The Phantom Hand Experiment in Developmental, Cognitive and Differential Psychology

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Table of contents

  1. Aim
  2. Method
  3. Written Findings
  4. Psychology Domain References


The phantom hand experiment was conducted to determine if a participant could be led to conclude that they possessed a false hand irrespective of what they could physically see.


The participant sat in front of a table with a rubber hand on one side of a divider and a blank space on the other side. They then placed one of their hands out of sight whilst they focused on the false hand. Whilst the participant paid attention to the false hand, the experimenter stroked both their out of sight hand and the false hand a total of five times for three minutes each. Once the three minutes of stroking the participant’s hand has finished, they were next asked to point under the table to where to where they thought their real hand was.

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Written Findings

The brain would usually work through the integration of the senses. This has not occurred in this test. The experiment with the phantom hand was unable to produce meaningful results. The reaction to the test by the participant indicated that the illusion had not succeeded. This may have been triggered by external variables. The venue was a possible extraneous variable because it was crowded with many people moving around , making it very convenient for the sound to interrupt the participant. Consequently, the participant may not have been able to completely focus their attention on the false hand, and therefore may have experienced less than the three minutes required by focusing on what was happening in the room. Another variable that may have affected the experiment was that the participant was asked to place their right hand under the table, out of sight, which meant that their hand was resting on their leg. This may have affected their ability to accept the fake hand as their own due to still being able to feel their real hand through the nerves in their leg.

Developmental Psychology: Developmental psychology as an approach aims to explain growth, change and regularity though the lifespan (Slater & Bremner , 2017). The definition of formative years did not exist not exist in the mediaeval ages .Children who were past reliance joined adult civilization. Religious philosophy played a prominent role in society seeing childhood as a distinctly different period (Butterworth & Harris, 2014). As the dominant belief in Europe and Britain, Christianity denounced children's ill-treatment. Christian doctrine illustrated that a child is holy but can be a medium for immoral behaviour without strong supervision from proactive parenting. Families inspired by religious ideology started to see their children no more as financial possessions, but as souls in need of help to keep themselves on the right path to Salvation. As a discipline developmental psychology did not exist until there was a need for a skilled workforce after the industrial revolution (Butterworth & Harris, 2014). Charles Darwin's research, known for his evolution through natural selection theory, contributed significantly to developmental psychology. Charles Darwin stated that evolution occurred in the past through positive adaptations (Penney , 2011). Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth century, developmental psychology came into prominence with contributions from many prominent psychologists such as Jean Piaget’s stages of cognitive development , Lawrence Kohlberg’s stages of moral development and lastly ,Erik Erikson stages of psychosocial development (Butterworth & Harris, 2014). These scholars helped to generate interest and sustain the theory on human development through the lifespan.

Cognitive psychology: Cognitive psychology’s central focus is to research the impact of cognitive functions on the human body (Eysenck & Keane, 2015). Plato proposed that the mind was key to mental processes taking place. When modern psychologists rejected the behavioural paradigm as the standard of psychology, cognitive psychology emerged as behaviourism failed to explain internal behavioural effects (Braisby & Gellatly, 2012). Moreover, the cognitive revolution affected the growth of the discipline greatly (Coxon, 2012). For example, computer innovation in the 1950s led the brain to be associated with the computer whose function was to obtain data, encrypt, store and retrieve information (Crisp, 2015). Cognitive Psychology did not begin at any one moment, many influences led to its evolution and its continued existence today.

Social Psychology: Gordon Allport defined Social psychology as the scientific study of the way in which people’s thoughts, feelings and behaviours are influenced by the real or imagined presence of other people (Hewstone, Stroebe, & Jonas, 2015). Social psychology emerged during the 19th century because of the enduring pursuit to understand the nature of human behaviour. Early research by Triplett and Flingelmann established an enduring topic in social psychology, how the presence of others affects an individual, performance. The first social psychology textbooks in 1908 and 1929 began to give the emerging field of social psychology its shape. Social psychology began to flourish because the world needed an explanation for the violence of war and solutions to it. Scholars aimed to understand how Adolf Hitler created such intense obedience from supporters during the Second World War. Experiments conducted by Muzafir Sherif and Solomon Asch illustrated the power of social control and how authoritative figures could enforce obedience (Hewstone, Stroebe, & Jonas, 2015). The 1940s and 1900s saw a burst of activity in social psychology that firmly established it as a major social science.

