Contagious Yawning

April 25, 2012

At some time in our lives, we have all experienced a situation where we have yawned whilst seeing another person yawn. Even thinking or reading about yawning can make you yawn (Provine, 1986). It is very possible that whilst reading this blog you will experience this several times, but hopefully it is just because you are reading about yawning…

A study by Platek, Critton, Myers & Gallup Jr. (2003) suggested that contagious yawning is a part of a construct called mental state attribution, which is the ability to infer and model the mental states of others. The experiment used 65 undergraduate students and compared their susceptibility to yawn with a self-face recognition task, theories of mind and schizotypal personality scores to test whether inferring other’s mental states was associated with the yawning. The study found that there was a positive relationship between susceptibility to yawn contagiously with self-face recognition and theories of mind, and it was negatively related to schizotypal personality characteristics. This research then supported the theory that contagious yawning could be related to mental state attribution.

The study does however have many criticisms. There are problems with generalisation, as the participants used for the study were 31 male and 34 female participants who were all undergraduate students with a mean age of 19.8 years. The results from this study cannot therefore be applied to those outside of this age group or outside of the university setting. The sample size used for the study is small as it only includes 65 participants. To improve the generalisability of the results, further research could use a larger sample of participants so that results can be more reliable. The participants should be from different age groups and use participants outside of the university setting, such as those who may have jobs and careers or are those who are unemployed/retired to see if the results are consistent.

The study also used questionnaires to measure the schizotypal personality traits. Questionnaires can be heavily criticised as they are self-reports and participants may not have answered honestly to the questions presented. They may have given answers that they believe may be desirable to the experimenter. The participants of the study also got course credits for their participation, and so they may not have answered to their best ability and may have only been interested in the course credits that they would receive. The study is also not ecologically valid as the results cannot be applied outside of the laboratory setting. The study could be improved if the experiments took place in a real-life setting, and follow-up studies could place participants in a setting where participants are with other people for increased ecological validity.

Other research suggests different explanations for contagious yawning. Schürmann, Hesse, Stephan, Saarela, Zilles, Haari & Fink (2004) studied brain activation using FMRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scans whilst subjects watched videotaped yawns. The study found that yawn contagiousness was associated with activation of the amygdala, which provides an alternative explanation for contagious yawning. However, the participants may have yawned for other reasons other than the fact that the videotapes showed yawning, and this should be considered.

Yawning occurs at any given time and once started cannot be stopped. People yawn when not around others and it then is often associated with tiredness or sleepiness. It can also indicate stress and physiologically it is proposed that yawning regulates brain temperature through a cooling mechanism (Gallup & Gallup Jr., 2008). Therefore, there are many possible theories as to why we yawn in the first place. Further research should investigate why yawning is not always contagious, as sometimes we see a yawn and do not always yawn in return. How contagious is contagious yawning?

Overall, the studies have presented possible explanations however, as with many aspects of psychology, there are also other theories. Although it is known that yawning is indeed sometimes contagious, the exact reason for this remains unknown and it is not known why it is only sometimes contagious. Correlations between mental state attribution and amygdala activation have been found, however more research should be done in order to try and find a cause and effect for this interesting phenomenon.


Gallup, A. C., & Gallup Jr., G. G. (2008). Yawning and thermoregulation. Physiology & Behavior, 95, 10-16. doi:10.1016/j.physbeh.2008.05.003

Platek, S. M., Critton, S. R., Myers, T. E., & GallupJr., G. G. (2003). Contagious yawning: the role of self-awareness and mental state attribution. Cognitive Brain Research, 17, 223-227. doi:10.1016/S0926-6410(03)00109-5

Provine, R. R. (1986). Yawning as a Stereotyped Action Pattern and Releasing Stimulus. Animal Behavior, 72, 109-122. doi:10.1111/j.1439-0310.1986.tb00611.x

Schürmann, M., Hesse, M. D., Stephan, K. E., Saarela, M., Zilles, K., Hari, R., & Fink, G. R. (2004). Yearning to yawn: the neural basis of contagious yawning. NeuroImage, 24, 1260-1264. doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2004.10.022

Depression and Jeans

March 21, 2012

Yes, jeans. A recent study reported by The Mirror (2012) has suggested that women are more likely to wear jeans when they are feeling depressed. Researchers have found that for females, their emotional state strongly influences their dress decisions and jeans are often chosen when they are feeling low – but why?

