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Psychology & The Good Life

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PSYC 157: Psychology & The Good Life

Hack Your Habits Final Project

Final Paper Proposal:

Assignment Overview 2 How To Design, Run, and Write Up The Best Final Project 2 Writing Up Your Final Project Proposal 3 How to pick a hack/intervention 4 How to implement your intervention 5 Implementing Your Intervention 7 Writing Up Your Final Project Summary 7 Introduction 8 Results 9 Conclusions 10 Self-Reflection 10 FAQ 11 Why are we doing this assignment? 11 Does my project need to involve me and only me? 11 What if my intervention doesn’t work out? 12 What if I still have more questions? 12 QALMRI Research Writing Guide Cheat Sheet 12

In this research project, your aim is to hack yourself in order to form healthier habits. You will have to design, run, and write up a self-improvement project based on what you’ve learned in class. It’s basically like running a scientific experiment on yourself! As you think about your design and write up, you must stick closely to the QALMRI cheat sheet we provide for thinking about how to design and write up a scientific experiment. There will be 3 steps in this project:

1. Project Proposal: You’ll start by proposing what you’ll do to hack your habits. You need to first think about a new habit you can try in your own life that (one that is based on what you learned in class— it should be either a rewirement or one of the PSYCHPROTIPs you learned about in class). Your goal is to pick something that you think will boost your mood based on the evidence. You’ll then measure your mood directly via a validated psychological instrument (PANAS).

2. Project Checkpoints. You’ll have several project checkpoints where you get to implement your intervention from Step 1 and submit weekly progress reports that detail how often you did the new behavior you proposed, some documentation that you actually did it, and your PANAS mood score.

3. Project Summary: Write up the results of your intervention project in a project summary, as though you were writing a scientific paper. But don’t worry, we’ll help you through the process.

1. Creative. The best final projects will be creative. The best projects in class won’t simply implement an intervention in the same way that some other study has done before, but will implement an intervention in a way that is personal and creative.

2. Related to class content. The best final projects will closely fit with the themes of and the evidence shown in the class. We want to see that you understand the material we’ve been teaching you over the last few weeks and that you can creatively use it to develop a new intervention that can really change your life.

3. Well-written. The best final project summaries will be well written. They will have a logical progression of ideas that makes the entire summary flow well. This means that the studies you review in the Introduction as evidence should lead logically into your question and hypothesis. You should also return to this logic in the Conclusions section. The best final project summaries will also be well-written in the sense that they will read well, be carefully proofread, and spell-checked.

4. Follow the directions. The best final projects will follow the directions outlined here— they’ll stick to the assignment, show clear use of thinking based on the QALMRI framework, and will adhere to the suggestions given by your TA.

Due Sunday April 11 at 11:59pm EST via Blackboard

The goal of the final project proposal is to make sure that you’re on the right track with your goal and your proposed intervention. It will also allow the TAs to give you some feedback about your idea, what you should be thinking of as you plan your project, and how you can best improve your final project.

For your final project proposal, you will be asked the following questions (additional details and tips for each part are included below):

1. What is your project’s title? Please choose a short title (no more than ten words) that conveys both your goal and how you’ll try to achieve it.

2. (1-3 sentences) What is the intervention (or change from your current behavior) that you propose to try out to achieve your goal of improving your mood?

3. (3-5 sentences) Cite and explain any evidence from the class that suggests this intervention is likely to work to achieve your goal of improving your mood.

4. (3-5 sentences) For your intervention, what are your methods? What exactly will you do? What is the activity? How many times a week will you do it? How long will each instance last? For all of these questions, please explain why you decided to make the change that way. Please lay out as many details as you can. The more clearly you lay out your method, the more feedback your TA can give you about whether your project is on track.

5. (3-5 sentences) What are some quirks and annoying features of the mind that you are likely to face when you try to make this change? What will be your strategy for overcoming these obstacles and why?

6. (3-5 sentences) What is your plan for documenting proof of your intervention? (Example could include: taking a picture of me performing the activity, having a family member or friend confirm that they saw me doing it, etc… something that confirms that you did what you said you’d do. This helps the TAs to know that you’re really making a change and it keeps you accountable.)

