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We Often See Quite a Lot of Interesting Research Findings, but How Many of Them Are Trustworthy?

We Often See Quite a Lot of Interesting Research Findings, but How Many of Them Are Trustworthy?

Experimenter bias plagues research publications every year.

Experimenters, their studies, and their results are far from perfect.

We have all heard of the academic misconduct, intentional manipulation, and researchers who blatantly lie in their research.

However, it is safe to assume that most researchers have good intentions when performing experiments and writing publications.

Despite good intentions, it is important to understand that all researchers are subject to one major downfall: experimenter bias.

Understanding Experimenter Bias [1]

In its simplest form, bias is when our mind tends to favor something.

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We all have our own set of bias, including our political views, our ideology, or what we expect from someone or something.

These biases influence how we speak, what we do, or who we vote for.

This isn’t only the case in everyday living, but in research as well.

Experimenters struggle to keep their preconceived notions out of their experiments. Unfortunately, this can happen during their experiment and influence the results.

This process is termed experimenter bias.

How Experimenter Bias Happens

When experimenters interact too closely with their subjects, or have preconceived notion of what to expect, biases start influencing the experiment. These effects are usually subtle, and often times even unintentional.

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In fact, most researchers may get so caught up in their research that they get trapped in their own hypothesis.

For instance, a researcher might over explain the intended results to their subjects, and the knowledge the subjects gain can influence their behavior.

Experimenter and subject interaction isn’t the only source experimenter bias either.

Experimenter bias can also be in the form of the design. Becoming too infatuated with their outcome can cause them to manipulate the experiment.

Examples of Experimenter Bias [2]

We are all familiar with the bodybuilding supplement industry. They often show their products producing incredible strength gains or weight loss results through multiple “studies”, while a different study with the same ingredients fail to indicate anything. If these are considered clinical studies, they can often times be an example of experimenter bias.

Essentially, the researchers altered specific aspects of their experiments to produce the results they were hoping to see, either with participants they choose, the way they interacted with their subjects, or by the way they designed the testing.

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However, not all types of experimenter bias are intentional.

One of the most popular examples of experimenter bias was done by Rosenthal and Fode in 1963 (2). In this example, two groups of students received rats to analyze. These rats were suppose to be judged on their ability to navigate a maze. One group was told their rats were “bright” while another was told their rats were “dull”, although in reality both groups were randomized without any different characteristics.

The students who analyzed the “bright group” rated their rats more highly then did the “dull group”. In essence, the group who anticipated their rats to perform well, influenced their actions to prove it. Rosenthal and Fode noted that this may have even been done unconsciously.

How Researchers Reduce Experimenter Bias [3]

Extensive Peer Review Process

If enough qualified “eyes” review the publication, then hopefully the biases become identified and the experiment isn’t published.

Blind Data Collectors

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This is achieved by having data collecting personnel unaware of the subjects (both the control and experimenter group) and unaware of the hypothesis. Therefore, they don’t know what the expected outcome is when they perform the experiment and collect the results.

Double-Blind Experimenter Design

With double-blind studies, both the experimenter and subjects are unaware of which group is controlled and which group is experimental. In addition, the design of the experiment can also be done by someone who is unaware of the hypothesis.

How You can Identify Experimenter Bias as a Reader

Look for key aspects including:

  • A control group
  • It is a “double-blind” experiment, both the experimenter and subjects are withheld from knowing which group is the control and which is the experimental
  • The funder isn’t influencing or interacting with the experiment
  • Evidence that the publication went through a rigid review process
  • That the selection of applicants was randomized
  • Assure that the control group was evaluated as thoroughly as the experimental group

If any of these criteria aren’t meant, you should start analyzing the publication more rigidly and start questioning its quality and you should begin questioning if its worth citing.

What Should Be Taken Away From This?

  • It is necessary to read the entire research publication and not just the abstract and results.
  • It is essential as readers that we can identify and disseminate when a bias is occurring.
  • Understanding the context of the experiment is just as important as understanding the results.
  • Even the best researchers with the greatest intentions are still susceptible to bias errors

As readers, it is just as much our responsibility to interpret and understand the literature as it is for researchers to produce honest and quality literature.