According to the researchers, jeans ‘do not look great on everyone’ and they are often badly fitting, which suggests that the wearer has not put much effort into their appearance. Out of the 100 women used within the study, more than half said that they would wear jeans and would also wear slouchy, loose tops when feeling low. When happy, 62% of the women said that they would wear their favourite dress. The research would suggest that people may have ‘happy clothes’ and ‘sad clothes’, with jeans unfortunately being ‘sad clothes’. However, other research would suggest that it is perhaps our mood that changes depending on the clothes we are wearing, as opposed to choosing clothes to reflect our mood. Adam & Galinsky (2012) introduced the term ‘enclothed cognition’ which is the idea that clothing has a psychological impact on the wearer. They found mood can change depending on the symbolic meaning of the clothing and the physical experience an individual has whilst wearing the clothes. Either way, research shows that there is some relationship between clothing and mood.

The study that jeans are worn when a woman is depressed does however have many criticisms. The study itself only used a sample size of 100 people, all of whom were women. The study cannot be generalised to the wider population of women and does not provide evidence for a theory for men. Also, the possible explanations for wearing jeans when depressed may not apply to all, as jeans are now a popular choice of clothing for many women as they can be considered fashionable. Furthermore, jeans do not necessarily represent depression. Jeans are now made in several different colours, styles and patterns and so different types of jeans may not always represent depression, but could represent happiness and outgoing personalities. According to DeLong, Koh, Nelson & Ingvoldstad (1998) many people often feel happy when wearing jeans as they are considered more comfortable and versatile. The researchers also emphasized the impact that culture can play on the way jeans may be perceived.

The other research by Adam & Galinsky (2012) also only used a small sample size and the results should not easily be generalised to the rest of the target population. However the findings in the study could be applied to the wider population if the study was conducted in a real life setting making it more ecologically valid, as many people will be able to associate with certain situations. For example, people will have experienced times where they have felt happier due to their satisfaction with their outfit, or even times where they have felt low because the clothing does not fit properly or is physically uncomfortable. It should also be noted that several factors can have an effect on mood change, for example environmental influences.

Overall wearing jeans when depressed is subjective, as many other people wear jeans when they feel happy. Moods can sometimes be changed based on the clothing that is being worn, however it may not simply be the type of clothing that has an effect. Sometimes, simple physical discomfort when wearing particular clothes can affect our mood. Everybody has been there at some point.


Adam, H., & Galinsky, A. D. (in press). Enclothed Cognition,  Journal of Experimental Social Psychology (2012). Retrieved from

DeLong, M., Koh, A., Nelson, N., & Ingvoldstad, A. (1998). Jeans: A Comparison of Perceptions of Meaning in Koreaand The United States. Clothing and Textiles Research Journal, 16, 116-125. doi:10.1177/0887302X9801600302

Swain, M. (2012, March 10). Feeling blue: Women more likely to wear jeans when depressed. The Mirror.

Although accepted in most UK societies today, homosexuality was once considered a crime, a disease and a mental illness which needed treatment to be ‘cured’. For many years aversion therapy was a method used in order to ‘cure’ those from homosexuality. The method was mostly used on men, and it was thought that unethically administering drugs or placing patients in dirty, sickening surroundings while shown pin-up images of men, would cause them to form an association between the images and the negative effects. The aim was to make them nauseous when they saw men in a sexually attractive way and so would hopefully turn them ‘straight’. Shockingly it was also only in 2006 that the American Psychological Association (APA, 2010) deemed that using this method on homosexual patients broke the codes of practice.

Aversion therapy is commonly used in treating alcoholism. It has proven to be an effective treatment as it causes the patient to form an association between a nauseous feeling and alcohol, which leads to them being able to resist drinking. Aversion therapy in itself can be considered unethical as patients are made to smell or drink substances that can cause them to vomit and feel extremely nauseous. However, when aversion therapy was used in cases to treat homosexuality the circumstances were different. A case involving the use of aversion therapy was reported by The Independent (1996).

