Tagged: Psychology

Minority Influence and Social Change: Jamie Oliver’s Latest Campaign

About 10 years ago, Chef and TV personality Jamie Oliver led a successful campaign to improve the quality and nutritional value of school dinners. The TV series aired in 2005 (“Jamie’s School Dinners”) played a significant part in changes being made to the policies surrounding the content of school lunches across the country. This campaign coincided in a timely manner with my early teaching of the concept of minority influence and social change (as featured in the now historical AS AQA spec A Social Influence topic) and I used Jamie for many years as a hook on which to hang the concepts of consistency, commitment and other factors that can lead to a change in the majority view point and behaviour. Over the years, however, students became less aware that school dinners had been anything but “healthy” and less familiar with Jamie Oliver, so the relevance of this real life example of minority influence declined. Imagine my delight then when Jamie jumped right back up on his high horse, this time about the amount of sugar we are eating, in his Channel 4 documentary “Jamie’s Sugar Rush(airing at time of posting) which makes a perfect hook for the new specification (AQA).

The new specification

AQA’s new specification for AS and A Level Psychology includes the following in topic 4.1.1 Social Influence:

  • Minority influence including reference to consistency, commitment and flexibility.
  • The role of social influence processes in social change.

Some textbooks break social change into the influence of minorities and majorities separately. Jamie’s campaign at the moment fits the bill for the teaching of minority influence and as an example of social change through minority influence.

Jamie’s new campaign

The majority view point is that sugar is great, in fact a necessity, and we are eating the sweet stuff by the sticky bucket load every day, often without even realising it. Jamie’s aim is to fight obesity by helping us make better choices about our food and drink intake.  The minority – Jamie and non-celebrity nutritional experts who have probably been saying this for years – would like us to see sugar for the baddy it is and reduce our intake dramatically. As this campaign is in its infancy it provides a perfect opportunity for students to imagine they are part of the campaign team and work out how to ensure they are as influential as possible. This could be done by providing students with historical examples such as the Suffragettes and Jamie’s first campaign (other examples are on the AQA scheme of work) and analyse how they were able to be influential. Students could then plan a campaign using these strategies and present to the class teacher – who might like to pretend to be Jamie Oliver if you like a bit of role play (I’m seeing sugar-free snacks playing a part in this lesson too!).

In – and outside – the classroom: flip it!

As part of the planning process students could analyse these campaigns and consider how successful they have really been. Attitudes towards women have changed dramatically as a result of many things including the Suffragettes but although school policies might have changed as a result of Jamie’s first campaign, it is not clear whether people’s attitudes to food have really shifted (follow this link to read an article published in the Guardian which suggests Jamie’s first campaign may not have been that successful after all).

This is the sort of activity that often traditionally might take the following – not very productive – pattern:

  1. Lesson on the research including Moscovici.
  2. Get students into groups and set homework to plan strategies for making Jamie’s new campaign successful. Work in groups for homework (1 person will probably do all the work!).
  3. Lesson for presentations.
  4. Another lesson for the presentations there wasn’t time for (or for those who were absent) and a plenary…

An alternative and more time productive approach would be to introduce a few concepts at the end of the previous lesson to introduce minority influence and social change and clarify any new terms, then set the reading about Moscovici’s research and social change for homework with clear guidance to bring notes to the lesson (you could provide headings to help students avoid copying and provide structure). In the next lesson on this topic (with an appropriate time allowance for the homework) ask students to work in their groups on how they can use what they have learned to help Jamie. Instead of spending a whole lesson on presentations ask each group to record a simple video or audio presentation (this can be done by adding narration to a Power Point presentation for example) of their campaign suggestions which can be handed in and watched/listened to by the teacher outside of the lesson. Choose a small selection of the videos/audios to analyse as a class and ask the groups questions about their strategies and ask them to justify their ideas, commenting on each other’s work. This turns a 4 lesson sequence of learning into a more productive 2 lesson sequence with lots of active reflection rather than passive presentation and will allow you as the teacher to ensure of the concepts students will have acquired from their reading have been revisited and their understanding of them assessed.

Now I’m off the have a cup of tea and a biscuit – sorry Jamie!


Can’t believe I’ve only just discovered Quick on the Draw!

