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Concept: Bias


Federal funding for basic scientific research is the cornerstone of societal progress, economy, health and well-being. There is a direct relationship between financial investment in science and a nation’s scientific discoveries, making it a priority for governments to distribute public funding appropriately in support of the best science. However, research grant proposal success rate and funding level can be skewed toward certain groups of applicants, and such skew may be driven by systemic bias arising during grant proposal evaluation and scoring. Policies to best redress this problem are not well established. Here, we show that funding success and grant amounts for applications to Canada’s Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) Discovery Grant program (2011-2014) are consistently lower for applicants from small institutions. This pattern persists across applicant experience levels, is consistent among three criteria used to score grant proposals, and therefore is interpreted as representing systemic bias targeting applicants from small institutions. When current funding success rates are projected forward, forecasts reveal that future science funding at small schools in Canada will decline precipitously in the next decade, if skews are left uncorrected. We show that a recently-adopted pilot program to bolster success by lowering standards for select applicants from small institutions will not erase funding skew, nor will several other post-evaluation corrective measures. Rather, to support objective and robust review of grant applications, it is necessary for research councils to address evaluation skew directly, by adopting procedures such as blind review of research proposals and bibliometric assessment of performance. Such measures will be important in restoring confidence in the objectivity and fairness of science funding decisions. Likewise, small institutions can improve their research success by more strongly supporting productive researchers and developing competitive graduate programming opportunities.

Concepts: Scientific method, Mathematics, Science, Research, Society, Natural science, Bias, Systemic bias


The fossil record is a rich source of information about biological diversity in the past. However, the fossil record is not only incomplete but has also inherent biases due to geological, physical, chemical and biological factors. Our knowledge of past life is also biased because of differences in academic and amateur interests and sampling efforts. As a result, not all individuals or species that lived in the past are equally likely to be discovered at any point in time or space. To reconstruct temporal dynamics of diversity using the fossil record, biased sampling must be explicitly taken into account. Here, we introduce an approach that uses the variation in the number of times each species is observed in the fossil record to estimate both sampling bias and true richness. We term our technique TRiPS (True Richness estimated using a Poisson Sampling model) and explore its robustness to violation of its assumptions via simulations. We then venture to estimate sampling bias and absolute species richness of dinosaurs in the geological stages of the Mesozoic. Using TRiPS, we estimate that 1936 (1543-2468) species of dinosaurs roamed the Earth during the Mesozoic. We also present improved estimates of species richness trajectories of the three major dinosaur clades: the sauropodomorphs, ornithischians and theropods, casting doubt on the Jurassic-Cretaceous extinction event and demonstrating that all dinosaur groups are subject to considerable sampling bias throughout the Mesozoic.

Concepts: DNA, Evolution, Fossil, Paleontology, Charles Darwin, Bias, Dinosaur, Selection bias


A survey in the United States revealed that an alarmingly large percentage of university psychologists admitted having used questionable research practices that can contaminate the research literature with false positive and biased findings. We conducted a replication of this study among Italian research psychologists to investigate whether these findings generalize to other countries. All the original materials were translated into Italian, and members of the Italian Association of Psychology were invited to participate via an online survey. The percentages of Italian psychologists who admitted to having used ten questionable research practices were similar to the results obtained in the United States although there were small but significant differences in self-admission rates for some QRPs. Nearly all researchers (88%) admitted using at least one of the practices, and researchers generally considered a practice possibly defensible if they admitted using it, but Italian researchers were much less likely than US researchers to consider a practice defensible. Participants' estimates of the percentage of researchers who have used these practices were greater than the self-admission rates, and participants estimated that researchers would be unlikely to admit it. In written responses, participants argued that some of these practices are not questionable and they have used some practices because reviewers and journals demand it. The similarity of results obtained in the United States, this study, and a related study conducted in Germany suggest that adoption of these practices is an international phenomenon and is likely due to systemic features of the international research and publication processes.