In 1962, Billy Clegg-Hill died during medically supervised aversion therapy after he was arrested for homosexual offences. The death was covered up and it was claimed that he had died from ‘natural causes’. However when the case was re-opened thirty four years later,  it was found that he had infact died from a coma and several convulsions caused by many injections of Apomorphine, a vomit-inducing drug. It was hoped that while the patient saw images of pin-up men and was injected with the drug, he would associate men with nausea and vomiting and so it would ‘cure’ his homosexuality. Also, it has been found that in a study by Max (1935) electrical aversion therapy was also used to try and cure homosexuality which had negative effects.

The case of Billy Clegg-Hill in particular is awful. A man died due to the aversion therapy, given as a punishment or ‘treatment’ in order to ‘cure’ his homosexuality. It would be an understatement to say that the use of aversion therapy in such cases is unethical, as it causes extreme harm to participants and as demonstrated in this case, even death. Furthermore, as aversion therapy was administered as a punishment for the crime, they were obviously not given the right to withdraw and leave whenever they wished. It can therefore be seen as not only breaking psychological ethics, but basic human ethics or rights as it could be seen as extreme punishment or even in some cases torture. It should also be noticed that it was only in 2006 when the APA decided that using aversion therapy in such circumstances broke the rules of practice, when in the UK the law against homosexual activity was lifted in 1967, and was completely invalidated in all US states by 2003. In 1994 the APA also said that aversion therapy was not an effective treatment in these cases, however it took so long for it to be deemed as unethical, which can be deemed unethical in itself. Also, aversion therapy normally has other ethical issues as it can affect a person’s mood so that they often become aggressive, angry and hostile and can it lead to problems with public relations.

Overall, aversion therapy can be an effective treatment for people with substance abuse issues, however using it to ‘cure’ homosexuality was extremely unethical and ineffective, and was damaging not curing.


American Psychological Association (2010). Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct.

D’Silva, B. (1996, August 4). When Gay Meant Mad. The Independent. Retrieved from:

Max, L. (1935). Breaking up a homosexual fixation by the conditioned reaction technique. Psychological Bulletin, 32, 734.

In the UK alone it is estimated that there are around 100,000 surgical procedures conducted each year, with the most popular procedures being Liposuction, Breast Augmentation/Reduction and Rhinoplasty (Nose-Jobs). Cosmetic surgery has become a popular procedure for many individuals, as the end ‘product’ can help boost an individual’s confidence and self esteem, which in turn could make them feel happier about themselves. However, cosmetic surgery is not the answer to everything. Studies have shown that some individuals who opt for these surgeries are often suffering from mental illnesses such as Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD). It is also believed that in some cases these conditions can worsen even after the cosmetic procedures. People with these disorders will not feel better even after they have had the cosmetic surgery.

Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) is a type of mental illness, of which sufferers will experience exclusive concerns with their body image, and have an excessive concern with a believed imperfection of their physical features. The individual will complain about an imperfection of a body part or several parts, which can cause psychological distress and it can have a negative impact on social functioning. BDD can even lead to severe forms of depression and anxiety, and if the individual continues to struggle socially then it can lead to them becoming socially isolated. If a person has a disorder such as BDD then no amount of cosmetic surgery will ever help them. BDD is often treated using Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and the use of SSRI drugs, as it is believed that BDD can be caused by low levels of Serotonin in the brain.

To investigate what factors lead to an individual having cosmetic surgery it would be best to conduct controlled trials, however this would not be possible due to ethical reasons. A study was conducted by von Soest (2006) in a large-scale study which followed school students between the ages of 12-19 over several years. By 2005, 106 participants had at least one cosmetic surgery procedure, 78 of which were women and 28 were men. The study showed that there was strong evidence to suggest that women who had psychological problems were more likely to have cosmetic surgery.

The results of this study and many more have shown that people who have psychological problems are highly likely to have cosmetic surgery. It should therefore be suggested that all possible patients must complete a questionnaire of which they will fill out details about their personality. This could help prevent those who have mental illnesses such as BDD from making a drastic change to their physical appearance. If the signs are there for someone who has BDD then they should be offered treatment for their disorder instead of cosmetic surgery, so that the individuals are treated properly for their disorders. Cosmetic surgery is also known to have many risks associated with it, and it is not guaranteed that the surgery will go as expected. It is therefore important to stress this to the patients, as it is highly likely that they still will not be satisfied with their appearance. Cosmetic surgery can also be addictive, as in many cases people have had one procedure and have had further surgery on other body parts. Therefore it is extremely important to give the proper treatment to those with disorders such as BDD to see if this can make a difference before any surgical procedures are conducted.


