Cognitive Therapy and Research

, Volume 1, Issue 2, pp 161-175

First online:

Publication prejudices: An experimental study of confirmatory bias in the peer review system

  • Michael J. MahoneyAffiliated withPennsylvania State University

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Confirmatory bias is the tendency to emphasize and believe experiences which support one's views and to ignore or discredit those which do not. The effects of this tendency have been repeatedly documented in clinical research. However, its ramifications for the behavior of scientists have yet to be adequately explored. For example, although publication is a critical element in determining the contribution and impact of scientific findings, little research attention has been devoted to the variables operative in journal review policies. In the present study, 75 journal reviewers were asked to referee manuscripts which described identical experimental procedures but which reported positive, negative, mixed, or no results. In addition to showing poor interrater agreement, reviewers were strongly biased against manuscripts which reported results contrary to their theoretical perspective. The implications of these findings for epistemology and the peer review system are briefly addressed.