Reproducibility conclusions are misleading, says Academy Fellow

September 8, 2015

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Dominic Abrams FAcSS, Professor of Social Psychology and Director of the Centre for the Study of Group Processes at the University of Kent, responds to recent reports concerning ‘irreproducibility’ of social science experiments

Ian Sample’s account of Nosek et al’s reproducability studies misrepresents the quality and value of social psychological research and misleadingly uncritically reports Ioannidis’ Stanford-stamped claims that the unreproducability is ‘devastating’ for social psychology.

Most research in social psychology seeks to establish whether, why or in what circumstances certain phenomena occur (e.g. when does attitude change result in behaviour change, when does group loyalty result in prejudice, why does a ‘moral’ person disregard someone who is in distress?).

A typical paper in a top journal will contain several replications of key findings itself but that research is time and context dependent. The different findings from different researchers, in different times and places and involving different participants enables us to understand how time and context are involved. Recognising common patterns across decades of research and countless meta-analyses means we have great confidence about many social psychological processes behind important phenomena such as prejudice, social influence, attitude change, attraction and there is little risk that the inferences from research will be overblown in the long term.

Social psychology has made major contributions to changes to policies on desegregation, human rights and equality. Excellent public health initiatives, and environmental improvements have resulted using ‘nudge’ tactics based on social psychological research. Interested readers can view the websites of the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues, the Academy of Social Sciences ‘Making the Case’ series, and the substantial policy contributions of the British Psychological Society to draw their own conclusions.

Read Prof Abrams’ full response here.