Science Correcting Itself


Correction is an important element of scientific progress.  In the history of scientific investigations, it has been common for widely-accepted ideas to be overturned.  Literatures contain many instances of such self-correction, though the corrections are sometimes not as widely known as the original findings.  Here, we catalog some corrections, all of which are instances science can be proud of.  Investigators are invited to submit to us more such examples to be listed here and to illustrate more instances in which science was successfully self-correcting.

 Replication Failures

Affirmation Effects and the Ethnic Achievement Gap:

Cohen et. al. argue that having students affirm their sense of self adequacy through a brief in class assignment led to improved grades among minority students, reducing the ethnic achievement gap by 40%. The ethnic acheivement gap is a major concern in the United States, and Cohen et. al argues that the targeted use of social-psychological interventions could work to address this concern. Protzko and Aronson attempted to replicate Cohen et. al.’s study in both an inner-city school and a more wealthy suburban school but found no effect of the affirmation intervention on academic performance.

Original Article:

Cohen, G.L., Garcia, J., Apfel, N. & Master, A. (2006). Reducing the racial achievement gap: a social-psychological intervention. Science, 313(5791), 1307-1310..


Protzko, J. & Aronson, J. (2016). Context Moderates Affirmation Effects on the
Ethnic Achievement Gap. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 7(6), 500-507.

Automaticity and Social Behavior:

Bargh et al argue that priming can subconsciously affect subjects’ subsequent social behavior. Hull et al, however, qualify those findings, arguing that self-consciousness is a crucial variable in determining whether or not subjects will respond to primes intended to affect their social behavior. Cesario et al argue that the automatic social behavior found by Bargh et al is in fact really preparation to interact with certain social groups. Doyen et al attempt to replicate Bargh et al’s study but find that a prime from the original study only has its intended effect when the experimenters are aware of the expected outcome.

Original Article:

Bargh, J.A., Chen, M., & Burrows, L. (1996). Automaticity of social behavior: Direct effects of trait construct and stereotype activation on action. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 71, 230-244.


Hull, J., Slone, L., Metayer, K., & Matthews, A. (2002). The nonconsciousness of self-consciousness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83, 406-4254.

Cesario, J., Plaks, J., & Higgins, E. T. (2006). Automatic social behavior as motivated preparation to interact. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 90, 893-910.

Doyen, S., Klein, O., Pichon, C., Cleeremans, A. (2012). Behavioral priming: It’s all in the mind, but whose mind? PLoS One, 7(1): e29081. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0029081.

Name-Letter Effect:

Nelson and Simmons argue that people’s initials can subconsciously lead them to desire negative outcomes for themselves if those outcomes are associated with their initials. In baseball, strikeouts are represented by the letter K, and Nelson and Simmons claim that baseball players with the letter K in their initials are more likely to strike out. Nelson and Simmons also show that students with the letters C or D in their initials are more likely to earn lower grades and attend lower-quality graduate schools. McCollough and McWilliams dispute Nelson and Simmon’s first finding, arguing that they used the wrong test when analyzing baseball players’ performances and test their hypothesis erroneously. McCollough and McWilliams find that there is no Name-Letter Effect for baseball players.

Original Article:

Nelson, L. D., & Simmons, J. P. (2007). Moniker maladies: When names sabotage success. Psychological Science, 18(12), 1106-1112.


McCullough, B. D., & McWilliams, T. P. (2010). Baseball players with the initial “K” do not strike out more often. Journal of Applied Statistics, 37(6), 881-891.

Psi Phenomenon:

Bem’s experiments support the existence of psi, specifically precognition, or the ability to sense the future. Galak et al replicate two of Bem’s nine experiments and fail to achieve the same results, suggesting that precognition does not exist when it comes to the retroactive facilitation of recall.

Original Article:

Bem, D.J. (2011). Feeling the future: Experimental evidence for anomalous retroactive influences on cognition and affect. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 100, 407-425.


