As of last friday our Ouija experiment is once again running sessions! Pictured is our new experimental setup, we're running in a new room this term but are keeping allot of our procedure the same as the original ouija experiment as we run the demographic control experiment; the first in the new series of new experiments we would like to run.
Following our first crowdfunding campaign, we received a generous anonymous donation which has allowed us to continue running sessions through the rest of the year and until we are ready to begin our next crowdfunding campaign in early spring. This has allowed us to choose one experiment to begin running out of the three we would like to run; and we decided this was a good opportunity to get done probably the least exciting of the our new experiments: the demographic control experiment!
The Demographic Control Experiment
I'll take this opportunity to say a couple things about our newest experiment: why we are doing it and how the experiment actually goes. When our lab published our first ouija experiments in 2012, we became some of the first researchers in decades to reexamine the Ouija phenomenon and the ideomotor effect in a productive way, two pretty controversial topics in academia today.
Surprisingly, the ideomotor effect happens to have a pretty bad reputation in academia: the reason for this is that the ideomotor effect has a history as a villain in psychological research catching some experimenters as an unpleasant surprise. This occurred most notably in the controversial theories of facilitated communication which made a splash in the academic community in the nineties due to the popular practices complete lack of academic support. Check out this video for a good explanation of the practice and its dubious reputation among academics. As it turned out the ideomotor effect was responsible for many of the messages this method produced, with many well meaning practitioners unconsciously being responsible for the responses they recorded.
The feedback our experiment received as our first paper made its rounds in the academic community were very cautious, probably very closely connected to the ideomotor effects dubious reputation in the academic community. People were afraid that the experimenters may be unconsciously influencing the responses of the participants much like what happened in facilitated communication, and encouraged us to rerun the experiment which reducing the experimenters contribution to the answers.
Well, unlike in facilitated communication, the experimenter never actually touched the Ouija during the experiment, and it actually is just one person providing the answers. So there really wasn't much more we could do to improve that part of our method, but another factor many people brought up was whether the way the experimenter was asking the questions may have actually been influencing how participants answered the questions (maybe they would unconsciously pick up on subtle differences in tone that influenced if they were going to answer yes or no). It was a far cry, but we decided it was still worth retesting to be sure nothing strange was happening there, especially as we wanted to redo the experiment anyway to be sure that we could recreate the results and were actually observing a true phenomenon.
This was the original motivation behind the demographic control experiment - we wanted to replicate our results and eliminate some of the influences of the experimenter. This meant running the experiment almost exactly the same way it was run in the original experiment, but instead of the experimenter reading the questions we would have a robotic voice doing much of the speaking. If you haven't seen it already, then check out our projects video explaining the original experiment (to your left). The only difference between our new experiment and the one described in the video is that the experimenter no longer reads out the questions to the participants (and also there is a bit more paperwork for the participants to fill out after the experiment).
But where does the 'Demographic' part come in?
Well, that would be the extra paperwork I just mentioned: we figures so long as we were running the experiment again we may as well record more information from the participants for our analysis, and decided that keeping demographic info on who we are running may reveal some basic differences in our subconscious knowledge based on where we grew up and what our cultural background was. This is especially relevant to our experiment as many of the questions we ask a person wouldn't likely know without having spent some time in a north American school. Many of our questions ask things about North American history, and even questions as simple as "is the maple leaf on the canadian flag red" some people get wrong if they are very new to this country. As a result keeping track of demographic info may strengthen our results; if we can show that the effect is different with people form different backgrounds then it would be much harder to blame the experimenters for influencing how participants respond.
Our experiment is looking to run some 25 participants, and we likely will only get through a small chunk of that this year as everyone is heading home for the holidays, but we are trying to build our new research team and get everyone up to speed on the new experiment before everyone heads off so we may be able to start the new year at a running pace. At this time we've only run two participants, but we hope soon to have some results to share with everyone!
Stay tuned for more posts coming up soon! : (Meet the Experimental Team 2013-2014)
(What do Good Drivers, Professional Athletes, Freudian Slips and Ouija Boards have in Common? [Part 2 of 2])