OpinionQuality of science and science communication

Psychology research in crisis

A new article in Quartz discusses the reproducibility crisis in science:

…researchers in several scientific areas have consistently struggled to reproduce major results of prominent studies. By some estimates, at least 51% — and as much as 89% — of published papers are based on studies and experiments showing results that cannot be reproduced.

The field of psychology has been prominent in the reproducibility crisis, with a Reproducibility Initiative project successfully replicating only 40% of the 100 psychological experiments repeated in the project.

New research is set to further shake the foundations of psychology:

Now, an attempt to replicate another key psychological concept (ego depletion: the idea that willpower is finite and can be worn down with overuse) has come up short. Martin Hagger, psychology professor at Curtin University in Australia, led researchers from 24 labs in trying to recreate a key effect, but found nothing. Their findings are due to be published in Perspectives on Psychological Science in the coming weeks.

This revelation is further discussed in Slate:

…it now appears that ego depletion could be completely bogus, that its foundation might be made of rotted-out materials. That means an entire field of study — and significant portions of certain scientists’ careers — could be resting on a false premise. If something this well-established could fall apart, then what’s next? That’s not just worrying. It’s terrifying.

The article highlights how these new findings are shaking psychology research to its core:

“At some point we have to start over and say, This is Year One,” says [study co-author Michael] Inzlicht, referring not just to the sum total of ego depletion research, but to how he sometimes feels about the entire field of social psychology.

All the old methods are in doubt. Even meta-analyses, which once were thought to yield a gold standard for evaluating bodies of research now seem somewhat worthless.


Also published on Medium.

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