Research Digest

These nine cognitive psychology findings all passed a stringent test of their replicability

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By Christian Jarrett

The failure to reproduce established psychology findings on renewed testing, including some famous effects, has been well-publicised and has led to talk of a crisis in the field. However, psychology is a vast topic and there’s a possibility that the findings from some sub-disciplines may be more robust than others, in the sense of replicating reliably, even in unfavourable circumstances, such as when the participants have been tested on the same effect before.

A new paper currently available as a preprint at PsyArXiv has tested whether this might be the case for nine key findings from cognitive psychology, related to perception, memory and learning. Rolf Zwaan at Erasumus University Rotterdam and his colleagues found that all nine effects replicated reliably. “These results represent good news for the field of psychology,” they said.

The researchers tested hundreds of participants on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk survey website. Whichever cognitive effect they were tested on, each participant completed the test twice (either with the exact same stimuli or new versions), to see whether it made any difference to their behaviour or responses if they already had experience of the experiment.

In fact, all the effects in question were replicated on all occasions, whether on the first or second testing, and regardless of whether the specific stimuli – such as the words or pictures involved – were familiar or completely new.  The nine cognitive effects that showed this robustness were:

Zwaan and his colleagues said these positive findings are particularly encouraging, at least for cognitive psychology, because an increasing amount of research on memory and perception is now conducted online via Amazon Mechanical Turk and other survey websites. Also, the fact that these psychological phenomena held up even when the same participants were tested for a second time shows that they reflect fundamental, unchanging aspects of how our minds work. “It appears that these tasks are so constraining that they encapsulate behaviour from contextual variation and even from recent relevant experiences to yield highly reproducible effects,” the researchers said.

Some Psychological Effects Replicate Even Under Potentially Adverse Conditions

Christian Jarrett (@Psych_Writer) is Editor of BPS Research Digest