A few weeks ago I attended a conference organized by the Tory Higgins lab, here at Columbia.
This conference brought together influential researchers from social psychology and neuroscience, as well as scholars from other related fields such as political science and critical theory.
I think this was the best conference I've attended so far. The quality of the talks and their breadth was great, and the mixture of speakers blended together to produce a distilled picture of the essentials of advanced motivation science.
Maya Rossignac-Milon which helped Prof. Higgins organized the conference kindly uploaded the videos to youtube, and you can now see them for yourself. If you're an experimental psychologist you really should listen to these speakers.
Here's the list of speakers:
Roland Benabou, Kent Berridge, Charles Carver, Ayelet Fishbach, Susan Fiske, Tory Higgins, Arie Kruglanski, Robert Jervis, Rose McDermott, Richard M. Ryan, John Salamone, Laurie Santos, Barry Schwartz, Yaacov Trope, Kathleen Vohs, Jeremy Waldron
1) Past research from Amy Cuddy’s lab (amongst others) has shown that “power posing” (e.g., expansive postures, of the type associated with dominance) affects people’s sense of power. This research has also shown that the effects of power posing affect testosterone and cortisol levels and affect risk taking behavior.
2) A replication attempt, using a much bigger sample size found no evidence for effects on testosterone, cortisol, and risk taking. However, the replication did find an effect on self-reported sense of power.
3) Cuddy replied to this replication, suggesting several moderating variables. For example, a major difference between the original study and the replication was that in the replication participants were told that power posing could affect their behavior.
4) Cuddy also provided a qualitative meta-analysis showing that lots of other work has shown the same effect she has.
5) Uri Simonsohn and Joe Simmons attempted to analyze the situation in a recent blog post, trying to figure out why the replication failed (http://datacolada.org/2015/05/08/37-power-posing-reassessing-the-evidence-behind-the-most-popular-ted-talk/). All of the relevant papers are linked there.
Here is a critical read of their analysis:
6) Using a method developed by Simonsohn (the small telescope method) to quantify the detectability of an effect, they show that in retrospect, the original study had only a 5% chance of detecting the effect they report on risk taking.
In other words, it seems that the original study didn’t employ the proper methods to allow it to claim what it had claimed regarding risk taking. The effect on cortisol and testosterone supposedly aren’t so detectable as well.
This definitely raises doubts. But here is my question-
Carney and Cuddy use one manipulation and show an effect on 4 different measures.
If the effect was random noise, what are the odds of observing it on 4 measures? (risk taking, testosterone levels, cortisol levels, sense of power). It seems that a different application of the “small telescope approach” is needed to account for the conjunction of events.
Alternatively, it could mean that the correlation between the 4 outcomes measures is extremely high, and due to luck, high-testosterone participants (who are also more powerful, risk takers, lower cortisol) ended up in the power pose group.
7) Simonsohn and Simmons then moved on to examine Cuddy’s claim that the effect was replicated by other people. Apparently, a p-curve analysis shows that these previous studies seem to suffer from publication bias.
This seems to undercut Cuddy’s claims that the failed replication is just a drop of water in an ocean of significant results.
But- was the failed replication indeed a failed replication?
Ranehill successfully replicated the effect of posture on self-reported power. They didn't replicate the effect on hormones, and risk taking.
Simonsohn and Simmons refers to this as a “manipulation check”, following Cuddy and Careney’s own words. However, when we take a step back and think about it, isn't this the effect that we are talk about when we think of this literature? That striking a pose makes you feel more powerful? Feeling more powerful must have meaningful effects. Only question is what are these effects.
Now- we know from a lot of other studies, in humans and in non-humans, that a sense of social dominance is correlated with increased testosterone, lowers cortisol, increases risk taking. We don’t need to trust Carney and Cuddy on this one.
If a sense of power is indeed correlated with all those things, then (knowing that the effect of power on self-report is real) suggests that some aspect of Ranehill’s design (e.g., when testosterone was sampled, something about the population and its levels of stress) may indeed be at fault for failing to find the correlation between sense of power and testosterone.
