Fast food and impatience

31 05 2014

In Social Psychology last semester, we read a paper by Zhong & DaVoe* that showed a causal relationship between exposure to fast food logos (as opposed to local sit-down restaurant logos) and impatience through a number of measures. Today Sanford DaVoe published an interesting Op-Ed in the NY Times where he reviews some archival and survey data analysis that shows this effect might be present not only in the lab but in the “real” world, and may affect our well-being. He concludes:

our research highlights the need to think more explicitly about the subtle cues in our everyday living environment. Put differently, one important step you can take to nudge yourself toward being more patient would be to live in a neighborhood that doesn’t constantly bombard you with reminders of instant gratification.

I have a bit of a problem with that last sentence. While some of us have such choices through the benefits of structural inequalities, many do not. As we covered in Stereotyping and Prejudice this semester, the choice of where we live is largely determined by socioeconomic factors including race and its correlate, income.

In addition, television is the major force bombarding us with these reminders; that crosses neighborhood boundaries. Thus, I would call for restrictions or bans on public advertisements for fast food. However, such a public health initiative might not go over well with the more conservative parts of our legislative bodies. Remember that conservativism is correlated with individualism and Protestant Work Ethic which would imply that it is not the environment but rather the individual weaknesses of people who are susceptible to such advertisements.

Round and around, that’s the way things go. — Lucy Kaplansky

Link to “Big Mac, Thin Wallet”, the Op-Ed in the NY Times

* Reference: Zhong, C., & DeVoe, S. E. (2010). You are how you eat: Fast food and impatience.Psychological Science, 21 (5), 619–622. Available here, or here as a PDF.

Business, the Internet, and Discrimination

21 03 2014

It appears that some online merchants are committing a form of organizational discrimination through their pricing practices. People in lower-income areas are paying more for products than those in higher-income areas. As we know, neighborhood, income, and race are correlated, and so African Americans, Latinos, and other minorities could be generally paying more (along with their low-wage white counterparts). This remains to be investigated.

The pricing scheme was investigated recently by the Wall Street Journal along with researcher Ashkan Soltani. See the article here.

Some quotes:

A Wall Street Journal investigation found that the Staples Inc. website displays different prices to people after estimating their locations.

The Journal identified several companies, including Staples, Discover Financial Services, Rosetta Stone Inc. and Home Depot Inc., that were consistently adjusting prices

The Journal tested to see whether price was tied to different characteristics including population, local income, proximity to a Staples store, race and other demographic factors. Statistically speaking, by far the strongest correlation involved the distance to a rival’s store from the center of a ZIP Code. That single factor appeared to explain upward of 90% of the pricing pattern.

In the Journal’s examination of Staples’ online pricing, the weighted average income among ZIP Codes that mostly received discount prices was roughly $59,900, based on Internal Revenue Service data. ZIP Codes that saw generally high prices had a lower weighted average income, $48,700.

On the methodology:

The differences found on the Staples website presented a complex pricing scheme. The Journal simulated visits to from all of the more than 42,000 U.S. ZIP Codes, testing the price of a Swingline stapler 20 times in each. In addition, the Journal tested more than 1,000 different products in 10 selected ZIP Codes, 10 times in each location.

The Journal saw as many as three different prices for individual items. How frequently a simulated visitor saw low and high prices appeared to be tied to the person’s ZIP Code. Testing suggested that Staples tries to deduce people’s ZIP Codes by looking at their computer’s IP address. This can be accurate, but isn’t foolproof.

Sherif’s Robbers Cave Experiments on ABC’s Radio National

25 02 2013

Courtesy ABC

The blog Advances in the History of Psychology pointed me toward an Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio show covering the now-famous Robbers Cave experiments conducted by Muzafer Sherif and his colleagues. It includes fascinating audio from the experiments, interviews with adults who were the boys at the camps, interviews with one of the experimenters (OJ Harvey), etc. It raises some significant ethical issues, as well as some methodological issues. Highly recommended if you’re into social psychology.

Link to the ABC show web page to listen to it.

