From Theory to Design: The Role of Creativity in Designing Experiments

Experimental Psychology

Your institution must subscribe to JoVE's Psychology collection to access this content.

Fill out the form below to receive a free trial or learn more about access:

Welcome!

Enter your email below to get your free 1 hour trial to JoVE!





By clicking "Submit", you agree to our policies.

 

Overview

Source: Laboratories of Gary Lewandowski, Dave Strohmetz, and Natalie Ciarocco—Monmouth University

Research studies come into being when a researcher speculates about human thought, emotions, or behavior, and has a theory that offers a potential explanation. Often the researcher’s theory is firmly situated in everyday common experiences that may not naturally lend themselves to direct empirical study.

For example, researchers speculated that perception of a person on Facebook is influenced by the appearances and comments of the person’s Facebook friends.1 It is difficult to test this theory using real-life Facebook profiles. Instead, researchers must use their creativity to design a study—in this case, using fake profiles that look highly realistic—to test their theory. 

This video demonstrates how researchers test a central tenet of a popular social psychology theory. Specifically, this video shows a test of whether engaging in a self-expanding activity leads a person to feel a greater sense of self-efficacy.2

Psychological studies often use higher sample sizes than studies in other sciences. A large number of participants helps to ensure that the population under study is better represented, i.e., the margin of error accompanied by studying human behavior is sufficiently accounted for. In this video, we demonstrate this experiment using just 2 participants, one for each condition. However, as represented in the results, we used a total of 100 (50 for each condition) participants to reach the experiment’s conclusions.

Cite this Video

JoVE Science Education Database. Experimental Psychology. From Theory to Design: The Role of Creativity in Designing Experiments. JoVE, Cambridge, MA, (2017).

Procedure

Appendix 1
Appendix 1. Survey of self-efficacy given to participants.

  1. Define key variables.
    1. Create an operational definition (i.e., a clear description of exactly what a researcher means by a concept) of self-expanding activity.
      1. For the purposes of this experiment, a self-expanding activity is any activity that is novel, challenging, and interesting.
      2. Identifying an activity that meets all three criteria requires the researcher to be creative. In the video, the researcher will manipulate self-expansion by having participants transport several objects (e.g., table tennis balls, paper clips, and rubber bands) across a room using only chopsticks. 
      3. Due to the unique nature of the task, the researcher can assure that the task is novel (i.e., something participants have never done), challenging (i.e., picking up and moving a ping pong ball with chopsticks is difficult), and interesting (i.e., this task it out of the ordinary which makes it intriguing). 
    2. Create an operational definition of self-efficacy.
      1. For purposes of this experiment, self-efficacy is defined as the participant’s perception of his or her ability to successfully complete a series of everyday tasks (e.g., getting directions when lost, dealing with an overcharge from the cell phone company, etc.).
  2. Conduct the study.
    1. Meet student/participant at the lab.
    2. Provide participant with informed consent, i.e., a brief description of the research, a sense of the procedure, an indication of potential risks/benefits, the right to withdraw at any time, and a manner to get help if he or she experiences discomfort.
    3. Run the self-expanding condition 
      1. Instruct the participant: “For this activity, you need to carry these objects (a ping pong ball, a key, a rubber band, and a paper clip) over to the other side of the room and drop each in the basket. To move the objects you may only use these chopsticks. You have 5 minutes to complete this task.”
      2. The researcher should have the items on the table for the participant to see and the basket set up. Give the participant the chopsticks, start a timer, and say “You may begin.” 
    4. Give the participant the dependent variable.
      1. The researcher will give the participant an 8-item measure that asks him or her to indicate self-efficacy (Appendix 1).
  3. Debrief.
    1.  Tell participant about the nature of the study.
      1. “Thank you for participating. In this study, I was trying to determine if engaging in self-expanding activities that are novel, challenging and interesting would increase a person’s self-efficacy, i.e., his or her perception of being able to successfully accomplish several common goals. There were two conditions. Everyone carried the objects from one side of the room to the other within 5 minutes, but one group did so using chopsticks, while the other group used their hands. The idea is that using chopsticks for this purpose is a new and interesting, yet difficult activity, especially when compared to doing the same thing simply using one’s hand. According to the self-expansion theory, engaging in these self-expanding activities that are novel, challenging, and interesting increases a person’s self-efficacy, or one’s confidence in successfully accomplishing other tasks.”
    2. Explain why the researcher could not reveal the study’s true purpose. 
      1. “We purposefully did not tell you the true purpose of the study ahead of time. If participants were to know the true reasoning and hypothesis behind the study, they may perform in an unnatural way by trying to purposefully disprove the experimenter’s hypothesis.”
  4. Run the procedure one additional time for the non-self-expanding condition. 
    1. Everything is identical except for the part where the researcher describes the study during debriefing. It should instead read “For this activity, you need to carry these objects (a ping pong ball, a key, a rubber band, and a paper clip) over to the other side of the room and drop each in the basket. To move the objects, you may only use your hands. You have 5 minutes to complete this task.”

