Approaching Science

Psychology 2A and 2B lectures from Tim Bates

  1. Observation
  2. (old) Qualitative
  3. Experimental
  4. Computational Models

Questions from the class


  1. In some papers I've read, there is a focus on the fact that often we create our own reality through the way we experience our environments.
    • That sounds tautological to me: Our experience IS our reality. I'd say it's might perhaps be stated with more completeness and clarity as "Our representation of reality is created by systems in our mind, interpreting current and past inputs, along with our own mental constructs, attitudes, and beliefs"
  2. I was wondering if, because we can perceive and encode experiences differently depending on our personality, genetics, etc., whether social observations can still be considered facts? An example would be, say, I was at a party and interacting with someone who, from the my perspective, seems to be very rude and judgmental, but was actually being sarcastic.
    • If you told someone your perception, that would be a fact, but your conclusion that the person is judgmental (later updated to sarcastic) was never an observation, but more like a theory about what you observed, or a prediction from a theory you have (like "if people talk loudly, they're rude". And, as such, it could be wrong. But the objective, able-to-be-agreed-upon-by-all-observers fact won't have changed. Something like that might be "She spoke louder than the person they were speaking too" or, "She used phrases which met our objective criteria for being sarcastic. It would be quite a task to do this objectively.
  3. Or is it that most social psychological observation has to be quantified more in order to avoid these errors?
    • I would say yes. Quantification is essential in science, exactly to avoid reasoning about theories (e.g. your theory that that Jane is rude), as if they were facts. Another way to think about that is to consider qualitative psychology as recording people's theories about the world "Jane is rude, just like all of her family", and then not treating those as ordered or categorical data to be accounted for, but as explanations that (unlike scientific theories) are not required to be mutually coherent.
    • nb: We should expect ratings such as "rude" and "judgmental" to be noisy. And therefore, we should expect to mistakenly categorize behavior like this quite often. Hopefully in a future lecture, we get to talk about how aggregating information was one of the key breakthroughs in science, and how latent variable modeling allows us to gain access to the true signal within the noise. This is called a "measurement model". So… observing the person a dozen times, or ask a dozen friends to rate them, on objective criteria… Also, "judgmental", is really a theory about the behavior you observed: Might be better to code things closer to behavior like "Made a strong negative statement about a person they are friends with" and code how often that happens, and see if items like that define a consistent factor of being excessively critical. Then one might label this "judgmental". And see if relates to big stable individual differences like Agreeableness or low conscientiousness.


  1. Do most researchers persist in their theory even when it fails to replicate? It's a mixture
    • It's a mixture. Some just say "we look wrong now" (often if they fail to replicate their own easier work (e.g. Michael Inzlicht and willpower). Even the lead author on power-posing has repudiated it (powerposing repudiation). Others say "The theory might still be true, but we need to do more of this kind of work to know (e.g. Daniel Kahneman and the area of priming). Others hold on to the theory as if their career and reputation depended on it being true, and even write popular books, moving the debate away from science into TED talks and public relations.