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The hidden side of animal cognition research: Scientists' attitudes toward bias, replicability and scientific practice.

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Ostojić, Ljerka 
Clayton, Nicola S 


Animal cognition research aims to understand animal minds by using a diverse range of methods across an equally diverse range of species. Throughout its history, the field has sought to mitigate various biases that occur when studying animal minds, from experimenter effects to anthropomorphism. Recently, there has also been a focus on how common scientific practices might affect the reliability and validity of published research. Usually, these issues are discussed in the literature by a small group of scholars with a specific interest in the topics. This study aimed to survey a wider range of animal cognition researchers to ask about their attitudes towards classic and contemporary issues facing the field. Two-hundred and ten active animal cognition researchers completed our survey, and provided answers on questions relating to bias, replicability, statistics, publication, and belief in animal cognition. Collectively, researchers were wary of bias in the research field, but less so in their own work. Over 70% of researchers endorsed Morgan's canon as a useful principle but many caveated this in their free-text responses. Researchers self-reported that most of their studies had been published, however they often reported that studies went unpublished because they had negative or inconclusive results, or results that questioned "preferred" theories. Researchers rarely reported having performed questionable research practices themselves-however they thought that other researchers sometimes (52.7% of responses) or often (27.9% of responses) perform them. Researchers near unanimously agreed that replication studies are important but too infrequently performed in animal cognition research, 73.0% of respondents suggested areas of animal cognition research could experience a 'replication crisis' if replication studies were performed. Consistently, participants' free-text responses provided a nuanced picture of the challenges animal cognition research faces, which are available as part of an open dataset. However, many researchers appeared concerned with how to interpret negative results, publication bias, theoretical bias and reliability in areas of animal cognition research. Collectively, these data provide a candid overview of barriers to progress in animal cognition and can inform debates on how individual researchers, as well as organizations and journals, can facilitate robust scientific research in animal cognition.



Animal Experimentation, Attitude, Bias, Cognition, Culture, Humans, Publications, Reproducibility of Results, Research Personnel, Self Report, Statistics as Topic

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PLoS One

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Public Library of Science (PLoS)


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BBSRC (1943419)
Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BB/M011194/1)
BGF was supported by the University of Cambridge BBSRC Doctoral Training Programme (BB/M011194/1).