Galak, J., LeBoeuf, R.A., Nelson, L.D., & Simmons, J.P. (2012). Correcting the past: Failures to replicate Psi. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 103, 933-948.

Sexual Prejudice and Right-Wing Authoritarianism:

Rios argues that Right-Wing Authoritarianism predicts discrimination against social groups that are associated with “deviance,” meaning that a Right-Wing Authoritarian attitude will be more strongly correlated with prejudice against the term “homosexual” than against the words “gay” or lesbian,” as the first term is more indicative of “deviance.” Crawford et al, however, take issue with some parts of Rios’s studies. They attempt to replicate the original studies and find that while Right-Wing Authoritarianism does predict discrimination against gay men and lesbians, that discrimination does not change with differences in language.

Original Article:

Rios, K. (2013). Right-wing authoritarianism predicts prejudice against “homosexuals” but not “gay men and lesbians.” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 49(6), 1177-1183.


Crawford, J.T., Brandt, M.J., Inbar, Y., & Mallinas, S.R. (2015). Right-wing authoritarianism predicts prejudice equally toward “gay men and lesbians” and “homosexuals.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, in press.

Social Labels and Expectancy Effects:

Darley and Gross claim that stereotypes, while not definitively determining social perceptions of others, lead people to test those perceptions in a biased way, which in turn leads to confirmation of expectations in line with stereotypes. Other researchers, however, have found that traits and behaviors of subjects influence judgments much more than preconceived stereotypes.

Original Article:

Darley, J. M., & Gross, P. H. (1983). A hypothesis-confirming bias in labeling effects. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 44, 20-33.


Locksley, A., Borgida, E., Brekke, N., & Hepburn, C. (1980). Sex stereotypes and social judgment. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 39, 821-831.

Locksley, A., Hepburn, C., & Ortiz, V. (1982). Social stereotypes and judgments of individuals: An instance of the base-rate fallacy. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 18, 23-42.

Krueger, J., & Rothbart, M. (1988). Use of categorical and individuating information in making inferences about personality. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 55, 187-195.

Baron, R. M., Albright, L., & Malloy, T. E. (1995). The effects of behavioral and social class information on social judgment. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 21, 308-315.

Stanford Prison Experiment:

Haney and Zimbardo’s original study demonstrated the power of situational forces in determining behavior by simulating a prison; the power dynamic between the guards and prisoners led the former group to oppress and mistreat the latter group, and individual personality differences could not explain the vast majority of the behavior of subjects. The BBC conducted a replication of the study and found almost the opposite result; the prisoners ended up overpowering the guards. The BBC argues that the outcome of the Stanford Prison Experiment was not produced by the prison setting but by the expectations set by researcher and Prison Superintendent, Philip Zimbardo. Zimbardo has responded to the BBC’s replication attempt, maintaining that his original experiment still stands and emphasizing the myriad differences between the two studies that could have induced such disparate conclusions.

Original Article:

Haney, C., Banks, W. C., & Zimbardo, P. G. (1973). Interpersonal dynamics in a simulated prison. International Journal of Criminology and Penology, 1, 69-97.


The BBC ran a replication attempt of the Stanford Prison Experiment and reported a failure to replicate the original findings.

Zimbardo’s responses to the BBC findings can be found here and here.

Stereotypes as Self-Fulfilling Prophecies:

Snyder et al argue that people form judgments about others before meeting them based on their level of physical attractiveness, and in interacting with those subjects, induce them to behave in accordance with those expectations. Andersen and Bem find that condition holds true for sex-typed individuals, who are more responsive to physically attractive subjects, but that androgynous individuals exhibit no social preference for physically attractive subjects.

Original Article:

Snyder, M., Tanke, E. D., & Berscheid, E. (1977). Social perception and interpersonal behavior: On the self-fulfilling nature of social stereotypes. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 35, 656-666.


Andersen, S.M., & Bem, S.L. (1981). Sex-typing and androgyny in dyadic interaction: Individual differences in responsiveness to physical attractiveness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 41, 74-86.

BPS invites readers to send (to relevant papers and links to add to this website.