Many psychology students find themselves in a situation where their research did not yield any significant results. This can be immensely frustrating since they have put a lot of time and effort into designing the study, as well as in collecting and analyzing the data. In some cases, be it out of desperation or pressure to publish interesting findings, certain students will effectively “hunt” for results by conducting statistical tests on all possible variable combinations. For instance, after noticing that a hypothesized correlation between two variables proved to be non-significant, a student might create a correlation matrix of all continuous variables of her study and hope for at least one pair to be significantly related to each other. Other students might include one, two, or even more covariates in their analysis of variance (turning it into an ANCOVA), thereby hoping that the interaction they initially hypothesized between their key factors will become significant.
The past couple of years have been somewhat tumultuous for psychology. With the revelation of several high profile cases of fraud, the field has come under scrutiny, not least from psychologists themselves. Most notably, Simmons, Nelson and Simonsohn (2011) showed how the amount of possible decisions in the research process and flexibility researchers normally have can make finding significant findings increasingly likely (see their paper for recommendations to counteract this). It is likely that there are many cases of false positives (or Type 1 error) in the psychological literature (and other bodies of literature). Such errors in the literature, whether resulting from fraud or cultural norms in research practice, are difficult to remove due to the combination of the reluctance of journals to publish exact replications (see previous post on publication bias) and the reluctance of journals to publish null results (which exacerbates the file drawer effect). Thankfully, some initiatives have been established to counter this risk to the credibility of psychology in the form of systematic efforts at carrying out and publishing replications. However, negative attitudes towards replication remain. Many established researchers do not see any incentive in replication (Makel, Plucker & Hegarty, 2012). It is a waste of time that could be spent on their own projects and is perceived as more likely to cause frustration in their colleagues then be rewarded with a publication. This is where you, the students, can step in. Carrying out a replication is a great way for a student to hone his or her research skills, while providing a valuable service to psychology. Before exploring the role students could have in this issue, let’s examine exactly what replication is, the situation of replication in psychology currently, and the efforts that have been made to advocate for it.