The “intervention” is just whatever change you want to make to your behavior, and it should be something that you hypothesize will improve your mood. For your intervention, you are welcome to pick from any rewirement or PSYCHPROTIP covered in class so far!

SOMETHING THAT IS NEW TO YOU

Your intervention must involve an activity/situation/change that you’re not already doing. For example, you shouldn’t pick an intervention involving meditating every morning to increase your positive mood if you already meditate every morning. Again, your intervention has to involve an actual change to your current behaviors/situation/habits so that you can see a change in your mood from before the intervention to after the intervention.

SOMETHING YOU CAN TRACK

Your intervention must be simple, systematic, and straightforward. When considering potential interventions to achieve your goals, don’t attempt to change lots of things in your life at once. Instead, a good intervention will pick one (or at most two) rewirements/PSYCHPROTIPs that are different from your current way of doing things in order to scientifically test if that change affects your mood. As in any scientific study, you can only manipulate a small number of variables at once or you won’t know what’s doing the work. In this way, a good intervention will involve a clear and systematic change so that you can directly test if that specific change is having the effect you think. Your intervention should also be something you can describe clearly in a methods section. You should know in advance what the intervention is going to look like in its entirety, how long it will last, and how you’ll measure if it worked.

SOMETHING THAT FACTORS IN OBSTACLES

Your interventions must take into account the quirks of your mind. As we’ve seen in class, changing behavior is often hard because our mind sucks in lots of different ways. It’s hard to make new habits stick. A good project proposal will show that you’ve thought carefully about how to get around these dumb features of the mind when designing your intervention. Indeed, the best interventions will incorporate the kinds of behavioral insights we’ve learned about in the course to generate ideas for how best to make the intervention work.

SOMETHING YOU CAN DOCUMENT

Your intervention must have some documentation. That is, you need to show that you didn’t just pretend to do this intervention, but that you actually did it. Just as scientists sometimes have to provide their raw data to show they conducted their study correctly, we will require that you provide some evidence that you really did take part in the intervention you said you did. This means more than just recording the pre- and post-intervention measurements. A good intervention will involve some way of documenting (e.g., photographing, family testimony, etc.) the fact that you did what you said you did.

Your intervention will be implemented using a method similar to many of the studies we learned about in class. These studies had the following structure:

1. Measure something about participants’ behaviors/feelings at Time 1.

2. Ask participants to change something for a given amount of time (this is your intervention).

3. Measure whether participants’ behaviors/feelings were different at Time 2.

Your overall project will be similar. You will measure a variable related to your goal (PANAS) before your start at Time 1, then change something about your situation/behavior (the intervention), and then re-measure your goal variable at Time 2. But since you’re just a subject of one person, we want you to run your experiment twice. And that means we’ll be using what’s called an “A-B-A-B” design. An A-B-A-B is a type of experiment design that turns your intervention on and off over time to see what the effect of the intervention really is. For this project, you will turn your intervention on and off each week days (every 7 days) for 4 weeks (A-B-A-B). The link to measure mood (PANAS) will be linked in the Project Check-In Assignments on Blackboard.

Your A-B-A-B design must proceed like this:

April 12 – 18 The first A (no-intervention): Measure your mood at baseline before you start your intervention. Do not implement your intervention for this first week. This will give you a baseline of your mood before you change anything.

April 19 – 25 The first B: Begin the intervention. Track how many times you do your new behavior, and provide some sort of proof that you did it. On the last day, measure your mood again to see if there was a change.

April 26 – May 2 The second A: Stop the intervention. We want to see if the effects of any mood change last when you’re not doing your intervention. On the last day, re-measure your goal variable to see if the effect you observed from the first B goes away.

May 3 – 9 The second B: Re-introduce the same intervention. Track how many times you do it, and provide some sort of proof that you did it. On the last day, re-measure your mood to see if the intervention worked a second time.