Dittmann, M. (2005, September). Plastic surgery: Beauty or beast? Monitor on Psychology, 36(8). Retrieved from

Jarret, C. (2012, February 15). Mental health problems worsen after cosmetic surgery. BPS Research Digest. Retrieved from

von Soest, T., Kvalem,I., and Wichstrom, L. (2006). Predictors of cosmetic surgery and its effects on psychological factors and mental health: a population-based follow-up study among Norwegian females. Psychological Medicine, 42(3), 617-626. doi:10.1017/S0033291711001267

Decoding Internal Voices

February 1, 2012

On the 1st February 2012, BBC News (2012) and The Guardian (2012) reported that scientists have been able to decode internal voices and thoughts within the brain, based on brain activity that was monitored in each patient. The research that was published in PLoS Biology demonstrates how the researchers were able to reconstruct words based on the brain waves from the individual involved by using Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (FMRI) methods. In the future, this method of interpreting brain waves to understand thoughts could help patients who are ‘locked-in’ or in a coma to communicate.

The research by Pasley et al (2012) uses FMRI to decode brain waves in order to interpret thoughts. FMRI measures brain activity by detecting changes in the blood flow in the brain. It is a popular method of measuring brain activity, as it can record brain activities that are useful in developing our knowledge of the brain and how it works, without exposing participants to radiation as in Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scans. FMRI scans can also detect activity from all over the brain and is not restricted to a particular area.

The researchers monitored the blood flow in the brain, particularly in the Superior Temporal Gyrus, which is a region of the brain that allows sense to be made of words that are heard. This part of the brain was the source of the findings. The brain waves from the area were interpreted by a computer, which in turn attempted to convert the brain waves into comprehensible sounds. Although some words appeared to make no sense, other words became understandable, such as ‘structure’, ‘doubt’ and ‘property’. In order for the words to be comprehensible, brain activity was plotted on several frequencies.

Brain activity converted to words

FMRI scans do however have some disadvantages. The technique is blood-oxygen-level-dependent (BOLD) which is only an indirect measure of neural activity. BOLD can also be affected by other factors such as disease and anxiety and so they must also be considered.

Although the research is groundbreaking and extremely exciting, as it is said to be useful in possibly helping people who cannot communicate for several reasons, the method could also be used against people. Technology continues to progress, and so research could form the basis of a ‘mind-reading’ program. In the distant future, there could be a concern that people’s privacy could be taken, and so they are not safe even inside their own heads.

The research by Pasley et al (2012) is greatly useful in terms of helping those to communicate, as it can provide families of patients who are in a coma for example to hear their family member’s thoughts, and it can help them communicate to each other even though the patient is comatose. This can in turn provide such people with a sense of relief and so this research would be greatly appreciated if put into practice. However we must also consider that thoughts are the most private thing a person has, and to intrude on this, there has to be a good reason. Although reading people’s minds would be interesting, it comes with many ethical issues which should be avoided, and people’s privacy in turn should be respected.


Palmer, J. (2012, February 1). Science decodes ‘internal voices’. BBC News. Retrieved from

Pasley, B. N., David, S. V., Mesgarani, N., Flinker, A., Shamma, S. A., et al. (2012). Reconstructing Speech from Human Auditory Cortex. PLoS Biology, 10, 1. doi: 10.1371/journal.pbio.1001251

Sample, I. (2012, January 31). Mind-reading program translates brain activity into words. The Guardian. Retrieved from


December 14, 2011

The study by Beauregard & Paquette (2006) is an interesting study. The aim of the study was to test whether there is a ‘God Spot’ or area of the brain which is used when someone claims to have a mystical experience with God. The researchers wanted to see which areas of the brain showed signs of activity when a group of Carmelite nuns were in a state of union with God, to test the theory of a ‘God Spot’ existing. The study used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to create images of the brain whilst the nuns were in this state, and found that several areas of the brain showed signs of large activity and so it was concluded that these areas collectively create the whole mystical experience. The research suggested that there is no ‘God Spot’ or specific area of the brain associated with the mystical experiences, and that it is in fact several areas of the brain working separately to visual and motor imagery.

