Sunday, November 22, 2015

Topics in Psychology

Test tomorrow?  No problem.

Hypothetically speaking, if I had the ability to write an extra-credit paper in psychology to nudge my grade a little higher, I would strongly consider writing it about any of these topics.

Prospect theory:  People feel the pain of a lose about three times more acutely than they feel the joy of a gain of similar magnitude.  One explanation is that a loss involves a proven, tangible fact while a gain (as yet unrealized) is only a promise.

One area open to research involves the question of time:  How long does it take for a "gain" feel real?  The gambler in a casino talks about "playing with 'house money'" and seeks riskier bets.  How long does it take for "house money" to become "my money"?  A competing theory is that money does not become "real" until the player makes a deliberate decision to convert the asset from one species to another, less volatile raking the money off of the table and putting it in his wallet.

Self Handicapping:  Deliberate sabotage of future performance to salvage self esteem.

One area open to research involves surveying elite performers (athletes, first responders, etc.) and comparing the results to "average" people.  Another division involves the male/female split: Do different ratios of M/F engage in Self Handicapping in these two group?

Heurisitics:  Select any two heuristics from this article and show how they sometimes work together synergistically (Note: most professors like the word synergy.  Use it at least twice in your paper)

Example:  Combine the heuristics Anchoring and Adjustment with Misconception of chance (with extra points if you work in Insensitivity to sample size) and use the BCS process, Michigan State and Ohio State football as illustrations.  Rating football teams is entertaining but delusional.

"Expert" judgement:   This is a good topic for anybody who is interested in clinical diagnostics.  Experience increases an "expert's" confidence much more quickly than it increases his expertise.  More experience also causes the expert's self-awareness to drift away from his actual thought processes.  Experts tend to justify their confidence by listing the numbers of variables they consider (typically between 10 and 20) and they claim to combine them in configural, as opposed to linear, ways.
The most confident are not always the best.

If mathematically inclined, calculate the number of samples required to run a three replicate, full factorial ANOVA with full interactions for 10, 15, and 20 "variables" to test the likelihood that the exert has enough data to support the configural claim.  Hint: 3*2^(n-1), or 1536 observations, 49,152 observations or 1,572,864 observations respectively.  Quite a bit of information to hold in one's head.

Most increases in clinical diagnostic ability come from actually seeing what ambiguous adjectives really mean.  "Beefy red":  Beef comes in all shades of red.  "Glassy eyes": All eyes are glassy...refers to lack of mobility.  and so on.

Risk assessment:  People engage in risk normalization.  Risk that is "normalized" is baselined into the background.  Only new/novel risk is visible to the decision maker.

Research opportunity:  Survey students on a list of "risky" activities (i.e., drinking and driving, unprotected sex, smoking cigarettes, shop lifting) and elicit their opinions A.) Did they engaged in that activity more than once and B.) Was it easier to engage in that activity a second time C.) How much easier/more likely?  Keep track by risky activity and gender.


  1. All good ones, and people PAY for those papers... :-)

  2. All good ones, and people PAY for those papers... :-)

  3. Very interesting thoughts ERJ. One of my favorite papers is on estimating ranges by Capen, back in the 1960s. He found that so-called experts tend to set ranges too narrow to model the true ranges of uncertainty because of overconfidence, while novices are not burdened by that issue.