Concepts: Scientific method, United States, Academic publishing, Poverty in the United States, U.S. state, Humid subtropical climate, Bias, Research and development


We elevate our constructions to a special status in our minds. This ‘IKEA’ effect leads us to believe that our creations are more valuable than items that are identical, but constructed by another. This series of studies utilises a developmental perspective to explore why this bias exists. Study 1 elucidates the ontogeny of the IKEA effect, demonstrating an emerging bias at age 5, corresponding with key developmental milestones in self-concept formation. Study 2 assesses the role of effort, revealing that the IKEA effect is not moderated by the amount of effort invested in the task in 5-to-6-year olds. Finally, Study 3 examines whether feelings of ownership moderate the IKEA effect, finding that ownership alone cannot explain why children value their creations more. Altogether, results from this study series are incompatible with existing theories of the IKEA bias. Instead, we propose a new framework to examine biases in decision making. Perhaps the IKEA effect reflects a link between our creations and our self-concept, emerging at age 5, leading us to value them more positively than others' creations.

Concepts: Scientific method, Critical thinking, Risk, Ontology, Typography, Perspective, Bias, IKEA


Although people may endorse egalitarianism and tolerance, social biases can remain operative and drive harmful actions in an unconscious manner. Here, we investigated training to reduce implicit racial and gender bias. Forty participants processed counterstereotype information paired with one sound for each type of bias. Biases were reduced immediately after training. During subsequent slow-wave sleep, one sound was unobtrusively presented to each participant, repeatedly, to reactivate one type of training. Corresponding bias reductions were fortified in comparison with the social bias not externally reactivated during sleep. This advantage remained 1 week later, the magnitude of which was associated with time in slow-wave and rapid-eye-movement sleep after training. We conclude that memory reactivation during sleep enhances counterstereotype training and that maintaining a bias reduction is sleep-dependent.

Concepts: Psychology, Sleep, Neuroscience, Memory, Cognitive science, Electroencephalography, Bias, Subconscious


Palatable food induces general approach tendencies when compared to nonfood stimuli. For eating disorders, the modification of an attention bias toward food was proposed as a treatment option. Similar approaches have been efficient for other psychiatric conditions and, recently, successfully incorporated approach motivation. The direct impact of attentional biases on spontaneous natural behavior has hardly been investigated so far, although actions may serve as an intervention target, especially seeing the recent advances in the field of embodied cognition. In this study, we addressed the interplay of motor action execution and cognition when interacting with food objects. In a Virtual Reality (VR) setting, healthy participants repeatedly grasped or warded high-calorie food or hand-affordant ball objects using their own dominant hand. This novel experimental paradigm revealed an attention-like bias in hand-based actions: 3D objects of food were collected faster than ball objects, and this difference correlated positively with both individual body mass index and diet-related attitudes. The behavioral bias for food in hand movements complements several recent experimental and neurophysiological findings. Implications for the use of VR in the treatment of eating-related health problems are discussed.

Concepts: Psychology, Nutrition, Body mass index, Cognition, Cognitive science, Cognitive bias, Motivation, Bias


Depressive disorder is often associated with cognitive biases. In this study, we took a unique opportunity to investigate whether trait pessimism could predict vulnerability to stress-induced anhedonia in an animal model of depression. In a series of ambiguous-cue interpretation (ACI) tests, we identified animals displaying ‘pessimistic’ and ‘optimistic’ traits. Subsequently, the rats were subjected to chronic restraint, and the trait differences in response to stress were investigated using sucrose preference and ACI tests before, during and after the stress regime. Although stress resulted in anhedonia in both subgroups, it occurred faster and lasted longer in the ‘pessimistic’ compared to the ‘optimistic’ animals. Chronic stress exposure also increased the negative judgment bias in rats, although this effect was not dependent on the ‘pessimistic’ trait. For the first time, we demonstrated a link between cognitive judgment bias and vulnerability to stress-induced anhedonia in an animal model. We also introduced a cognitive biomarker, which may be of value for etiological depression studies.Neuropsychopharmacology accepted article preview online, 10 May 2013; doi:10.1038/npp.2013.116.

