Homework for my TA,Thandi. 22/2/2012
February 22, 2012, 12:24 am
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Faking it!
February 17, 2012, 12:15 am
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A key principle of psychology research that makes it a science is that it is based on fact and is not a fictional piece of work.

Dr. Diederik Staple was a respected psychology scientist at Tilburg University in the Netherlands, specialising in social psychology. He held the position of Dean of social and behavioural sciences at the university. His research area, studied interactions between self-image and the perceptions people hold of stimuli in the world surrounding them. He was recently expelled from his university because it was revealed by an enquiry committee that over more than ten years he had manipulated and fabricated data in his studies, putting into doubt at least 30 published papers. Dr. Staple voluntarily returned his title to the university following the interim report and his own admission of committing fraud and deception in his research work.

Staple betrayed colleagues who researched and published papers with him as well as the doctoral students he guided towards their degrees.  He destroyed his own career and adversely affected the life and work of many others around him.  He jeopardised the work of others who cited his papers in their own work, planned experiments on his findings, or relied on these findings to develop theory and support their own arguments.

Staple, a very intelligent academic with good understanding of data and high ability of numerical skills was able to simulate datasets, so they seemed as though they were genuinely collected.  Staple manipulated and fabricated data he collected in order to adapt it to the hypotheses he wanted to support.  Reportedly, Staple almost always refused to submit raw data to the inspection of colleagues and graduate students.

There has been much criticism in psychological research of the practice of keeping data in near secrecy and there has been demand from researchers to share data with other researchers in the field, allowing them to analyse the data and come to their own conclusions.   But this is a very competitive field with the race to publish papers, and the reluctance to submit or share datasets that may help others publish a paper that contradicts their original work.

This blog highlights several issues.  The importance of data in research; a research report tells a factual story, and the data collected is the factual information of a study.  The need for honesty and integrity; the results need to be genuine data, or a report is just a piece of fictional work.  To ensure these issues are addressed, access and analysis of data should be available to all members of a research group, ensuring more than one person actually analyses the data.

Dr Staple received subsidies and funding for his fraudulent projects, and no doubt he was personally paid a huge salary.  He not only disgraced himself, ruined his career, damaged the reputations and careers of others, he tainted the image of the field of psychology and psychological research.  Research is a huge undertaking, with a responsibility to carry it out honestly.


Why do we bother to conduct research and statistical analyses?
February 5, 2012, 7:19 pm
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Why do we bother to conduct research and statistical analyses? Behaviour just happens anyway, without knowing the what for’s or the why for’s.

Experimenters use inferential statistics to determine whether the results of an experiment are meaningful, and to draw inferences about a population based upon measures taken from a representative sample of that population.

Statistical tests in psychological research, test the probability of obtaining a given set of results.  They produce a statement of the probability that an observation represents a true causal relationship and not a chance occurrence. Statistical significance or a statistically significant result is unlikely to have occurred by chance, but is the result of an intervention, of the effect of the independent variable upon the dependent variable indicating a real relationship most likely exists.

Statistical significance testing tells you the probability of a particular result occurring.  Psychology often uses a significance level of p < .05. This means that the probability of an event or effect occurring by chance is less than 5%. There is less than 5 chances in 100 that the results are due to chance.  Some research, for example medical interventions such as drug trials, requires a more stringent significance level of p < .01.  This means the probability of an event occurring by chance is less than 1 %, therefore there is less than 1 chance in 100 that the results are due to chance.

Example of study with p < .05.


Example of study with p < .01.


Human beings have a natural curiosity into understanding the reasons we behave how we do, but research and statistical analyses is not just for the satisfaction of human curiosity. Many decisions in areas like psychotherapy, business and social policy etc (the list is endless) depend on, or are influenced by psychological research and the consequential results. Therefore we want to be as sure as possible that our theories about the mind and behaviour are correct.  Psychology aims to describe, explain, predict and control behaviour and much can be gained from the knowledge we gather that can be of benefit.  For example the norms of behaviour (relevant to culture, time etc) need to be established before the extremes of behaviour can be identified.


Significance testing is not perfect.  You must look at other things too, such as the effect size, the power, the theoretical underpinnings. Combined, we are better able to interpret data and gain a fully picture of the story they tell.