Follow-up to the hot sauce task

This post is a brief follow-up to the hot sauce task I did in my statistics class. I collected all of the measures from my students (17 students). Then, I calculated the average (or mean) for everyone in the class. It was 6.58. I then ran a t-test to compare that mean to the previously published mean (7.2) that was collected from individuals in Rochester, New York.

After collecting this data, I told my students information about their sample and the sample from previous data. Our sample was a group of undergraduates at a conservative Christian university in the South (Texas). Our comparison sample (the 7.2 mean) was a sample of undergraduates from a university in Rochester, NY. I asked my students if they could think of what they would hypothesize the difference to be between these two samples. Very quickly, my students started to state that they would hypothesize that Texans would rate the sample as less hot. “Alright,” I said. “Let’s test that.”

So to test it, I had my students run a one-sample t-test (described in my previous blog post) to test our hypothesis. What do you know? We found that our sample (mean = 6.58) rated the hot sauce as significantly LESS spicy than our comparison population (mean = 7.2). As soon as we walked through this example, it was like the light came on in several of my students’ heads. For once, they were the researchers. They were the ones who made educated guesses about something based on the available information they had. Then they formed statistical hypotheses to test these guesses. Finally, they ran a t-test and saw that we could be fairly confident that Texans rate the hot sauce significantly less spicy than New Yorkers. The key to this learning exercise was to make sure that my students were the agents of action. They were the ones taking the entire research process from beginning to end.

Since running that exercise in class, I have had my students continue to be the researchers. I give them various scenarios or pieces of information and make them form hypotheses about the data. Then we test it! I have noticed a significant improvement in comprehension of this material compared to last semester’s students. It’s amazing what will happen when you invite your students into the research process. By allowing them to become the investigators, I have not only seen them comprehend the material better, I have seen them become interested in testing various questions. This class exercise has left me a very satisfied instructor indeed.


About Megan Johnson Shen

I am a social psychologist graduating with my Ph.D. from Baylor University this May and moving to NYC this summer to start a new job as a postdoctoral researcher at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in the Cancer Prevention and Control Department. I love the brain, human behavior, and anything to do with understanding them better. I love research and a good dinner party. Fine wine and cheese - I'm there. Interesting experimental data? I'll probably show for that too. View all posts by Megan Johnson Shen

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