OPINION5 June 2019

The devil is in the detail

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Behavioural economics Impact Opinion UK

Crawford Hollingworth looks at the sometimes contentious issue of replication studies and what we can learn from apparently failed replication tests.

The devil in the details

In the past few years, the field of psychology has suffered several blows to its reputation, as many of its well-known, established findings have not been replicated in recent studies. This has led to big, wide-sweeping headlines that miss several important points:

  • Many studies for specific behavioural science concepts, such as framing and anchoring, have been successfully replicated, sometimes finding even stronger effects. These positive results are seldom reported, however, because good news doesn’t sell
  • Headlines often highlight the findings of large-scale replication studies that analyse a wide range of psychological findings – most of which are unrelated to applied behavioural science
  • Our understanding of behavioural science can be deepened and strengthened, rather than weakened, by replication failures. This is often when we learn that tiny, contextual differences or nuances can affect the outcome in unexpected ways, frequently overlooked by the headlines.

So let’s look more closely at the replication studies conducted recently. The first Many Labs replication project, led by Brian Nosek ...