Colby Cosh: Yet another famous psychology study turns out to be pure bunk – National Post

‘Don’t believe everything you read in the science section of a newspaper, but when it comes to psychology, don’t believe anything’

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Colby Cosh

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Aug 23, 2021  •  August 23, 2021  •  4 minute read  •  271 Comments Psychological research has been facing a replication crisis for a decade. Photo by Getty Images

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Psychological science has been suffering a “replication crisis” for a decade now , but this week there was a particularly newspaper-friendly example of a famous finding failing to hold up on re-examination. The lede writes itself, saving me a bit of trouble: a scientific paper on the subject of dishonesty, one cited hundreds of times, has been proven beyond doubt to contain… dishonestly manufactured, 100 per cent fictional data.


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It’s a funny story. About a decade ago, two well-known behaviour researchers, Dan Ariely (a Duke University prof and best-selling author) and Nina Mazar (then at the U of T’s Rotman School of Management), cut a deal with an insurance company to perform a harmless experiment on customers. Their goal was to study aspects of cheating, something insurers have a powerful incentive to understand. An unnamed company “in the southeastern United States” was asking customers to report the current odometer readings on insured vehicles, and the forms required those customers to sign a statement saying “I promise that the information I am providing is true.”

The particular question that Ariely and Mazar were interested in is this: would it make a difference whether you put the honesty attestation at the top of the form or at the bottom? Would asking for a signature “first” lead …….


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