Concepts: Cognitive bias, Motivation, Major depressive disorder, Mood disorder, Dysthymia, Bias, Optimism, Pessimism


BACKGROUND: Cognitive models have postulated that auditory hallucinations arise from the misattribution of internally generated cognitive events to external sources. Several experimental paradigms have been developed to assess this externalizing bias in clinical and non-clinical hallucination-prone samples, including source-monitoring, verbal self-monitoring and auditory signal detection tasks. This meta-analysis aims to synthesize the wealth of empirical findings from these experimental studies. Method A database search was carried out for reports between January 1985 and March 2012. Additional studies were retrieved by contacting authors and screening references of eligible reports. Studies were considered eligible if they compared either (i) hallucinating and non-hallucinating patients with comparable diagnoses, or (ii) non-clinical hallucination-prone and non-prone participants using source-monitoring, verbal self-monitoring or signal detection tasks, or used correlational analyses to estimate comparable effects. RESULTS: The analysis included 15 clinical (240 hallucinating patients and 249 non-hallucinating patients) and nine non-clinical studies (171 hallucination-prone and 177 non-prone participants; 57 participants in a correlation study). Moderate-to-large summary effects were observed in both the clinical and analogue samples. Robust and significant effects were observed in source-monitoring and signal detection studies, but not in self-monitoring studies, possibly due to the small numbers of eligible studies in this subgroup. The use of emotionally valenced stimuli led to effects of similar magnitude to the use of neutral stimuli. CONCLUSIONS: The findings suggest that externalizing biases are important cognitive underpinnings of hallucinatory experiences. Clinical interventions targeting these biases should be explored as possible treatments for clients with distressing voices.

Concepts: Scientific method, Schizophrenia, Hallucination, Psychosis, Bias, Psychedelics, dissociatives and deliriants, Hallucinations in the sane


Alcohol-related stimuli attract social drinkers' attention (attentional bias). We devised a dual task to test whether attentional biases to alcohol-related stimuli are modulated by cognitive control mechanisms. Sixteen nondependent healthy social drinkers were required to respond to the direction of a central arrow (target) and to ignore adjacent congruent (low cognitive load) or incongruent (high cognitive load) distracting arrows (flankers) in the presence of alcohol-related, neutral or plain grey backgrounds. Percentages of correct responses to the target and reaction time of correct responses (latency) were recorded. The difference score of the flanker effect (latency incongruent-latency congruent) between trials when backgrounds were alcohol-related relative to when they were neutral was also computed. Latencies increased in the presence of the alcohol-related images relative to both the neutral and the grey displays, but only under high cognitive load. Response accuracy did not show this significant difference. The flanker effect difference score correlated positively with the participants' average weekly alcohol intake. The data suggest that the presence of alcohol-associated stimuli attenuates cognitive control processes in social drinkers, an effect that was associated with the participants' average weekly alcohol intake.

Concepts: Psychology, Attention, Cognitive bias, Working memory, Process control, Bias, Attention span, Lol Tolhurst


Numerous studies have shown an exacerbation of attentional bias towards threat in anxiety states. However, the cognitive mechanisms responsible for these attentional biases remain largely unknown. Further, the authors outline the need to consider the nature of the attentional processes in operation (hypervigilance, avoidance, or disengagement). We adapted a dot-probe paradigm to record behavioral and electrophysiological responses in 26 participants reporting high or low fear of evaluation, a major component of social anxiety. Pairs of faces including a neutral and an emotional face (displaying anger, fear, disgust, or happiness) were presented during 200ms and then replaced by a neutral target to discriminate. Results show that anxious participants were characterized by an increased P1 in response to pairs of faces, irrespective of the emotional expression included in the pair. They also showed an increased P2 in response to angry-neutral pairs selectively. Finally, in anxious participants, the P1 response to targets was enhanced when replacing emotional faces, whereas non-anxious subjects showed no difference between the two conditions. These results indicate an early hypervigilance to face stimuli in social anxiety, coupled with difficulty in disengaging from threat and sustained attention to emotional stimuli. They are discussed within the framework of current models of anxiety and psychopathology.

Concepts: Anxiety, Psychology, Anxiety disorder, Paul Ekman, Fear, Social anxiety, Fight-or-flight response, Bias