HPS104 Foundations of Psychological Science

23 Dec

HPS104 Foundations of Psychological Science
Choose ONE research question from the list below. Seminar #2 will help you process the design-related issues raised by each question; Seminar #3 will help you manage the ethical implications of each question so that you can create your Plain Language Statement.
Question 1 – Do punitive interventions reduce school truancy?
Truancy (or ‘skipping school’) is defined as an unexcused absence from school by a student.
Truancy interventions by schools, local governments/councils, law enforcement, etc. vary
considerably between countries and even between states/districts within countries. These
interventions can include combinations of education, warnings, and punishments. The
punishments in some countries can be quite severe and include a prison sentence for the
parents! But more typically, in Australia for instance, truancy is a matter more often dealt
with by local police who search for and actively return truants to their school, and also by
schools who notify parents and warn them of repercussions (including expulsion of the
student from the school). There is even discussion in Australia as to whether to fine parents
by way of removing/reducing child-support payments.
The two interrelated questions we would like you to address in a single research design are:
(i) Is a punitive (i.e., punishment-based) approach to school truancy effective, and (ii) should
the target of the punishment – the parent or the truant – differ depending on the age of the
The former question is important but relatively straightforward – you will need to compare the
effects of punishment against the effects of some control condition (please refer to ‘Final
remarks’ below because even this issue can be tricky). But the latter question is potentially
more difficult to address. Remember, the truant is a minor under the guardianship of
(usually) a parent. You suspect that the nature of the relationship between parent and child
will vary over the age of the child in a way that is relevant to the question of who should be
targeted in punitive interventions. At a young age – where a child is highly dependent on the
parent – it makes sense to target the parent because the parent has (or at least should
have) primary responsibility for their child’s attendance at school. But at an older age –
where the child (now an adolescent) is more autonomous and less likely to be under the
control of a parent – it makes sense to target the adolescent rather than the parent. But of
course, who to target is ultimately an empirical question – you need to try it and see what
Your task (sorry, we won’t provide you with an operationalized research question, nor with
formal hypotheses)
To design a quantitative study that evaluates the effectiveness of a punitive intervention on
rates of school truancy as a function of the target of the intervention (parent v truant) and the
age of the truant.
Materials (optional)
You should not need psychological instruments (such as paper and pencil surveys) to
conduct this study as the variables of interest (intervention type, outcome measure (truancy
rate), target of intervention (child v parent), etc.) are concrete, not constructs, and not
psychological per se.
This would normally be a challenging study to undertake. But don’t worry, help is at hand!
Two local schools are just about to trial truancy interventions of their own. Both schools have
large enrolments and teach across primary and high school grade levels (i.e., the age range
covers young children through to adolescents). One school (School A) plans to hand out
fines (enforced by police) to parents of repeat truants; the second school (School B) plans to
place repeat truants in after-school detention. Both schools expect to apply their punitive
interventions for at least 6 months. As an aside, you are also on good terms with the
principals of several other local schools (Schools C and D) that have no plans to alter their
current truancy strategy (which is simply to alert parents to instances of truancy in their
children). Of course, you might want to forgo these opportunities and design a study of your
own, using other schools, other interventions, etc.
Final remarks
As you embark on your study several niggling doubts and questions remain.
The punishments meted out to parents and students are going to be fundamentally different.
That might be a problem. Worse than this, not all punishments will be equally salient to all
participants (e.g., administering a fine to a high SES family might have less impact than a
similar fine given to a low SES family). So not only are different kinds of punishment used for
your two main groups (truants v parents) but the punishment used will almost invariably not
be of similar salience to all members of your two groups. You’re going to need to think about
this carefully.
Also, you don’t want to conduct a pseudo study! That is, to answer the question “does
punishment work” you’ll need some kind of comparison (control?) condition, right?
“Punishment versus what?” The easy thing is to compare the effects of punishment to the
effects of not punishing (i.e., to use the two schools (C and D) not conducting an intervention
as your control groups). But is it fair to compare the effectiveness of punishment to ‘doing
nothing different’? You’ll definitely need to think carefully about this. Maybe have a chat with
the principal of the schools C and D…?
Finally, you’ll need to think about the implications of your sampling methods and their
implications in relation to the representativeness of the schools. Yes, the schools involved
have large enrolments, but there are only four schools available to you (if you choose to take
advantage of schools A, B, C, and/or D who’ve offered to cooperate with you). Will the
results you obtain be generalizable to other schools? For example, what is the SES of the
families within each school? My brain hurts!
Question 2 – Does participating in team sports at secondary school contribute to binge
drinking in adulthood?
Playing team sports at secondary school can benefit a student not only physically and
personally but also contribute to their social health and development. These benefits are the
reason why participation in sports is often part of the school curriculum and why sport is
promoted to children as a useful extracurricular activity. However, there is growing empirical
and anecdotal evidence that team sports are associated with some unhealthy outcomes in
adulthood, most notably, binge drinking. Unfortunately, the presence, size and relevance of
the possible association between team sports and binge drinking, and whether this
association is in fact due to a causal relationship, are questions that have not yet been
Your task (sorry, we won’t provide you with an operationalized research question, nor with
formal hypotheses)
To design a quantitative study that tests whether participation in team sports at school
contributes to increased risk of binge drinking in adulthood.
Materials (optional)
1. The School Sports Scale (SSS) is a self-report measure that evaluates frequency of
participation in structured physical activity in high school. It includes measures of
weekly involvement (hours per typical week) in individual sports as well as teambased
sports at school. The SSS can be administered to children and also to adults
who can be asked to respond ‘retrospectively’ (e.g., “Thinking back to when you
were…. how often did you…?”). [note, the SSS is a made-up measure!]
2. This information might be helpful: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
