Replications in Comparative Cognition: What Should We Expect and How Can We Improve?

Benjamin G Farrar, Markus Boeckle, Nicola S Clayton

    Research output: Journal article (peer-reviewed)Journal article


    Direct replication studies follow an original experiment's methods as closely as possible. They provide information about the reliability and validity of an original study's findings. The present paper asks what comparative cognition should expect if its studies were directly replicated, and how researchers can use this information to improve the reliability of future research. Because published effect sizes are likely overestimated, comparative cognition researchers should not expect findings with p-values just below the significance level to replicate consistently. Nevertheless, there are several statistical and design features that can help researchers identify reliable research. However, researchers should not simply aim for maximum replicability when planning studies; comparative cognition faces strong replicability-validity and replicability-resource trade-offs. Next, the paper argues that it may not even be possible to perform truly direct replication studies in comparative cognition because of: 1) a lack of access to the species of interest; 2) real differences in animal behavior across sites; and 3) sample size constraints producing very uncertain statistical estimates, meaning that it will often not be possible to detect statistical differences between original and replication studies. These three reasons suggest that many claims in the comparative cognition literature are practically unfalsifiable, and this presents a challenge for cumulative science in comparative cognition. To address this challenge, comparative cognition can begin to formally assess the replicability of its findings, improve its statistical thinking and explore new infrastructures that can help to form a field that can create and combine the data necessary to understand how cognition evolves.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1-22
    Number of pages22
    JournalAnimal behavior and cognition
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - Feb 2020


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