initiative is the first that truly has the gleaming possibility of revitalizing our field.

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Persuading the Unpersuadable: Pre-Session Post

I’m blogging today from ScienceOnline, the annual science bloggers’ conference in Raleigh, NC.

Today I will actually be co-moderating a session (streaming live at the ScienceOnlineLive website at 4:00 EST!) with HuffPost senior science correspondent Cara Santa Maria. Our session is titled “Persuading the Unpersuadable: Communicating Science to Deniers, Cynics, and Trolls.” I will be writing a longer post after the session with some more information about what is discussed, but I encourage everyone to follow along on Twitter using the ScienceOnline hashtag (#scio13) and the specific hashtag for our session (#TrollTalk).

Within the session, I will be mentioning some specific “Persuasion Tricks” (aka “Jedi Mind Tricks”) from the social psychology literature that can help us sneak our message into some skeptical minds. As Cara and I are really hoping to limit the amount of “lecturing” that we do and keep the focus on discussion/conversation, I will not be going into as much detail as I could during the session. Rather, I’m going to be directing folks to this page at the beginning of the session (hello, participants!) so this page can be used as a quick reference for what I will be talking about.

Here are the main points that I’d like to touch on:

1. The Sleeper Effect. If you hear a message coming from a source that you don’t trust, you’ll discount the message and you won’t take it seriously or believe it. However, if you don’t know what the source is when you first receive the message, and you only get the source information after, you will still think the message is bad when you receive it. But over time, the “message” will become dissociated from the “source,” and you will forget over time that the message came from the untrustworthy source. As a result, even if you reject the message at first, it will become more persuasive over time if you find out about the source after receiving the message. This can be used to your benefit if you know that you are dealing with a community that specifically distrusts scientists. As science communicators, we tend to think that attributing things to “science” or “researchers” makes them more credible, but this won’t be the case for science skeptics. If you opt instead to relay the information before citing the source, you might find the message sinking into this audience more over time.

See also:

Kumkale, G.T. & Albarracín, D. (2004). The Sleeper Effect in Persuasion: A Meta-Analytic Review. Psychological Bulletin, 130, pp. 143–172.

2. Fear Appeals (or, be careful about your attack strategy). Generally, scare tactics actually do work – so if you are trying to get an impassioned message across, emphasizing things like how severe a threat is and how susceptible people are to it can work really well. However, research on fear appeals suggests that there are two crucial things that you absolutely must keep in mind. (1) Make sure you include an efficacy message – don’t just scare people, tell them what they can do about it to help them cope. (2) Fear tends to backfire when the thing you are “scaring” people about is really personally relevant to them. If something is really personal to somebody (e.g. it’s a core moral value or a deeply personal topic for them), don’t try to scare your message into them. It will engage defensive reactions, and it will likely backfire, either having no effect or possibly leading people to go even further to the opposite extreme.

See also:

Witte, K. & Allen, M. (2000). A meta-analysis of fear appeals: Implications for effective public health campaigns. Health Education & Behavior, 27, 591–615.

3. The Foot-In-The-Door Effect. As any good salesman could tell you, if you’re trying to get someone to agree to something big, start small and gradually raise the stakes. Once you get someone to agree to a small, easy request, they’re more and more likely to continue agreeing to successively larger requests. If you know that you’re trying to convey a message that will be difficult to swallow, start small – don’t plop the big message right there in the lede. Start off with messages that you know any audience will support, and build from there. You’re more likely to “ease” your audience into agreeing with you.

See also:

Freedman, J.L. & Fraser, S.C. (1966). Compliance without pressure: The foot-in-the-door technique. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 4, 195-202.

4. Social Proof (or Informational Social Influence). As anyone who has been to high school can tell you, people are incredibly susceptible to the power of social norms. We often look to others as a metric for what we should do, both informationally (what is correct) and normatively (what is accepted/valued). In fact, descriptive norms (what people do) are often more influential than prescriptive norms (what people SHOULD do). With this in mind, you can use the power of descriptive norms (e.g. simply stating what people typically do) in order to subtly communicate the value of your point. For example, saying that “most people indicate that they believe in climate change” should make people more likely to believe that statement, without you having to overtly state that they *should* believe it. We may also get into possible implications that this has for the tone of an article’s comments section.

See also:

Cialdini, R.B. & Goldstein, N.J. (2004). Social influence: Compliance and conformity. Annual Review of Psychology, 55, 591-621.

I will be back with a more detailed post on each of these four points after the session, with descriptions of relevant studies and more details about what was discussed in our session. Stay tuned to #scio13 and #TrollTalk in the meantime!

Being a “doer” vs. a “thinker,” and where you’ll go for New Orleans beignets.

When I arrived in New Orleans on Thursday to attend the annual SPSP conference, everyone told me that I must immediately go to Cafe du Monde to eat beignets and drink cafe au lait.

Once I did get to Cafe du Monde, imagine my surprise to discover two things. First of all, it was not the easy “walk in, order beignets, enjoy” process that I was delusionally expecting. Secondly, I soon discovered that cafe au lait and beignets were, in fact, the only things that they had on the menu.

There’s no doubt that Cafe du Monde is renowned for their beignets. But let’s imagine for a second that there were a Starbucks right down the street, and this Starbucks had managed to create incredible beignets as well. If you were coming to New Orleans and wanted to enjoy a midday pastry with some friends, where should your group decide to go?

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Just because it’s “moral” doesn’t mean it’s “right.”


“I don’t always think about morality…but when I do, I think Dick Cheney.”

Thus opened Peter Ditto’s talk at the SPSP Political Psychology pre-conference, greeted with a laugh from a largely-left-leaning audience. Yet as Ditto continued speaking, it became clear what he meant. When it comes to social issues, Dick Cheney is right-leaning on almost every single one…except gay marriage. This exception is seemingly entirely due to his emotional connection with his daughter, a happily-married lesbian. Ditto asserts that this political anecdote exemplifies an important empirical point: Our political beliefs are often swayed by our emotions.

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Should you tell Facebook about your resolutions?

Now that you’ve set your difficult, specific, and attainable resolutions for 2013, should you tell people about your plans?

Before you update your Facebook status proclaiming your intention to lose 15 pounds, run a marathon, or publish 20 papers, you should think about your reasons for broadcasting your plans to the world. If you’re thinking about this public commitment the wrong way, you might be setting yourself up for disaster.

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Set SMART resolutions in 2013!

Many people around the world woke up this morning with a renewed determination to tackle a long list of resolutions. But as we head into 2013, it’s worth noting that some of these resolutions will be better than others. Psychological research on goals can clue us in to which resolutions will be more likely to end in success, and which will probably end up flopping before the snow even melts.

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