His cool appraisal of cold-showers-and-loneliness research

Dan Simons, psychology professor and Ig Nobel Prize winner (together with Chris Chabris, for the invisible-gorilla study) casts a cool, appraising eye on a cold-shower-and-loneliness study, and looks at the way other investigators have looked at that study. Simons writes, on his blog:

Replication, Retraction, and Responsibility

JohnBarghCongrats/thanks to Brent Donnellan, Joe Cesario, and Rich Lucas for their tenacity and perseverance. They conducted 9 studies with more than 3000 participants in order to publish a set of direct replications. Their paper challenged an original report (study 1 in Bargh & Shalev, 2012) claiming that loneliness is correlated with preferred shower temperatures. The new, just-accepted paper did not find a reliable correlation. Donnellan describes their findings and the original studies in what may be the most measured and understated blog post I’ve seen. You should read it.

The original study had fewer than 100 subjects (51 from a Yale undergraduate sample and a replication with 41 from a community sample), underpowered to detect a typical effect size in a social psychology experiment. But there are bigger problems with the original results.

According to the description in Donnellan’s post, the data from the Yale sample were completely screwy: 46/51 Yale students reported taking fewer than 1 shower/bath per week! Either Yale students are filthy, or something’s wrong with the data. More critical for the primary question, 42/51 Yale students apparently prefer cold (24 students) or lukewarm (18 students) showers. How many people do you know who prefer cold showers to reasonably hot ones? Again, something’s out of whack….

I would encourage Bargh [pictured here] to issue a public explanation (accessible to the whole field, not just an email thread) for the data issues in their original study. The problems could well have been an accidental coding or interpretation problem, and mistakes are excusable even if they do undermine the claims. More importantly, he should retract the original study (not the whole paper, necessarily — just the study with problematic data) and issue an erratum in the journal. Out of curiosity, I would like to see an explanation for why the study was not retracted immediately upon learning of the problems more than a year ago.  Perhaps there is a good reason, but I’m having trouble generating one. I hope he will enlighten us.

A copy of the original study, as published, is available on Professor Bargh’s web site.


Co-author Idit Shalev [pictured here], based at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, also authored, alone, a study about dryness, thirst, and consumer behavior:

Implicit energy loss: Embodied dryness cues influence vitality and depletion,” Idet Shalev, Journal of Consumer Psychology, epub 2013. Professor Shalev explains:

“Consumers have long recognized that thirst motivates beverage consumption, however little is known of the consequences of dryness-related cues and experienced energy. Based on the embodied cognition view (Landau et al., 2010; Meier et al., 2012) and motivational perspective for energy (Clarkson, 2010; Inzlicht & Schmeichel, 2012), four studies examined the idea that activation of different levels of the dryness–thirst metaphor (e.g., semantic primes, visual images, or physical thirst) will influence perceived energy…. Overall, the findings suggest that physical or conceptual dryness-related cues influence perceived energy and may have consequences on consumer behavior.”

BONUS (possibly unrelated): A shower scene from a popular movie: