Online: Uljana Feest (Leibniz Universität Hannover) | Experimental Artifacts and the Reactivity of Psychological Phenomena

Institute Vienna Circle and the Unit for Applied Philosophy of Science and Epistemology APSE

Experimental Artifacts and the Reactivity of Psychological Phenomenae

Date: 21/01/2021

Time: 17h00

Plattform: Moodle Collaborate| Talks in Philosophy of Science and Epistemology PSE


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It is a fundamental feature of human beings that we are “reactive.”
When provoked, we often have angry reactions, when startled, we have a
fear-reaction, when surprised with a gift we might have a joyful
reaction. When exposed to a particular learning procedure, our minds
might react by forming new memories. When asked to fill in a specific
memory test, we might react by following the instructions or willfully
ignoring them. The reactivity of human subjects is a precondition of
experimental research, while also posing potential problems for the
experimenter: Reactions are sources of data, but the reactivity of
subjects can also distort the data in ways that are detrimental to the
epistemic pursuit in question.  The latter problem is connected to the
worry about experimental artifacts. But what are experimental
artifacts and what is the most productive way of dealing with them?

In this talk, I explore these questions by way of an analysis of how
experimenters try to simultaneously exploit and suppress the
reactivity of their subject matter. They do so in order to produce
experimental data that speak directly to the question or subject
matter at hand. This highlights not only the artificiality of
experimental data but also the significant ingenuity that goes into
experimental designs. I will argue that it is relative to the material
assumptions built into experimental designs that data speak to
hypotheses. Conversely, artifacts occur when design assumptions are
false. Given the complexity and great degree of conceptual openness
characteristic of psychology, we should expect many data to be
artifacts. I will illustrate these points with a case study. Along the
way, I also hope to offer some novel perspectives on philosophical and
scientific debates about replication failures and the issue of the
generalizability of experimental findings.