In Sophie's words:
The Plymouth University psychology taster day consisted initially of a series of short lectures. After this we were able to explore some of their labs and went on to participate in smaller experiments, where we got the chance to talk to the lecturers and find out more about what they teach and their experiments. The first lecture was about racism, fear and drugs. For example, we were asked to imagine someone, such as Dr X, a professor, in our heads. We would then be shown a picture of the general stereotypical professor- old, glasses and a beard, as we had all roughly imagined. This proved that we all hold stereotypical representations of certain groups, thanks to our mental schemas.
The next talk was based on exploring the minds of babies. We were told about a study demonstrating how quickly a baby recognises its mother’s and father’s voices. The baby’s responsiveness was measured by recording their eye contact, which shows a positive correlation with their interest in a subject. They found that babies were more easily able to detect their mother’s voices, compared to their father’s; they took around four months to do this.
The third talk was a lecture on eyewitness testimony (EWT) and its limited reliability. There have been nine hundred false imprisonments in the UK and even more cases in the USA which demonstrated this. For example we were told the story of ‘Picking Cotton’, where an innocent man had spent eleven years in jail for being falsely identified as a rapist. The story showed how eyewitness testimony can be unreliable. For this reason DNA sampling and other evidence is taken over EWT in modern criminal investigations today. Later we did an experiment where we attempted to match different portraits to very dissimilar ones of the same person, in order to try and identify them. This showed that it was actually quite a challenge to do, so we saw how easy possible false imprisonment could be.
Other interesting lectures were about the role of media representations in body image and the lure of plastic surgery, as well as the role of imitation in understanding
Later on in the day we participated in several of the researchers’ experiments. For example, we researched the question of the best way of dealing with pain: through accepting or ignoring? I and another person volunteered to be experimented on. We were each told a separate method of dealing with pain: through the ‘old’ way, which was distracting myself with other thoughts, or by the ‘new method which had been shown to be successful’ of accepting the pain. We then had to put our fingers in a contraption which gradually added more pain by adding pressure, and had to state when we had reached our ultimate pain threshold so it would stop. We found that the participant using the method which they had been told was new and a successful way of dealing with pain had a higher pain threshold than the other participant. This highlighted the effects of altering wording even slightly to change a person’s perception so that they are better able to deal with pain.
Finally we got the opportunity to speak to undergraduates about their research. For example, one person researched environmental psychology by showing ninety two participants photographs of a beach scene. The independent variable that she manipulated was whether they were shown photographs of a clean beach, or a dirty beach littered with rubbish, and her dependent variable was the stress levels. She found that generally those who were shown the clean beach reported lower stress. This demonstrated the ability of certain stimuli to have an affect on people’s stress levels. This was an eye-opening end to an interesting day.
This article was originally published in Plymouth High School for Girls TALK magazine Summer 2016