Creative experimental design is required to take certain theories from the speculative state to the testable state.

Psychology studies originate when a researcher develops a theory regarding human thoughts, emotions, or behaviors. Often this theory is firmly situated in common experiences and may not stimulate direct empirical study.

Concerns, ranging from ethical considerations to empirical control, make the process of designing a study more challenging. In these cases, the researcher must come up with a creative way to indirectly test the question at hand.

This video demonstrates the creative process that occurs when psychologists design experiments to test central tenets. You will learn how to design, conduct, and analyze an experiment that determines whether engaging in a self-expanding activity leads a person to feel a greater sense of self-efficacy, as well as apply the phenomenon to other research concepts.

During this experiment, participants are divided into two groups that engage in different activities. The first group will engage in a self-expanding activity—a task that is novel, challenging, and interesting—which requires creativity on the researcher’s part to meet all three criteria.

In contrast, the second group is asked to engage in a non-self-expanding activity—a task that is familiar, boring, and ordinary.

To distinguish the activities, participants in the first, self-expanding group are asked to transport several objects across a room using only chopsticks, whereas participants in the second, non-self-expanding group are asked to use their hands.

After completing either activity, all participants are given a survey of questions, which measures participants’ levels of self-efficacy—their perception of their ability to successfully complete a series of everyday tasks.

For example, the questions involve everyday challenges, such as getting directions when lost, or dealing with an overcharge from the cell phone company. Participants are asked to rate their ability on a scale of 1 to 7, ranging from not being successful to being very successful, at resolving the problem.

The researchers hypothesize that the group performing the self-expanding activity will have greater feelings of self-efficacy than those who do not.

Before conducting the study, set up a basket in the research lab. Then gather up a ping pong ball, a key, a rubber band, a paper clip, and a pair of chopsticks on a table on the other side of the room.

To begin the experiment, meet the participant at the lab. Provide them with informed consent, a brief description of the research, a sense of the procedure, an indication of potential risks and benefits, and the freedom of withdrawal at any time.

Next, instruct participants in the self-expanding group to use chopsticks and those in the non-self-expanding group to use their hands. Respectively, within a 5 min time period, have them carry objects—one at a time—over to the other side of the room and drop them in the basket.

After the activity is completed, administer the same eight-item measure to all participants and instruct them to rate their levels of self-efficacy.

To conclude the experiment, debrief the participant by telling them the nature of the study, as well as why the true purpose of the study could not be revealed beforehand.

To analyze whether engaging in a self-expanding activity correlates to a greater sense of self-efficacy, average the self-efficacy scores in each group and plot the means across conditions.

To determine if group differences were found, perform a t-test for independent means. Note that the participants in the self-expansion condition reported greater self-efficacy than those in the non-self-expansion condition.

Now that you are familiar with how to creatively take an experiment from the theory to execution stages, let’s take a look at how other researchers manipulate theory-based concepts.

