Archive for the ‘Year One Research Methods’ Category

As I said last week, everything I have been writing about has been interlinked. I wrote that all the concepts I have blogged about all link back to the concepts of metacognition, deep-level reasoning, and critical thinking. I would like to spend this blog strengthening the links between metacognition and happiness, as happiness seems to only be involved in one of the areas I have written about, which is that of creativity.

The first two that I would like to investigate are metacognition and happiness. From my earlier blogs, we understand that happiness is positively correlated with creativity, which helps aid cognitive flexibility as it allows you to see the many different ways to approach a subject. Cognitive flexibility ties in with deep-level reasoning, multiple pathways to a subject help you understand the subject from all of those pathways, understanding exactly how the subject works in different settings and with different limitations and contexts. Deep-level reasoning helps you comprehend information, which, once comprehended, allows you to metacognate upon your own cognition surrounding the subject. Quite a lengthy line leading from happiness all the way to metacognition, but it seems that there’s a lot more connecting the two than just this.

Metacognition within education is a skill and technique that, if used, is one that we must use on our own. As I have said in previous blogs, we cannot teach metacognition directly, it can be influenced within a person, but is ultimately a skill that we must use fluently in our own mind when implementing self-regulated learning. Efklides (2011) wrote that when we are using self-regulated learning we use “metacognitive experiences, such as feeling of difficulty, and online affective states [read as: our emotions] play a major role in task motivation and bottom-up self-regulation”, showing that metacognition and happiness both play a large role in controlling our thinking when we are learning.

Metacognition and our emotions are not just linked together when we are learning however. O’Brien (2013) found that those with a high level of metacognitive ease of thought retrieval or “fluency” could affect their perceived well-being over time, despite the frequency of positive or negative thoughts. Essentially the ease with which we can recall either positive or negative thoughts far outweighs what actually happens in our day-to-day lives. Those who can easily recall positive experiences are more likely to think that they were and are happy. The same applies for negative experiences.

Aside from our ability to recall memories, metacognition also holds a link to our self-esteem. Rezvan, Ahmadi, and Abedi (2006) found that metacognitive training does not simply help increase our academic performance, it also helped increase students’ happiness. This can also be seen in Swason’s study of children’s metacognition and happiness in 1992, as metacognitive training helped increase the self-esteem of children. Swanson highlighted the importance of metacognition in young students as it would help increase both their academic performance as well as their happiness.

I would also like to take some time to steer away from my typical talks on academia and how our learning can be improved in order to make happiness the main focus of this section, rather than metacognition. I would like to talk about satipatthana, or mindfulness. Metacognition is our word for what Buddhists believe to be an ability to be aware of our own self, our feelings, mind, or mental phenomena. An understanding of our thoughts leads to an understanding of our emotions as well it seems. Teasdale wrote in 1999 that metacognitive awareness and experience helps prevent relapse and recurrence in depression, as it allows us to change the content of depression-related thought, changing one’s relationship to inner experiences. He writes that we can facilitate a “metacognitive insight mode” wherein thoughts are experienced “simply as events in the mind”, which helps us to examine thoughts without emotion, (Teasdale et al, 2002) allowing a preventative strategy to depression that also encourages logical and rational thought.

Metacognitive skill has also shown an increase in one’s vulnerability to rumination. Moulds and her associates believe that this can have either a positive or negative effect upon a person, depending upon their beliefs about rumination. Having an awareness of your own thoughts can lead to you spending time contemplating them. If you have negative beliefs about this rumination, you will spend your time over criticising yourself and your thoughts, whereas if you have positive beliefs about it, you will spend time criticising yourself, but only to better yourself. You are aware that your thoughts are both good and bad, and can work to make them better. Indeed, Garland et al (2009) shows implications for clinical practice using a mixture of metacognitive and mindfulness training, showing how it can be used to cope with depression and stress, as well as its use in coping methods. They are not the only researchers investigating this, Scherer-Dickinson (2004) and Hick and Chan (2010) are also investigating mindfulness in depression, alongside many others. Metacognition and happiness are definitely linked in ways other than just through creativity and cognitive flexibility. It enhances our ability to see our thoughts without emotion, allowing us to logically move past mental illnesses such as depression.

We can see from this that metacognition aids mindfulness, which helps us become more happy by giving us an alternative view of life events, preventing depression by seeing events as just that, events, rather than part of our self. We can then change how we approach and recall these events, changing our relationship with them in order to avoid becoming depressed, making it easier to recall positive and negative events within our lives. In the closing words of O’Brien’s study in 2006, he wrote that “Paradoxically, people’s well-being may be maximized when they contemplate some bad moments or just a few good moments.”. Metacognition can help us remember both the good and the bad with equal ease, allowing us to maximise our happiness, making the two far more relevant to each other than simply through the links I have made in previous blogs.

