Category Archives: Theory

No more Type I/II error confusion

Type I and Type II errors are, respectively, when you allow a statistical test to convinces you of a false effect, and when you allow a statistical test to convince you to dismiss a true effect. Despite being fundamentally important concepts, they are terribly named. Who can ever remember which way around the two errors […]

Twelve minutes of consciousness

The Economist has an excellent video on consciousness, what it is, why and how it evolved. The science section of The Economist has long had some of the best science reporting in the mainstream press and this video is a fantastic introduction to the science of consciousness. It’s 12 minutes long and it’s worth every […]

The reproducibility of psychological science

The Reproducibility Project results have just been published in Science, a massive, collaborative, ‘Open Science’ attempt to replicate 100 psychology experiments published in leading psychology journals. The results are sure to be widely debated – the biggest result being that many published results were not replicated. There’s an article in the New York Times about […]

Fifty psychological terms to just, well, be aware of

Frontiers in Psychology has just published an article on ‘Fifty psychological and psychiatric terms to avoid’. These sorts of “here’s how to talk about” articles are popular but themselves can often be misleading, and the same applies to this one. The article supposedly contains 50 “inaccurate, misleading, misused, ambiguous, and logically confused words and phrases”. […]

Are online experiment participants paying attention?

Online testing is sure to play a large part in the future of Psychology. Using Mechanical Turk or other crowdsourcing sites for research, psychologists can quickly and easily gather data for any study where the responses can be provided online. One concern, however, is that online samples may be less motivated to pay attention to […]

Computation is a lens

“Face It,” says psychologist Gary Marcus in The New York Times, “Your Brain is a Computer”. The op-ed argues for understanding the brain in terms of computation which opens up to the interesting question – what does it mean for a brain to compute? Marcus makes a clear distinction between thinking that the brain is […]

Power analysis of a typical psychology experiment

Understanding statistical power is essential if you want to avoid wasting your time in psychology. The power of an experiment is its sensitivity – the likelihood that, if the effect tested for is real, your experiment will be able to detect it. Statistical power is determined by the type of statistical test you are doing, […]

Irregularities in Science

A paper in the high-profile journal Science has been alleged to be based on fraudulent data, with the PI calling for it to be retracted. The original paper purported to use survey data to show that people being asked about gay marriage changed their attitudes if they were asked the survey questions by someone who […]

Sampling error’s more dangerous friend

As the UK election results roll in, one of the big shocks is the discrepancy between the pre-election polls and the results. All the pollsters agreed that it would be incredibly close, and they were all wrong. What gives? Some essential psych 101 concepts come in useful here. Polls rely on sampling – the basic […]

Trauma is more complex than we think

I’ve got an article in The Observer about how the official definition of trauma keeps changing and how the concept is discussed as if it were entirely intuitive and clear-cut, when it’s actually much more complex. I’ve become fascinated by how the concept of ‘trauma’ is used in public debate about mental health and the […]

Radical embodied cognition: an interview with Andrew Wilson

The computational approach is the orthodoxy in psychological science. We try and understand the mind using the metaphors of information processing and the storage and retrieval of representations. These ideas are so common that it is easy to forget that there is any alternative. Andrew Wilson is on a mission to remind us that there […]

The scientist as problem solver

Start the week with one of the founding fathers of cognitive science: in ‘The scientist as problem solver‘, Herb Simon (1916-2001) gives a short retrospective of his scientific career. To tell the story of the research he has done, he advances a thesis: “The Scientist is a problem solver. If the thesis is true, then […]

You can’t play 20 questions with nature and win

“You can’t play 20 questions with nature and win” is the title of Allen Newell‘s 1973 paper, a classic in cognitive science. In the paper he confesses that although he sees many excellent psychology experiments, all making undeniable scientific contributions, he can’t imagine them cohering into progress for the field as a whole. He describes […]

Towards a nuanced view of mental distress

In the latest edition of The Psychologist I’m involved in a debate with John Cromby about whether our understanding of mental illness is mired in the past. He thinks it is, I think it isn’t, and we kick off from there. The article is readable online with a free registration but I’ve put the unrestricted […]

The wrong sort of discussion

The Times Higher Education has an article on post-publication peer review, and whether it will survive legal challenges The legal action launched by a US scientist who claims that anonymous comments questioning his science cost him a lucrative job offer has raised further questions about the potential for post-publication peer review to replace pre-publication review. […]

Distraction effects

I’ve been puzzling over this tweet from Jeff Rouder: Surely, I thought, psychology is built out of effects. What could be wrong with focussing on testing which ones are reliable? But I think I’ve got it now. The thing about effects is that they show you – an experimental psychologist – can construct a situation […]


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