Dishonest Research

Christine Whelan | Posted on 05/14/10

To run many psychology and social psychology experiments, researchers lie to their subjects. Sometimes they are small lies -- about what the survey is for, to prime the subjects in one direction or another -- and other times they are big lies -- like in the now-famous Milgrim experiments. Intentional deception and trickery have been on the rise in academic research for the last 50 years.

In today's Wall Street Journal, columnist Eric Felton, asks whether the deception that is so often a part of academic research has gone too far in pursuit of "truth."

Felton calls this the "Dupe Effect,"

defined as a bias to trust the findings of research that involves deception. It may be necessary to mislead study participants to get unguarded responses out of them, but isn't it possible that the deceit will, in and of itself, color and skew the results?

I'm not all too concerned. We're in an increasingly cynical culture, and most of the college students being subjected to these experiments (and yes, it's a problem that we are basing our knowledge of social interactions and decision-making on the input of 20-year-old college kids) know that smoke and mirrors are involved. So really, the better question is, in 2010, does the "Dupe Effect" still work? Or do academics have to get even more deceitful to dupe the super-dupers?


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