A classic Teacher’s Toolkit activity

Reading techniques

Reading techniques

Quick on the draw is from, the now classic, (The) Teacher’s Toolkit (written by Paul Ginnis; Crown House Publishing, 2002).  It is basically an activity where students are given questions, one at a time, to answer from a piece of text. Once they have answered the first question they must bring it to be checked for accuracy before they are given the next question. This is best done as a group task where teams race to be the first to complete all the questions with the correct answers. It doesn’t actually involve any drawing, the name refers to the speed needed to be successful.

Better late than never

To celebrate her recent retirement from teaching my Mum bestowed to me her copy Ginnis’ educator’s bible and I glibly remarked that I was already very familiar with the publication (thank you) and shelved it with my much forgotten and dusty books about aromatherapy and how to make your own Christmas cards.  Over the summer, however, I dusted it off and trawled through it looking for some inspiration for September. I’m glad I did because this brought the activity described above to my attention.

In the Psychology classroom

In Psychology I often want students to use their textbook but asking them to simply read and comprehend the text can seem like a waste of lesson time. I originally thought this task would just be a “fun” way to quickly find and review textbook information, however, it proved to be so much more.

I was teaching A2 students about restoration accounts of the functions of sleep (AQA Spec A: Biological Rhythms and Sleep) and had already outlined the differing views of Oswald and Horne (with the help of a “flipped” video I made which students watched prior to the lesson) but the textbook included more depth into what specifically might be restored which students needed to consider in order to describe and analyse the theories. Asking them just to read this information (a whole textbook page) would have been unproductive and a teacher explanation would have been unnecessary. Instead I wrote 8 questions that required students to move around the whole page of text using skim reading techniques (literacy) and scanning. Once the students found the relevant material they then start reading for understanding in order to answer the question. I made sure the questions required short, specific answers for speed and to reduce ambiguity in judging the accuracy of their responses.

More than just a bit of fun

Once the students had all completed the activity we revisited the answers and the broad knowledge the students had gained was evident. The familiarity they had with the text meant they could be much more productive, and confident, in their use of the text for a task we did later drawing on this knowledge. The textbook page had become something accessible rather than the unending sea of off-putting words it had started out as. The students said they really enjoyed it (even a self confessed group-work-hater) and I have used it again since.

This activity is simple, easy to put together and works for any topic; highly recommended – thanks Teacher’s Toolkit!

Update: Find the fake intro lesson examples

Some examples for your use

In a previous post I blogged about a different approach to the first introductory lesson of the course with AS Psychology students. The activity, Find the Fake, involves circulating round a number of summaries of pieces of research displayed on the walls in small groups. The students have to find the one piece of research that is actually a figment of my imagination.

I have had a few requests for examples of the research I used so I have finally relented and have posted some here. I’m sure there are lots more that would be good to use. I have also since the original post included some more examples that I didn’t use the first time but thought might be good.

Nim Chimpksy

There has been some debate concerning whether, as humans, we develop language because our brains are hardwired to do so or whether the use of language, with grammatical structure, is learned. In order to try to resolve this debate Psychologist Herbert Terrace carried out a study to find out whether a chimpanzee exposed to a human environment, could acquire language like a human. The chimp who was selected for the investigation was removed from his mother at 2 weeks of age and raised by a surrogate mother (a researcher) in a home environment.

The chimp was treated like a human and brought up alongside seven human siblings. He was taught sign language in order to communicate by rewarding him every time he used signs correctly to communicate. By the age of 4 years it was documented that the chimp had acquired a vocabulary of over 100 signs which had been used in 20,000 combinations in communication with the humans around him.

Project pigeon

American Psychologist B.F Skinner, is well known for his research into the effects of rewards and punishments on behaviour. He also attempted to develop a pigeon-guided missile during World War II.

At the front of the missile, a lens projected an image of the target to a screen inside. The pigeons had been trained to peck the target image and were placed inside the missile. As long as the pigeon kept pecking the centre of the screen, the missile would fly straight, but pecks off-centre would cause the screen to tilt, which would then, via a connection to the missile’s flight controls, cause the missile to change course.

The National Defense Research Committee contributed $25,000 to the research. The program was cancelled on October 8, 1944, because the military did not feel it was a high priority. Project Pigeon was revived by the Navy in 1948 as “Project Orcon”; it was later cancelled in 1953 when electronic guidance systems’ took over.

