To the Editor:
I read with interest your article describing the ambitious "Reproducibility Project" ("Is Psychology About to Come Undone?," The Chronicle, April 17). This initiative, coordinated by Brian Nosek and others, will attempt replication of all the research published in three highly respected psychology journals during a full year (2008).
In the last two decades, the discipline of psychology has also addressed the question of reproducibility by raising the bar for publication of research findings, with most journals preferring papers presenting the results of several studies in a program of research, rather than a single study. While that is definitely a step in the direction of assuring that we are being more conservative in asserting the support for novel findings, those several studies are usually all the products of one lab. Perhaps this new effort will start a trend toward more editorial support for those who contribute to the field by replicating key studies. For me, a developmental psychologist, it raised the companion question of the external validity of much of the research published in psychology.
Advances in adolescent neuroscience have demonstrated that brain development central to executive functions such as decision-making and self-regulation continues through the mid-20s. Thus the typical psychological research conducted on a sample obtained from a college-student participant pool may not be generalizable beyond the age of emerging adulthood. Traditional-age first-year students and sophomores (18-20-year-olds) are the most frequently reported individuals in most college human-participant pools. Research that is conducted with a sample of emerging adults might be best used to describe that particular segment of the population. The question of whether the same findings would be obtained in a sample of adults over 30 years of age is an empirical one.
While we are thinking about the question of replicability of psychological studies, maybe it is time to assess the generalizability of results based largely on college-student participant pools composed of young people, whose brain development is not yet complete.
Janice. C. Stapley
Department of Psychology
West Long Branch, N.J.