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  • Brain Stamp Staff

Updated: Jan 5, 2020

It's the week before prom, and disaster has struck: Your best friend accidentally bought the same dress as you, and now you only have a couple of days left to track down a new one.

You're scrolling through websites and making frantic calls to every dress store in the county. You begin to panic as store after store tells you that they have sold out already. Tears stream down your cheeks as you stare longingly at a black and white polaroid photograph of your date. With only a shred of hope left in your barely beating heart, you stumble upon the Macy's Spring Clearance Sale.

You desperately look for the dress of your dreams, but all that's left is a single sleeveless chiffon gown, available in only four colors: Poppin' Purple, Zazzy Azure, Ostentatious Orange, and Red. It all comes down to one defining factor: which color will turn the most heads when you strut into the old gymnasium with your hot date on your arm?

There's one way to find out, and that's through a well-devised experiment.

Research is a systematic investigation to solve problems. Psychologists sometimes use experiments to create controlled environments for establishing causation. When carrying out your experiment, everything is driven by a hypothesis, which is an educated guess about what might happen. For example, a hypothesis for our prom dress experiment might be that wearing the Red dress will turn the most heads at the dance because red is found to enhance attraction.

Clearly, one thing will cause a change in the other thing. When referring to these two "things," we use the terms independent and dependent variable. As you try on each color of the dress, you are manipulating the independent variable because you are in control of the colors you test. Later on, you will be counting the number of double takes you get, boogying throughout the night. You'll have to go to a lot of proms, but the number you get from testing out each dress color is your dependent variable because this number depends on your independent variable.

Everything sounds perfect, right? WRONG! You can't be sure of your results if they're affected by confounding variables, which are external factors that might mess up your causal relationship. You can't fairly judge Ostentatious Orange against Poppin' Purple if your hair looks different and you're wearing different shoes between trials! It's going to be a stressful night, because in order to make sure all of the other variables are constant, you'll have to wear all four dresses on the same night and change in the bathroom between slow dances.

Finally, the day arrives and you successfully carry out your experiment. While your date thought you looked fabulous in every color, you were able to observe that one of the dresses stood out the most on the dance floor...

Surprise, surprise: It was Zazzy Azure!

  • Abby Flyer

Updated: Jan 5, 2020

You’re at the mall with a group of friends, and your best friend Jen is trying on a new shirt. She asks everyone how it looks, and your friends all sing their praises. Personally, you think the shirt is drab and ugly, but you don’t want to be the only voice of discontent, so when Jen looks at you, you give her an encouraging thumbs up.

You’ve just fallen prey to conformity, the changing of behavior to fit in with a group. Don’t worry; you’re not the first. We humans are social butterflies. Whether it’s in a department store fitting room, on the football field, or in the office, no one wants to be the odd one out.

This scenario is a specific type of conformity, known as normative social influence. Normative social influence is when we change our behavior to appeal to social norms or avoid being rejected by a group. Conformity can also take the form of informational social influence, which is when we accept the opinions of others because we doubt our own. What if everyone you met today told you that your green shirt was purple? You might start to question your own eyes and agree with the group consensus.

Conformity isn’t always a bad thing. Perhaps telling Jen that her shirt looked great was the right decision; she really seemed to like it! To a degree, conformity can be useful in creating functional, organized groups. When everyone on the football team wears the same identifiable uniform, it helps the fans know which players they should be cheering for. If your friends are always talking about Game of Thrones, it might make sense to watch an episode or two to help you join in on their conversations. It’s important to remember when to be a trendsetter and when to go with the flow—there are times for both!

  • Writer's pictureYena Kim

Updated: Jan 5, 2020

Analyze the photograph that's shown above. What do you see?

How about this photograph? Anything peculiar?

If you saw faces for both of the images, then consider yourself crazy... or should you?

Human beings are pattern-finding machines. However, some things that we sense may be completely random and have no significant meaning to them. When we run into such data, it is very common for people to quickly detect familiar features in meaningless stimuli and come across surprising discoveries. If this sounds like your life story, then welcome to the pareidolia club!

To put it simply, pareidolia is a psychological phenomenon that happens when people find meaning in random stimuli, whether they come in the form of a visual or a sound. Although they don't always have to be faces, we often recognize faces in the most random places, such as clouds, artistically-burnt pieces of toast, and the backs of cars.

Sure, they're fun to look for when you're bored, or perhaps you automatically do them all the time. But when I perceive faces in random places, I can't help myself but to think, "What is the meaning of finding meaning in meaningless things?"

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