If you visit this blog occasionally (or follow me on twitter, because of course!) then you know that social psychology has come under criticism recently for its lack of integrity in research methods and the complete absence of exact replication. The criticism has been strongest with respect to a subfield in social psychology known as social priming. Social priming refers to a now classic psychological phenomenon where the activation of one social concept in memory can elicit changes in behavior, physiology, or self-reports of a related social concept without conscious awareness. Social priming has been used to explain why reading words related to elderly concepts (e.g., Florida, retire) can lead you to walk slower (although, this particular social priming finding does not replicate across different laboratories).
The criticism about social priming stems from (a) a growing number of high profile replication attempts of classic findings that failed, (b)the steady stream of fanciful/unbelievable social priming effects that appear in glamour psychology journals (e.g., messyrooms make people more creative), and (c) the inappropriate reactions of prominent social priming researchers to this scrutiny (e.g., criticizing the scientific integrity of replication attempts and the journals that publish those attempts). It’s been like watching a car wreck in super slow motion!
I have taken the criticism directed at social psychology, and social priming specifically, very personally over the last couple of years. This is because I consider myself (and still do) a social priming researcher. One of my graduate advisers is Serena Chen. She was trained at New York University, and one of her advisers there was John Bargh—the poster child of social priming. Bargh is basically an academic grandparent of mine. So, to see him attacked and then react to criticisms and failed replications so inappropriately is a little disconcerting for me and the field more broadly.
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