The next time you hear somebody talk about a “study” or “research” make sure to question them on experiment, and don’t be afraid to discuss biases.

Reference

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Nicole Stone

Professional Writer | Content Strategist | Blogger

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Last Updated on October 30, 2019

How the Stages of Change Model Helps You Change Your Habits

How the Stages of Change Model Helps You Change Your Habits

Change is tough, there’s no doubt about it. Old habits are hard to shift, and adopting a new lifestyle can feel like an uphill battle!

In this article, you will learn about a simple yet powerful model:

Stages of change model, that explains the science behind personal transformation.

You’ll discover how and why some changes stick whereas others don’t last, and how long it takes to build new habits.

What is the Stages of Change Model?

Developed by researchers J.O. Prochaska and Carlo C. DiClemente over 30 years ago[1] and outlined in their book Changing For Good, the Stages of Change Model, also known as the Transtheoretical Model, was formed as a result of the authors’ research with smokers.

Prochaska and DiClemente were originally interested in the question of why some smokers were able to quit on their own, whereas others required professional help. Their key conclusion was that smokers (or anyone else with a bad habit) quits only when they are ready to do so.

Here’s an illustration done by cartoonist and illustrator Simon Kneebone about the different stages a smoker experiences when they try to quit smoking:

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    The Stages of Change Model looks at how these conscious decisions are made. It emphasizes that change isn’t easy. People can spend a long time stuck in a stage, and some may never reach their goals.[2]

    The model has been applied in the treatment of smoking, alcoholism, and drugs. It is also a useful way of thinking about any bad habit. Social workers, therapists, and psychologists draw on the model to understand their patients’ behaviors, and to explain the change process to the patients themselves.

    The key advantages to the model is that it is simple to understand, is backed by extensive research, and can be applied in many situations.

    The Stages of Change Model is a well-established psychological model that outlines six stages of personal change:

    1. Precontemplation
    2. Contemplation
    3. Determination
    4. Action
    5. Maintenance
    6. Termination

    How are these stages relevant to changing habits?

    To help you visualize the stages of change and how each progresses to the next one, please take a look at this wheel:[3]

      Let’s look at the six stages of change,[4] together with an example that will show you how the model works in practice:

      Stage 1: Precontemplation

      At this stage, an individual does not plan to make any positive changes in the next six months. This may because they are in denial about their problem, feel too overwhelmed to deal with it, or are too discouraged after multiple failed attempts to change.

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      For example, someone may be aware that they need to start exercising, but cannot find the motivation to do so. They might keep thinking about the last time they tried (and failed) to work out regularly. Only when they start to realize the advantages of making a change will they progress to the next stage.

      Stage 2: Contemplation

      At this stage, the individual starts to consider the advantages of changing. They start to acknowledge that altering their habits would probably benefit them, but they spend a lot of time thinking about the downside of doing so. This stage can last for a long time – possibly a year or more.

      You can think of this as the procrastinating stage. For example, an individual begins to seriously consider the benefits of regular exercise, but feels resistant when they think about the time and effort involved. When the person starts putting together a concrete plan for change, they move to the next stage.

      The key to moving from this stage to the next is the transformation of an abstract idea to a belief (e.g. from “Exercise is a good, sensible thing to do” to “I personally value exercise and need to do it.)[5]

      Stage 3: Preparation

      At this point, the person starts to put a plan in place. This stage is brief, lasting a few weeks. For example, they may book a session with a personal trainer and enrol on a nutrition course.

      Someone who drinks to excess may make an appointment with a drug and alcohol counsellor; someone with a tendency to overwork themselves might start planning ways to devise a more realistic schedule.

      Stage 4: Action

      When they have decided on a plan, the individual must then put it into action. This stage typically lasts for several months. In our example, the person would begin attending the gym regularly and overhauling their diet.

      Stage 4 is the stage at which the person’s desire for change becomes noticeable to family and friends. However, in truth, the change process began a long time ago. If someone you know seems to have suddenly changed their habits, it’s probably not so sudden after all! They will have progressed through Stages 1-3 first – you probably just didn’t know about it.