Efklides, A. (2011). Interactions of metacognition with motivation and affect in self-regulated learning: The MASRL model. Educational Psychologist, 46(1), 6-25.
Garland, E., Gaylord, S., & Park, J. (2009). The role of mindfulness in positive reappraisal. Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing, 5(1), 37-44.
Hick, S. F., & Chan, L. (2010). Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for depression: effectiveness and limitations. Social Work in Mental Health, 8(3), 225-237.
Moulds, M. L., Yap, C. S., Kerr, E., Williams, A. D., & Kandris, E. (2010). Metacognitive beliefs increase vulnerability to rumination. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 24(3), 351-364.
O’Brien, E. (2013). Easy to Retrieve but Hard to Believe Metacognitive Discounting of the Unpleasantly Possible. Psychological science, 24(6), 844-851.
Rezvan, S., Ahmadi, S. A., & Abedi, M. R. (2006). The effects of metacognitive training on the academic achievement and happiness of Esfahan University conditional students. Counselling Psychology Quarterly, 19(4), 415-428.
Scherer-Dickson, N. (2004). Current developments of metacognitive concepts and their clinical implications: mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for depression. Counselling Psychology Quarterly, 17(2), 223-234.
Swanson, H. L. (1992). The relationship between metacognition and problem solving in gifted children. Roeper Review, 15(1), 43-48.
Teasdale, J. D. (1999). Metacognition, mindfulness and the modification of mood disorders. Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy, 6(2), 146-155.
Teasdale, J. D., Moore, R. G., Hayhurst, H., Pope, M., Williams, S., & Segal, Z. V. (2002). Metacognitive awareness and prevention of relapse in depression: empirical evidence. Journal of consulting and clinical psychology, 70(2), 275.

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I played a horrific amount of Civilisation 5 yesterday. I mean truly horrific. By the end of it, I was seeing the world in hexagons (the map of the world is divided up into hexagons that you can move your farm workers/trains/giant death robots around on). It was probably a really bad idea to play for as long as I did, but the whole hexagon thing did get me thinking about the effect that video games have on people. I play video games a lot and am not particularly violent, even though most of my games involve pulverising anything in my path with the biggest gun I can possibly find, and believe that whilst video games have the capacity to teach violence, they don’t always do so and can in fact help us develop in different areas.

There has always been controversy over the violence presented in video games. With my basic understanding of Social Learning Theory as presented by Bandura, Ross and Ross, I can see how people would assume that if their child plays a violent video game, they would then become violent. The two students who carried out the Columbine High School Massacre make direct references to the game Doom in the video they made before the attack. This if anything would make it seem that video games have a negative effect upon us, and there is substantial evidence for this. Anderson and Bushman (2001) conducted a meta-study investigating (you guessed it) violent video games and violent behaviour, finding that they did make people violent. I don’t think its as bad as this though, I know a lot of people who play video games and are also not particularly violent. So I kept digging and found Ferguson’s 2007 meta-analysis study, in which he found that violent video games increased visuo-spatial cognition whilst also declaring that violent video games did not increase violent behaviours. In the study however he did adjust effect sizes in “biased publications”, so I’m not sure how totally confident I can be of his last statement being 100% true.

Games in general seem to be good for one thing though, learning. Not all video games are violent, and some that are don’t just focus on violence. James Gee gave a keynote address to the curriculum corporation in 2006,  wherein he details how video games can help to teach people skills such as cross-functional teamwork, empathy for complex systems, and self-identity. The address ends with James saying that “video games won’t be able to do all these good things by themselves”, and its something I agree with. Just as they won’t be able to do good on their own (in many games where cross-functional teamwork is an option, you can completely ignore it), they won’t be a ble to do bad on their own. I believe that as long as people know that what they are playing is not real and probably could never happen in real life, it will restrain many of the violent effects that the game could possibly have on them. If you know what you are doing couldn’t happen in real life, you hopefully won’t try to do it in real life.

