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The purpose of this first written assignment is to give you practice at thinking scientifically about psychological issues. It’s highly likely you have come across claims and ideas regarding human behaviour before, but perhaps not stopped to fully analyze whether these claims and ideas are scientific, and whether they are supported by good quality evidence. As guiding principles, Lilienfeld et al. (2013, p. 22-27 in the 2nd edition, or p. 37-43 in the 1st edition) have set out some principles of scientific thinking. We talked about these principles in class (or we shortly will). The six guiding principles are: 1) Ruling out rival hypotheses - Findings consistent with several different hypotheses need additional research to decide which hypothesis is best supported. When looking at a pattern of results that has been reported, it is important to ask “are there any alternative hypotheses that could explain this pattern of data?” The rival hypotheses that are most important to rule out are those that could also explain the specific results that have been described. It is useful to consider how we could attempt to rule out these alternative hypotheses. 2) Correlation vs. causation - An association between two things does not imply a cause and effect relationship. If a pattern of results was produced simply by measuring two different things and comparing them, we cannot say anything definitive about whether one of these things caused the other. It’s always important to ask whether the causal connection that is claimed or implied (e.g. A causes B) could be reversed (i.e. B causes A) or whether a third variable could explain the relationship (i.e. C causes A and B to go together). 3) Falsifiability - Claims must be capable of being disproved. In other words, we should be able to think of a way to test whether or not a claim is true. If the claim is made in such a way that there’s no good way to test it, the claim is not really scientific. 4) Replicability - Findings must be capable of being duplicated following the same methodology. In addition, the most reliable claims are those that have converging evidence for them. We can only really be confident in a claim if it has been tested in multiple different ways and all of them point to the same effect. 5) Extraordinary claims - Science is, for the most part, a cumulative process, where new claims represent small advances over older ones. A claim that contradicts what we already know, or that seems to promise radical new benefits, must have a lot of evidence to back it up. The bigger the claim, the more evidence must be provided. 6) Parsimony (a.k.a. Occam’s razor) - If two hypotheses explain a phenomenon equally well, select the simpler one. The simpler one is not necessarily correct, but we shouldn’t make our explanations more complicated than necessary. In addition, Lilienfeld et al. have outlined some warning signs related to pseudoscientific claims (see p. 14-15 in the 2nd edition or p.45-48 in the 1st edition): 1) Overreliance on anecdotes – Testimonials from others can be hard to verify, hard to generalize and fail to inform us about cause-and-effect relationships. In general, statements that are backed up with data gathered from a study are to be preferred over statements that reflect the opinion of just a single person. Any single person’s observations may be based on an unrepresentative sample and may be influenced by biases (including a social desirability bias or biases in memory). 2) Meaningless psychobabble - Technical jargon and scientific-sounding words can sound convincing but be essentially meaningless. We should be wary of claims that rely on confusing terminology. 3) Talk of ‘proof’ instead of ‘evidence’ - Science provides evidence that either supports or refutes certain ideas we have about the world. But ‘proving’ an idea is almost impossible because future research may show us that our existing ideas are incorrect, or at least only partially true. For your assignment, I would like you to choose ONE of the scenarios (A, B or C) below and… a) analyze the claims being made according to 3 of the above 6 principles of scientific thinking. It may be the case that the scenario you select does a good job of following some of these 6 scientific principles, but does not do a good job of following others. If you think the scenario does a good job of following one of the principles that you have chosen to write about (e.g. you think it does a good job in ruling our rival hypotheses), provide a detailed response as to why you think that. If you think the scenario does not do a good job of following one of the principles (e.g. it fails to consider rival hypotheses), please provide a comprehensive answer and say what would need to be done to make sure the scenario follows the principle (e.g. what the rival hypotheses might be and how they might be ruled out). You will probably find that you have more interesting material to write about if you try to look for the ways that the scenario fails to follow a scientific principle, than if you look for the ways it succeeds. In other words, try to find what the scenario did wrong rather than what it did right. These scenarios have been specially created so that they fail to abide by some – but not all – of these scientific principles. b) analyze the claims according to 1 of the above 3 warning signs related to pseudoscientific claims. The scenarios also contain one (or more) of the warning signs of pseudoscience. So pick one of the three warning signs from the list and discuss how it applies to the scenario you have chosen. You should discuss the warning sign in general (e.g. why it is not appropriate to rely on anecdotal evidence when making claims) and how it applies to the specific scenario you have chosen (e.g. what anecdotes are mentioned in the scenario and why they are problematic). SCENARIOS (PICK ONE) SCENARIO A: Treating ADHD…with blueberries! We’ve all heard of -- and hopefully enjoyed -- the amazing superfruit, the blueberry. High in anti-oxidants, minerals, vitamins, and low in calories, nutrition experts advocate eating at least a handful a day in conjunction with other healthy foods from the various food groups. Blueberries are good for our bodies, and apparently, our minds too. A recent study found that blueberries can reduce some of the symptoms of ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) in children. In this study, children at an alternative ADHD treatment clinic were recruited. Dr. Coombs, the director of Brighter Day Clinic, oversaw the study. He stated, “Here at Brighter Day, we don’t believe in treating ADHD symptoms exclusively with stimulant medications. We focus on nurturing the body through eating nutritious foods and practising self-care, the mind’s need for creativity, and our connection with nature.” In the study, 12 children between the ages of 7and 11 (previously diagnosed with ADHD and currently enrolled in the centre’s summer day camp) took part. Six were assigned to the “blueberry” group, and 6 were in the control group. Children in the blueberry group consumed a smoothie containing fresh blueberries, plain yogurt, and orange juice. Children in the control group also consumed a smoothie, but it contained mango, plain yogurt, and orange juice. Children received their smoothies as an early afternoon snack each day for 7 days. Children’s symptoms were assessed 1.5 hours after the smoothie was consumed during their indoor, structured play and learning time. Clinicians at the centre observed and recorded instances of children’s impulsivity, inattention, fidgeting, and hyperactivity. The study found that children who drank the blueberry smoothie exhibited lower levels of these behaviours compared to the control group. Dr.Coombs says, “I’m really pleased with these results. They prove everything we stand for here at this clinic.” Lila, a parent whose child is currently being treated at the clinic, is hopeful about the results: “I’m happy to hear about this study because medication doesn’t work for my child. If a simple thing like eating blueberries every day could help my son stay focused, I’m on board!” The results of this study are certainly promising. Dr. Coombs hopes that nutrition science will follow up with more studies that test the effects of blueberries on ADHD symptoms.

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CDEV 4001 Contemporary Local Issues

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