Replication Crisis

What Is the Replication Crisis?

The “replication crisis” in psychology refers to concerns about the credibility of findings in psychological science. The term, which originated in the early 2010s, denotes that findings in behavioral science often cannot be replicated: Researchers do not obtain results comparable to the original, peer-reviewed study when repeating that study using similar procedures. For this reason, many scientists question the accuracy of published findings and now call for increased scrutiny of research practices in psychology.  

What Led to the Replication Crisis in Psychology?

Some scientists have warned for years that certain ways of collecting, analyzing, and reporting data, often referred to as questionable research practices, make it more likely that results will appear to be statistically meaningful even though they are not. Flawed study designs and a “publication bias” that favors confirmatory results are other longtime sources of concern.

A series of replication projects in the mid-2010s amplified these worries. In one major project, fewer than half of the studies that replicators tried to recreate yielded similar results, suggesting that at least some of the original findings were false positives. 

A variety of findings have come into question following replication attempts, including well-known ones suggesting that specific types of cognitive priming, physical poses, and other simple interventions could affect behavior in surprising or beneficial ways. It is important to note that psychology is not alone, however: Other fields, such as cancer research and economics, have faced similar questions about methodological rigor.

The growing awareness of how research practices can lead to false positives has coincided with extreme instances of willful misrepresentation and falsification—resulting, in some cases, in the removal or resignation of prominent scientists.

How Is Psychology Changing?

The replication crisis provoked heated internal debate in the field of psychology, with some arguing that it called for an overhaul of psychological science and others maintaining that the “crisis” was unreal or overblown. Nevertheless, psychologists interested in reform have pressed ahead with efforts to make the claims of psychological research more credible. 

The reformers’ immediate aims include greater transparency in the study planning and data analysis, more routine follow-up testing of results to make sure they can be reliably observed, and study designs that are well-suited to the scientific questions at hand. While many solutions have been proposed, it remains to be seen which approaches will ultimately be most useful in increasing the veracity of psychological findings.

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