Miss Psychobabble: A Basic Introduction to SPSS

Image Credits: http://www.keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk/p/keep-calm-and-love-spss
SPSS, originally produced by SPSS Inc., stands for Statistical Package for Social Sciences. It is one of the most widely used software, which can perform highly complex data analysis and manipulation. In 2009, IBM acquired its full rights and officially named it as IBM SPSS Statistics.

Aside from psychology and other social sciences, it is popularly used in the business, health, government, and banking sectors. With its pervasive nature, you cannot escape SPSS if you are a psychology major or a researcher. As nerdy as this might sound, I have to admit, I loved using SPSS during my school years, although majority of the students disliked it.
My fondness for the software can be rooted from my interest in programming, organizing, and analyzing data. If you are my complete opposite, I suggest for you to brush up on the basics of SPSS; only then can you finally appreciate its capabilities.

Functionalities of SPSS
The fundamental use of SPSS is to analyze your data in three ways namely:  
  1. Describe the data using descriptive statistics, 
  2. Examine the relationships between several variables, and 
  3. Compare the groups to determine if there are significant differences.
Some of its functionalities include:
  • Descriptive Statistics
  • Contingency tables
  • Reliability tests
  • Correlation
  • T-tests
  • Forecasting
  • Survival analysis
  • Regression

Image Credits: http://diylol.com
The proprietary language of SPSS is known as the syntax command language or syntax, for short. Here is the full list of the syntax used:
  • Name
  • Type
  • Width
  • Decimals
  • Label
  • Values
  • Missing
  • Columns
  • Align
  • Measure
  • Role

Further Recommendations
Read more about everything SPSS in my favorite free online website here (https://statistics.laerd.com/features-overview.php). As a beginner, it is best to browse more on the basic steps in using SPSS.  Know the steps by watching an informative video here:

Website Resources:

SGPsychStud: Cognitive Psychology in Decision Making

Image fom: http://eintimex.org/4259-The-Steps-of-the-Decision-Making-Process-Poster
Yesterday (11 September 2015), Singaporeans had to make a  decision that will affect their lives for the next five year.  Results were out early this morning with the ruling party winning a landslide of 69.86% of votes and securing 83 out of 89 seats available in the Parliament.  This post is paying tribute to this SG50 event, with the examples given with reference to the elections and yet discussing about the topic of how cognitive psychology works in our everyday decision making.
So how did  you make that decision?  And what factors have affected you in making that decision?
The best steps to making that decision is as shown in the above picture:
  1. Identifying the clear goal or end result (this might be different for different people)
  2. Identifying all possible options (in this case, there might only be two, or at most three:  Ruling party or opposition parties in your constituency) 
  3. Study your options (understanding as much as possible 
  4. Select the best option and carry out the decision (that is to vote!)
  5. Evaluate your decision (A reflection of whether you have made the right choice)
However, even before we make that decision, there are five factors that will sway one's ideas and thoughts towards making a decision (Dietrich, 2010Exforsys, 2011):
  1. Past experiences
  2. Cognitive biases, such as belief bias, hindsight bias, omission bias, confirmation bias, etc. (Dietrich, 2010Exforsys, 2011)
  3. Individual differences
  4. Belief in personal relevance is where the decision is highly related to the individual and believe that his/her vote and opinion matters.
  5. Escalation of commitment is where the decision is based on the amount of commitment and investment that an individual has put into towards that decision.  This may result in the decision being made due to the large amount of commitment/investment, rather than a objective view of the situation.
How to make the best objective decision?
The main step to do this is Step 3: Study your options.  By having indepth analyses of  our options (i.e.an evaluation of each of the political parties and what they have done or going to do), we can then make the most objective decision to our best abilities.  In our analyses, it is unavoidable that we are highly affected by the five factors as mentioned above.  However, it is best that we take them into consideration, through understanding ourselves and the rationale for our decisions.

There are some individual characteristics would benefit you in making the most objective decision:
  • Do not fear  -  The fear of the consequences will make our decisions biased as it will be highly affected by the five factors.
  • Thirst of knowledge  -  The thirst of knowledge will allow us to do all the research that we need to evaluate the options in Step 3.
  • Curiosity  -  Having curiosity will allow us to ask the right questions and allows us to understand the situations better.
  • Positive mindset  -  Regardless of the results, having a positive mindset will help you to feel calm that things will still be okay.  Being calm will also help in making a more rational and objective decision.
Lastly, before we end, are you happy and proud of your decision (Step 5) and feel that you made the right decision?  Things cannot be changed now, since the election results are officially out.  You have another chance to make your most objective view in four to five years time!  So for the next election, make sure you go through this post again!!!

