WASHINGTON – A new peer-reviewed scientific study concludes the gender of researchers conducting certain lab experiments could be seriously impacting the results, noting the outcome often cannot be replicated.
Published this month by the journal Science Advances, the paper, by Colin D. Chapman, Christian Benedict and Helgi B. Schiöth of Uppsala University in Sweden, is called “Experimenter gender and replicability in science.”
With the concept of gender neutrality popular in the West, the authors found that more studies, especially clinical trials, are being reported without any mention of the gender of the experimenters.
“Consequently, significant biases caused by the experimenter’s gender may lead researchers to conclude that therapeutics or other interventions are either overtreating or undertreating a variety of conditions,” the research paper concludes. “Bearing this in mind, this policy paper emphasizes the importance of reporting and controlling for experimenter gender in future research.”
The report concludes “a replication crisis spreading through the annals of scientific inquiry.”
The authors points out that some research groups report that attempts to replicate published data in biomedical science fail more often than they succeed.
“A recent paper revealed that of 100 articles published in high-ranking psychology journals in 2008, only one-third to one-half of original findings were successfully replicated.”
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The authors list many ways the gender of the experimenter affects the results, making the often uncomfortable point in modern society that men and women and boys and girls have some significant differences.
“From intelligence testing to pain sensitivity, participants demonstrate robust responses to manipulation of experimenter gender,” they write. “The range of effects is troubling because it is broad enough to influence many fields of scientific inquiry that are not accustomed to controlling for experimenter effects.”
The authors explain:
- “For instance, when testing the efficacy of antinociceptive drugs, males report less pain to nociceptive stimulation when supervised by a female experimenter. … If, when testing an antinociceptive drug, a disproportionate number of treatment trials with male participants are supervised by female experimenters, then this could result in overestimations of drug efficacy. Putting aside the possibility of false positives, false negatives could be holding back progress.”
- Female examiners for intelligence quotient or IQ studies as well as vocabulary scales tend to elicit higher scores from both boys and girls. The researchers wonder how studies disregarding sex could impact the development of therapeutics to treat learning disabilities in children. They suggest newer medications for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder may show results that are too favorable, or not significant enough, as a result of experimenter gender influence. “Again, this could be holding back or delaying the development of newer, safer therapeutics for use in treating these conditions because more and more studies are run to determine whether a particular compound’s effects are consistent. Worse still, it could halt investigations altogether if early results are unfavorable,” they write.
- “In general, male experimenters have been shown to elicit more solutions in a creative problem solving task for both genders of participants However, the authors write, female participants were significantly more affected by the gender of the experimenter, whereas men were only marginally affected. “In other words, male experimenters improved results for both genders but much more so for females,” they noted.
- “One of the first studies looking at experimenter gender demonstrated that verbal learning was influenced, such that female participants learned significantly faster in a serial trigram task with a male experimenter as opposed to a female experimenter.”
- “Experiments using simple sorting tasks reveal that participants performed significantly better, regardless of gender, when tested by an opposite-gender experimenter It was speculated that this could follow from opposite-gender dynamics increasing competitiveness, anxiety, or the desire to please.”
- “Making the picture more intricate, however, another study found that, on a complex verbal conditioning task, while, as expected, low-anxiety men performed significantly better when tested by a female experimenter, highly anxious men actually performed worse. The authors theorized that this may have been due to an overload of stress for the high-anxiety men.”
- “Finally, some research has revealed that even fundamental memory processes are sensitive to experimenter gender. Men paired with a female experimenter tend to provide more elaborate verbal autobiographical memories, and women with a male experimenter report fewer ‘internal states’ such as emotional or cognitive states.”
- “A small series of studies has investigated the impact of experimenter gender on physical performance, and, again, significant results were observed. In one study, the effect of experimenter gender was investigated for participants performing a 50-yard dash, a shuttle run, and sit-ups. The study demonstrated that, for sit-ups, male experimenters elicited better scores for both genders of participants.”
Some of the observations of the study would, in another era, be considered matters of common sense. One of the previous studies they examined, for instance, showed young male skateboarders took increased physical risks in the presence of an attractive female. That factor induced both more successes and more crash landings.
“Overall, the researchers conclude that opposite-sex dynamics are not being considered significantly enough as variables in many scientific experiments.
The team recommends better reporting in experiments to take into account the gender of the experimenters.