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Replication, bias, and meta-research in animal cognition research



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In this thesis I explore the extent to which researchers of animal cognition should be concerned about the reliability of its scientific results and the presence of theoretical biases across research programmes. To do so I apply and develop arguments borne in human psychology’s “replication crisis” to animal cognition research and assess a range of secondary data analysis methods to detect bias across heterogeneous research programmes. After introducing these topics in Chapter 1, Chapter 2 makes the argument that areas of animal cognition research likely contain many findings that will struggle to replicate in direct replication studies. In Chapter 3, I combine two definitions of replication to outline the relationship between replication and theory testing, generalisability, representative sampling, and between-group comparisons in animal cognition. Chapter 4 then explores deeper issue in animal cognition research, examining how the academic systems that might select for research with low replicability might also select for theoretical bias across the research process. I use this argument to suggest that much of the vociferous methodological criticism in animal cognition research will be ineffective without considering how the academic incentive structure shapes animal cognition research. Chapter 5 then beings my attempt to develop methods to detect bias and critically and quantitatively synthesise evidence in animal cognition research. In Chapter 5, I led a team examining publication bias and the robustness of statistical inference in studies of animal physical cognition. Chapter 6 was a systematic review and a quantitative risk-of-bias assessment of the entire corvid social cognition literature. And in Chapter 7, I led a team assessing how researchers in animal cognition report and interpret non-significant statistical results, as well as the p-value distributions of non-significant results across a manually extracted dataset and an automatically extracted dataset from the animal cognition literature. Chapter 8 then reflects on the difficulties of synthesising evidence and detecting bias in animal cognition research. In Chapter 9, I present survey data of over 200 animal cognition researchers who I questioned on the topics of this thesis. Finally, Chapter 10 summarises the findings of this thesis, and discusses potential next steps for research in animal cognition.





Clayton, Nicola
Ostojic, Ljerka


Animal cognition, Replication, Bias, Meta-research, Reproducibility, Comparative cognition


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

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