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Mindful June 2017

ain science True, False,

ain science True, False, or Hmm? The latest findings in psychology—about our deep-seated thoughts, emotions, and behaviors—get a lot of media attention. Unfortunately, they often turn out to be flawed or false. Sharon Begley is senior science writer with STAT, a new national health and medicine publication. She is also author of Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain and Can’t Just Stop: An Investigation of Compulsions (2017, Simon & Schuster). Whether you are an avid reader of psychology news or just a casual one, you’ve probably run across a plethora of fascinating findings about human behavior, thought, and emotion. This barrage of findings isn’t surprising. Unlike studies in, say, molecular biology, psychology research has a lower barrier to entry: Plan your experiment, get funding and approval, recruit participants (often, handy undergraduates, or even volunteers in cyberspace), and you’re good to go. No complicated cell cultures or care-intensive lab animals required. Unfortunately, consumers of psychology research—all of us who find it captivating, even revelatory, because it tells us about how we are put together—would do well to be as critical as the many Amazon customers who carefully scrutinize their order and send back anything that falls short. Why? Because psychology is in the midst of a “replication crisis,” meaning that when a second lab tries to reproduce research findings, the exact same experiment produces different results. In 2015, for instance, the first round of attempts by the “Reproducibility Project” to redo 100 prominent studies got the same results as the original for only one-third. That doesn’t mean what the original researchers reported (that, for example, students learn more effectively if they’re taught in the “learning style” that matches theirs) didn’t really happen. It could simply be that what was true for the participants isn’t true of many, or even most, other people. The replication crisis made me look back over my columns for Mindful to see if I’ve misled you, however inadvertently. So far, I’ve been lucky (and I emphasize lucky: I don’t claim any superior ability to sniff out problematic findings): I was glad to see that I warned against → ILLUSTRATION BY MINDFUL STAFF 18 mindful June 2017

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