• Question: Hi, I was wondering out of all important scientific discoveries in the past. If you could have been the person that discovered them what would you choose?

    Asked by anna to Kathryn, Ian, Chris, Bogdana, Alex on 19 Jun 2019.
    • Photo: Ian Cookson

      Ian Cookson answered on 19 Jun 2019:

      Gravity. People often ask if psychology is just common sense, that it’s not “real science” and I say, well Newton discovered gravity when an apple fell out of tree. So his scientific theory of gravity was based on common sense, that things fall to the floor. Psychology is no different really, although we don’t suggest universal laws in the way some sciences do.

    • Photo: Bogdana Huma

      Bogdana Huma answered on 19 Jun 2019: last edited 19 Jun 2019 3:09 pm

      Great question! I’ve always been fascinated by cognitive dissonance, a phenomenon described and theorised by a psychologist called Leon Festinger. He basically noticed that when people hold two conflicting attitudes (cognitions) they experience a tension which he calls cognitive dissonance. In order to minimise this unpleasant state, people will do one of two things: (1) reconcile the two attitudes, by finding an explanation (motivation) for how they’re not contradictory or (2) when no explanation is available they would change the weaker attitude to achieve balance (consonance).

      Together with a colleague, Festinger designed a clever experiment through which to demonstrate his observation: he got two groups of people to perform a very boring task and then asked them to lie about it to a person who knew nothing about the task. People in the first group received $1 for this while people in the second group received $20. He then measured their attitudes toward the boring task. People from the first group said they found the task significantly more enjoyable than those from the second group. This would seem counter-intuitive given that the second group had received more money to lie, but if we take cognitive dissonance into consideration, this actually makes perfect sense: both groups probably experienced some tension based on the fact that (1) the task was boring (2) but they had lied about it and said it was fun. The people in the second group had a justification for that – they had been given $20 to lie – and thus were able to reconcile the two attitudes. But the first group could not use the $1 reward to justify having lied. So these people had to change their attitude towards the task (and they presumably started to believe it was more enjoyable) in order to achieve consonance.

    • Photo: Alex Lloyd

      Alex Lloyd answered on 20 Jun 2019:

      This is a tricky one! I think I would choose Darwin and evolution, it has been such an important discovery that has affected so many different fields. Plus, Darwin got to travel a lot in order to make his discoveries, which I really envy.

    • Photo: Chris Fullwood

      Chris Fullwood answered on 20 Jun 2019:

      I would have liked to have invented the toaster but hundreds of years before it was actually invented and then everybody would have worshiped me as the god of toast