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What is a psychological task? The operational pliability of “task” in psychological laboratory experimentation

Morrison, Hazel, MacBriar, Shannon, Powell, Hilary, Proudfoot, Jesse, Stanley, Steven ORCID:, Fitzgerald, Des ORCID: and Callard, Felicity 2019. What is a psychological task? The operational pliability of “task” in psychological laboratory experimentation. Engaging Science, Technology, and Society 5 , pp. 61-85. 10.17351/ests2019.274

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There has been, thus far, no sustained sociological analysis of a near ubiquitous feature of psychological experimentation: the task. Yet the task, like other everyday elements of ordinary psychological experimentation, is central in arranging the means by which phenomena are isolated and brought into the scientist’s purview. As scientific objects, states such as mind wandering and daydreaming have been made visible in experiments that draw on a (sometimes) sharp distinction between what it means to be either “on-task” or “off-task” – which entails a long history of what it means to have a subject attend to her task, a central aspect of the psychology experiment since its foundation. Through an analysis of qualitative interviews with mind wandering research participants, it becomes clear that task is deployed and understood in multiple ways: it is often hard to distinguish when a person is on task and when they are not; that when participants reflect on their own internal states the boundedness that the concept relies upon is drawn sharply into question; and that the complex spatio-temporal organization of experiences of both mind wandering and task disrupts the metaphorical structures that the scientific literature has baked into these terms. The term operational pliability allows one to understand how the pliability of the practice and concept of task is central to how task functions. Operational pliability offers a way of understanding how particular elements in scientific investigation are easily adaptable, and at the same time are able to hold some kind of shape or form.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Published Online
Status: Published
Schools: Social Sciences (Includes Criminology and Education)
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
Additional Information: This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Publisher: Society for Social Studies of Science
ISSN: 2413-8053
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 25 March 2019
Date of Acceptance: 19 March 2019
Last Modified: 06 Nov 2023 22:05

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