Video games can be bad, we’ve seen how they can influence people from the high school massacre to the Anderson and Bushman study, yet we can’t say exactly how much they’ll effect people as I believe that its a very individual thing, different people will be effected differently. Some may not even be effected at all, and there can be benefits of playing them, seen in Ferguson’s study and Jame’s keynote show. I think that as long as people stick to the age limits given to each game, and play them knowing full well that they are just simulations and no matter how immersive, still not real, then they can not be as damaging as they have been made out to be, and not lead to increasingly violent or negative behaviour.

http://pss.sagepub.com/content/12/5/353.short Anderson and Bushman, (2001). Effects of violent video games on aggresive behaviour.

http://www.springerlink.com/content/66217176984×7477/ Ferguson, (2007). Meta-analytic study of postive and negative effects of video games.

http://cmslive.curriculum.edu.au/leader/default.asp?id=16866&issueID=10696 James Gee’s keynote address (2006)

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Robots and humans are becoming ever closer as technology increases, and now robots can be used for a form of therapy. Cognitively impaired residents of a not-for-profit nursing home were found to have decreased overall agitation over time after interacting with a robot cat (Libin and Cohen-Mansfield, 2004), similar to interactions with a plush-toy cat and (I assume) also real cats. Whilst the study was impaired due to its small sample size and short length of run-time, it shows us how robots can be used for therapeutic treatment and how they can be perceived as part of the world. People seem to be able to perceive robots as part of the living world, associating their past experiences with animals with robots that imitate the same animal (Libin et al). Whilst a love of real pets led to a higher level of satisfaction from a robotic version of the pet (in this case, the NeCoRo cat), yet a greater experience of real cats led to people saying that the cat “made unnecessary noise”. Here we encounter the uncanny valley.

Massive uncanny valley side note:Essentially, if something artificial becomes too realistic, people will experience negative reactions to it. We realise that it is merely imitating life, not experiencing it. For example, watch the following link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rOqfrM8aiOQ I apologise for it being in Japanese, but its not the language that’s important. The robot does all the right human things, it looks at the person it’s talking to, offers to mike for a response, is making general movement as well but I personally find it just a bit creepy. A giant metal machine that responds to human interaction is fine, its being sold to the masses in the form of the Kinect, but the robot from the video was just a bit off, if it isn’t 100% perfectly human-like, we’ll realise whatever is wrong and it’ll bug us. We won’t be able to view the robot as a human.

Anyway, back to cats. So whilst people with an experience of real life cats found more problems with them than others, what about people who haven’t really had much experience? In another of Libin & Libin’s experiments (2004), the cat was given to two 8 year old girl, who became very emotionally attached to the robot, even creating the idea that the animal had a will that they did not want to push it against when it was required to perform an action that it could not.

It seems that whilst robotic humans are far from being able to breach the uncanny valley and become truly human like  it is possible with animals. These interactions seem to be beneficial to development of empathy and relationships with other living creatures, whilst also having a theraputic effect for those suffering from dementia. We use previous experiences of real animals in our interactions with artificial ones, which seems to suggest that we view them as alive and real. There are a lot of ethical points around this, such as “Does an inability to treat anthropomorphised robots well indicate an inability to treat humans well?” as well as whether these robots deserve the same treatment as their real life counter parts. It is certainly an interesting topic and will become more relevant as the technology required for it becomes more and more powerful. If the uncanny valley is ever breached, the psychology of human – robot interactions will be fascinating to study.


http://aja.sagepub.com/content/19/2/111.full.pdf+html Libin and Cohen-Mansfield cognitively impaired residents and NeCoRo interaction

http://www.robotherapy.org/person_robot%20interactions.htm Libin et al NeCoRo cat interaction

http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/stamp/stamp.jsp?tp=&arnumber=1347459&tag=1 Libin & Libin (2004) human-NeCoRo interactions, specifically see the end of the paper for the case studies.

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Auditory hallucinations, also known as a paracusia, is typically known as a symptom of schizophrenia, but can also be attributed to Exploding Head Syndrome (in which the patient hears an incredibly loud noise, such as a gunshot or explosion that does not exist) and sleep paralysis, when the participant is awake but the body is still “asleep”. You may have even had one yourself, just before falling asleep (in a state called hypnagogia).

The hallucinations themselves seem to generally be resistant to drug therapy, yet stimulation of the left temporoparietal cortex by Hoffman, Boutros, Hu, Berman, Krystal and Charney (2000) found that this lessened the severity of the hallucinations. This would make it seem that the left temporoprietal cortex is the origin for auditory hallucinations, the cortex is certainly relevant in people suffering from aphasia.

