Psych Studies With Small Samples

(Upon request, some context for a previous post crticizing pop-sci reporting of “you can’t change your mind” psych studies:)

I’m making the usual grouch about the way psych studies tend to be reported, where you read the academic paper and brain scans of six undergrads show that they sense the temperature in a white room is 6% lower than the temperature in a pink room (I’m making this up; I don’t think this study exists), and then it gets reported in the newspaper as “scientists prove the US could save $5 billion on energy costs every year if we’d wear pink-tinted glasses.”

Most recently, I read a piece that did brain scans of a handful of people to see which topics lit up the parts of their brains that had to do with self-identity. Some of them rated as more personal than others (like gun policy) and others rated as not particularly linked to self definition (like tax policy). Which is kind of interesting, although pretty limited and not a finding that’s been replicated. But it was reported as “don’t talk politics with anyone or they’ll feel personally attacked,” which was a pretty wild leap. Tax policy is politics. Gun policy would light up the parts of my brain that have to do with evaluating my personal safety, but that doesn’t mean I have strong opinions on gun laws (I don’t).