Bioethics Blogs

Debating the Replication Crisis – Why Neuroethics Needs to Pay Attention

By Ben Wills

Ben Wills studied Cognitive Science at Vassar College, where his thesis examined cognitive neuroscience research on the self. He is currently a legal assistant at a Portland, Oregon law firm, where he continues to hone his interests at the intersections of brain, law, and society.

In 2010 Dana Carney, Amy Cuddy, and Andy Yap published a study showing that assuming an expansive posture, or “power pose,” leads to increased testosterone levels, task performance, and self-confidence. The popular media and public swooned at the idea that something as simple as standing like Wonder Woman could boost performance and confidence. A 2012 TED talk that author Amy Cuddy gave on her research has become the site’s second-most watched video, with over 37 million views. Over the past year and change, however, the power pose effect has gradually fallen out of favor in experimental psychology. A 2015 meta-analysis of power pose studies by Ranehill et al. concluded that power posing affects only self-reported feelings of power, not hormone levels or performance. This past September, reflecting mounting evidence that power pose effects are overblown, co-author Dana Carney denounced the construct, stating, “I do not believe that ‘power pose’ effects are real.”
What happened?

Increasingly, as the power pose saga illustrates, famous findings and the research practices that produce them are being called into question. Researchers are discovering that many attempts to replicate results are producing much smaller effects or no effects at all when compared to the original studies. While there has been concern over this issue among scientists for some time, as the publicity surrounding the rise and fall of the power pose indicates, discussion of this “replication crisis” has unquestionably spilled over from scientists’ listservs into popular culture.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.