What if a failed replication… somehow fails to replicate?

Have I told you already that science can be messy? If not, welcome to this blog! 2 years ago I posted this replication of the infamous pencil in the mouth study. It has become one of the more well known examples of the replication crisis. But it also spurred a lot of debate. Was the replication really a true replication of the original research?

A new study adds fuel to this debate as it failed to replicate the failed replication. Ok, just kidding, the study is actually showing the original study might have been correct! But we can’t be really sure, as it’s actually even more complicated:

The paradigm diverged from the original facial feedback experiment in several respects. They include the classroom setting in which testing was conducted; the fact that each participant rated two cartoons rather than four; the fact that it featured a within-subjects rather than between- subjects design; the absence of a cover story about piloting a study for future research regarding populations with disabilities to explain the manipulation; the use of a 7-point scale rather than a 10-point scale; the fact that the experiment was part of a classroom lecture about learning (specifically, about the acquisition of conditioned associations) rather than following a line- drawing task; the fact that correct positioning of pens could be monitored only within the limits of a group setting; the fact that participants selected but did not write down their ratings with their pens in their mouths; and the lack of individualized follow-up with participants regarding their beliefs about the experiment, precluding exclusion of participants for suspicions regarding the study goals. (It is notable, however, that when the instructor presented students with their results in the ensuing class, the most commonly verbalized reaction was surprise or disbelief that the manipulation could have possibly affected their ratings.)

It seems the only thing that we seem to know for sure is that more research is needed…

Abstract of this new study:

The facial feedback effect refers to the influence of unobtrusive manipulations of facial behavior on emotional outcomes. That manipulations inducing or inhibiting smiling can shape positive affect and evaluations is a staple of undergraduate psychology curricula and supports theories of embodied emotion. Thus, the results of a Registered Replication Report indicating minimal evidence to support the facial feedback effect were widely viewed as cause for concern regarding the reliability of this effect. However, it has been suggested that features of the design of the replication studies may have influenced the study results. Relevant to these concerns are experimental facial feedback data collected from over 400 undergraduates over the course of 9 semesters. Circumstances of data collection met several criteria broadly recommended for testing the effect, including limited prior exposure to the facial feedback hypothesis, conditions minimally likely to induce self-focused attention, and the use of moderately funny contemporary cartoons as stimuli. Results yielded robust evidence in favor of the facial feedback hypothesis. Cartoons that participants evaluated while holding a pen or pencil in their teeth (smiling induction) were rated as funnier than cartoons they evaluated while holding a pen or pencil in their lips (smiling inhibition). The magnitude of the effect overlapped with original reports. Findings demonstrate that the facial feedback effect can be successfully replicated in a classroom setting and are in line with theories of emotional embodiment, according to which internal emotional states and relevant external emotional behaviors exert mutual influence on one another. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2018 APA, all rights reserved).

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