As you can see, an A-B A-B design involves four steps: (1) gathering baseline mood information before you make a change (the first A), (2) doing an intervention and measuring the effect of this treatment (the first B), (3) stopping the intervention to see what happens when the intervention you tried is removed (the second A), (3) applying the intervention a second time to see if you can replicate the effect you saw before (the second B).

Note: An A-B-A-B design is helpful because it allows you to test if the intervention repeatedly works, or if it was just a ‘one-off’ effect. An A-B-A-B design also protects your design from the fact that a one-person intervention lacks an appropriate “control condition” to test what would have happened to your variable of interest (in this case your mood) if you didn’t perform the intervention at all.

A good intervention will take some time and effort. This is a big chunk of your final grade in class, so we want to see that you put some time into the project. The amount of time and effort you put into implementing this change will also factor into your final project grade (read: not important for all the reasons we talked about in class) and whether you actually see your mood improve (read: much more important!). Again, the schedule of how to implement your intervention is listed above in How to implement your intervention .

At the end of each week, there will be a Check-In Assignment on Blackboard for you to take the PANAS survey and to document your progress. Each check-in will serve as your Rewirement Report for that week.

Due Sunday May 16 at 11:59pm EST via Blackboard

Your project summary will follow the QALMRI method (see cheat sheet for more details). QALMRI stands for QUESTION, ALTERNATIVES, LOGIC, METHODS, RESULTS, and INFERENCES. It is a method for thinking about how to design and write up an experiment. Professor Santos learned this framework when she was a college student and she still uses it today when she designs her own studies. All this goes to say that you should use this framework when thinking through your research project, and also when you learn about studies in class.

After reading the QALMRI cheat sheet, you will be asked a series of short answer questions to explain your own intervention study. The questions will fall into 4 categories:

1. Introduction (be sure to think about your question and hypothesis here)

2. Methods

3. Results

4. Conclusions

Here is the list of questions that you will be asked. You will ultimately need to enter your responses in Blackboard, so we recommend writing them in a word processing program like Google Docs or Microsoft Word, and then pasting them into Blackboard.

1. (1 sentence) This is the “Q” of “QALMRI,” which stands for “Question.” What is the question that your project is trying to answer? Please literally state it in the form of a question. Some examples include: “Will meditating every morning make me happier?” or “Will exercising a half-hour every day increase my positive mood?”.

2. (7-10 sentences) What evidence and studies from class made you think of this question in the first place? Why? Be concise and selective. Avoid the temptation to include a bunch of stuff you learned in class just in case it’s relevant (i.e. don’t write a shopping list of studies). We want to see that you understand the specific studies and evidence that are relevant JUST to your question. If you mention a specific study, you should be sure to include the name of the lecture where that study was covered, which should be easy since the Lecture Notes include these.

3. (At least 3-5 sentences) This is the “A” of “QALMRI,” which stands for “Alternatives.” What are the potential answers you might get to your scientific question? Please lay out the three different alternative results your intervention could have, and please write them in the form of different possible answers to the specific question you listed above.

4. (5-7 sentences) Of all the alternative answers that you listed in the previous question, which one is your hypothesis (i.e., the result you predict you will get)? Why? (Note: it’s totally okay if your hypothesis is not supported. It’s science after all!)

Methods

This is the “M” of “QALMRI.” This is where you will discuss how you implemented your intervention.

1. (1-3 sentences) What was the intervention (or change from your current behavior) that you proposed to try out to achieve your goal of improving your mood?

2. (3-5 sentences) For your intervention, what exactly did you do? What was the activity? How many times a week did you do it? How long did each instance last? For all of these questions, please explain why you decided to make the change that way. Please lay out as many details as you can.

4. (3-5 sentences) What were some quirks and annoying features of the mind that you faced when trying to make this change? What was your strategy for overcoming them, and why?

5. (3-5 sentences) How was your strategy for documenting proof of your intervention? (Example could include: taking a picture of me performing the activity, having a family member or friend confirm that they saw me doing it, etc… something that confirms that you did what you said you’d do.)

6. Did you change any part of your method from what you originally proposed? If so, why?

This is the “R” of “QALMRI.” We need to see if you got the results you predicted. To see if this is the case, we need to know your scores.