Obedient nurses

Hofling (1966) carried out a field experiment in a hospital setting. The study aimed to find out whether a group of nurses would obey an order from an authority figure (a doctor) even if this action was against the rules and meant they could lose their job. In the study, 22 nurses received a telephone call from a man who identified himself as “Dr Smith” (an investigator, pretending to be a doctor). Dr Smith asked each nurse (individually) to administer a dose of “10mg” of “Astroten” to a patient. This was not a real drug but a bottle had been made and labelled and placed in the drugs cupboard.

In the phone call the “Dr” said he would write up the paperwork to authorise the treatment later on but that the nurse should administer the drug straight away. The dosage was twice the recommended dose printed on the bottle, and the rules stated that an order over the telephone – and from a doctor who was not familiar to them – was not allowed. Despite numerous reasons to refuse, only 21 out of the 22 refused to carry out the order.

Gendered numbers

Wilkie and Bodenhausen did an experiment where they showed participants photos of babies and asked them to determine for each photo the likelihood that the baby was male. They found that when a baby photo was paired with the number 1, people were much more likely to think the baby was male.

In a separate study, the researchers had participants rate the masculinity and femininity of the numbers themselves. People readily rated the number 1, as well as other odd numbers, as being more masculine. They also rated the number 2, and other even numbers, as appearing more feminine. This last finding was replicated with a sample from India which suggests that this is consistent across different cultures.


Hazan and Shaver (1987) published a questionnaire in a newspaper asking people to write in and describe their experiences in romantic relationships and their relationship with their parents during early childhood. They did this by choosing statements that they felt best described these experiences. The researchers analysed the responses that were sent in to them.

Those responders who described their childhood relationships as positive and secure also expressed healthy views of adult romantic relationships. For example, they said they believed in true love, found it easy to trust others and were confident that they were a lovable person. People who described their early parental relationships negatively, however, were more sceptical of the existence of “true love” and tended to be mistrusting of others.

The fake

Radley (2006) carried out a study into the impact of the use of social networking sites on psychopathic tendencies. The researchers wanted to test whether communicating with people via Facebook, rather than face to face, might may be decreasing our ability to empathise with others (feel other people’s emotions) as there are less cues available (e.g. tone of voice, facial expression) to detect the emotional state of others online.

Psychopaths are unable to feel empathy, so spending lots of time using social networking sites might lead to an increase in psychopaths and potentially more serial killers in society as a result. A group of teenage volunteers, who regularly use Facebook, underwent brain scans whilst using Facebook for 30 minutes. The activity of the empathy centres of the brain were compared with a control group of teenagers who never, or rarely, use social networks whilst using Facebook for the same period of time.  The researchers found that those who used Facebook regularly showed less activity in their empathy brain centres than the control group. Radley concluded that Facebook might create a generation of Psychopaths and that further research was needed in this area to determine whether warnings should be placed on the site in the future.

AS Psychology and EWT: Child witnesses influenced by gestures as well as wording

Factors affecting EWT: Age of witness

gestureAQA specification A requires students studying AS Psychology Unit 1 to learn about research into “factors affecting the accuracy of Eye Witness Testimony”, including the age of the witness. This week I came across some research suggesting that it is not just the fragility of a developing memory or the wording used by the interviewer that can have a detrimental impact on the recall of information when witnesses are children, but also the non-verbal gestures used by an interviewer.

Not what you say but how you say it

Researchers at the University of Hertfordshire have conducted a study where adult interviewers gestured in a misleading manner in a way that seemed to suggest that an item that was not present in a video, shown to the child participants, had been. The children were reported to have been “highly susceptible” to the gesture,  recalling incorrectly that a lady in the video had been wearing glasses when she had not been when the question was accompanied by the interviewer gesturing as if they were putting on glasses.

Implications for training of interviewers

This is particularly worrying as when talking to children it can seem quite natural to gesture explicitly to bring what you are saying to life and to engage children preventing wandering attention. This research implies that when interviewing child witnesses this sort of gesturing needs to be avoided and awareness of this influence should become part of interviewer training should this finding be replicated and validated sufficiently.

The study is summarised on the University website (“Interviewers gestures mislead child-witnesses”) and is being presented at the BPS Annual Conference this week (at time of writing).

