If you’ve been following this blog since its earliest days, you would know that one of the first things we discussed was the scientific method. And if you’ve been a student of the sciences in general, you would know that almost any science class begins with a discussion of the application of the scientific method. Psychology is another one of these subjects that you will likely be introduced to with a thorough explanation of the application of appropriate scientific procedures.
Psychologists are scientists. And as scientists, they do not simply speculate about some of the topics they study. For instance, they would not just simply think of reasons why some people overeat until it hurts or why some people choose to starve themselves. Psychologists, like all other scientists, utilize methods of science. This involves performing experiments and other scientific procedures, in order to gather information systematically and to analyze information that concerns the behavior and mental processes of humans. Only after that can psychologists form conclusions, because they must be based on the results of the procedures they underwent. And then, after all is said and done, using all of these things, psychologists can move on to other questions that they have asked (Bernstein et al. 2012).
On the topic of eating, psychologist Paul Rozin actually set out at one time to see how our decisions to continue eating or stop eating are affected by psychological factors, including the awareness that we have already eaten. It is also known that our decisions to keep eating or stop eating are influence heavily by biological factors, such as signals that are sent from the blood to the brain, that inform your brain of the “fuel” you have left. But, Paul Rozin wanted to know more. He was asking such questions as, “what if you didn't remember that you just ate; would you then keep eating?” (Bernstein et al. 2012).
Rozin actually attempted to perform an experiment based on this question. He performed a series of tests on two men, R. H. and B.R., for the purposes of this text, who suffered from anterograde amnesia, which is a type of brain damage affecting memory, causing the two men to be unable to remember anything for more than a few minutes. The experiment was set up such that the two men had lunch individually with a researcher, where they were served a tray of their favorite food. The men, after eating, were asked to rate their hunger on a scale of 1 to 9, with 1 being “extremely full” to 9 being “extremely hungry.” After this was done, the men would be given water with which to clean their mouths of food residue, and in ten to thirty minutes, the men would be served another tray of food that was identical to the first (Bernstein et al. 2012).
Though many might be compelled to think that biological signals would be enough to keep the two men from eating the second tray of food, this is not the case. These two men, in every session, actually ate all or part of the second meal, and also ate at least part of a third meal in all but one instance. Similar tests were also conducted on J.C. and T. A., a woman and a man who had a different sort of brain damage, not affecting memory. Their results were starkly different from those of the prior two subjects, whose brain damage affected their memories. J. C. and T.A. finished their first servings of lunch but actually rejected the opportunity to eat a second serving of food, in two trials. What this effectively proved is that the memory of when we last ate can actually be a factor in affecting our decisions concerning when we should eat again. And as you might have already been able to predict, these results show more than just that. These results show that eating is more complex than one might think, and is actually controlled by factors ranging from biological ones, to social ones, to cultural ones, to psychological ones, and many more. These findings allow us to conclude that we may eat more often than the times our bodies signal a physical need to eat (Bernstein et al. 2012).
This example of an experiment used by a psychologist to seek a possible explanation to a question is just another way of pointing out the fact that psychologists practice their science like other scientists do, which is by using qualitative and quantitative methods of research following speculations and inquiry, in order to answer questions about behavior and mental processes. Even when a psychologist is not involved in research, he or she benefits from the research of other psychologists and psychologists before him or her. This is because psychologists who do not actively participate in research still apply the results of studies performed by their colleagues in order to do their jobs (Bernstein et al. 2012).
A prospective medical student, looking to help others succeed.