So we have an origin, and one particular therapy, but just because there is one solution does not mean it is the only solution. Whilst the transcranial magnetic stimulation used in Hoffman et al’s research did work, there was no follow up and so we have to assume that patients would have to be taking this stimulation for the rest of their life, which seems both impractical as it has to be given every day or two days by a professional in order to keep the patient from hallucinating. Another form of treatment for a patient suffering from these hallucinations is that of Cognitive Therapy, which is also effective at combating drug resistant voices. Chadwick and Birchwood (1994) reported ” Large and stable reductions in conviction in these beliefs (of the power of the voices)… and these were associated with reduced distress, increased adaptive behaviour, and unexpectedly, a fall in voice activity” after treating 26 patients suffering from the hallucinations as a symptom of schizophrenia. This seems to be a much better solution to the problem as Cognitive Therapy affects how the person thinks, so they can use the techniques at any time to counter the voices and regain control of themselves. An ideal solution would be the use of both transcranial magnetic stimulation and Cognitive Therapy in order to lessen the strength of the voices and reduce distress to such an extent that the patient could be considered to not suffer from the hallucination, at least, not enough to impede them in leading a normal life.


Pearce JM (1989), “Clinical features of the exploding head syndrome”, Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery and Psychiatry

Blackmore, Susan (2003). Consciousness: An Introduction – Sleep paralysis and auditory hallucinations

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0140673600020432 Hoffman, Boutros, Hu, Berman, Krystal and Charney

http://archneur.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/abstract/47/11/1235E. Metter, Hanson, Jackson, Kempler, Lancker, Mazziotta, Phelps,. Aphasia and the left temporoparietal cortex

http://bjp.rcpsych.org/content/164/2/190.short Chadwick and Birchwood

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When reading through a scientific journal, there is a rather large amount of technical and scientific language used, especially when it comes to the results sections wherein P values, one and two way hypotheses are confirmed or rejected with means, medians, modes, standard deviations, standard errors, practice effects, population parameters and percentile rank being mentioned amongst others. Other sections of the paper can be equally as guilty of this use of language, from description of what designs were used (single subject designs to within/between subjects etc), discussion of how constructs were operationalised and inferential statistics. Just by looking at a fairly recent article, Hyde’s (2005) Gender Similarities Hypothesis, we are already showered with statistical data from the hypothesis section onwards, huge tables of numbers gathered from various studies and different ways of studying the data. Whilst a layman could understand what was written, would it have any real meaning for them? Would they have any opinion of the research conducted? A fully trained psychologist would be able to understand and interpret what had occured, finding options for further study if they so wished from the data and their own personal opinion of the true validity of the data with reasons for and against, yet the layman may only really be interested in the abstract and conclusion due to the almost daunting amount of quantitative data present in most research and a belief that they will not be able to understand this due to being too complex or designed for trained professionals.

That having been said, Case Studies almost seem to be written for both the layman and scientist. Possibly due to the fact that they usually require some explanation due to their unique circumstances combined with the large use of qualitative data, they present a far more readable experience that informs very well with lots of detail and solid information without statistical terms etc. From a brief reading of both Rosenhan’s (1973) On Being Sane In Insane Places and Curtiss et al’s (1974) Linguistic Development Of Genie, I think it is entirely likely that a layman would be able to understand the content present in the studies.

I believe that Psychology should be written for scientists, at least in its pure form of journals. We need a clear way to be able to easily access other’s work and also to be able to publish our own work in order to further the field of Psychology and journals allow us to do just that. That does not mean however that psychology should not also be written for the layman. Magazines such as New Scientist essentially take the research in its pure form and re-publish it, with the exception that it is incredibly easy to understand in their articles, no jargon, no technical statistical terms, concepts and ideas explained throughout, with articles containing what happened, what was found and any comments, opinions or follow up research that could happen. Its incredible to see the transformation between the pure research and then the articles that describe it. I believe that Psychology should be written for scientists through journals as a way for us to share our knowledge, however there is no reason why it can’t be published again in such as in magazines or in news articles. Whilst psychological research is useful mostly to psychologists, it would do no harm to have it in a form for the inquisitive to learn about it without having to be educated about it first. Psychology can be understood by all, but some may prefer it in an easier format than journals. I believe it is most important that the results of experiments and studies are made well known to humanity as a whole, with the actual scientific content left to the scientists. In its most basic form, journals should be kept to scientists, with news articles or magazines providing psychology for the layman. Science should not be exclusively for scientists, yet I believe that the journals should continue to be treated as if they are exclusively for psychologists. Psychology can be written for the layman, but not in the form of journals.


Rosenhan (1973) On Being Sane in Insane Places: http://heinonline.org/HOL/Page?handle=hein.journals/saclr13&div=30&g_sent=1&collection=journals

Hyde (2005) The Gender Similarities Hypothesis: http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/amp/60/6/581.pdf

Curtiss et al (1974) The Linguistic Development of Genie: http://www.neiu.edu/~circill/bofman/ling450/linguistic.pdf

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Case studies and single case designs may seem incredibly similar from first glance, they are in fact very different from each other. Whilst they both only employ one research participant, the way in which they conduct research is amply different, distinguishing one from the other through both this and the evaluation that can then be drawn from the research. Single case designs run either a single or multiple experiments through just one participant, however unlike a case study, the participant can be just anyone. Case studies focus on one person or small group of people in a unique situation, such as Genie, the girl who was locked in a room until she was rescued at age 13, however single case designs can be performed at almost any time, so long as the participant fulfills the requirements of the study in question.