Dietrich, C. (2010).  Decision making: Factors that influence decision making, heuristics used, and decision outcomes.  Student Pulse, 2(02).  Retrieved from http://www.studentpulse.com/a?id=180
Exforsys (February 24, 2011).  Factors and components of decision making.  Exforsys Inc.  Retrieved from http://www.exforsys.com/career-center/decision-making/decision-making-factors-and-components.html

Free Resources to Help in Writing Psychology Essays and Reports

As a student, other than having the ability to write your essays and reports, it is important that you know where to get the research articles, how to write your references and citations in APA style, how to analyse your data, and always improving your writing style.
Here are some FREE resources that you can use in helping you to do the above: Click on the words/links to access the resources

If your university has subscribed to multiple databases, such as PsychArticle, Web of Science, or EBSCOHost, that is really good for you!!  However, if you do not have access to such paid databases, Google Scholar (http://scholar.google.com/) is the one for you.  With the searching power of Google, Google Scholar has quite a large range of articles to choose from.  The only drawback is access to full articles might only be limited to free or older articles, as some articles are still restricted to the paid databases.

APA style citation and references:
APA style is the default referencing and formatting style for psychology writers and students.  Hence it is a must for all psychology learners to know the APA style, based on the Publication manual.
Cover of Sixth edition of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association
Learning APA style:
A Tutorial in Learning APA style (Flash player needed):  This is a summarised version of the actual book, and a good place to start learning from.  Other than from the APAstyle.org website, many universities have also written their own templates and guides based on the Publicaion Manual.  A good recommended one is Purdue Owl (https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/560/01/), where they covered the APA style on writing the reference list, citations, the format for tables and figures, and even provided samples of APA papers.

Writing citations and reference list in APA style:
If you are too busy (or too lazy) to write your own reference list, there are actually resources to help you write them.  Such universities actually subscribe to Endnote (http://endnote.com/) and it is a really good tool to help you organise  and track your references, as well as help you write your reference list as you cite them in MS Word.  It is completely compatible with MS Word and able to bring wherever you go with its web version (https://www.myendnoteweb.com), which are some of its great selling points.
However, if you do not have access to the commerical Endnote, there is still hope!  Zotero (https://www.zotero.org/) is probably one of the next best choice, as it is a free desktop and web-based tool which can help you organise and cite (and even share) your references.  Hence it is probably the next best tool and resource you can have in your computer. 
Note: As the programs provide the APA references in the format it is written in the program, your article name should be in sentence case (correct e.g. "Obedience to authority: A case study), rather than having each first letter in capitals (wrong e.g. "Obedience to Authority: A Case Study).

If you only have a few references to cite and reference, as your assignment is only a short essay rather than a thesis or dissertation, I would also recommend you to use Google Scholar to do your references.  Here is an example of how to do it:
  1. Search for your article on Google Scholar.
  2. When it appears on the search engine, you will notice the link to "Cite" (See the last article in the picture below, there are a few choices:  "Cited by 7127; Related articles; All 18 versions; Cite (this is the one); Save; More"
  3. Click on Cite, and the small window will appear as below.
  4. Click on the APA citation, and copy and paste on your word processor.
  5. Reference list done!  However please note to arrange your references in alphabetical order and format it with a hanging indentation.

Finding DOIs:
Sometimes, the DOI (digital object identifier) might be missing in your reference article.  The best place to check for the DOI is CrossRef (http://www.crossref.org/SimpleTextQuery/).  Just by registering your email with them, and entering all your references into the box in the link, all the DOIs will be provided for you.  Just that simple!

Statistical Analysis:
We have always learn how to use SPSS for our statistical analyses.  However, since many versions of SPSS ago when IBM bought over SPSS, there is no longer a student version (where students can purchase at a cheaper rate) or a free trial version (which students can use free for two weeks).  Students are now only restricted to use the computers in their universities where SPSS is downloaded there,  or download SPSS from the universities' Computer Centres (however possible to be restricted to VPN or the school wireless network, resulting to only using the program in school).

Here's a solution for all these problems!  JASP (https://jasp-stats.org/) is a very new open-source and free statistical program which is a good alternative to SPSS.  It is able to provide descriptives statistics, as well as simple inferential analyses up to linear regression and ANCOVA.  Despite this limitation, it is more than sufficient for undergraduate students (and probably some Masters students).  The best part is it provides the output (tables and graphs) in APA format, which means that you can just copy and paste them in your report!  See the demonstration in the (soundless) video below.

Another free program that undergraduate (probably) and postgraduate students can use is G*Power (http://www.gpower.hhu.de/).  It is a tool to calculate statistical power and sample size for the different analyses.  As effect size and power analyses are required for publication, it is recommended that you learn how to use this program as you might need it.

Writing style:
To help improve your writing style, you can probably try Hemingway editor (http://www.hemingwayapp.com/) which also has a desktop version.  You can either type in or copy and paste your words on the web version.  From there, the editor will identify parts which you should improve on and indicate the level of readability of your writing (in terms of school grade).
Another website to check out readability and parts to improve writing is this Readability Calculator (http://www.online-utility.org/english/readability_test_and_improve.jsp).
Side note: Both websites indicated that this post of more than 1000 words required a reader to have 11 years of formal education, hence indicating similar results!

Hope this free (or accessible) resources help you in your writing of essays and reports!!!