A similar study creatively manipulated self-expansion in married couples to determine if novel, challenging, and interesting activities improved relationship quality. To manipulate self-expansion, the couples carried a foam pillow between them, without using their hands, while moving through an obstacle course.

Those who engaged in the self-expanding activity reported higher relationship quality when compared a no-activity control group.

Another study tested whether people act more nurturing toward cute things. Rather than devising a design to have participants hold cute or ugly babies and test which ones they were more nurturing to, researchers devised an alternative and creative experiment.

They had participants look at pictures of cute versus non-cute animals. Then, they played a game that required them to very carefully remove small pieces from openings that provide a shock when touched.

As predicted, those who viewed the pictures of cute animals were more careful when playing the game than individuals who viewed the non-cute animals.

In a third study, researchers wanted to develop an experiment to improve understanding of social exclusion by examining the patterns of brain activation present during social interactions.

To achieve this, brain activity was measured in real time as participants were subjected to different social exclusion situations through a Cyberball task that the researchers could manipulate through a computer program.

Through this creative experimental design, changes in event-related brain potentials were observed in the midst of different social exclusion circumstances.

You’ve just watched JoVE’s introduction to creatively designing experiments for manipulation of theory-based concepts. The creative solution shown in this video was necessary to adequately meet the required conditions of novelty, challenge, and interest.

As a result, the study design was able to test the self-expansion theory and show that such activities increase self-efficacy. Through a discussion of applications, you were introduced to more examples in which there were critical needs for creative experimental design.

Thanks for watching! 

Results

Data were collected from 50 participants per condition—100 participants overall. These numbers reflect the mean reported self-efficacy levels for participants in each condition. This large number of participants helps to ensure that the results are reliable. If this research were conducted using just two participants, it is likely that the results would have been much different, and not reflective of the greater population. 

After collecting data from the 100 participants, a t-test was performed for independent means comparing the self-expanding condition (achieved through carrying items with chopsticks) to the low self-expansion condition (achieved through carrying items by hand) to see how they influenced self-efficacy. As shown in Figure 1, the self-expansion condition reported greater self-efficacy than the low self-expansion condition. 

Figure 1
Figure 1. Self-efficacy by self-expansion condition. Averages were calculated from the ratings reported from survey questions.

Applications and Summary

This two-group experiment exemplifies how researchers can devise creative ways to manipulate theory-based experiences. The creative solution shown in this video was necessary to adequately meet the required conditions of novelty, challenge, and interest. As a result, the study design was able to test the prediction from the self-expansion theory that these activities would increase self-efficacy. 

A similar study creatively manipulated self-expansion in married couples to determine if novel, challenging and interesting activities improved relationship quality.3 To manipulate self-expansion, the couples carried a foam pillow between them, without using their hands, while moving through an obstacle course. The results indicated that those who engaged in the self-expanding activity reported higher relationship quality.

Another creative study tested whether people act more nurturing toward cute things than non-cute things.4 Because you cannot have participants hold cute vs. ugly babies and see which one they treat in a more nurturing manner, researchers devised a creative solution. They had participants look at pictures of cute vs. non-cute animals and then play the game Operation, which requires a person to very carefully remove small pieces from electrically charged openings. As predicted, those who viewed the cute animals pictures were more careful when playing the game. 

References

  1. Walther, J. B., Van Der Heide, B., Kim, S., Westerman, D., & Tong, S. The role of friends' appearance and behavior on evaluations of individuals on Facebook: Are we known by the company we keep? Human Communication Research. 34 28-49 (2008).
  2. Mattingly, B. A., & Lewandowski, G. J. The power of one: Benefits of individual self-expansion. The Journal Of Positive Psychology. 8 (1), 12-22. doi:10.1080/17439760.2012.746999 (2013).
  3. Aron, A., Norman, C. C., Aron, E. N., McKenna, C., & Heyman, R. E. Couples' shared participation in novel and arousing activities and experienced relationship quality. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 78(2), 273-284. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.78.2.273 (2000).
  4. Sherman, G. D., Haidt, J., & Coan, J. A. Viewing cute images increases behavioral carefulness. Emotion. 9, 282-286 (2009).

