At the start of every semester I ask students in my “Introduction to Psychology” class whether they’ve ever heard that “psychology is really just common sense.”
Although this is (sadly) a common critique of the field, many findings seem obvious only once scientific research has demonstrated a particular effect. In fact, some of the most important findings in psychology are counter-intuitive. That’s why conducting empirical research is essential: sometimes our intuition is right, but other times it is way off.
For example, psychologists used to believe that rewarding people for engaging in a particular behavior would increase their liking of that behavior. So, teachers gave students prizes for reading books, bosses gave performance bonuses to employees and parents gave toddlers candy for successfully using the toilet.
But subsequent research demonstrated that rewards can decrease intrinsic motivation. So, a child who once read for pleasure now becomes reluctant to read in the absence of a tangible reward.
These questions are based on findings from psychology research. Send your answers (please, no Googling; we want to read your own explanations) to firstname.lastname@example.org or Amherst Magazine, Box 5000, Amherst MA 01002. Anyone with five correct answers will be entered to win one signed copy of a book recently featured in the magazine. Sanderson’s answers will appear in the next issue.
- Why do Olympic bronze medalists show higher levels of happiness than Olympic silver medalists?
- Why are people who get hugged regularly less likely to develop the common cold—even when they’ve all been directly exposed to a cold virus?
- Why do couples who meet online experience higher levels of marital satisfaction than couples who meet in more traditional ways?
- Why are professional baseball players more likely to get hit by a pitch in August than in May?
- Why do college students who take notes by hand perform better on exams than students who take notes using a laptop?