Oh The Fickleness of Research

We love research at WorkGuru, it underpins everything that we do. Just in the same way as medicine that is prescribed by your GP should have a very strong scientific evidence base to say that it works, so should any programme that is delivered over the internet which claims to reduce levels of stress, or increase your wellbeing or happiness. But beware programmes that make huge claims. The ‘brain training’ app Lumosity was recently fined by the Federal Trade Commission for making exuberant claims that brain games could increase intelligence and reduce or delay age related cognitive impairment. The Commission ruled that the claims were unfounded.

But not all claims of stunning outcomes are marketing hyperbole or downright exaggeration. Research is fickle. There are lots of examples where one day research tells us something works and then the next day it tells us that it doesn’t. One of the principles of the scientific approach is that research should be replicable. This means that somebody else should be able to conduct the same experiment and get the same results – but it doesn’t always work that way. That doesn’t mean that the research is wrong, it just means that the evidence isn’t strong enough yet to argue either way. Here are some recent examples of much loved and influential research which other researchers have been unable to replicate.

Power posing will make you bolder

This is one that we have spoken about before. Prof Amy Cuddy gave one of the most watched TED Talks with over 10 million views in which she talked about how power posing (putting your hands on your hips) can make you not only feel and act more confident but it could also affect your testosterone and cortisol levels. But other researchers have failed to replicate the research.

Forcing a smile will make you feel happier

This is another piece of research that we love at WorkGuru. Researchers claim that putting a pen between your lips to force them into a smile resulted in participants feeling happier. But again, this study has not been replicated.

Words related to aging will make you walk slower

And finally, another modern psychological classic. Research published in 1996 suggested that when participants were shown words associated with aging they would walk more slowly. Participants where asked to unscramble a list of words and were then surreptitiously timed as they left the lab. Participants who unscrambled words related to aging began to inadvertently behave in ways more stereotypically associated with the elderly (walking slowly, rather than playing bingo and voting conservative). But alas researchers have failed to replicate this.

What does this all mean? Who knows. Just as you think you are beginning to understand the evidence for wellbeing and workplace productivity someone comes along and changes it all! Evidence is great; it is crucial. But, it is also fickle and liable to change.


More information on these studies and other psychological studies that have failed to be replicated is available from The British Psychological Society.

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