Like most Ph.D. doctoral programs in psychology, the University of Connecticut’s program is research-oriented and designed to produce psychologists who will teach at the university level and publish their research. As first-year students, we are given the opportunity to sit in on the research teams led by each member of the faculty before deciding which team to join.
When I arrived on campus in the fall of 1996, I only had to sit in on one team to make my decision. It was the one led by Dr. Irving Kirsch, one of the world’s leading researchers in hypnosis and the placebo effect (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irving_Kirsch). I recall being in awe that first day as I listened to him work with the students on his team, asking questions to help guide them to a better understanding of their own projects, and displaying a level of thinking and intellect that I had never before witnessed. And he did it in a way that even I–who was unfamiliar with the content of what was being discussed–could still understand the principles that were being applied.
I joined his team and in the next several years conducted a number of experiments with him. Several were published. One is even considered important in the field of hypnosis (APA PsycNet). He became the faculty advisor on my doctoral dissertation and my friend.
I quickly learned that most young researchers make the same error: they get an idea that they want to prove and then design an experiment to prove they are right. The problem with that approach is that after you run your experiment, what if your results don’t support your hypothesis? Then what? You’ve done all that work and now you have nothing to show for it…and you can’t publish it…and that’s not a good thing.
One of the most important principles of doing research (and subsequently having it published) that Irving taught me was this: Design your project so that no matter what the results, your findings are meaningful and publishable. The trick is to design your research so that it pits two competing theories against one another. In this way, your results will be important no matter how things turn out.
I tell you this in order to explain one of the reasons I am writing this blog. You see, my life going forward is a kind of experiment. The data I’m collecting and reporting to you are the mistakes I make throughout the day over the course (I hope) of several years. There are two opposing hypotheses: Wayne is dementing vs. Wayne is experiencing normal aging. As I write this, neither you nor I know the answer, but it will become clear over time. Most importantly, the record I leave behind should have value, as it will be a case study of either what normal aging looks like or what the path to dementia looks like.
I think Irving would approve.