Social Priming, Failed Replications, and Egos

2 02 2013

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a good article on social priming—the effects on our behavior from subtle cues in our social environment. It reviews some of the key studies such as the famous elderly prime makes people walk more slowly finding. There is an appropriately strong focus on John Bargh, whose studies made the effect well known, as well as some of the individuals who have had trouble replicating his results. As it remains today, there is serious doubt about whether the effect is very robust. Instead, there might be some moderators that enhance or weaken the effect that are unknown. If there is anything good coming out of this, it may be that we start begin respecting the publication of failed replications. That will be good for the entire discipline.

Link to the article at the Chronicle.

Image courtesy Flickr user sunnydelishgirl. Licensed under Creative Commons

David Brooks on using psychological research for public policy

11 01 2013

Today’s NY Times has an op-ed by David Brooks that points out that much of public policy is derived from “common sense” or “folk psychology” that has no scientific basis. Instead, he argues for public policy created by using research findings to enact behavioral changes in the population. I agree. There are some interesting comments to the article as well, but many of them amount to “David Brooks is on his agenda” and do not offer much of a criticism that is useful to the discussion.

Link to the article at the NY Times.

SPSP comments on the final Levelt report on the Deiderik Stapel debacle

10 01 2013

The Society for Personality and Social Psychology just released a statement on the Levelt report. It is not (yet) on their web site, so I will reproduce it here. It arrived on the SPSP listserv. I am glad we are undertaking an assessment of where we have gone wrong and how our research practices can be improved to help avoid something like this in the future.

Society for Personality and Social Psychology Statement on the Levelt Report

The recent Levelt report from the Netherlands details the breadth of Deiderik Stapel’s fraudulent activities and offers reflections on the scientific culture that enabled this magnitude of deception to go (nearly) undiscovered for many years. It is a sobering read. Both the European Association of Social Psychology and the Society of Experimental Social Psychology have issued statements on the report. These statements expressed appreciation to the Levelt committee for its thorough investigation of the Stapel case and indicated reservations about the report’s indictment of the field at large for what the Levelt report considered “sloppy science” practices. In large measure, we support these previous statements, and our statement is meant to complement rather than reiterate the points made by our allied societies.

In the aftermath of the Stapel case and other recently discovered cases of fraud, it would behoove us to reflect on the steps we can take as we move forward to protect our science against incidents of fraud in the future and to repair the image of our science. The core foundation of any field of scientific endeavor is trust and integrity.

The Society for Personality and Social Psychology has consistently maintained the stance that we must work together as a professional organization and as individual scientists to promote a context in which good scientific practices are celebrated and are embedded into the training we provide to young scientists joining the field. Indeed, this was the theme of a recent letter I wrote to the Society regarding the Stapel case. It is a theme that merits repeating. These recent events provide an opportunity not only for constructive reflection but also specific action. Upholding sound scientific practices will insure that our science has integrity. We should not assume, however, that because we all believe in the principles of ethical conduct that this is sufficient. In this regard, we can all profitably discuss ways to accomplish these goals. These goals should include, but not be limited to:

  • Identifying effective ways to build discussion of ethics and good scientific practices into our course work and everyday discussions in our laboratories;
  • Developing safe venues for trainees and others to report concerns about breaches of ethics within universities and within the journal review process;
  • Establishing clear standards for what personality and social psychology papers should present in methods and results sections of articles;
  • Providing formal training in how to review articles;
  • Clarifying within our formal training acceptable practices for addressing, for example, missing data, eliminating cases from analysis, and providing clear detail on methods and measures;
  • Increasing opportunities and incentives for conducting and reporting direct replications of important findings; and
  • Evaluating the pressures that can lead to a careerist focus as opposed to a focus on true discovery among scientists.

