Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Suzanna, Lab Rat

A colleague in my department at the university teaches a course for which her students do psychology experiments, which amount to various interviews with willing participants. Her students needed access to children recently for a series of questions designed to reveal something about a child's mental stage of development. Abigail was enlisted by her friend's mom, who is a student in the course, to be a participant, and she just had to sit for some questions . . . and then she got to play with her friend!

My colleague has one student, Lilian, from Kenya who has no "connections" to local people who have children, so Lilian was having trouble locating a participant for her study. My colleague asked if I'd give permission for Lilian to interview one of our girls, and I volunteered Suzanna, thinking she'd probably be more diplomatic than Hillary when asking Lilian to repeat sentences (Lilian's accent is rather heavy).

It was kind of a rigmarole to arrange a meeting between Lilian and Suzanna, working around Suzanna's many after-school activities and Lilian's class and work schedule and trying to help Lilian videotape the experiment (she didn't know where to go for a camera, how to get a disk for recording the session, how to operate the camera, etc.). Finally we arranged for me to get Suzanna to campus today to sit for Lilian's questions, which Lilian had a friend videotape for her. Here is what it was like to be the topic of a psychology experiment, in Suzanna's words:

"I got into the room and Lilian, my questioner, got her things together for the first question, which was something about two clay balls. She asked me if they were the same size, and I said yes; and then she asked me if, when she put them in two different glasses of water, the level of the water would rise, and I said yes.

Then she got the second question ready. She put slips of paper on two sheets of paper, and they took up the same amount of space on each. Then on one sheet of paper she moved the slips all over, and she asked if they still took up the same amount of space, and I said yes.

Then she got the third question ready, and it was with two more clay balls. She asked me if, when she changed the shape of one of the clay balls, the water level would rise more than with just the regular clay ball, and I said yes; she asked me why, and I said because it's taking up more space on the bottom of the cup, so the water needs someplace to go.

Then she thanked me, and there was a guy who videotaped me, and he shut off the video camera, and then I left."

If you were Lilian, what would you conclude about Suzanna based on this experiment?

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