1. Please enter the total of your PANAS scores for both A phases (Note: need to add both numbers together)

2. Please enter the total of your PANAS scores for both B phases (Note: need to add both numbers together)

3. Calculate difference between your PANAS scores. To do this, first find your B total that you entered above and subtract the A total that you entered above. If the result is positive, then your happiness increased. If the result is negative, then your happiness decreased. If the result is zero, then there was no change.

4. How many times did you plan on doing your intervention?

5. How many times did you actually do your intervention?

6. Calculate your adherence rate by dividing how many times you actually did your intervention by how many times you planned to do it (actual / planned = adherence rate). It’s OK to use a calculator!

This is the “I” of “QALMRI,” for “Inferences.” This is the spot where you discuss what you found and whether your hypothesis was supported.

1. (3-5 sentences) Given your results— describe what happened in words. What do these the results mean? Did you the question you originally proposed in the introduction? Was your hypothesis supported?

2. (3-5 sentences) How do your results fit with the empirical evidence you discussed in the introduction?

3. (3-5 sentences) Is there anything else that happened during your intervention that could explain the results you saw? How could this explain the results?

This section is an opportunity to reflect on your experience doing your final project.

1. (2-3 sentences) How did this project go for you? Was it easy? Was it hard? Why?

2. (3-5 sentences) What did you learn about yourself through the process of this project? How did you learn it?

3. (3-5 sentences) If you were to continue practicing your chosen happiness hack, is there anything in particular that you would keep doing, start doing, or stop doing? Why?

4. (3-5 sentences) Do you plan to keep practicing your happiness hack in the future? Why?

Many of you are taking this course not just because you want to learn about theories for living a happier life. You’re taking this course because you also want to live a happier life yourself. Unfortunately, as we saw in class, merely knowing about the psychological research on behavior change is not enough to change our behavior (read: G.I. Joe Fallacy!). To actually achieve personal changes from taking this class, you need to put in the work and time needed to rewire your bad habits and strategies. And that’s the goal of the hack your habits project. Rather than making you write a final paper about a potential strategy that could in theory increase someone’s subjective well-being, I want you to actually try that strategy on yourself. For real.

Making this self-improvement project a requirement of the class has two big benefits that fit with the themes of the course. First, making you change your habits as part of the final project increases the chances that you’ll actually get around to making those changes happen. With the social support of the class, the social pressure of me and your TA reading your project summary, and a grade on the line, you’ll be more likely to actually make changes that you want to see in your life happen. Ultimately, this project summary is my way of nudging you into the behavior changes you’ve wanted to make for a while but haven’t put the time and effort into yet.

But there’s a second big benefit of making you try out a new change as part of a final research project. As we saw in the first lecture, the scientific method works! You will have a chance to directly test whether a change you think will make you happy actually does make you happy. You’ll be able to use the tools of the scientific method to see if your proposed strategy really does work. Not just whether that strategy works for someone else in some published study, but whether it works for you. Testing whether your life hack ideas work systematically is the perfect way to ensure that you’re treating the material you learn in class not like a bunch of self-help tips but as scientific hypotheses to be tested carefully.

Yes! Note that the name of the project involves hacking yourself. It’s not about hacking your family members, your friends or random people on the Internet. The project and intervention needs to involve you and only you. This means that you will have full control over whether the project can be successfully implemented or not. It also ensures that you can do this project without the need for the usual Yale Human Research Protection, since you’re the only subject that needs to consent to the project.

Remember that this is supposed to be a scientific project. This means you must report your results honestly—whether the project worked out or not. Remember, lots of scientific studies and evidence-based interventions don’t go as planned, but that’s the way science works. All this goes to say we want you to honestly report what really happened, even if the results didn’t go the way you wanted. Note that your grade will not depend in any way on whether your hypothesized intervention works or not.

The design of your study should fit with the guidelines described above. If you still have questions, feel free to contact your TA or your high school teacher for more advice.

