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Post Pub Peer Review, Plos One. Priming, and fist clenching.

May 1, 2013

The past week has seen a couple of – events – that perhaps heralds the changes. Or not. One never knows if the fluctuations are harbingers of change, or if one will be sucked back into the old strange attractor again – just a transient.

I linked in the discussions between Shanks and Dijksterhuis on PlosOne. It continues. Go read.

A second post-peer review discussion in PlosOne took place this week, this time in neuropsychology. The paper was eyecatching enough for me to keep it in a tab for future perusal. It claimed that clenching fists in a lateral way would do stuff to memory (I think it suffices to be that vague). I got interested mainly because years ago (and even in my Emotion textbook) there was a study that claimed that clenching faces/fists on either side of the body affected the emotion networks and had emotional repercussions in a simple approach/avoidance way.

But, before I got to read it, a set of my neuro-tweeps started complaining about it. . Jon Simons took one for the team (urged on, I may say), and posted a comment on PlosOne. Perhaps harsh, but to the point. With a number of follow ups. A few trollish zingers (geez, peeps, get with the program. Those are so last century to us online hipsters), a very nice, respectful response from the authors, and a brief comment from neurocritic (who also blogged about it). It is enough for me to know that this paper would not add meaningfully to the area of research I’m interested in (which is only obliquely related anyway). But, it felt like this had a good flavor of what could possibly be science to come. Minus the trolls. Sunshine, shaming, and a light monitoring touch would likely deal with those.

But, back to Shanks vs Dijksterhuis. Nature just posted a breathlessly stupid-titled notice on the Shanks Dijksterhuis discussion. As David Nussbaum points out in the comments, it isn’t a blow to a field of scientific inquiry when science is working as it is supposed to – testing, trying to replicate, trying to correct. Read the commentary there too

There was a flurry of discussion both on Twitter and on the ISCON facebook site this morning. Some about the issue of priming (Rolf Zwaan has promised more on that, I’m waiting tappy-footy, and will link in). Some on the discussion. Some of whether these kinds of exchanges between researchers on replication will make young replicators reluctant to do the work. I think here we just have to band together and make sure that replication is just more important than some poor silverbacks egos. (Hey, Bobbie Spelman is PROUD to be on a “research that should be replicated” list. All of us should feel that way. It is interesting/controversial enough that it warrants a closer look!).

In the Dijksterhuis/Shanks discussion I’m – well – let me do some disclosure first. I met Ap a few years back, prior to the Stapel fallout. One of my colleagues had invited him, and he held a workshop and some talks on his work on unconscious decision making. Then we went to dinner, and we all had a grand time. Roughly at the same time I (and my colleague) held an advanced Social Psychology class, where one of the students wrote a review on just this topic. She intimated that there was rather a strong conflict brewing about these results, and it seemed that one side (Dijksterhuis) was that lots of processing happens without being deliberate. The other was just completely against the idea that anything would happen that is not deliberate. It seemed like a deep rift that perhaps was not entirely based on evidence, but on outlook, and I could sense a whiff of vitriol in the academic exchanges.

There are a few of these I’m aware of.

I am on record to think that Shanks is going waaaaay too far in his dismissal of environmental cues tuning us in our behavior, and that, perhaps, we are not deliberate or aware of how they do this. That is my judgment of his very explicit comments, both in Nature/and to Neuroskeptic, and towards the end of the video-clip of his lecture that I linked in here. So, I buy his problems with replicating Dijksterhuis work. I think he draws too strong conclusions based on this replication work. But, I also have issues with priming. I don’t quite buy the theories as they are written. (A new set of students in my Advanced Social Psychology class reviewed those theories, and critiqued them quite strongly.)

What I really don’t want is having this turn into tribal skirmishes, because I think there is science that needs to be done, experiments to replicate, file-drawers to open up.  I think we need to make an effort to check the hierarchies and silver-backs and their protectorates about research areas. Discussions, even vigorous discussions are not bad. You just want to check that careers don’t get mauled.

There are aspects of the ideas behind social priming that I think makes reasonable sense. A species needs to be able to adjust to the environment, and shouldn’t need to make use of too many ad-hoc reasoning resources to do so. And, as a social species that is incredibly flexible, there should be evidence of mechanisms that allow us to do so, without spending deliberate effort on it. I think we do that with non-verbal signaling all the time. Some of the Bargh work, especially on non-verbal mimicry, fits right into this. People who can’t adjust to these subtle cues are seen as weird. I suspect this is also an issue when you cross cultures. The subtle signals no longer work. (This seems to be part of Tyler Cowen’s thesis here. I’ve crossed a number of cultures, and have it very clear to me that I want to receive and give explicit info, because the mind-reading cues just don’t function).

But, how to conceptualize this? I think this is a challenge, and an interesting pursuit, and let it not die because there was a fraud, or because attempts to conceptualize it inevitably will go wrong several times. (Have you not read your Kuhn, peeps? Says she who just now have been listening to him).

(Incidentally – My grad-school buddy Matt said he was able to replicate the Intelligence prime as the research project in his methods class. This is the same type of methods class that all of us grad students at IU had to cut our teaching teeth on. If the experimental circumstances were anything like the ones we had, I’d say it doesn’t need that much precision. Then again, it could have been a false positive, of course.)


On Edit, a couple of days later. I was taking the bus in to buy some toys, and overlooked someone reading Metro – a free daily newspaper here in Sweden (I believe they exist elsewhere also). Only to see a half page basically giving a “how to” on clenching fists for better recall. Argh!

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