If a sense of power is not correlated with testosterone, cortisol, risk taking, this brings me back to the comment made in point 6 (above):
In such a case it is unlikely that Carney and Cuddy lucked out on 4 out of 4 uncorrelated measures. The actual metrics used to assess the level of evidence provided in her original study are biased against her. A small telescope examination that accounts for the conjunction of 4 outcome measures is needed. No?
If I’m wrong, I’d be happy to hear comments.
Searching for great reverse inference papers #1: Physicians down-regulate their pain empathy response: An event-related brain potential study
OK, so I am starting the search for great reverse-inference paper. This is an attempt to compile a list of examples of how an empirical neuroimaging paper can directly inform psychological theory. In the future, this list will be helpful in compiling a syllabus for a course.
I asked people for recommendations, and the first one I received was "anything by Jean Decety". And so, I went through the long publication history and chose one paper that I especially like.
I think the title of the paper does not seem super exciting, and does not disclose the meaningful piece of knowledge that the authors supply.
Here's the story, in brief.
Seeing other people in pain will cause us to cringe, to experience an "emphatic pain response".
The magnitude of this response is clearly more than a factor of the objective reality, it is also determined by subjective decisions concerning how to process and appraise the event.
It is not news that people are able to control their emotions. However, it is unclear when do these subjective interpretation processes kick in.
One possibility is that even if you are a sort of person who has learned to interpret events in a way that down-regulates negative emotions, you initially experience negative affect, and then gather your resources to shut these feelings down.
A second possibility is that being an expert in emotion regulation means that your immediate, initial interpretation of the world is more benign.
The paper by Decety et al. relied on previous work that showed that neural markers for emphatic pain responses are decreased in physicians (Cheng et al., 2007). This make sense, because If you are a doctor, you should really learn to cope with sights of blood, guts and people in pain.
The work by Cheng showed that physicians are indeed less affected by images of pain. However, the question remained whether physicians feel the pain and then cope with it, or weather they simply manage to avoid the pain.
So Decety et al. performed a simple experiment. Participants (physicians vs. controls) saw neutral stimuli and pain stimuli (a hand being pricked with a needle), and their ERP responses were recorded.
For control participants, a negative ERP component stemming from the frontal cortex differentiated between the painful and non-painful stimuli as early as 110 millseconds after stimulus delivery. However, this differentiation was not observed in physicians.
This suggests that the differences in subjective interpretation processes between physicians and non-physicians arise at the earliest stages of information processing. Supposedly, their daily experience of coping with pain causes them to literally see a different world than do non-physicians.
There is still much more to learn about the exact factor that gives rise to this differential response in physicians and non-physicians: The study doesn't aim to tell us whether this is something that happens as a result of habituation and exposure, or whether people who decide to study medicine are a-priori less affected by images of others in pain. We also don't know whether physicians are less responsive because they process something else that non-physicians (e.g., focus on some technical aspect of the stimulus such as needle type), or because they simply don't process the pain.
The methodological take away is that we can often find some pattern that correlates with a mental process (e.g., an ERP component that tracks with pain perception). If you have a reasonable basis to assume that this pattern is indeed the correlate of the mental process that you're interested in, then it's disappearance under certain conditions (e.g., for physicians) definitely tells us something. EEG methodology has the added advantage of letting us know how a process unfolds over time, which is something that can really enrich psychological theory.
Decety, J., Yang, C. Y., & Cheng, Y. W. (2010). Physicians down-regulate their pain empathy response: An event-related brain potential study. Neuroimage, 50(4), 1676-1682. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2010.01.025
OK, I've made a new year's resolution to start updating a blog. It makes sense for all sorts of reasons.
One thing I want to do, is to start a search for great social/cognitive neuroscience papers I can use in a course syllabi.
The criteria are:
1) The paper utilizes a neuroimaging method.
2) The paper aims to inform psychological theory (e.g., entails a "reverse inference"), rather than utilizes psychological theory to understand the functionality of the brain.
3) Brain evidence provides a unique contribution above and beyond what could have been done with behavioral methods alone.
I have some ideas in mind, I'll be happy if people would send me suggestions and I'll blog about them.