Appendix 1
Appendix 1. Survey of self-efficacy given to participants.

  1. Define key variables.
    1. Create an operational definition (i.e., a clear description of exactly what a researcher means by a concept) of self-expanding activity.
      1. For the purposes of this experiment, a self-expanding activity is any activity that is novel, challenging, and interesting.
      2. Identifying an activity that meets all three criteria requires the researcher to be creative. In the video, the researcher will manipulate self-expansion by having participants transport several objects (e.g., table tennis balls, paper clips, and rubber bands) across a room using only chopsticks. 
      3. Due to the unique nature of the task, the researcher can assure that the task is novel (i.e., something participants have never done), challenging (i.e., picking up and moving a ping pong ball with chopsticks is difficult), and interesting (i.e., this task it out of the ordinary which makes it intriguing). 
    2. Create an operational definition of self-efficacy.
      1. For purposes of this experiment, self-efficacy is defined as the participant’s perception of his or her ability to successfully complete a series of everyday tasks (e.g., getting directions when lost, dealing with an overcharge from the cell phone company, etc.).
  2. Conduct the study.
    1. Meet student/participant at the lab.
    2. Provide participant with informed consent, i.e., a brief description of the research, a sense of the procedure, an indication of potential risks/benefits, the right to withdraw at any time, and a manner to get help if he or she experiences discomfort.
    3. Run the self-expanding condition 
      1. Instruct the participant: “For this activity, you need to carry these objects (a ping pong ball, a key, a rubber band, and a paper clip) over to the other side of the room and drop each in the basket. To move the objects you may only use these chopsticks. You have 5 minutes to complete this task.”
      2. The researcher should have the items on the table for the participant to see and the basket set up. Give the participant the chopsticks, start a timer, and say “You may begin.” 
    4. Give the participant the dependent variable.
      1. The researcher will give the participant an 8-item measure that asks him or her to indicate self-efficacy (Appendix 1).
  3. Debrief.
    1.  Tell participant about the nature of the study.
      1. “Thank you for participating. In this study, I was trying to determine if engaging in self-expanding activities that are novel, challenging and interesting would increase a person’s self-efficacy, i.e., his or her perception of being able to successfully accomplish several common goals. There were two conditions. Everyone carried the objects from one side of the room to the other within 5 minutes, but one group did so using chopsticks, while the other group used their hands. The idea is that using chopsticks for this purpose is a new and interesting, yet difficult activity, especially when compared to doing the same thing simply using one’s hand. According to the self-expansion theory, engaging in these self-expanding activities that are novel, challenging, and interesting increases a person’s self-efficacy, or one’s confidence in successfully accomplishing other tasks.”
    2. Explain why the researcher could not reveal the study’s true purpose. 
      1. “We purposefully did not tell you the true purpose of the study ahead of time. If participants were to know the true reasoning and hypothesis behind the study, they may perform in an unnatural way by trying to purposefully disprove the experimenter’s hypothesis.”
  4. Run the procedure one additional time for the non-self-expanding condition. 
    1. Everything is identical except for the part where the researcher describes the study during debriefing. It should instead read “For this activity, you need to carry these objects (a ping pong ball, a key, a rubber band, and a paper clip) over to the other side of the room and drop each in the basket. To move the objects, you may only use your hands. You have 5 minutes to complete this task.”

Creative experimental design is required to take certain theories from the speculative state to the testable state.

Psychology studies originate when a researcher develops a theory regarding human thoughts, emotions, or behaviors. Often this theory is firmly situated in common experiences and may not stimulate direct empirical study.

Concerns, ranging from ethical considerations to empirical control, make the process of designing a study more challenging. In these cases, the researcher must come up with a creative way to indirectly test the question at hand.

This video demonstrates the creative process that occurs when psychologists design experiments to test central tenets. You will learn how to design, conduct, and analyze an experiment that determines whether engaging in a self-expanding activity leads a person to feel a greater sense of self-efficacy, as well as apply the phenomenon to other research concepts.

