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The children were tested alone, then again when paired with another child. The children who performed the task in the presence of others out-reeled those that did so alone.Although Triplett’s research fell short of contemporary standards of scientific rigor (e.g., he eyeballed the data instead of measuring performance precisely; Stroebe, 2012), we now know that this effect, referred to as “social facilitation,” is reliable—performance on simple or well-rehearsed tasks tends to be enhanced when we are in the presence of others (even when we are not competing against them).Moreover, thanks to technological advancements and the growth of social neuroscience, an increasing number of researchers now integrate biological markers (e.g., hormones) or use neuroimaging techniques (e.g., f MRI) in their research designs to better understand the biological mechanisms that underlie social processes.
)One of the things Triplett’s early experiment illustrated is scientists’ reliance on systematic observation over opinion, or anecdotal evidence.
The scientific method usually begins with observing the world around us (e.g., results of cycling competitions) and thinking of an interesting question (e.g., Why do cyclists perform better in groups? The next step involves generating a specific testable prediction, or hypothesis (e.g., performance on simple tasks is enhanced in the presence of others).
To put it another way, the next time you think about showing off your pool-playing skills on a date, the odds are you’ll play better than when you practice by yourself.
(If you haven’t practiced, maybe you should watch a movie instead!
The Asch conformity experiment, which investigated how social pressure influences individual conformity, remains a classic example of a social psychology lab experiment.
[Image: D-janous, GGM, CC BY-SA 4.0, D]As you can see, social psychologists have always relied on carefully designed laboratory environments to run experiments where they can closely control situations and manipulate variables (see the NOBA module on Research Designs for an overview of traditional methods).For example, the phrase “perform better” could mean different things in different situations; in Triplett’s experiment it referred to the amount of time (measured with a stopwatch) it took to wind a fishing reel.Similarly, “in the presence of others” in this case was operationalized as another child winding a fishing reel at the same time in the same room.En route, they encountered a confederate at an open file cabinet who pushed the drawer in to let them pass.When the participant returned a few seconds later, the confederate, who had re-opened the file drawer, slammed it shut and bumped into the participant with his shoulder, muttering “asshole” before walking away.At the end of this module we will also consider some of the key ethical principles that govern research in this diverse field.The use of complex experimental designs, with multiple independent and/or dependent variables, has grown increasingly popular because they permit researchers to study both the individual and joint effects of several factors on a range of related situations.Next, scientists must operationalize the variables they are studying.This means they must figure out a way to define and measure abstract concepts.Although this is a fairly elaborate procedure on its face, what is particularly impressive is the number of dependent variables the researchers were able to measure.First, in the public insult condition, the two additional confederates (who observed the interaction, pretending to do homework) rated the participants’ emotional reaction (e.g., anger, amusement, etc.) to being bumped into and insulted.