Due to case study’s possessing such uniqueness, they are often hard to generalise to a larger population as there will not be many others in a similar position, maybe none at all which makes the study very unreliable, however its real-life setting will give case studies good ecological validity. Single case designs do not possess this uniqueness and so can be seen as generalisable whilst also sharing the high ecological validity. Single cases can also be considered reliable due to lacking an unique situation. Whilst performed on one person, they can be performed again on different people, and if an intervention has worked with one person then it is likely that it will work on others.

The two designs also differ in the types of data that they collect. Case studies typically collect lots of in depth data over an extended period of time, which usually consists mainly of qualitative data and some quantitative data. Single case designs usually also share the extended period of time however they may be any amount of qualitative/quantitative. As single case designs can be used to measure interventions (such as with our SAFMED cards), the data can consist almost entirely of quantitative data. This use of quantitative data also seperates single case designs from case studies in that the actual data is not as subjective as that of a case study. For example, with Genie there were many researchers applying to care for her and study her, each of whom may have gone about their task in a different way, whilst a single case design can use statistics and graphs to show what is happening to a person. We can see this with plotting our SAFMED scores on a graph over time in order to see how we are improving.

Single case designs and case studies both seem at a glimpse to be very similar due to their participant selection, yet by looking at their generalisability, types of data that they collect, subjectivity and use of unique situations, we can see that they are very different types of study and design.

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Dr. Mario Beauregard and Vincent Paquette conducted research into the “Neural correlates of a mystical experience in Carmelite nuns” in March 2006. Whilst Dr. Beauregard could not scan the nuns brains whilst they were in the midst of a “mystical experience” as they can not call upon god at will, he could scan their brains as they remembered one. As only memories of these experiences were used it could be said that the study is not a true collection of data upon a person’s interaction with god, just how the brain interprets those interactions after they have occured, possibly the brain making sense of what has happened. Dr. Mario stated the hypothesis of the study was identifying neural correlates in the brain with a “mystical experience”. 15 non-smoking nuns who had been with the Carmelite order for at least 2 years took part in the study, with three conditions present: Baseline, Control and Mystical. The Baseline condition involved being scanned with eyes closed, resting, in order to create data for the experimenters to look for deviations from in the other two groups. The Control state required the nuns to remember and relive the most powerful state of union with another human being, whilst the Mystical condition required the nuns to remember and relive the most powerful “mystical experience” they had ever had whilst in the order. The Control and Mystical groups are required to see if the brain is replicating/mimicking human interactions with its interpretation of a “mystical experience”, or if it is trying to understand something completely different. The three conditions were examined against each other, with the differences between MRI scans being the interpretation of the data. The study seemed to find that areas of the brain dealing with happiness (caudate nucleus and left insular activation) the IPL is activated, showing a change in body schema for the left half and a loss of self/other distinction from the activation of the right half. As we have no definite data on exactly what each part of the brain does (the right half of the IPL is also involved in motor imagery) we cannot bring any real conclusions from this as we can see how the brain works whilst in these conditions, yet not pull any definite conclusion about what causes these states from our viewing of the brain.

The Telegraph posted a news story in the end of August in 2006 headlined: “Nuns prove God is not figment of the mind”. The article summarises the research put forward by Dr. Mario Beauregard and his student Vincent Paquette. While the headline seems to indicate that they have managed to “confirm” the existence of god, they have not, as clearly stated by Dr. Mario in the article. There does seem to be a part of the brain that is activated when a person experiences a “mystical experience”, however this is not evidence for god, or a person’s ability to communicate with god. The headline can be seen as slightly misleading, as while the research found that the brain does activate in a “mystical experience”, that still does not prove (as far as anything can be scientifically proven) that god is not a figment of the mind, as other work by Michael Persinger (also mentioned in the article) found that a “sensed presence” could be induced in a person through stimulation of emporal lobes. The article concludes that the research performed by Dr. Mario discredits theories that the human brain is at least partly designed for communication with god as mystical experiences are mediated by the brain. The conclusion is apt for the studys mentioned as they deal with how the brain reacts to a “mystical experience. Whilst not written in the article it does not imply that mystical experiences are caused by god, it gives no reason as for why they happen, just what happens when the “mystical experiences” do occur.

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