Baumeister & Wilson et. al's take on Social Psychology

Note: If anyone is having hard time locating the studies mentioned in this review paper, please contact me and I would be delighted to send you a copy.


Baumeister (2010) had an interesting take on categorizing studies within the field of psychology. He explained that studies within the area could be categorized between either motivation or cognition. Then he narrowed his focus in the field of social psychology. Baumeister explained that social psychology has recently become its own department and rightfully so. He defines social psychology as a “hub science,” which means that it has considerable influence in other fields. Social psychology is a department which has no one specific focus. Baumeister writes, “Anything contributing to an increased understanding of how people in general think, feel, and act is welcome” (2010). Then the author begins to share their own findings of the question “What sort of creatures are human being?”. In the article, the author explains 12 primary ways social psychologists have thought about human beings. Baumeister ends his article with an interesting note that in previous years the field of psychology was dominated by behaviorism and psychodynamic. Theories. However, the department of social psychology never wholly embraced either of these views. Amongst many other phenomena, neither cognitive dissonance or attributional process fit into either behavioral or psychodynamic theories. Therefore, begs the question: whether one can argue that the department of social psychology was originated because it didn’t quite fit into the dominated fields of psychology at the time? Finally, It is important to note that the article beautifully categorized human beings from social psychology lens.


Moving on to Wilson et al. (2010), which presents both pro and cons of laboratory and field experiments in social psychology. Some interesting yet valid notions in regards to laboratory experiments were brought up in the article. Laboratory experiments are typically viewed as artificial. This idea derives from two components of validity and realism. First, people tend to view lab experiments as low on realism because it typically involves doing activity people don’t do every day, therefore not relatable.

Furthermore, lab experiments are typically high on internal validity, which is excellent for making causal conclusions but low on external validity, which is generally frowned upon. The issue with external validity leads to the Basic Dilemma of the experimental Social Psychologist. “On the one hand, we want maximal control over the independent variable, to maintain internal validity. But, by maximizing internal validity, we often reduce external validity”, Wilson et al. (2010). Authors point out a possible solution to this dilemma, is trying not to do it all in one experiment. Instead, they propose a programmatic series of studies which covers different experiment procedure in various settings to explore the same conceptual relationship. As experimentally sound as the solution may seem, it is extremely costly and requires increased levels of labor.


Wilson et al. (2010) define three different types of realism: mundane, experimental and psychological realism. It gets confusing. Authors try to differentiate between all three types of realism by giving specific scenarios. Although I can follow parts of the examples given, it starts to get murky once psychological realism is introduced. What is psychological realism? How does it fit with other types of realism? Also, what’s the ideal level of realism when it’s combined with all types of realism? In other words, in a perfect social psychology experimental study, what is the desired levels of realism taking all three forms of realism into account? Furthermore, Wilson et al. (2010) mention some ideas brought up by an article written by Mook (1983).


Mook (1983) presents an in-depth dissection of validity in psychological research, more specifically external validity. He points out that validity is one of the most essential things in any research studies. Establishing proper levels of internal and external validity is vital. However, in experimental social psychology research conducted in laboratory settings typically face difficult times establishing high levels of external validity. Although low levels of external validity are generally frowned upon, he states that it should be a bad thing for all research studies. For example, he mentions the study done by Harlow’s with monkeys terry cloth mother and wire mother. The outcome of the study points out some interesting findings, but it wasn’t directly generalizable to the real world, therefore low in external validity. There are numerous studies out (i.e., Milgram study) there which produced interesting findings that are not directly applicable to us in an everyday manner. Here Mook points out the difference between basic and applied research studies. Sometimes, researchers conduct research studies that are not meant to have high external validity. However, it has significance and value in the research world. In my perspective, Mook brings out some valid concepts in regards to external validity. He was able to point out the fact that not all research study is done with real-life generalizable intentions. Sometimes some research studies are done to establish the outcome as something that can happen. Also, he was able to point out that things that we know and can predict are often not publishable because they are not striking. They lack the interesting/publishable component. Therefore, sometimes researchers can produce jaw-dropping and highly publishable outcomes under laboratory research condition with low external validity. The main point of his article was that not all research study should be judged based on their levels of validity. Therefore, the levels of internal and external validity should vary depending on the intentions of the researchers and the designs of the research study.


Finally, Prentice & Miller (1992) highlights some crucial topics in regards to results of research studies. They explain categories under which results are important or effective. Any result produced by a research study should reflect the degree to which a phenomenon is present in a population on a continuous scale with zero always indicating that the phenomenon is absent to one which indicates a large effect. Therefore, the effect size is a numerical and straightforward measure that presents one usefulness or the importance of an effect of that phenomenon. Effect sizes run in small, medium and large sizes. Typically small effect sizes are undesirable, but Prentice & Miller (1992) states otherwise. They explain that small effect sizes can be highly impressive in certain conditions. Small effects are impressive when the independent variables shouldn’t affect the dependent variables, but it does. Therefore, small effects are not always undesirable. They can also establish high on demand and publishable results.

Questions:

1. In the article written by Baumeister (2010), can one argue that the department of social psychology was originated because it didn’t quite fit into the dominated fields of psychology at the time?

2. In the article written by Wilson et al. (2010), what is psychological realism? How does it fit with other types of realism? Also, what’s the ideal level of realism when it’s combined with all types of realism? In other words, in a perfect social psychology experimental study, what is the desired levels of realism taking all three forms of realism into account?

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