During this experiment, participants are divided into two groups that engage in different activities. The first group will engage in a self-expanding activity—a task that is novel, challenging, and interesting—which requires creativity on the researcher’s part to meet all three criteria.

In contrast, the second group is asked to engage in a non-self-expanding activity—a task that is familiar, boring, and ordinary.

To distinguish the activities, participants in the first, self-expanding group are asked to transport several objects across a room using only chopsticks, whereas participants in the second, non-self-expanding group are asked to use their hands.

After completing either activity, all participants are given a survey of questions, which measures participants’ levels of self-efficacy—their perception of their ability to successfully complete a series of everyday tasks.

For example, the questions involve everyday challenges, such as getting directions when lost, or dealing with an overcharge from the cell phone company. Participants are asked to rate their ability on a scale of 1 to 7, ranging from not being successful to being very successful, at resolving the problem.

The researchers hypothesize that the group performing the self-expanding activity will have greater feelings of self-efficacy than those who do not.

Before conducting the study, set up a basket in the research lab. Then gather up a ping pong ball, a key, a rubber band, a paper clip, and a pair of chopsticks on a table on the other side of the room.

To begin the experiment, meet the participant at the lab. Provide them with informed consent, a brief description of the research, a sense of the procedure, an indication of potential risks and benefits, and the freedom of withdrawal at any time.

Next, instruct participants in the self-expanding group to use chopsticks and those in the non-self-expanding group to use their hands. Respectively, within a 5 min time period, have them carry objects—one at a time—over to the other side of the room and drop them in the basket.

After the activity is completed, administer the same eight-item measure to all participants and instruct them to rate their levels of self-efficacy.

To conclude the experiment, debrief the participant by telling them the nature of the study, as well as why the true purpose of the study could not be revealed beforehand.

To analyze whether engaging in a self-expanding activity correlates to a greater sense of self-efficacy, average the self-efficacy scores in each group and plot the means across conditions.

To determine if group differences were found, perform a t-test for independent means. Note that the participants in the self-expansion condition reported greater self-efficacy than those in the non-self-expansion condition.

Now that you are familiar with how to creatively take an experiment from the theory to execution stages, let’s take a look at how other researchers manipulate theory-based concepts.

A similar study creatively manipulated self-expansion in married couples to determine if novel, challenging, and interesting activities improved relationship quality. To manipulate self-expansion, the couples carried a foam pillow between them, without using their hands, while moving through an obstacle course.

Those who engaged in the self-expanding activity reported higher relationship quality when compared a no-activity control group.

Another study tested whether people act more nurturing toward cute things. Rather than devising a design to have participants hold cute or ugly babies and test which ones they were more nurturing to, researchers devised an alternative and creative experiment.

They had participants look at pictures of cute versus non-cute animals. Then, they played a game that required them to very carefully remove small pieces from openings that provide a shock when touched.

As predicted, those who viewed the pictures of cute animals were more careful when playing the game than individuals who viewed the non-cute animals.

In a third study, researchers wanted to develop an experiment to improve understanding of social exclusion by examining the patterns of brain activation present during social interactions.

To achieve this, brain activity was measured in real time as participants were subjected to different social exclusion situations through a Cyberball task that the researchers could manipulate through a computer program.

Through this creative experimental design, changes in event-related brain potentials were observed in the midst of different social exclusion circumstances.

You’ve just watched JoVE’s introduction to creatively designing experiments for manipulation of theory-based concepts. The creative solution shown in this video was necessary to adequately meet the required conditions of novelty, challenge, and interest.

As a result, the study design was able to test the self-expansion theory and show that such activities increase self-efficacy. Through a discussion of applications, you were introduced to more examples in which there were critical needs for creative experimental design.

Thanks for watching! 

A subscription to JoVE is required to view this article.
You will only be able to see the first 20 seconds.

RECOMMEND JoVE