Förster (continued) – Linearity of data had a 1 in 508×10^18 probability of not being manipulated

The report from 2012 detailing the suspicions of manufactured data in 3 of Jens Förster’s papers has now become available. förster 2012 report – eng

The Abstract reads:

Here we analyze results from three recent papers (2009, 2011, 2012) by Dr. Jens Förster from the Psychology Department of the University of Amsterdam. These papers report 40 experiments involving a total of 2284 participants (2242 of which were undergraduates). We apply an F test based on descriptive statistics to test for linearity of means across three levels of the experimental design. Results show that in the vast majority of the 42 independent samples so analyzed, means are unusually close to a linear trend. Combined left-tailed probabilities are 0.000000008, 0.0000004, and 0.000000006, for the three papers, respectively. The combined left-tailed p-value of the entire set is p= 1.96 * 10-21, which corresponds to finding such consistent results (or more consistent results) in one out of 508 trillion (508,000,000,000,000,000,000). Such a level of linearity is extremely unlikely to have arisen from standard sampling. We also found overly consistent results across independent replications in two of the papers. As a control group, we analyze the linearity of results in 10 papers by other authors in the same area. These papers differ strongly from those by Dr. Förster in terms of linearity of effects and the effect sizes. We also note that none of the 2284 participants showed any missing data, dropped out during data collection, or expressed awareness of the deceit used in the experiment, which is atypical for psychological experiments. Combined these results cast serious doubt on the nature of the results reported by Dr. Förster and warrant an investigation of the source and nature of the data he presented in these and other papers.

Förster’s primary thesis in the 3 papers under suspicion is that the global versus local models for perception and processing of data which have been studied and applied for vision are also also valid and apply to the other senses.

1. Förster, J. (2009). Relations Between Perceptual and Conceptual Scope: How Global Versus Local Processing Fits a Focus on Similarity Versus Dissimilarity. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 138, 88-111.

2. Förster, J. (2011). Local and Global Cross-Modal Influences Between Vision and Hearing, Tasting, Smelling, or Touching. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 140, 364-389.

The University of Amsterdam investigation has called for the third paper to be retracted:

3. Förster, J. & Denzler, M. (2012). Sense Creative! The Impact of Global and Local Vision, Hearing, Touching, Tasting and Smelling on Creative and Analytic Thought.  Social Psychological and Personality Science, 3, 108-117 (The full paper is here: Social Psychological and Personality Science-2012-Förster-108-17 )

Abstract: Holistic (global) versus elemental (local) perception reflects a prominent distinction in psychology; however, so far it has almost entirely been examined in the domain of vision. Current work suggests that global/local processing styles operate across sensory modalities. .As for vision, it is assumed that global processing broadens mental categories in memory, enhancing creativity. Furthermore, local processing should support performance in analytic tasks. Throughout separate 12 studies, participants were asked to look at, listen to, touch, taste or smell details of objects, or to perceive them as wholes. Global processing increased category breadth and creative relative to analytic performance, whereas for local processing the opposite was true. Results suggest that the way we taste, smell, touch, listen to, or look at events affects complex cognition, reflecting procedural embodiment effects. 

My assumption is that if the data have been manipulated it is probably a case of “confirmation bias”.  Global versus local perception is not that easy to define or study for the senses other than vision – which is probably why they have not been studied. Therefore the data may have been “manufactured” to conform with the hypothesis that “the way we taste, smell, touch, listen to, or look at events does affect complex cognition and global processing increases category breadth and creativity relative to analytic performance, whereas local processing decreases them”. The hypothesis becomes the result.

Distinctions between global and local perceptions of hearing are not improbable. But for taste? and smell and touch?? My perception of the field of social psychology (which is still a long way from being a science) is that far too often improbable hypotheses are dreamed up for the effect they have (not least in the media). Data – nearly always by sampling groups of individuals – are then found/manipulated/created to “prove” the hypotheses rather than to disprove them.

My perceptions are not altered when I see results from paper 3 like these:

Our findings may have implications for our daily behaviors. Some objects or people in the real world may unconsciously affect our cognition by triggering global or local processing styles; while some may naturally guide our attention to salient details (e.g., a spot on a jacket, a strong scent of coriander in a soup), others may motivate us to focus on the gestalt (e.g., because they are balanced and no special features stand out). It might be the case then that differences in the composition of dishes, aromas, and other mundane events influence our behavior.We might for example attend more to the local details of the answers by an interview candidate if he wears a bright pink tie, or we may start to become more creative upon tasting a balanced wine. This is because our attention to details versus gestalts triggers different systems that process information in different ways.

The description of the methods used in the paper give me no sense of any scientific rigour –  especially those regarding smell – and I find the entire “experimental method” quite unconvincing.

Participants were seated in individual booths and were instructed to recognize materials by smelling them. A pretest reported in Förster (2011) led to the choice (of) tangerines, fresh soil, and chocolate, which were rated as easily recognizable and neutral to positive in valence (both when given as a mixture but also when given alone). After each trial, participants were asked to wait 1 minute before smelling the next sample. In Study 10a, in the global condition, participants were presented with three small bowls containing a mixture of all three components; whereas in the local condition, the participants were presented with three small bowls, each containing one of the three different ingredients. In the control condition, they had to smell two bowls of mixes and two bowls with pure ingredients (tangerines and soil) in random order.

A science it is certainly not.

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One Response to “Förster (continued) – Linearity of data had a 1 in 508×10^18 probability of not being manipulated”

  1. Conclusion that Förster manipulated data is “unavoidable | The k2p blog Says:

    […] report of the investigation by the Dutch National Board for Scientific Integrity (LOWI) into the suspicions about Jens Förster’s research. The conclusions are unavoidable that data manipulation must […]

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