An excess of positive results: Comparing the standard Psychology literature with Registered Reports

An excess of positive results: Comparing the standard Psychology literature with Registered Reports

February 2020

DOI: 10.31234/osf.io/p6e9c

Anne M. Scheel, Mitchell Schijen, & Daniël Lakens

When studies with positive results that support the tested hypotheses have a higher probability of being published than studies with negative results, the literature will give a distorted view of the evidence for scientific claims. Psychological scientists have been concerned about the degree of distortion in their literature due to publication bias and inflated Type-1 error rates. Registered Reports were developed with the goal to minimise such biases: In this new publication format, peer review and the decision to publish take place before the study results are known. We compared the results in the full population of published Registered Reports in Psychology (N = 71 as of November 2018) with a random sample of hypothesis-testing studies from the standard literature (N = 152) by searching 633 journals for the phrase ‘test* the hypothes*’ (replicating a method by Fanelli, 2010). Analysing the first hypothesis reported in each paper, we found 96% positive results in standard reports, but only 44% positive results in Registered Reports. The difference remained nearly as large when direct replications were excluded from the analysis (96% vs 50% positive results). This large gap suggests that psychologists underreport negative results to an extent that threatens cumulative science. Although our study did not directly test the effectiveness of Registered Reports at reducing bias, these results show that the introduction of Registered Reports has led to a much larger proportion of negative results appearing in the published literature compared to standard reports.