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Surprising Science

Experimental Psychology’s Current Crisis of Confidence

The popularity of scientific studies of the human subconscious have ballooned in the past decade, but verifying the studies’ results has proven difficult because of biases in academic journals.

What’s the Latest Development?

Psychological studies over the past decade have put the subconscious front and center when it comes to understanding human behavior. The particular genre of study relies on the “goal-priming effect,” in which study subjects automatically and unintentionally alter their thoughts or behavior when prompted by various kinds of information, to explain its results. “In a classic experiment conducted in 1996, a team of psychologists at New York University ‘primed’ students to walk more slowly by exposing them to words typically associated with older people, like ‘Florida,’ ‘bingo’ and ‘gray.'”

What’s the Big Idea?

When a team of scientists from the University of California, San Diego, tried to repeat the ‘slow walking’ study and a dozen other goal-priming experiments, they were unable to confirm the experiments’ results. The problem speaks to a flaw in an essential part of the scientific process: the ability to repeat experiments and confirm their results. Currently, few replication studies appear in academic literature because of scientific journals’ strong bias for accepting positive results and because the publish-or-perish world discourages scientists from pursuing someone else’s work.

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Read it at the New York Times


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