Effect sizes in psychological research

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  1. Marcus Schwarz

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Description: Effect sizes are the currency of psychological research. They quantify the results of a study to answer the research question and are used to calculate statistical power. The interpretation of effect sizes—when is an effect small, medium, or large?—has been guided by the recommendations Jacob Cohen gave in his pioneering writings starting in 1962: Either compare an effect with the effects found in past research or use certain conventional benchmarks. The present analysis shows that neither of these recommendations is currently applicable. From past publications without pre-registration, 900 effects were randomly drawn and compared with 93 effects from publications with pre-registration, revealing a large difference: Effects from the former were much larger than effects from the latter. That is, publication bias has caused a dramatic inflation in published effects, making it impossible to compare an actual effect with the real population effects (as these are unknown). In addition, there were very large differences in the mean effects between psychological sub-disciplines and between different study designs, making it impossible to apply any global benchmarks. Many more pre-registered studies are needed in the future to derive a reliable picture of real population effects.

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