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From the psych wing (not ward)

A few weeks ago we were contacted by the University of Michigan Cognitive Development lab and asked to take part in a study on value assessment. As an undergrad there I took several courses in the psychology department, including a course in developmental psych, during which I had to log a certain number of hours aiding in study assessment, and I like going back to help the kids who are in the same boat (and yes, I'm thinking of those college students as kids, which I'm afraid says a lot).

So earlier this week we headed to campus to participate in this study on value assessment. For these studies the kids first spend some time playing with the researcher in order to become comfortable, then the parent is taken into a room where they can watch the study from behind a one-way mirror. I watched as Calvin was asked to assign monetary value to each of a pair of objects several times over. For instance, how much did he think a pair of shoes belonging to Dora the Explorer would be worth, versus how much he thought the same pair of shoes would be worth brand new, or how about the cape belonging to dracula, versus the cape belonging to Joe Schmoe. He was shown the objects and the people in pictures, and asked to give his reasons for the values he assigned.

There were many permutations of the same question, and the first half of the study revolved around well-known characters with positive auras, the second half with the villainous portion of the famous. The problem is, Calvin knew who very few of the characters were at all. Dracula yes, Dora, no. And no to Diego, and no to Bob the Builder, to Cruella de Vil, to Woody from Toy Story, to Arthur, to Mario, to Bart. Though he was familiar with characters like Dracula and Mickey, he was unfamiliar with about ninety percent of the "well-known" characters they used to study the effect notoriety would have on item valuation. Afterwards, I asked the student what room they'd left in their study for the rare child who had no exposure to pop culture. She answered that they took those kids into account by making sure to use characters that even kids who didn't watch TV would have come into contact with through good old American commercialism (my words), i.e., seeing Dora on backpacks at school. I asked her if they'd left any room for kids who saw no TV and did not attend school with American commercialism. She just nodded and smiled. I'm pretty sure she has no idea such kids exist.

We were given a free parking pass to entice us onto campus for the study, so following our hour in the developmental psychology wing Calvin asked if we could walk over to the Museum of Natural History. I couldn't so no to such a request if I wanted to, so we spent a couple of hours taking in the archaic and taxidermied sights. Such a beautiful world we live in.

In the car on the way home I asked Calvin what he thought of the study, and after answering he asked me who Bob the Builder was. I think he was imagining a Lego guy. I'm imagining how far he skewed the study results.

From the iPhone camera...

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