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David Shanks replicating social priming

April 10, 2013

I got this David Shanks talk in my tweet stream. I think it was a retweet by Guy Longworth. And, as I’m tired and brain-dead tonight from teaching too much psychology, I thought I’d relax by watching videos about psychology.

I do think it is overall a nice talk, and it points to the same things I’ve been linking to and discussing in this blog (so it is way more people than me discussing this).

I have an issue with his last few minutes – and that turned up in an editorial that Neuroskeptic then commented on (I linked it in also).  Roughly, he has an issue with the notion that human behavior is not directed by the internal thought and decisions, but that we are pushed around, nudged, influenced by our surroundings. And, he lists a whole bunch of books written by people of varying credentials, hinting that they are, well, wrong. Among these are Kahneman, Gigerenzer, Thaler & Sunstein (Nudge). Not sure if I also saw an Arielly there. Along with Gladwell. (Now the later one I think one can quibble with, the earlier ones have data).

He brings up IAT also, which has its issues, but he is rather certain that it is not connected to anything reasonable behaviorally. He cites a 2009 study by Blanton  (pdf)-  I just pulled it up and realized which discussion it was part of (but, as I mainly did the abstract scan, because one of my social psych buddies is kind of on the other side, I’m a bit of a wobbly source yet). Shanks states very strongly that there is no evidence whatsoever that IAT can somehow uncover or reveal biased behavior. Hmmm. Seems a bit over-confident.

I have issues with IAT (even if I use it), but the problem I have with his statement is what he claims that people using IAT claim about what it measures (confusing enough for you? I am tired). I think he overstates it. It does something – I have used it to kinda do a rough and ready sorting of people into a preference range, and find (weak) correlations with another interesting measure. I make a point of disabusing students of the idea that it can actually measure their prejudice – that it somehow uncover some dark dirty secrets about them. It is just not good for that. Now, I’m just one person, and people have lots of different ideas at variance from mine, but I would think few think of it as being that strong.

And, also, there is much stronger evidence that we are influenced by our surroundings. I’m with the ecological psychologists here – our psyches are evolved to deal with the world, so we have to be attuned to it (but not necessarily always consciously aware of it). Gigerenzer looks at this for decisionmaking. There is plenty of other social psychology that have looked at this throughout the ages. And, if psychology is not good enough, find a good salesperson or magician and find out how you can manipulate others through the surroundings – misdirecting attention, sending signals of authority, of friendliness, of reciprocity etc. The latter ones I teach, and I have students who then go out and practice them, coming back say, wow, hey, it worked.

A particular one that stood out was one guy who was in a band, and he started giving away free pins. Which resulted in more sold other stuff whatever that was (so long since I visited that scene).

So, you have to be more – discerning? Which domain are you talking about? The social priming has issues – I posted on my other blog the story of my attempting to prime emotion categories – or find evidence that we even could do it. (Our aim, of course, was to show that priming was NOT the mechanism for the emotion effects we found). But there are other context effects that seem more robust.

Of course, I don’t have the data in my head, and perhaps I need to start looking at this more strongly (but the Cialdini stuff is measured in profits or preservation, not in p-value cut-offs).

Perhaps I should do that – learn to do meta-analyses.

But – I think the talk is well worth watching, and he makes some very very important points.  – I just wanted to stick up for my field, and for the power of context.

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