These are but a few of the issues we, and all sciences, need to consider. Recent months have borne witness to a number of activities designed to address these issues. For example: replication issues have been the subject of a recent special issue of Perspectives on Psychological Science (, a forthcoming special target article in the European Journal of Personality, and recent issues of our own Dialogue (see Brian Nosek and Daniel Lakens are co‐editing a special issue on replication of important findings in social psychological research in Social Psychology (see Finally, SPSP commissioned a Task Force for Responsible Conduct, which outlined a variety of ways we could take positive steps to ensure the integrity of our science ( and the Task Force continues to work on these issues.

Our upcoming meeting in New Orleans provides a number of immediate opportunities to explore and discuss these issues with our community. Two formal symposia address issues related to good scientific practices.

The first is titled “Openness in Scientific Reporting: Potential and Reaction” and is scheduled for Friday, January 18 from 11:15 am to 12:30 pm (Rooms R03‐R05).

The second symposium is titled “False Positive Findings: Effect Sizes Too Large, Too Small, or Just Right” and is scheduled for Friday, January 18 from 3:30 pm to 4:45 pm (Rooms R03‐R05).

Finally, I suggested to you in a recent letter that the leadership of SPSP was likely to hold a Special session for the membership to come together to discuss these issues or any issues of interest to the membership. We have scheduled this session for Saturday, January 19 from 3:30 pm to 4:45 pm Room 203‐205. In attendance will be David Funder who is the 2013 President of the Society, Jenny Crocker who chaired the SPSP Task Force on Responsible Conduct, Jack Dovidio the current Executive Officer for the Society, Jamie Pennebaker the new President‐Elect of the Society, and me. We invite you to come to this session with questions and we will do our best to address these and other issues relevant to the Society and engage the membership in a productive discussion.

Yours Sincerely,

Patricia G. Devine for the SPSP Executive Committee

Past-­‐President, Society for Personality and Social Psychology

The NY Times on the Stapel debacle

6 11 2011

The New York Times has a short piece on the Deiderik Stapel academic fraud incident I wrote about earlier. There are now “several dozen” papers involved. The investigating committee, for reasons unfathomable to me, has not released a list of  the papers. To me “several” implies more than 4, and less than 12. So there are somewhere around 50-100 papers possibly involved. That is huge, and for now I think we will simply have to avoid citing any of his work.

Link to the NY Times article.

Milgram replication on Discovery Sunday night

27 10 2011

This week in class, we discussed Stanley Milgram’s obedience to authority experiments and saw the original film, Obedience, that he produced. Sunday night at 9pm EST on Discovery, there will be a show on people’s capacity for evil, which will have a Milgram experiment replication. The Advances in the History of Psychology blog mentioned it and gives details here.

Evidence-based tips for studying

26 10 2011

Just in time for our third exam, the Wall Street Journal summarizes some research on studying for best test performance. here are some of the tips:

  • testing yourself repeatedly before an exam teaches the brain to retrieve and apply knowledge from memory
  • Review the toughest material right before going to bed the night before the test
  • A common study habit—the all-nighter—is a bad idea
  • High-carb, high-fiber, slow-digesting foods like oatmeal are best for breakfast the day of the test
  • Information reviewed amid distractions is less likely to be recalled later

Regarding anxiety about the exam:

  • One calming tactic that has been shown to improve scores is to teach yourself in advance to think differently about the test—using visualization techniques
  • reducing “novelty and stress on the day of the exam” can prevent choking under pressure
  • If you are still feeling anxious, set aside 10 minutes beforehand to write down your worries

See the full article here.

Memory and eyewitness testimony

24 09 2011

In class Thursday, we discussed memory and social judgment, which led to a discussion of eyewitness testimony in court trials. The blog LiveScience covers some issues around reliability of memory, particularly in the context of eyewitness testimony. Have a look at it here.

Last night’s execution of convicted murderer Troy Davis reportedly sent those convinced of Davis’ innocence into hysterics. One of their concerns — that eyewitness testimony in the case had been recanted — also concerns cognitive scientists.

“This is not the first time a person is pretty much convicted based on eyewitness testimony and circumstantial evidence,” said Jason Chan, assistant professor of psychology at Iowa State University, adding that the number of eyewitnesses who later recanted their testimony was “relatively unusual.”