Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Five minutes with the authors of two recent influential studies in psychology

In this post we've asked the authors of two recent studies a number of questions about their influential work, including what inspired them in the first place. The studies are covered in detail in the new GCSE (an exam taken by 13-16 year-olds in parts of the UK) syllabus run by the OCR exam board in the UK. The researchers' answers provide a revealing insight into the creativity and meticulousness underlying the design of psychology experiments.

Terry, W.S. (2005). Serial position Effects in Recall of Television Commercials. Journal of General Psychology, 132, 151-63.

Scott Terry: "Although I am a fairly traditional experimental psychologist, I look for research that bridges the laboratory-applied divide. I found some surveys that asked people to recall commercials they had recently seen on television, but I realized that the internal validity of such designs was limited. I believe the strongest scientific conclusions require the combination of both realistic field research and controlled experiments. So I decided to use commercials as the stimulus materials, but otherwise follow the standard laboratory format for a free recall experiment: stimulus duration, retention interval, recall and recognition testing. (Okay, I also thought that a study of serial position in memory for commercials was a cute idea.)

The main challenge faced in these studies was in assembling the lists. We (student John Bello and I) videotaped commercials. Then, using two videotape recorders, we had to copy and paste from tape-to-tape to construct the lists. Multiple lists, multiple sequences, and multiple experiments. If we had waited a few years the Apple software for video files would make the process simpler.

The resulting publication seems to be of some general interest. Textbook writers want to know more, and university students use the idea for projects. However, it seems the memory psychologists note the research is atheoretical (not addressed to any particular theory of serial position). Advertising researchers say it is not realistic enough. So there is still no common ground between the two camps.

I continue to research everyday memory phenomena, such as the difficulty in learning names, and why people forget the locations of objects placed in special locations. As for commercials, I’ve seen enough for now."

Yuki, M. Maddux, W. W., and Masuda,T. (2007). Are the windows to the soul the same in the East and West? Cultural differences in using their eyes and mouth as cues to recognize emotions in Japan and in the United States. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 43, 303-311 . (link is to full-text pdf).

Masaki Yuki (Hokkaido University): "The inspiration for this study was my personal experience. Since my childhood, I have been amazed by how different American smiles were compared to my standard. Their facial expressions were much more intense, while opening their mouths widely, and raising the corners of their mouths up high. Later, when I communicated with my American colleagues by email, I realized that the happy ‘emoticons’ that they used, or :), was different from that of Japanese (^_^). And one day, it dawned on me that these faces actually looked exactly like typical American and Japanese smiles. It was the moment when I came up with the hypothesis that, if that is really the case, Americans and Japanese would look at different parts of the face when they try to infer others’ feelings: the mouth for Americans, the eyes for Japanese.

I started looking for scientific evidence which might support my impression based on these anecdotes. The range of studies that provide us with relevant ideas varies. First, cultural psychologists had pointed out that East Asians generally emphasized interpersonal harmony more than North Americans. Second, emotion researchers maintain that, East Asians are more likely than their Western counterparts to control/suppress their facial expression. Third, much neurophysiological evidence indicates that control of muscle around the mouth is easy, but it is hard to do it with the muscle around the eyes. Thus, if you try to interpret genuine emotion of others who are trying to suppress their facial expression, you had better look at their eyes. We attempted to synthesize these findings by examining cultural differences in interpretation of facial expressions.

To assess the independent effects of shapes of eyes and mouth on emotion perception, we used artificially morphed images in which the eyes and mouth were taken from different emoticons and facial expressions. However, we acknowledge that we could include images of full happy and sad faces (with both the eyes and mouth smiling or crying) in the experimental design, which may allow us to broaden our findings to images of natural facial expressions.

Our findings caught broad attention, both in academics and general public. The paper has been cited by psychological and neuroscientific articles, and the story has been mentioned by major newspapers and radio shows. It is really exciting for me to share the findings with people in a variety of fields.

Our team, Takahiko Masuda at University of Alberta, William W. Maddux at INSEAD, and myself, are now conducting a more sophisticated study so as to replicate the findings. I am hoping that this will provide us with much clearer evidence which further proves our hypothesis. Besides, I am also hoping that the other lines of research of mine, such as cross-cultural differences in group processes, and socio-ecological foundations of cross-cultural differences, will attract more attention, like this paper did :) "

Link to resources post for OCR A-level.

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