I was skeptical at first of the causal claim in the headline, From Collards To Maple Syrup, How Your Identity Impacts The Food You Like. After all, in order to support a causal claim, you need to manipulate a variable, and how can we manipulate cultural identity?
Before reading on, think about:
a) What word in the headline makes this a causal claim?
b) What foods might be associated with your own cultural identity (or identities?)
Here are some elements of the journalist's story. NPR reported about...
...a recent study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, authored by Jay Van Bavel, social psychologist at New York University and his colleagues. The researchers found that the stronger your sense of social identity, the more you are likely to enjoy the food associated with that identity. The subjects of this study were Southerners and Canadians, two groups with proud food traditions.
c) In the study above, what are the two variables? Do they seem to be manipulated or measured?
d) Given your answer to question c) is this study really an "experiment"?
e) Can this study (above) support the causal claim that "identity impacts the food you like"? What are some alternative explanations? Hint: Think about temporal precedence and third variable explanations.
Here's the description of a second study:
In a second experiment, containing 151 people, researchers also found that when Southerners were reminded of their Southernness — primed, in psychology speak — their perception of the tastiness of Southern food was even higher. That is, the more Southern a person was feeling at that moment, the better the food tasted [compared to a group who was not primed].
e) What are the two variables in the study above? Were the variables manipulated or measured?
f) Given your answer to question e) is this study really an "experiment"?
g) Can this study support the claim that "identity impacts the food you like"?
They found a similar result when taste-testing with Canadians, finding that Canadian test subjects only preferred the taste of maple syrup over honey in trials when they were first reminded of their Canadian identity.
h) You know the drill: For the study above, what kind of study was is? What are its variables?
i) Challenge question: Can you tell if the independent variable in the Canadian study was manipulated as between groups or within groups?
In sum, it appears that two out of the three studies reviewed by this NPR article were experimental, so they're more likely to support the causal claim about "identity impacting the food you like." The journalist calls attention to this manipulation of identity in this description:
The relationship between identity and food preference is not new. However, the use of priming to induce identity makes this study different from its predecessors.
"Priming is like opening a filing drawer and bringing to your attention all the things that are in the drawer," says Paul Rozin, food psychologist at University of Pennsylvania, who was not involved in the study. "You can't really change peoples' identities in a 15-minute setting, but you can make one of their identities more salient, and that's what they've done in this study."
j) What other ways might you manipulate cultural identity in an experimental design?
Good news! The empirical journal article is open-access here. When you read it, you'll see that the journalist simplified the design of the studies for her article in NPR.