Technology and Psychology
Teaching A level Psychology in a way that reflects the discipline as it stands today is important but sometimes difficult when A Level specifications can seem at times like a history of the subject, rather than a glimpse over the shoulder of today’s Psychologists. Considering the role of technology, and how technological developments have shaped Psychology, might be one way to keep current and could have the potential to tap into a number of A Level concepts that might not seem obvious.
Peer Review (A2 Psychology AQA A)
I recently came across some interesting material posted on the journal Nature’s website as part of a “Peer Review Debate” (22 articles linked to Peer Review posted on their site and a blog based discussion to get readers involved). Part of the material about the state and future of peer review as a validation process (A2 Psychology AQA A; the scientific method), was covered in an article discussing how technology has improved, to a small degree, these validation methods. Peer Review has often been criticised for being a slow arduous process, however, as manuscripts can now be emailed to reviewers, the process is faster and in theory more efficient. Presumably the availability of computerised statistical packages has also helped to make re-analysing data, where necessary, easier and less prone to human error and bias.
Ideas for the classroom
This use of technology to improve the quality of published research made me think about other ways in which technology has influenced Psychology as a discipline, and in turn our knowledge about the human mind and behaviour. Asking students to consider the ways in which developments in technology have influenced Psychology would be a great starter for many lessons in A Level Psychology.
Some ways in which technology has influenced Psychology
The list that follows are some of the avenues that might be worth exploring with A Level students when posing the question “How have advances in technology influenced psychology?” as a lesson starter (these appear in no particular order and I am sure there are lots of other ways that I have missed).
- The development of computers has allowed the brain to be modelled on the functioning of a computer, giving birth to the Cognitive Approach.
- The development of brain scanning methods such as fMRI and single cell recordings has given researchers a glimpse inside our heads and observe what once remained a complete mystery. The perception that these methods are more objective (which is not always the case; see Vaughn Bell’s critique) has led them to become popular and the popularity of neuroscience today means these methods are likely to be favoured by funding boards, journals and more likely to influence public thinking.
- Computerised procedures and tasks in experiments has allowed greater objectivity, removed an element of investigator bias from studies and allowed some studies that would not have been approved on ethical grounds to go ahead. However, this may have reduced the ecological validity and mundane realism of some investigations, where computerised simulations do not resemble everyday tasks.
- Computerised statistical packages have improved the efficiency of data analysis and possibly removed an element of human error and bias.
- The internet has meant that research can reach a wider audience more easily which means that research that might once have only been seen by those in the highest academic circles can become common knowledge. This obviously, however, is a problem if internet research is trusted without having been validated (the Nature Peer Review Debate referred to earlier touches upon this issue).
- The internet has also given a platform for many Psychology writers who might otherwise go unheard who raise issues with research and encourage scrutiny and reflection about research through their blogs, forums and social networks such as Twitter (@Neuro_Skeptic is a good example). The fact we can all get involved in scrutinising new knowledge means that future knowledge should be more reliable.
- Areas of research and the questions raised by researchers about behaviour have been influenced by technology. For example, communication and relationships which are computer-mediated are often the subject of research. As a society we are slightly obsessed with whether social networking is good for us or bad for us and published research in this area is likely to appear in the popular press (whether or not it is valid or reliable!).
Where does this fit?
This could work well with AS or A2 students at a point where they have gained a fairly broad knowledge of Psychology. The question could lead into a lesson on the Peer Review process and publication, Research Methods including improving validity and reliability, the Cognitive Approach or areas of the specification which include brain scanning techniques as a source of evidence. Alternatively include this as a lesson starter at any time in the A Level course (any specification) to encourage students to think beyond the textbook and beyond individual topics in Psychology. You could ask students to consider how further developments in technology might shape Psychology in the future as an extension task.