In the classroom

As the focus of this research is directly relevant to the AQA A spec there are potentially a number of ways to use this in the classroom. Here are a few ideas:

  • Give students an overview of the research and ask them what they would they would be expecting in terms of the method and controls in place in this study in order to take the findings seriously (this could be linked to peer review as a method of validation giving a small taste of A2).
  • You could ask students to imagine that they are going to attend the BPS annual conference and prepare a list of questions for the researchers regarding this piece of research.
  • You could ask students to design their own study to further investigate the impact of gestures on witnesses (this could go beyond children).
  • Ask students to include this research in an exam style question along the lines of “Outline research into factors affecting accuracy of EWT including age of witness (4 marks)”

An iPad app for A Level Psychology

ATP Today reviews apps for Psychology learning and teaching

This post was inspired by an article in ATP Today (the Association of Teacher’s of Psychology members magazine; February 2013), written by Emma Weaver, which covered a top ten of iPad apps for the A Level Psychology classroom.

The (free) app that caught my eye particularly was Voicethread, an app that allows the user to upload an image or video and invite comments (comments can be left in audio, video or text form) that make up the so-called “voice thread“. In the article the author suggests using this app to create recap tasks to be completed outside of class for use in the next lesson.

Using the app

voice threadBasically you add your image, slides or video, then the app allows you to invite comments from targeted users (your class for example) by emailing a link to the website (they do not need the app or an iPad). They might, for example, video themselves making their comment (which they can edit until they happy with it) or record themselves speaking their contribution to the discussion about the posted content. The Voicethread website has a really helpful video explaining it’s use and how to create a Voicethread discussion and the app itself is pretty easy to use.

Reasons to use this app (or something similar)

Here are a two reasons I think this is worth playing around with.

Increasing participation

Class discussion can sometimes be dominated by a few students who are keen to be heard but if you really want to hear from everyone, without putting those who are less confident on the spot, Voicethread might be an answer. As the comment submitted can be edited and polished (increasing confidence) until the individual is happy with their contribution – unlike class comments which cannot be taken back and refined once made – an individual who is not usually keen to share in class might benefit from being able to prepare. Sharing a students Voicethread comment in audio form allows their voice to be heard in the classroom and gives them the opportunity to make a comment they feel good about and elaborate or justify further in class.

Make lesson starters more productive

If you want to discuss a statement, question or thunkstyle conundrum (search this blog for “thunks” for some examples for the Psychology classroom) ask students to discuss this first using Voicethread. Play the resulting comments at the start of the lesson and take the discussion further. As students will already have done their initial thinking and contribution “in the cloud” you should get to the really developed bit and the teaching points you wanted to be made in class much quicker. You could also do this with a debate topic in order to avoid lengthy use of class time by using the Voicethread as the starting point for further debate and for students to show evidence that they have prepared outside of class time.

Publishing replications and null findings. A hot topic for a stretching and challenging debate.

Publication bias and the distortion of psychology literature

Professor Keith Laws (University of Hertfordshire), amongst other scientists and science writers, argues that continuing the trend of failing to publish replications and null findings in journals means that the truth of psychology literature is inevitably distorted. In his paper, entitled “Negativland – a home for all findings in Psychology”, he discusses various issues concerning publication bias in Psychology. Laws also stresses the need for psychologists to “get their house-in-order”, making a convincing argument that the current practice of many journals where novelty is favoured over reliability, needs to be stopped.

Hot topic in the real world

This is a highly topical and important issue being discussed in the “real world” of psychology and as such I think it is important for A Level students to be aware of this issue and why it is a hot topic – even if it isn’t printed specifically in any specification.

Unit 4: Psychological Research and Scientific Method (AQA A)

Unit 4 of the AQA A specification for A Level Psychology requires students to study the features of science (including replicability) and the validation of new knowledge, both of which make the issues raised by Laws in his article highly relevant to A Level Psychology.

In the classroom

Here are a few ways the issues raised here might be made relevant to the A Level Psychology classroom to provide a healthy bit of stretch and challenge.

To publish or not to publish…

Give students a brief summary of 4 pieces of fictional research:

  1. A quirky novel finding
  2. A replication of a piece of research students have come across already where the previous findings were supported
  3. A replication of a piece of research where the previous findings were not supported
  4. A study where the null hypothesis was accepted.