The title of the journal article from Beauregard & Paquette (2006) is slightly ambiguous. The title does not clearly state what the study is about and can leave readers confused as to what is meant by a ‘mystical experience’ and the neural correlates associated with it. The study does also have some other criticisms. The results of the study showed that in the ‘Mystical Condition’ where the nuns were asked to rate the greatest experience of God, the average intensity rating on a scale of 1-5 was 3.06 +/- 0.93. However in the ‘Control Condition’ where the nuns were asked to rate their greatest experience with another human, the average intensity rating was 3.04 +/- 0.80. The two results are not significantly different as they are almost the same, suggesting that a mystical experience is no greater than having an experience with another human. Furthermore, the nuns were asked to relate the experiences from their own point of view, and so this can be criticised as the nuns may rate different experiences differently as it is subjective and so the intensity of the experiences cannot be validly measured. The results of the study did show that different areas of the brain are active when experiencing mystical states, however they are not significantly different to brain activity measured when in a simple relaxed state. The main problem with the original study which has not been highlighted is that the study was only conducted on 15 nuns. Therefore, the participants were all religious females and so the findings cannot be generalised to be the same for males or people who may not believe in God or other religions. Whether or not there is a God would greatly influence the results of the study.

The Telegraph (2006) article on the study can also be criticised. The title of the article suggests that possibly there is proof of a God and that it is not just in their minds, however the results from the study did not show this. Also the word ‘prove’ is incorrect, as the nuns have not proved anything and the results of the study has also not proved that God is more than a figment of the mind. The article further goes on to state that there is no ‘God Spot’ associated with mystical experiences and that several areas of the brain are involved. This can be questioned as a mystical experience has still not been defined and whether it even exists as there is no evidence to support this basic idea.

Overall, this study has many criticisms. The study is based upon the idea that there is indeed a God and that certain individuals have had subjective experiences with Him. Therefore, the study could only be applied to individuals who have such beliefs and who have had personal experiences. Moreover, the results of the study have demonstrated that several parts of the brain are active when the nuns were remembering their experiences with other humans and when they were in a simple relaxed state, with no significant difference for the Mystical condition. The results may simply show that great subjective experiences are remembered using several areas of the brain, and not specifically just experiences with God.


Beauregard, M. & Paquette, V. (2006). Neural correlates of a mystical experience in Carmelite nuns. Neuroscience Letters, 405, 186-190. doi:10.1016/j.neulet.2006.06.060

Highfield, R. (2006, August 30). Nuns prove God is not figment of the mind. The Telegraph.

Laboratory Experiments

November 30, 2011

Laboratory experiments are a popular experimental method used in psychological research. This is due to the amount of control a researcher can have over the study. Laboratory experiments allow cause and effect relationships between a set of variables to be investigated (Howitt & Cramer, 2008) which is particularly beneficial in psychology as the field aims to investigate the mind and behaviour. Therefore, it is desirable to find evidence to support a theory that a certain stimulus causes a certain effect.

Laboratory experiments allow the researcher to have a lot of control over their studies. The experimenter is able to plan their study carefully before the real investigation begins, in order for them to consider any confounding or extraneous variables that may occur. Within the laboratory environment, researchers can control these effects and can carefully manipulate the independent variable, which in turn will produce the desired results from the dependant variable. Replication is also an advantage of using laboratory experiments as each individual experiment can be easily replicated as they should all be conducted similarly which provides similar results. Laboratory experiments can be one of the best ways of conducting research that is available to psychologists (Howitt & Cramer, 2008).

Cognitive psychology tends to use laboratory experiments as it alleviates and interferences from outside of the setting and it therefore gains high internal validity. However, laboratory experiments do have issues with ecological validity. In a study into the theory of Egocentrism and Cognitive Development (Piaget & Inhelder, 1956) the researchers used the ‘Three Mountains’ study. This experiment was particularly criticised as the children used in the study lived in an area which was entirely flat, and so they had never experienced a mountain before. This clearly demonstrates a lack of ecological validity, as the children will never experience a situation similar to this in a real life setting.

Furthermore, although a high level of control is achieved in laboratory experiments, it is never possible to fully alleviate extraneous or confounding variables. There are many extraneous variables that can affect the results (Campbell & Stanley, 1963). One extraneous variable listed by the researchers that cannot be controlled is the participant’s mood on the day. If the participant has had a bad experience before the experiment, they may turn up feeling angry, sad or upset which will therefore influence the results and may not give a truly valid representation of their results. The mood of the participant is an issue that can never be controlled, but will have an undesirable effect on the results.

