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Comparative Psychology – great insights or a reproducibility crisis? Assessing the application of statistics in this research field

Project Description

Applications are invited for a self-funded PhD project to investigate the statistical approaches employed in studies of comparative cognition and their effects on the research field. The supervisors will be Dr Gema Martin-Ordas (University of Stirling), Dr Pawel Fedurek and Prof. Lewis Halsey (University of Roehampton). Understanding the human mind and, in particular, what perhaps makes humans unique is a question that has attracted extraordinary attention over the last 20 years. Advances in the field of comparative psychology have shown that abilities such as social learning, communication, tool use or mental time travel while advanced in humans are not unique to our species (e.g., Martin-Ordas et al., 2010; Osvath & Martin-Ordas, 2014). However, there is arguably an important limitation with most of these studies: the almost ubiquitous p-value focus underlying the statistics employed. The p-value has been strongly associated with science’s replication crisis (e.g., Amrhein et al., 2019; Colquhoun, 2017; Halsey, 2019), which brings into question whether many of the findings in comparative psychology are robust. This PhD project will investigate the issue by conducting systematic reviews of peer-reviewed articles published in critical fields of comparative cognition, to understand the evolution of statistical approaches in this field over time and how these relate to the likely robustness of the reported findings.

Application Requirements:
Eligible applicants should –
• Hold a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology, Biology and related fields, or another statistics-focussed discipline. A relevant MSc qualification is desirable. We are open to applicants from both experimental and theoretical fields.
• Be analytical and comfortable with ‘big data’.
• Have experience with R for data manipulation and analysis.

To apply please include:
(i) One A4 page covering letter outlining your suitability for the position.
(ii) Academic CV with two academic references.

Please apply online via:

The deadline for the applications is 7th of February 2020. Informal enquiries to Gema Martin-Ordas (), Pawel Fedurek () and Lewis Halsey ()

Funding Notes

The PhD project is self-funded. Tuition fees are available at:

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Amrhein, V., Greenland, S & MsShane, B. (2019) Retire statistical significance. Nature, 567, 305–307. (doi:10.1038/d41586-019-00857-9)

Colquhoun, D. (2017) The reproducibility of research and the misinterpretation of p-values. Royal Society Open Science, 4, 171085. (doi:10.1098/rsos.171085)

Halsey, L.G. (2019) The reign of the p -value is over: what alternative analyses could we employ to fill the power vacuum? Biology Letters, 15, 20190174.

Martin-Ordas, G., Haun, D., Colmenares, F. & Call, J. (2010). Keeping track of time: evidence for episodic-like memory in great apes. Animal Cognition, 13, 331-340.

Osvath, M. & Martin-Ordas, G. (2014) The future of future oriented cognition in non-humans: theory and the empirical case of the great apes. Philosophical Transactions B: Biological Sciences, 369 (1655), Art. No.: 20130486.

How good is research at University of Stirling in Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 14.00

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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