University of South Florida Psychology Pupillary Contagion Questions


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  • One popular line of research in psychology today is the attempt to find physiological indicators of humans’ apparent need to be social with each other. As you’ve probably noticed on some level in your life, some animals are more prosocial than others; that is, some animals seek out company (e.g. dogs and cats), whereas others avoid it (e.g. most types of snakes). This article is about pupillary contagion. The first two paragraphs give you the definition of the term, and list at least five different ways in which pupillary contagion shows evidence of socialization among adults. How do the authors of the article define the term pupillary contagion? Explain at least three of the pieces of evidence of socialization cited in the first two paragraphs of the article.
  • The second part of the introduction gives the authors’ rationale for believing that even infants might show pupillary contagion. Pick two of the pieces of evidence offered by the authors that you find most compelling. Which two did you pick? What makes you think these are the most compelling pieces of evidence?
  • The Results section of a scientific paper can often be difficult to read, unless you’ve already had multiple classes on research methods and statistics. Yet not everything in the section is written in technical terms. For instance, the authors note in more than one place in the paper that the infants showed pupillary contagion for the round stimuli, but not for the squares. Look at the bar graph on page 1000, the red bar shows the average increase in pupil size, with the “whiskers” of the bar (the line centered on the top of the red bar, with a T shape at the top and bottom) showing variability. The fact that these “whiskers do not include the value of 0.00 on the figure shows that the participants were reliably enlarging their pupils. The authors claim that the square stimuli did nothing to pupils. But look at that blue bar, including its whiskers. Did the square stimuli do something? Explain your reasoning.
  • The Discussion section of the paper explains the results using plain language, rather than statistics. What did the authors conclude about pupillary contagion for 6- and 9-month olds, and what two alternative explanations do the authors give for this result?
  • The Discussion section of a paper should also include the limitations of the studies in that paper. In scientific terms, limitations are best thought of as weaknesses of the paper. Examples include doing a study only on college students, when we’re hoping to generalize the results to people of all ages and levels of education, or not treating all the participants in the study in the same way. What is not required in the limitations section of the paper is how the researchers choose to characterize those weaknesses: do the authors just admit to the weaknesses, or do they try to make excuses for the weaknesses?

    For this question, tell me the weaknesses the authors report for their paper. Do they offer a justification for each one? Do you think any justifications the authors offer are plausible or not? Explain your reasoning.

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