Either give all students all 4 examples or allocate one per small group. Ask students whether the research should be considered for publication by a leading journal and ask them to justify their opinions. This could act as a stimulus for discussing a range of issues with publication including those raised by the paper discussed in this post. This could also lead into a discussion of how new knowledge is validated as students could be asked how they might ensure that the research they want to publish is of high quality, leading neatly into a focus on the peer review process.

A stretching and challenging debate

Ask students to read the article discussed earlier in this post – or a summarised version – and invite students to a seminar style discussion about the ideas discussed. Alternatively assign “sides” and debate the publication of negative findings.

A student edited journal

This article appears in a brand new journal called BMC Psychology which strives to publish work that adds to the scientific knowledge base without playing to the crowd in terms of interest levels.

After a discussion relating to issues of publication and bias you could ask students to imagine they are the editor of a new journal. Ask students to write a short piece about their journals approach to publication, outlining their publication criteria.

AO2 for Unit 3: Some examples

Analysing research in written form

It is always useful to have examples of what effective AO2 might look like for Unit 3 (Topics in Psychology). I find it useful to get students thinking critically and consciously about their writing. Many students will often be able to analyse verbally to a high level but struggle to do their ideas justice when they come to write about them. Using a set structure can help but students should also have the flexibility to feel their own written style is valuable if it meets the exam criteria.

Structuring AO2

I usually get students to start by simply stating what the problem or strength is (identify) then explain what they mean and why it’s a problem (justify), finally they should take it a bit further and develop the point where possible without being repetitive (elaborate). This structure is one that has been suggested by a number of people and works quite well.

Using approaches, issues and debates in AO2

A2 Level students need to use appropriate broad Psychology-wide arguments in their analysis. This can all to often result in student essays resembling a list of issue/debate terms, as if they are playing a round of key words bingo with the examiner rather than writing well crafted essay.

AO2 board

Getting copies of your students exam papers from previous exam sessions is an excellent way to show students what good AO2 looks like or you can construct your own examples to model effective AO2 using approaches, issues and debates meaningfully.

Here are 2 examples that I might use as a tool to discuss with students how they might go about writing analytically.

Unit 3 AO2 examples

Essay titleDiscuss genetic factors in aggressive behaviour. (Aggression)

AO2 extract…

A weakness of attempting to explain aggressive behaviour in terms of genetic factors is that these explanations are highly deterministic. If an individual inherits a particular gene that predisposes them to act aggressively the assumption is that they will inevitably be more likely to be more aggressive or violent as a result, ignoring the role of free will. Even explanations that consider the role of environmental triggers where there is a genetic predisposition are limited in this way. In the case of genetic low MAOA combined with childhood mistreatment for example, the assumption is that aggression is inevitable when both the genetic and environmental conditions are set in place for aggression. As both the genetic and environmental factors have exerted their influence well before adulthood, there appears to be little an individual can do to avoid being aggressive where they have been dealt this hand.

The determinism also seems to suggest that violence is a behaviour that cannot be helped and perhaps in some way excuses or even “medicalises” aggressive behaviour that is the result genetic factors. For example, lawyers have used the presence of low MAOA and childhood mistreatment as a defence for murder in a few cases. As the validity and reliability of the evidence to support this idea is flawed this is a potentially dangerous practice.

This would lead nicely into an evaluative paragraph focussing on issues the quality of the research studies in this area.

Essay title: Describe and evaluate Kohlberg’s theory of moral understanding. (Cognition and Development).

AO2 extract…

A weakness of Kohlberg’s theory is that it is derived from research that is androcentric. The gender bias limits the generalisability of the theory beyond the young male sample used to female populations. Kohlberg interviewed only American males in order to identify the stages we go through in our development of moral reasoning and as such it is possible that females do not develop in the same way. Kohlberg later suggested that females do not reach as high levels of moral understanding as males. Not only is this a socially sensitive suggestion, as it seems to suggest females are less capable of making high level moral decisions, it may not actually be a valid suggestion due to the gender bias of the original research studies. Other researchers, e.g. Gilligan, have suggested that females and males may reason about moral issues in completely different ways, an idea overlooked by Kohlberg.