Laboratory experiments can be a popular experimental method in psychology as it allows a lot of control over the investigation to make sure that the study works as planned. However, they should not be used over other experimental methods such as field experiments and observational studies, which present more realistic situations and therefore the results will be able to be applied to real-life situations. This can therefore reduce demand characteristics and researchers can gain results of how participants act in day to day life.


Campbell, D. T. & Stanley, J. C. (1963). Experimental and Quasi-Experimental Designs for Research. London. Houghton Mifflin Company.

Howitt, D. & Cramer, D. (2008). The basic laboratory experiment. (pp. 159-183). Introduction to Research Methods in Psychology, Second Edition. Essex, England. Pearson Education Limited.

Piaget, J. & Inhelder, B. N. (1956). The child’s conception of space. London. Routledge & K. Paul.


November 17, 2011

Generalisation is the ability to apply the results from a study or experiment to the wider target population. Generalisation is based on the assumption that the findings from the original study on a set of participants will be the same for every other member of that target population. This is demonstrated through sampling methods; psychologists will select a sample of participants to take part in a study in order to test a theory. Generalisation is important as psychologists will want to generalise the findings to the population as a whole, otherwise the results collected will only inform us of information about the sample group rather than human nature in general.

One of the main characteristics of psychology is universalism. This is the assumption that the basis for human behaviour is the same for every individual across different cultures and societies. Therefore, when a psychologist suggests a hypothesis, they assume that this is true for all individuals unless they state otherwise. This demonstrates psychologists attempting to generalise their findings to all people, not simply the sample tested. However, it is questionable whether it is possible to generalise findings across cultures and societies, as different cultures will have different beliefs and behaviours and so what might apply to some may not necessarily apply to all.

Some types of methodology cause problems with generalisability. Case studies are particularly criticised as the findings from these can only apply to the individual involved. An example would include the famous case study of Little Hans (Freud, 1909). This study was heavily criticised, and the results cannot be applied to any other individual except the participant, thus demonstrating problems with generalisation.

Many psychologists also test on animals and assume that the behaviours demonstrated by them would apply to humans, therefore generalising the findings across species. This was demonstrated by Pavlov (1927) with his investigations into Classical Conditioning using dogs, where the findings of which have been applied to humans with Aversion Therapy as a solution to Substance Abuse. The idea proposed by Pavlov that a conditioned stimulus can create a conditioned response has proven to be greatly useful in humans, particularly in helping alcoholics quitting drinking. Generalisation across species however has been hugely criticised. Although testing on animals, for some, is more ethical than testing on humans, the results cannot be fully applied as humans and animals are different species. When findings are applied in such a way, it is argued it cannot be assumed that people will act in the same way, as humans can be considered more physiologically complex than animals. Some will find this dehumanising and even unreliable or invalid.

Although generalisation is important for psychologists it can be difficult. Samples of a target population are the most efficient ways of testing theories, and the results can then usually be applied to the wider target population. However it will never be possible to generalise findings universally as cultural roles and views play too big a part in influencing beliefs and behaviours. Although animal testing is useful in understanding behaviours, the findings cannot be fully applied to humans no matter how similar we may be. We are different for a reason.


Carlson, N. R. (2010). Physiology of Behaviour. 10th Edition.Boston,MA.United States of America. Pearson Education Inc.

Carlson, N. R., Martin, G. N., & Buskit, W. (2004). Research Methods in Psychology. (pp. 54). Psychology, Second European Edition. Great Britain. Pearson Education Limited.

Freud, S. (1909). Little Hans, Analysis of a Phobia in a Five-year-old Boy.

Howitt, D. & Cramer, D. (2008). The problems of generalisation. (pp. 53-67). Introduction to Research Methods in Psychology, Second Edition.Essex,England. Pearson Education Limited.

Pavlov, I.P. (1927). Conditioned Reflexes: An Investigation of the Physiological Activity of the Cerebral Cortex.

