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Does self-deception play a role in questionable research practices?

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Social scientist Leon Festinger did some fascinating studies in the 1950s on “cognitive dissonance.” He used the term to describe the uncomfortable tension people feel when they find their actions are inconsistent with their beliefs. Rather than change their behavior to fit their beliefs, they will change what they believe to be true to alleviate the tension.

In one of Festinger’s experiments, some subjects were paid $20 to tell a specific lie, while another group of subjects only got $1 to do the same. The ones who received $1 were far more likely to claim, after the event, that they had actually believed in the lie they were told to tell, as if that somehow made it easier to swallow the fact they’d sold out and told a lie for a pittance.

One can imagine a graduate student or post-doctoral fellow engaging in questionable research practices due to perceived expectencies from the principal investigator. Do these people convince themselves that what they're doing is not wrong?  Is it possible that some researchers lie to themselves about engaging in questionable practices? What do you think?

 

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