Plenary lecture – Professor Mike Nicholls
Are we missing something? Putting the ‘social’ into experimental psychology
To remove the influence of extraneous variables, experimental psychologists have typically carried out their research on individuals in small, dark rooms. But can these techniques be modified to tell us something about our social world? I will describe three well-established paradigms within experimental psychology and show how they can be adapted to measure social influences. In the first, we use a radial line bisection task to show individual differences in cognitive and physiological responses to the presence of a stranger. Some individuals show a contraction of spatial attention and increased arousal whereas others, who seem to enjoy the experience, show the opposite. In the second, we use an object affordance task to show that the presence of a stranger causes a retraction of spatial attention where the object is ‘ceded’ to the other person. Finally, we use an aperture estimation task to show that more socially anxious people require more space when ‘pushing’ between two other people. By applying rigorous psychophysical techniques to social questions, we believe that particularly compelling and novel insights into these issues can be gained.