Daily Archives: January 13, 2011

Seeing into the future – and the future of quantitative methods in social science

Last November, I posted about a study by Cornell psychologist Daryl Bem that purported to show that study participants displayed extrasensory perception (ESP) – specifically, the ability (within the context of the study) to accurately predict future events.

Now, the New York Times reports:

The [Bem study] has inflamed one of the longest-running debates in science. For decades, some statisticians have argued that the standard technique used to analyze data in much of social science and medicine overstates many study findings — often by a lot. As a result, these experts say, the literature is littered with positive findings that do not pan out: “effective” therapies that are no better than a placebo; slight biases that do not affect behavior; brain-imaging correlations that are meaningless.

The ‘standard technique’ referenced above is significance testing, and the (relatively) new approach common outside of social science is Bayesian probability. These are two Big Ideas in quantitative research but the NY Times article does a good job explaining them in a clear, accessible way.

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The relationship between cultural influences and real world violence

Bill Gardner, Professor of Pediatrics, Psychology, and Psychiatry at The Ohio State University, has posted on his blog regarding violent rhetoric, violence in media (such as video games and movies), and real world interpersonal violence. Citing research from economics, sociology, and other fields, Gardner concludes that the effect of these violent cultural influences, though real, is small compared to other factors. The sources he cites are well worth reviewing.

How does physical attractiveness impact your career prospects?

There is a large body of research that examines how physical attractiveness influences one’s interaction with other people in various social settings, from the classroom to the workplace. Interestingly, a couple of articles have appeared recently that examine in this issue in slightly different ways and thus have findings that might be unexpected.

Newsweek reports:

In the current job market, paying attention to your looks isn’t just about vanity, it’s about economic survival. Job candidates have always been counseled to dress up for interviews. But our surveys suggest managers are looking beyond wardrobe and evaluating how “physically attractive” applicants are.

And yet, Science Daily reports:

In a study released in the May/June Journal of Social Psychology, Stefanie Johnson, assistant professor of management at UC Denver Business School, found that beauty has an ugly side, at least for women.

Attractive women were discriminated against when applying for jobs considered “masculine” and for which appearance was not seen as important to the job. Such positions included job titles like manager of research and development, director of finance, mechanical engineer and construction supervisor.