[ExI] In defense of psych; was Re: aeon article - you have no memory

John Clark johnkclark at gmail.com
Sun May 22 22:21:27 UTC 2016

On Sat, May 21, 2016  William Flynn Wallace <foozler83 at gmail.com> wrote:

​> ​
> Good experiments with people is hard work and very creative work and I
> wasn't very good at it.  Cut out to be a teacher.  Test yourself:  try to
> come up with a creative way to test for jealousy other than to give people
> questionnaires.

​When test subjects walk into a psychology lab I don't understand how they
can take anything the experimenter says ​at face value. When I was in
school I took a physiology course and as part of the course I had to be a
test subject. I always looked at it as a game where I tried to outwit the
experimenters and figure out what they were really testing for.

One time they put me in a small room and told me the experiment was about
how people solved algebra problems, so I knew that whatever the experiment
was really about it wasn't about how people solved algebra problems. They
gave me a paper with 10 problems on it and said "you have 10 minutes to
solve these, we don't expect anyone to solve them all but do as many as you
can". But the questions were easy, really really easy, after 5 minutes I
solved all 10, checked them twice and give them to the experimenter. He
only glanced at my paper and then said in a flat voice as if he'd recited
the same canned speech many times " I can see that you're extraordinarily
good at this". Why on earth would he say that? I never found out for sure
but my hunch at the time was that he flipped a coin and if it was heads he
said I was extraordinarily good and if tails he said I stink to high
heaven. I must have been heads.

Then he said he wanted to test me again, this time with 20 problems and I'd
have 20 minutes. He brought out a egg timer and set it for 20 minutes and
said, "I have things to do so I'm going to leave you now, but when the
timer rings stop working. Oh and to make sure you're not disturbed lock the
door after I leave, in about half an hour I'll come back and knock on the
door and then you can unlock the door and let me back in". Hmm.

I soon found that these 20 problems were MUCH more difficult than the
previous 10, real ball busters. I was still struggling to finish problem #4
when the timer went off, so I immediately put the pencil down and just
stared at the suspiciously placed mirror built into the wall directly
across from me for another 20 minutes until I heard a knock on door and I
let the experimenter back in. He then asked me if I cheated and continued
to work after the timer went off and told him what he undoubtedly already
knew that I hadn't cheated. Looking back on it now I wish I'd lied and told
him I cheated, I wonder what he would have made of that.

 John K Clark
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