Saturday, May 24, 2014

Are Personal Judgments Swayed By Group Opinion For Only Three Days? You Can't Tell From This Study

Yu and colleagues Yi Huang and Keith Kendrick decided to investigate this question in the lab. They recruited Chinese college students to participate in a study exploring how "people perceive facial attractiveness." The students looked at 280 digital photographs of young adult Chinese women and were asked to rate the attractiveness of each face on an 8-point scale. 
After rating a face, they saw the purported average of 200 other students' ratings for that face. Importantly, the group average matched the participant's rating only 25% of the time. The rest of the time, the group average fell 1, 2, or 3 points above or below the participant's rating.
 The students were brought back to the lab to rate the faces again after either 1 day, 3 days, 7 days, or 3 months has passed. The data showed that the group norm seemed to sway participant's own judgments when they re-rated the photos 1 and 3 days after the initial session. 
There was, however, no evidence for a social-conformity effect when the intervening period was longer (either 7 days or 3 months after the first session).
This is more like a hypothesis than it is like an inductive conclusion. I mean, the conclusion is plausible. It wouldn't be at all surprising if it were true. But you can't tell from this study. The inference from this one, clearly unrepresentative case to all cases is preposterously weak. And that point holds even if we ignore the overall questionable reliability of this field... all means, do some studies on this.

But all this gives us is a reason to do some actual research here. It doesn't establish anything.

And, hey, there's nothing wrong with that. Research programs have to get going somehow.

The error is to think that studies like this provide appreciable evidence of anything interesting rather than just ideas for research.


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