The low statistical power of psychological research: Causes, consequences and potential remedies
AuthorSingleton Thorn, Felix
AffiliationMelbourne School of Psychological Sciences
Document TypePhD thesis
Access StatusOpen Access
© 2020 Felix Singleton Thorn
This dissertation examines two major issues in psychological research: formal sample size planning and reporting biases. It is organized into three main parts. The first part examines the history of formal sample size planning and reporting biases in the psychology research literature, outlining the history of the dominant approach to statistical analysis (Chapter 2), demonstrating the implications of low statistical power and reporting biases on research literatures (Chapter 3), and examining the history of statistical power analysis as represented in the psychology research literature (Chapter 4). The second part of this dissertation examines psychologists’ research and publication practices. Chapter 5 presents a meta-analysis of previous power surveys and finds that the average statistical power of psychology research at Cohen’s small and medium effect size benchmarks was lower than typical goal levels and that this value remained approximately constant from the 1960s to 2014. Chapter 6 presents an analysis of more than 130,000 effect size estimates from over 9,000 articles published in 5 APA journals from 1985 to 2013 and finds that the average effect size reported in this body of psychological research decreased over time. Together Chapters 5 and 6 suggest that the average statistical power of psychological research remained stable or may even have decreased over time. In order to investigate why this is the case, Chapter 7 presents the results of a survey of researchers from across fields of psychological research about their research planning practices. This survey highlights the most important barriers that prevent researchers from using formal sample size planning during the design phase of their research and shows that while most researchers believe statistical power is important for their research purposes, practical constraints act to limit achieved sample sizes in most studies. The final part of this thesis examines the implications of low statistical power and reporting biases on scientific research and provides suggestions on how research planning methods could be improved. Bringing together all of the previous large-scale replication projects that have been conducted in the behavioral sciences, Chapter 8 shows that effect sizes in replication studies are, on average, considerably lower than those reported in original studies, and quantifies the substantial heterogeneity in this value across replication projects. Finally, Chapter 9 examines sample size planning efforts reported in recent Psychological Science articles and uses this to illustrate a guide to effect size selection for formal sample size planning. Together, this dissertation shows that low statistical power and reporting biases remain serious problems for the behavioral sciences research literature. Contrasting the long history of efforts to improve the statistical power of psychology research with the lack of change in the average power of research from 1962 to 2014, I argue that new methods of avoiding the negative impact of low statistical power and reporting biases are necessary. Several recent publication and methodological developments, namely (a) preregistration, (b) pre-prints and data repositories, (c) the registered reports publication format and (d) the increasing use of large scale collaborative research projects, provide possible mechanisms with which to reduce the negative impact of low statistical power and reporting biases on the published scientific literature.
KeywordsPublication bias; Effect size; Effect sizes; Power analysis; Sample size; QRPs; Questionable research practices; Statistical power; Metascience; Metaresearch; Research practices; Methodology
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