Biopsychology: Biopsychology analyses how behaviour is affected though biological means such as genetics and neurotransmitters reactions (Higgs, Cooper, Harris, Lee, & Shapiro, 2015). The field's origins date back to philosophers thousands of years ago. Philosophers discussed what was known as the question of the mind body. Hippocrates indicated the brain's position suggested that the brain was the source of all thought and action (Freberg, 2009). Biological psychology is historically rooted in the study of physiology. Physiologists conducted tests on living beings, a method that was criticised in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. Charles Bell's contribution to the field convinced the scientific world that reliable data could be collected from living subjects. Multiple scholars have contributed to the development of biopsychology. William James Principles of psychology argued that research into behaviour should be conducted from a biological basis.

Differential Psychology: Differential psychology examines why people are unique in their conduct and the underlying mechanisms. philosophers have tried to define exactly what makes us distinctive. Alfred Adler, a general practitioner, founded individual psychology because he disagreed with most of Freud's theory of personality. Adler's individual psychology has had a broad impact on the development of other differential psychology approaches.

Domain Evaluation: Whilst cognitive psychology has been very useful in developing new theories and finding out more about how the mind influences behaviour, there are some limitations to this approach. A major strength of this approach is the use of lab experiments as they are highly controlled, which enables researchers to determine causality. Loftus and Palmer, were able to control variables such as the participants age this allowed the to determine causality. However, because so many cognitive studies are produced in laboratory settings, ecological legitimacy may be lacking. In artificial environments, when cognitive processes such as memory are explored, it may be hard to generalize the findings to everyday life. Its reliance on computer analogy is a weakness of cognitive psychology. The approach ignores factors such as social influence. On the other hand an advantage of taking a reductionist approach is that it can be possible to understand human behaviour by breaking down a phenomenon into basic components. In conclusion cognitive psychology provides key strengths in the use of methodology however it also has a collection of weaknesses. the scientific aspect of its method is worth further consideration in order to determine whether or not it is of great benefit to psychology as a whole

Psychology Domain References

  1. Butterworth, G., & Harris, M. (2014). Principles of developmental psychology. London: Routledge.
  2. Upton, P. (2011). Developmental psychology (Critical thinking in psychology). Exeter: Learning Matters.
  3. Slater, A., & Bremner, J. G. (2017). An introduction to developmental psychology (3rd ed.). Hoboken, New Jersy: The British Psychological Society and John Wiley & Sons Ltd.
  4. Eysenck, M. W., & Keane, M. T. (2015). Cognitive psychology: a student’s handbook (7th ed.). London: Psychology Press.
  5. Crisp, R. J. (2015). Social psychology: a very short introduction. Oxford: Oxford University.
  6. Coxon, M. & Upton, D. (2012). Critical Thinking in Psychology Series: Cognitive psychology 55 City Road, London: SAGE Publications, Inc.
  7. Braisby, N., & Gellatly, A. (2012). Cognitive psychology (2nd ed.). Oxford: Oxford university press.
  8. Hewstone, M., Stroebe, W., & Jonas, K. (2015). An introduction to social psychology (Sixth ed., Bps textbooks in psychology). Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons.
  9. Higgs, S., Cooper, A., Harris, M., Lee, J., & Shapiro, K. (2015). Biological psychology (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  10. Freberg, L. (2009). Discovering biological psychology (2nd ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.
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The Phantom Hand Experiment in Developmental, Cognitive and Differential Psychology. (2022, August 12). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 20, 2024, from
“The Phantom Hand Experiment in Developmental, Cognitive and Differential Psychology.” Edubirdie, 12 Aug. 2022,
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