How you can benefit from science
Scientific findings may sometimes feel not relevant for your life, but there is a very simple way to make them extremely applicable to you as a person. Let me explain how.
Psychological research helps us to understand and deal with typical and atypical development, psychological disorders, and our own individual oddities or quirks. In order for experimental findings to be relevant for and applicable to society and therefore you, it is crucial for scientists to work with a representative group of participants. To achieve that, scientists need your help.
To study the human mind, psychologists set up experiments. They invite participants to their labs and collect data by administering questionnaires and computer tasks. Sometimes (if the participants give permission), the researchers make brain scans (for instance with MRI) and/or measure the participant’s electrical brain activity (for instance with EEG). After data collection, psychologists analyze the data using statistical methods in order to draw conclusions from their experiment. These conclusions are most valid and relevant conclusions if they are based on a diverse experimental sample consisting of people who represent the real population. A perfect experimental sample therefore includes well-educated and less-educated people, rich and poor, and people from a whole range of different backgrounds. Such a broad experimental sample is much more representative than if an experiment is carried out with a group of people who were very much alike, so the conclusions are more likely to hold for the general population, including you.
Although it is very challenging to find a diverse group of participants for psychological experiments, researchers do aspire to work with a perfect sample. If a researcher works with participants who are all very much alike and perhaps very different from you, the conclusions that are drawn from the results could be only applicable to a certain group of people, perhaps a group to which you do not belong. This could limit the effectiveness of implementation of the experimental findings. So, in order to make psychological experimental findings relevant, the experiment should have been conducted with a group of participants that represents you, or maybe even includes you.
Why would you participate in a psychological experiment? First of all, people who suffer from psychological disorders or difficulties, such as depression or learning difficulties, benefit from research to the development of new therapies and interventions. Also, to understand the “challenged” mind, it is important to understand the “normal” mind as well, that is, a mind that has developed according to the societal norms. Second of all, not only patients benefit from research. Psychology research has taught us that we humans are not as rational as we often think we are. If you are interested in some of the details, Nobel Prize winner Professor Daniel Kahneman has recently written a great book about human cognition. A famous study showing the irrationality of people is the Ash experiment, where people change their behavior to conform with the group, despite the fact that the group is clearly wrong. Psychology research illustrates that human behavior and the human mind can surprise us, and this can explain why certain contexts, therapies, or interventions have positive or detrimental effects on human health and wealth.
In order to make findings from psychology research relevant for you and others, psychologists need to work with representative groups of participants. So why not consider participating in an experiment? That is one way to make research findings extremely applicable to yourself, and for you to benefit the most from science.