Adapted nearly verbatim from: Kosslyn, S. M., & Rosenberg, R. S. (2001). Psychology: The Brain, The Person, The World. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

The QALMRI method provides a means for critically evaluating experiments, as well as for organizing your own experiment proposals (including an experimental intervention like this). It helps you find connections between theory and data by making explicit the

question being asked, the approach used to answer it, and the implications of the answer. QALMRI is an acronym for QUESTIONS, ALTERNATIVES, LOGIC, METHODS, RESULTS, and INFERENCES.

Q stands for Question

All research begins with a question, and the point of the research is to answer it. For example, we can ask whether exercising is better than taking no action for curing depression. The Introduction section of the summary should tell the reader what question the article is addressing. In addition, the Introduction should provide as much literature review as is needed to explain why the question is important and why anybody should care about answering it. Questions fall into two categories: broad and specific. Broad questions are typically too general to answer in a single experiment. For example, a broad question might be: Does gratitude make us happier? This sort of question provides the general topic of the project summary, and can only be resolved by compiling many experimental results. The specific question typically can be addressed, at least in part, in a single experiment or set of experiments. A more specific question might be: “Does writing three things you’re grateful for every night increase positive mood as measured by the PANAS after three weeks”? In describing the question of an experiment, you should identify both the broad and specific questions being addressed.

A stands for Alternatives

Good experiments consider at least two possible answers to a specific question, and explain why both answers are plausible. For example, the possibility that gratitude journaling will increase positive mood is plausible based on evidence we learned about in class. That would be our hypothesis. But there are other alternatives too. It’s possible is that gratitude journaling does not influence mood at all. It’s also logically possible that gratitude journaling could decrease positive mood (though this would be a surprising alternative given previous work).

Most good project summaries identify, at least implicitly, the primary alternatives being considered. When proposing your intervention, you should always identify the alternatives and consider why each is plausible. You should also identify which of the alternatives is your hypothesis.

L stands for Logic

The logic of the study identifies how the design will allow you to distinguish among the alternatives. The logic is typically explained toward the end of a study introduction and has the following structure: If alternative 1 (and not alternative 2) is correct, then when a particular variable is manipulated, the participantʼs behavior should change in a specific way. For example, the logic of the gratitude experiment described above would sound like this: If gratitude journaling does increase positive mood, then adding an hour of gratitude journaling each night should increase a measure of positive mood, namely a person’s score on the PANAS positive affect measure. Alternatively, gratitude journaling does not increase positive mood, then adding an hour of gratitude journaling each night should not increase a person’s score on the PANAS positive affect measure (or may even decrease it). Note that the logic of the experiment is integrally related to the alternatives. Also note that the logic provides an initial hint about the specific design that will be used to test the hypothesis (e.g., what the critical variables will be in the intervention). When describing the logic of the experiment, be sure to provide the “if-then” statements like the ones used here.

M stands for Methods

The Methods section identifies the procedures that will be used to implement the intervention. What materials and equipment will be used and how are they presented to participants? What exactly is done during the experiment? What are the independently manipulated variables? What are the primary dependent variables (or the things you measure before and after)? When describing the methods, you should provide a brief list of the relevant details. Focus on those method details that are central to implementing the logical design. Be sure to include as much detail as possible. The best methods sections read like clear “how-to” guides.

R stands for Results

What was the outcome of the experiment? What were the results on the primary measures? This section should note which results (or potential results) were obtained and should identify how reliable they seemed. Were the results likely due to chance variation or noise or did they seem to be robust? When describing the results, you should focus on describing the overall pattern, noting any findings that were central to testing the central hypotheses.

I stands for Inferences

What can the results of the experiment tell us about which of the alternative answers to the questions were supported? If the study was well designed (the logic sound and the method rigorous), then the results should allow you to eliminate at least one of the alternatives. A good inferences section also takes a step back to think about potential confounds that could have led to the results. Were any other alternative explanations possible? A good inferences section also considers any loose ends. Do the inferences drawn from the results apply more generally or are they are specific to the particular intervention used in this case? A good inferences section will also relate your findings to the broad questions you proposed as well as to the previous work already reported.

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