Wearing 2 Different Hats: Blogging vs. Psychological Research

by Melissa Karnaze

As you may have noticed, I haven't posted a new article in several years. The main reason being: I was wearing a different hat. When I post an article here, it comes from a certain experience and confidence. It comes from a decision that these words can help at least one reader. It takes the form of an "answer" more so than the form of a "question" (though I do enjoy posing questions, or suggesting useful questions to ask oneself). The blogger's hat I like to wear is assertive and action-focused. When it's on my head, I've made up my mind. If I didn't believe in what I wrote, I wouldn't hit "Publish". This is not say that by releasing my thoughts into the cyberspace they are set in stone. My thinking changes and I learn each day. But it is to say that it's a specific kind of hat. The other hat I wear is that of a researcher. When I finished my master's thesis in General Experimental Psychology and started as a doctoral student in Psychological Science, I spent more and more time reading and critiquing research, conducting research, writing up research, and getting critiqued. So I took the researcher's hat off less and less, which meant it became harder and harder (no matter how much I wanted) to put the blogger's hat back on. Now, this labeling isn't perfect. Bloggers ask questions, just as researchers are trained to. Researchers offer interpretations of their data, just as bloggers tend to highlight solutions and action steps. And much like bloggers, researchers have personal opinions that aren't a result of the scientific method and that aren't supported by empirical evidence (they're people, too).

Consequences of wearing the researcher hat

For the most part, however, when wearing a good-fitting researcher's hat, I have a certain set of values. I want to base any assertions about human behavior on data derived from sound studies. I think about the limitations of any study, whether it has been replicated, and what has yet to be tested, or how hard (or even possible) it would be to test certain assumptions. I worry about generalizing the findings from the people over here to the people over there, because unless they've been studied, I really don't know. Even when I'm familiar with a pattern of behavior that shows up again and again, I still have follow up questions: But will it show up under these conditions? Is it cross-cultural, or among those who are not WEIRD? When I've seen a reliable relationship between two things, I still wonder: For whom are they most strongly related? When does the relationship break down? How exactly are the two related, as in, what happens in the in-between? Are they just correlated, or does one cause the other, the other cause the one, or both? And what about adding more and more variables into the picture? What about the dynamics of time and relationships? Is the statistical model appropriate? What are the assumptions of the modeling that's used?

Consequences of wearing the blogger hat

When wearing the right style of blogger's hat, my values are different. I want to base conclusions on vivid and meaningful personal experiences and not-necessarily-systematic observation of others (well-filtered by my own lenses, of course). The more heart-wrenching, the more memorable, the experience, the better. I don't want a formalized process of peer review; I need it to be quiet enough to hear my own thinking so that I can trace it and deconstruct it and put it back together into pixels so that strangers who want to hear the message can follow along. I worry about whether my experience is deep enough to draw from, because unless I've been through it (or know someone well who has), I really don't know. I push myself to extrapolate from my own logic, so that I can offer action-steps, preferably in bullet-point form. I make generalizations and blanket statements, especially if I perceive that it helps get my point across. I do think of counter-arguments and the critics, but only in order to refine the message. I channel my focus on how others' can get value from the process -- whether they agree and jump into action or I've irked them to refine the opinions of their own. Even as I write this, I feel the need to grab my other hat.

The challenge of switching hats

The two hats I wear have one big thing in common. They shape how I think. Whenever I write anything, it shapes how I think and see and believe and want to know. So by wearing the researcher's hat for extended periods over the past several years of graduate school, it trained me to think in ways very different from, and often at odds with, the kind of thinking pixelated here. I don't know if switching hats will get easier, or harder. But it's been too long since this hat has been worn, and it still seems to fit. What are the different hats that you tend to wear? How are they different? When do you switch them? Feel free to share in the comments below.

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