Deception in Psychological research is one of the most discussed ethical issues. Many would argue that deceiving participants is dishonest and it could make the participant feel uneasy when they find out the true nature of the study. However, others would say that deception is an important aspect of research. Psychology is the study of the mind and behaviour, and if participants are fully aware of what is being tested then they may act differently to what they would naturally if they were unaware. This would then make the results invalid, as we are not testing how humans react in that situation if they change their behaviour to suit the study.

Deception was a main issue in a Behavioural Study of Obedience (Milgram, 1963). Milgram used deception in the study, as the participants were not aware that the true nature of the study was an obedience experiment. Milgram aimed to test obedience to authority in a learner and teacher task, where the teacher would ‘shock’ the learner if they gave an incorrect answer with a range of different voltages. Milgram wanted to know if the participants would obey the authority figure in the study, who would encourage the participants to continue, even though the ‘learner’ – who was always a stooge – would be complaining of feeling ill and crying out in pain. Before conducting the research, Milgram asked fellow researchers how they believed the participants would react, all of whom stated that no participant would administer the full 450 volt electric shock to the participant.  The results of the study however showed that 65% of the participants did administer the full electric shock, therefore obeying the authority figure despite the ‘learner’ suffering. At the end of the study, Milgram explained that the study was a test of obedience, and many participants did in fact agree that deception was important for this study and did not feel uneasy when they learnt of the true nature of the experiment.

Deception is important in Psychological research as it creates reliable and valid results. As demonstrated in Milgram’s study, he gained results that no other professional in the field would have expected, and so the study has provided useful results to allow further research to be conducted. Although many would argue it is unethical to use deception, it is important that the participants are aware of how the experiment will work, however in some areas of research it is necessary to use deception to gain truly valid results. Debriefing is an important issue when using deception, as the participants should be fully aware of the study and what it measured, and to make sure that the participants feel more at ease with their experience. Therefore the use of deception in Psychology, although considered unethical, is extremely beneficial in order to gain valid results.


Carlson, N. R., Martin, G. N., Buskit, W. (2004). Psychology, Second European Edition. Research Methods in Psychology. (pp. 60).Great Britain. Pearson Education Limited.

Milgram, S. (1963). Behavioural Study of Obedience. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology. Vol 67, No. 4, 371-378. Retrieved from

‘A case study involves an in-depth investigation of a single case.’ – (Advanced Psychology, Child Development, Perspectives and Methods).

Case studies are used widely across the field of psychology. They are used in branches such as clinical psychology, educational psychology, cognitive psychology and occupational psychology. Case studies do not always have to be the study of an individual person, the case could be a department within a business, however they are normally used to get a detailed analysis of one particular individual.

Case studies provide in-depth analyses into the case through its use of questionnaires, structured interviews and observational methods. As a result of these methods, qualitative data can be collected which can be more useful in aiming to find new evidence to support or disprove a theory, as it provides information in greater detail. Case studies can also be longitudinal which allows information to be gathered over a period of time and can therefore show changes in behaviour or thoughts over the set period. Many psychological approaches use case studies in their research, such as in the Psychodynamic approach, Behaviourist approach and the Humanistic approach. In the Psychodynamic approach, Sigmund Freud who was the founder of the approach, is known for using many case studies in his research. One case study he used was ‘Rat Man’ where the patient was being treated by Freud for an obsessive fantasy where his close relatives would suffer horrific punishments involving rats. Freud concluded that the patients thoughts were due to his conflicting feelings of love and aggression towards these particular relatives which stemmed from punishments for the patient’s sexual experiences in infancy.

Although the case study provided a lot of information and insight into the case, it is argued that the published findings were greatly manipulated by Freud to support his theory. This is a known problem with case studies, as the researcher can become particularly biased toward the case as they are working with the patient usually for months, and therefore can publish biased results based on whether or not they like the patient and whether or not the findings support the theory. Another issue with case studies is that replication is extremely difficult as the information given in the original study will never directly match that in a follow up study. This makes the results unreliable and so they cannot be generalised to the wider target population.

Case studies are extremely useful in order to gain very detailed accounts from individual cases which are important in psychology. The detailed information within the case studies is invaluable for contributing to support or disprove theories within the field of psychology. Although they cannot be replicated or generalised, the results are valid and they provide greater information for further research to try and expand upon.


Pennington, McLoughlin, Smithson, Robinson, Boswell (2003) Advanced Psychology – Child Development, Perspectives and Methods: Hodder Arnold. –