Monday, October 28, 2019

Consistency counts for something, right? Zhang et al. (2019)

If you manage to stumble upon this Zhang et al. (2019) paper, published in Aggressive Behavior, you'll notice that this lab really loves to use a variation of the Stroop Task. Nothing wrong with that in and of itself. It is, after all, presumably one of several ways to attempt to measure the accessibility of aggressive cognition. One can get mean differences between reactions times (rt) for aggressive words and for nonaggressive words under different priming conditions and see if the stimuli with what we believe is violent content make aggressive thoughts more accessible - in this case with reactions times being higher for aggressive words than nonaggressive words (hence, higher positive difference scores). I don't really want to get you too much into the weeds, but I just think having that context is useful in this instance.

So far so good, yeah?

Not so fast. Usually the differences we find in rt between aggressive and nonaggressive words in these various tasks - including the Stroop Task - are very small. We're talking maybe single digit or small double digit differences in milliseconds. As has been the case with several other studies where Zhang and colleagues have had to publish errata, that's not quite what happens here. Joe Hilgard certainly noticed (see his note in PubPeer). Take a peek for yourself:

Hilgard notes another oddity as well as the general tendency for the primary author (Qian Zhang) to essentially stonewall requests for data. This is yet another paper I would be hesitant to cite without access to data, given that this lab already has an interesting publishing history, including some very error-prone errata for several papers published from this decade.

Note that I am only commenting very briefly on the cognitive outcomes. The authors also have data analyzed using a competitive reaction time task. Maybe I'll comment more about that at a later date.

As always, reader beware.


Zhang, Q., Cao, Y., Gao, J., Yang, X., Rost, D. H., Cheng, G., Teng, Z., & Espelage, D. L. (2019). Effects of cartoon violence on aggressive thoughts and aggressive behaviors. Aggressive Behavior, 45, 489-497. doi: 10.1002/ab.21836

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