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Psychology experiments are usually long, painstaking surveys and tests that sometimes take years to complete. They do, however, give us some insight into how the human mind works and develops from the day we are born to the day we die. Deciphering the information these experiments generate is sometimes just as hard as performing them, and to a person with no background in psychology it is almost impossible. The following three experiments were found on the APA website and are good examples of modern psychological research.
The first experiment I am going to discuss concerns the effects of marital status, income, and family functioning on African American adolescent self-esteem. It was conducted by Jelani Mandara and Carolyn B. Murray and supported in part by the National Institute of Health Grant. The experimentation took place in Southern California using a sample of one hundred sixteen children that were fifteen years of age; sixty-four percent of these children were female. The families were selected from lists of parents in four school districts and were reflective of the general trends for African American families in Southern California according to the U.S. Bureau of the Census.
To determine parental marital status and average family income the testers simply asked the parents of the children. The rest of the variables were determined by two tests given to the children. The first test was the Multi-Dimensional Self-Esteem Inventory (MDSEI), which is a 116-item test to assess the individual aspects of self-esteem in each child. These aspects are feelings of competence, personal power, lovability, likeability, self-control, moral self-approval, and body functioning. The second test given was the Family Environment Scale (FES), which consists of 90 true of false type questions to assess the environment within the family and its functioning. This test has proven accurate many times with African American families even though the norms were determined from 285 predominately middle and upper class European American families.
Each child was given $10 to partake in the tests and took them whenever was convenient. The results showed that boys with parents who are divorced are mainly at risk of developing a low self-esteem. It also showed that family functioning was directly related to self-esteem in both boys and girls.
I believe that this experiment was set up and conducted very well. The experimenters used a sample that was proven to be representative of the population they sought to test, and used testing methods that were tried and true.
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The second experiment deals with the development of concern for others in children with behavior problems. Various people in both the National Institute of Mental Health and the Department of Psychology at the University of Colorado conducted it. Funded by the National Institutes of Health Intramural Research Program, the experiment was part of an ongoing study of children at risk of developing behavior disorders.
The sample for this experiment was taken from a major urban community and consisted of fifty-one male and thirty-one female children four to five years of age, most of whom were Caucasian and from the middle to upper class. Children that had any physical or mental disabilities were not used in this experiment. To determine the level of risk each child had for developing disruptive behavior disorders parents and teachers were given forms to fill out about their children. The mother of the child in question was given the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL) and the Eyberg Child Behavior Inventory, and his or her teacher was given the Teacher Report Form (TRF) and the Preschool Behavior Questionnaire. Using each child’s individual scores on each test the children were separated into groups of low, moderate, and high risk.
After this each child was observed on three separate occasions, the first of which consisted of three separate sessions about two to three months apart. In the first session at Time 1 the child’s response to a female experimenter showing signs of distress were observed. In the next session the child’s heart rate was recorded while they watched at twelve-minute video. The video consisted of eight different emotional events being experienced by children and showed a star field in between each event for fifteen seconds. In the last session the child’s responses to someone showing signs of distress were again observed, only this time it was the mother of the child who simulated the suffering. Six months after this mothers completed the Child Rearing Practices Report in order for the testers to learn more about the environment each child grew up in.
At Time 2 each child’s response to distress showed by his or her mother and an experimenter was again observed. Also both the children’s and mother’s reports of each child’s empathy were recorded. This was all done during a single session and made use of the Bryant Empathy Scale and the My Child measure. The Bryant Empathy Scale was taken by the children and consisted of twenty-two true-false type questions. The My Child measure, on the other hand, was completed by the mother and consisted of one hundred statements to be rated on a scale from one to seven or extremely false to extremely true.
Time 3 simply consisted of the mothers and teachers use of the CBCL and TRF. After these separate experimenters, blind to the individual risk level of each child, coded the information to determine how much concern for others each child had during each experiment. The results showed that as children with behavior problems get older their concern for others decreases faster than normal, and that girls generally have more concern for others than do boys.
This experiment was, for the most part, of a within subject nature. The experimenters were testing the knowledge against the same children. It was, however, also partially blind. The coders did not know the risk level of each child they were reading information from. This was probably beneficial so that there would be no bias in the deciphering of the information received. One possible problem with the experiment was the signs of distress each mother and tester showed. Each mother probably performed slightly differently when acting out the distress and this could have had an effect on the results. Also, the amount of attention each child had while watching the video or seeing an adult suffering could have had some affect. Other than that the only real problem was determining what all the information gathered meant. It was probably very difficult to figure out any trends and what any of it meant.
The third experiment is about how a parents’ status, ethnicity, beliefs, and stress levels affect their discipline responses to child misbehavior. The research was conducted by various people from universities in the U.S. and was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health Grant, as well as the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Grant.
The participants for this experiment were a part of the Child Development Project and consisted of five hundred eighty-five families from three towns in Tennessee and Indiana; most of whom were white. Each parents discipline responses, social and economic status, ethnicity, beliefs, stress levels, and cognitive-emotional processes were obtained through a single interview with the parents and their children. The interview was conducted by two trained interviewers and lasted about three hours. After this interview five hypothetical parenting situations were shown to the parents and how they might have responded was recorded. All this information was then analyzed and interpreted to get the results of the experiment.
The results showed that the parents’ beliefs about spanking, family stress, and child aggression were related negatively with their social and economic status as well as the amount of discipline they used. Also a slight relationship between ethnicity and discipline was found. As for any errors in the experiment there were not any noticeable ones. The rather simple nature of the experimentation made it easier to test. Conditions during the interview varied from subject to subject but there was probably no real affect of this on the results.
So as one can readily see, experiments are usually long complex tests done by experts in the field of psychology and are not for the feint of heart. Only through years of experience and learning can one really understand what the results mean. Modern research is constantly digging deeper into the human mind and trying to figure out the small intricacies of how we think. I doubt anyone will ever figure it all out, but until then the field of psychology will continue to grow.