Dr. Daryl Bem Term Paper

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[. . .] Bem was a critic of cognitive dissonance theory. He designed a replication of the original Festinger & Carlsmith (1959) study. In Bem's (1967) version participants listened to a tape recorded description of the cognitive dissonance experiment of a man enthusiastically describing the boring task. Some of the experimental participants were told that the man had been paid $20 for his description, whereas another group of participants was told that the man only been paid one dollar for his description. Thus, there was no dissonance created in the participants of the experiment; however, the results were still the same. Those that had heard the description of that the man had been paid one dollar believed that he must have liked the task more than the man was paid $20. Bem concluded that the participants in this experiment were able to infer the attitude of the actor and also concluded that it is possible that people in the original Festinger/Carlsmith also inferred their attitudes by observing their own behavior. Those that were paid the $20 observed that they were well-paid, whereas those that only get one dollar observed that they were performing a boring task for nothing and therefore they must like the task. Bem concluded that the results of cognitive dissonance experiments were simply examples of self -- perception where the actors were observing their own behavior. Bem's self -- perception theory proposes that people develop their attitudes by observing how they act. If they observe themselves acting a certain way then they must conclude that those actions are reflective of their attitudes (Bem, 1972). He later applied this theory to the development of sexual orientation.

While the two theories appear to explain the same phenomenon they are indeed different. Bem concluded that self that perception theory was more parsimonious than cognitive dissonance and therefore more applicable (Bem, 1972). However, research has indicated that perhaps both theories are applicable depending on the circumstances. One proposed explanation is that cognitive dissonance theory explains how people change or develop attitudes when they have conflicting values or conflicting beliefs and behaviors, whereas self -- perception theory is an explanation of how people may develop their attitudes initially (see Meyers, 2010).


The ganzfeld procedure has been used to provide evidence of ESP (Hyman & Honorton, 1986). During the procedure a "receiver" is placed in a separate room with headphones playing static and eye coverings. A "sender" observes a target of some type and tries to send messages to the receiver. The receiver speaks out loud during the experimental session describing what they see. An experimental blind to the targets records the responses. When a receiver achieves over better than chance results this is interpreted as evidence for ESP; however, this particular experiment resulted in quite a bit of controversy in research. Positive findings have been scrutinized by researchers and explanations ranging from poor methodology to nonsignificant chance findings dominated the psychological literature with regard to this procedure.

As mentioned above Bem and a longtime supporter of many parapsychological phenomena and Bem & Honorton (1994) performed a meta-analysis on studies of the ganzfeld procedure. Their results indicated a statistically significant hit rate of well over 30% (chance rates would be 25% in the four-choice paradigm). Bem and Honorton (1994) concluded that overall the studies of the ganzfeld procedure did provide evidence for the existence of ESP. Of course this particular paper resulted in quite a bit of controversy and as it turns out Bem and Honorton actually had errors in their meta-analytic calculations. Milton and Wiseman (1999) carried out their own method -- analysis of ganzfeld experiments and the found no effect beyond chance levels. This research is been hashed over and over again in the general finding is that the results are not significantly greater than chance. Moreover, other researchers have looked at the so-called successes in ganzfeld experiments and have criticized them based on a lack of understanding as to how probability theory and significance testing work. For example, in an unbiased coin toss the probability of getting either ahead or a tail is .50. If one person tossed a coin eight times the probability that person would get eight heads (or tails) is 2(.5)8 which works out to 1 in 128. If 50 people flip a coin eight times the probability that at least one of them would get all heads or all tails is 32.44% (Runyon, Coleman, & Pittenger, 2000). Thus, in procedures where strings of correct responses are higher than the probability of a correct response in a single trial, more stringent criteria need to be applied in order to determine what performance is significantly different from chance and what performances are not.

Despite all of the criticisms of the ganzfeld procedure and of Bem's support for the notion of ESP and his believe in the legitimacy of parapsychological phenomena is still strong. In 2011 Bem published a paper that reflected this conviction. Bem (2011) described nine at different experiments on over 1000 participants all of which revealed significant evidence of ESP (even though the magnitude of the evidence was slight). All of these experiments were variations of classic experiments in psychology that Bem approached in a different manner. Bem reversed the established protocols for psychological experiments such as recall facilitation and affective priming so that the cause now became the effect. For example, Bem would have students try to remember as many words as possible from a list of words. Then the participants would be required to type a random selection of words from the same list. Bem (2011) found that the participants had greater recall for words that they would later type, a finding that has no conventional explanation in learning and memory psychology or in any other severity of psychology. Bem (2011) concluded that this was evidence for precognition (ESP or PSI). Other experiments produced similar results that Bem interpreted as evidence for precognition. However, other researchers investigated Bem's methodologies and found that there were serious flaws in the methods such as not using the applicable statistical cut off criteria or changing procedures in the middle of an experiment. Moreover, attempts to replicate Bem's findings have all failed (e.g., Ritchie, Wiseman, & French, 2012). Thus, while Bem's research regarding ESP and parapsychology has received much attention, his findings have not been replicated and his beliefs regarding these abilities have been looked upon by mainstream researchers in psychology and other fields as dubious at least.


Dr. Bem has established himself as a major figure in the field of social psychology and the development of personality attributes such as attitudes and sexual orientation. He has published major works in many different areas of psychology ranging from self -- perception to discrimination and prejudice. Not all of his research and theories have been accepted by his peers in academia; however, his research has always stimulated others to think and consider long -- held beliefs. While his research into ESP may reflect his weakest attempts to formulate reliable and valid constructs, that particular research and his other research has stimulated much thought and resulted in subsequent research to refine his ideas. In the end, that is exactly what a researcher is supposed to contribute.

Annotated Bibliography

Bem, D.J. (1967). Self-Perception: An Alternative Interpretation of Cognitive Dissonance

Phenomena. Psychological Review, 74, 183-200.

In this study Bem proposes and alternative explanation for cognitive dissonance theory. He described self -- perception as an individual's ability to respond in different ways to their own behavior. Bem then replicated the three major paradigms used in cognitive dissonance research: (A) the forced choice paradigm, (B) the forced compliance paradigm, and (C) exposure to information paradigm using participants as observers as opposed to actors.

The results are very similar to the results of the original cognitive dissonance findings in these paradigms; however, Bem's participants could not have experienced any cognitive dissonance because they observed others in these experiments. Bem reports that these contrasting methods with very similar outcomes to the findings of classical cognitive dissonance studies indicates that cognitive dissonance is neither necessary or sufficient to explain behaviors and that self -- perception theory is more parsimonious.

Bem, D.J. (1998). Is EBE theory supported by the evidence? Is it androcentric? A reply to Peplau et al. Psychological Review, 105(2), 395 -- 398.

Bem's theory regarding the development of sexual orientation, the Exotic Becomes Erotic, theory was staunchly criticized as ignoring inherent factors such as biological mechanisms for determining sexual orientation and also for not explaining the development of sexual orientation and women. Bem responded to these criticisms by offering more data and further clarification.

First, Bem countered this argument by citing research that demonstrated that gender conformity and nonconformity coincides with the rates of homosexual behavior in both men and women. He presented empirical findings that indicate that more women had sex -- atypical activities and had opposite sex friends then did males and that prevailing studies indicate… [END OF PREVIEW]

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