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      Stage 5: Maintenance

      After a few months in the Action stage, the individual will start to think about how they can maintain their changes, and make lifestyle adjustments accordingly. For instance, someone who has adopted the habit of regular workouts and a better diet will be vigilant against old triggers (such as eating junk food during a stressful time at work) and make a conscious decision to protect their new habits.

      Unless someone actively engages with Stage 5, their new habits are liable to come unstuck. Someone who has stuck to their new habits for many months – perhaps a year or longer – may enter Stage 6.

      Maintenance can be challenging because it entails coming up with a new set of habits to lock change in place. For instance, someone who is maintaining their new gym-going habit may have to start improving their budgeting skills in order to continue to afford their gym membership.

      Stage 6: Termination

      Not many people reach this stage, which is characterized by a complete commitment to the new habit and a certainty that they will never go back to their old ways. For example, someone may find it hard to imagine giving up their gym routine, and feel ill at the thought of eating junk food on a regular basis.

      However, for the majority of people, it’s normal to stay in the Maintenance period indefinitely. This is because it takes a long time for a new habit to become so automatic and natural that it sticks forever, with little effort. To use another example, an ex-smoker will often find it hard to resist the temptation to have “just one” cigarette even a year or so after quitting. It can take years for them to truly reach the Termination stage, at which point they are no more likely to smoke than a lifelong non-smoker.

      How long does each stage take?

      You should be aware that some people remain in the same stage for months or even years at a time. Understanding this model will help you be more patient with yourself when making a change. If you try to force yourself to jump from Contemplation to Maintenance, you’ll just end up frustrated. On the other hand, if you take a moment to assess where you are in the change process, you can adapt your approach.

      So if you need to make changes quickly and you are finding it hard to progress to the next stage, it’s probably time to get some professional help or adopt a new approach to forming habits.

      The limitations of this model

      The model is best applied when you decide in advance precisely what you want to achieve, and know exactly how you will measure it (e.g. number of times per week you go to the gym, or number of cigarettes smoked per day). Although the model has proven useful for many people, it does have limitations.

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      Require the ability to set a realistic goal

      For a start, there are no surefire ways of assessing whereabouts in the process you are – you just have to be honest with yourself and use your own judgement. Second, it assumes that you are physically capable of making a change, whereas in fact you might either need to adjust your goals or seek professional help.

      If your goal isn’t realistic, it doesn’t matter whether you follow the stages – you still won’t get results. You need to decide for yourself whether your aims are reasonable.[6]

      Difficult to judge your progress

      The model also assumes that you are able to objectively measure your own successes and failures, which may not always be the case.[7] For instance, let’s suppose that you are trying to get into the habit of counting calories as part of your weight-loss efforts. However, even though you may think that you are recording your intake properly, you might be over or under-estimating.

      Research shows that most people think they are getting enough exercise and eating well, but in actual fact aren’t as healthy as they believe. The model doesn’t take this possibility into account, meaning that you could believe yourself to be in the Action stage yet aren’t seeing results. Therefore, if you are serious about making changes, it may be best to get some expert advice so that you can be sure the changes you are making really will make a positive difference.

      Conclusion

      The Stages Of Change Model can be a wonderful way to understand change in both yourself and others.

      While there’re some limitations in it, the Stages of Change Model helps to visualize how you go through changes so you know what to expect when you’re trying to change a habit or make some great changes in life.

      Start by identifying one of your bad habits. Where are you in the process? What could you do next to move forwards?

      Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

      Reference

      [1] Psych Central: Stages Of Change
      [2] Boston University School Of Public Health: The Transtheoretical Model (Stages Of Change)
      [3] Empowering Change: Stages of Change
      [4] Boston University School Of Public Health: The Transtheoretical Model (Stages Of Change)
      [5] Psychology Today: 5 Steps To Changing Any Behavior
      [6] The Transtheoretical Model: Limitations Of The Transtheoretical Model
      [7] Health Education Research: Transtheoretical Model & Stages Of Change: A Critique

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