defines an alcohol binge as “…a pattern of drinking alcohol that brings blood alcohol
levels to about 0.08 gram-percent or above. For the typical adult, this pattern
corresponds to consuming 5 or more drinks (male), or 4 or more drinks (female), in
about 2 hours”. Therefore, adult participants can be classified as “past-year binge
drinkers” if they report consuming 5 or more drinks (male) or 4 or more drinks
(female) at least 1 time in a 2-hour period during the past 12 months.
Not that you need to target people with a history of alcohol abuse, but in case you do it is
reassuring to know that your Department is affiliated with an outpatient alcohol abuse
treatment centre (the AATC). Each week they admit approximately 5 new patients into their
treatment program. The Director of AATC has given you permission to seek to recruit from
their patient pool.
Final remarks
As you embark on your study several niggling doubts and questions remain.
Your study isn’t merely about the risks associated with sport in general, it is with team sport
specifically. So obviously you’ll need to focus on measuring time spent in team sports. But
does that mean you should simply ignore participation individual sports and only include time
spent team-based sports? Consider that doing so will not let you determine whether binge
drinking is relevant to participation in team sports per se or simply to participation in sport
more generally. Think about this carefully…
Although it is true that binge drinking rates typically peak in early adulthood, the reality is that
for some people binge drinking can begin much earlier or later in their lives. If you plan on
tracking secondary school students from adolescence to adulthood a how long will you
actually need to track them? And how feasible would this be?
Gender is associated both with participation in team sports and with binge drinking
(boys/men are more likely than girls/women to do both). This makes gender a potential
confound. (Imagine one group of people who were into sports at school and are now binge
drinkers, and another group of people who were not into sports and do not binge drink; now
imagine that the former group consist mostly men and the latter group mostly of women!).
You will have to deal with the problem of gender as a confound… but not necessarily by
ignoring gender!
But by far your biggest concern is with the representativeness of your sample(s). Team
sports and binge drinking are both influenced by culture, so it stands to reason that any
associations between the two will be culturally influenced. You can try to be as broad in your
sampling as possible (perhaps even via an online/international survey), or you might focus
on an at-risk community or region (which allows focus but limits representativeness). Or you
might even introduce location as a variable and compare sport-binge associations across
locations; for example, urban versus city. That would be interesting and might disambiguate
your results somewhat. There are pros and cons for each approach. Just a thought…
Finally, you’ll note that the task is written in only vaguely causal terms (“…contributes to
increased risk of binge drinking…”). Obviously, you’d like to obtain results that are as
strongly causal as possible (as in: “…causes binge drinking…”). But that might not be
feasible or ethical. So you have some leeway here in how you address the task, from
examining associations through to examining causation (but you still need to explain your
decisions as part of your discussions around validity).
Question 3 – Is there an optimal level of cautiousness in effective managers?
Businesses and their managers need to manage risk. They need to be future-focussed,
innovative, to take advantage of business opportunities that arise, but also to mitigate as far
as possible threats to their business. Getting the balance right between caution and risktaking
is critical. And while we’d like to believe this balance can be achieved through reason
alone there is evidence to suggest that it is greatly influenced by a manager’s personality.
Are they inherently too cautious, too reckless? What is optimal for managers when it comes
to cautiousness in the workplace? Let’s find out!
Your task (sorry, we won’t provide you with an operationalized research question, nor with
formal hypotheses)
To design a quantitative study that determines a manager’s optimal level of cautiousness in
relation to their managerial effectiveness.
Materials (optional)
1. The Management Style Inventory (MSI) is a validated self-report survey instrument
that measures several work-relevant psychological traits in managers including (most
importantly for us) cautiousness. [note, the MSI is a made-up measure!]
2. The Managerial Perceived Effectiveness Scale (MSE) is a survey instrument that is
administered to employees and allows them to rate the perceived effectiveness of
their division manager. The MES has been validated against another measure of
managerial effectiveness (staff satisfaction). The MES also has good test-retest
reliability which means it can be administered to the same participants more than
once. [note, the MSE is a made-up measure!]
3. Additionally (or alternatively!) you can access business records of several companies
who have agreed to cooperate with you. These records could provide you with
objective and possibly relevant measures of business success that might be used as
indicators of managerial success (see ‘Context’ below).
Your department has partnered with six large companies in Victoria. The CEOs of these
companies have agreed to grant you access to division managers and their employees
within these companies, as well as granting you access to some publically available records
pertaining to productivity in their company’s divisions (this information includes information
contained in yearly profit reports and the results of staff satisfaction surveys conducted by
the company and its divisions). So far so good!
Final remarks
As you embark on your study some niggling doubts remain.
There is some debate about whether the relationship between managerial cautiousness and
managerial effectiveness (if such a relationship exists at all) depends on the time scale over
which effectiveness is measured. The argument typically goes that a cautious manager
might create a safe and steady business in the short term but, over the long term, their
‘steady as she goes’ attitude might lead to serious missed opportunities to innovate and
improve their business. So the question of time frame might be important to consider (it
could even be a confound of sorts!). Which time frame should you choose? It’s hard to
answer this. Perhaps both… perhaps some kind of tracking over time is warranted…Perhaps
a variable called ‘time’ is warranted!
One question that needs to be addressed is how should managerial success be measured?
By employees subjectively (e.g., using the MSE?)? But this might skew the results in favour
of managers who emphasise short-term employee satisfaction at the expense of long-term
company productivity! How about measuring business success, such as yearly profits? This
is more objective but might not be the whole ‘story’ concerning what makes someone an
effective manager. Ultimately, what is/are the measures of managerial success you use
(yes, you can include more than one) will need to be thought through and justified by you in
terms of various considerations (feasibility, validity, ethics…).

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Posted by on December 23, 2016 in academic writing



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