In 2015, Science published the results of the first empirical attempt to estimate the reproducibility of psychology. One key finding was that out of 97 attempts to reproduce a significant result, only 36% of attempts succeeded.
This finding fueled debates about a replication crisis in psychology. However, there have been few detailed examinations of individual studies to examine why a particular result could be replicated or not. The main reason is probably that it is a daunting task to conduct detailed examinations of all studies. Another reason is that replication failures can be caused by several factors. Each study may have a different explanation. This means it is important to take an ideographic (study-centered) perspective.
The conclusions of these ideographic reviews will be used for a nomothetic research project that aims to predict actual replication outcomes on the basis of the statistical results reported in the original article. These predictions will only be accurate if the replication studies were close replications of the original study. Otherwise, differences between the original study and the replication study may explain why replication studies failed.
Summary of Original Article
The article “Poignancy: Mixed emotional experience in the face of meaningful endings” was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. The senior author is Laura L. Carstensen, who is best known for her socioemotional selectivity theory (Carstensen, 1999, American Psychologist). This article has been cited (only) 83 times and is only #43 in the top cited articles of Laura Carstensen, although it contributes to her current H-Index of 49.
The main hypothesis is derived from Carstensen’s socioemotional selectivity theory. The prediction is that endings (e.g., of student life, of life in general) elicit more mixed emotions. This hypothesis was tested in two experiments.
60 young (~ 20 years) and 60 older ~ 80 years) participated in Study 1. The experimental procedure was a guided imagery to evoke emotions. In one condition participants were asked to imagine in their favorite location in 4 months time. In the other condition they were given the same instruction, but also told to imagine that this would be the last time they could visit this location. The dependent variable were intensity ratings on an emotion questionnaire on a scale from 0 = not at all to 7 = extremely.
The intensity of mixed feelings was assessed by taking the minimum value of a positive and a negative emotion (Schimmack, 2001).
The analysis showed no age main effect or interactions and no differences in two control conditions. For the critical imagery condition, intensity of mixed feelings was higher in the last-time condition (M ~ 3.6, SD ~ 2.3) than in the next-visit condition (M ~ 2, SD ~ 2.3), d ~ .7, t(118) ~ 3.77.
Study 2 examined mixed feelings in the context of a naturalistic event. It extend a previous study by Larsen, McGraw, & Cacioppo (2001) that demonstrated mixed feelings on graduation day. Study 2 aimed to replicate and extend this finding. To extend the finding, the authors added an experimental manipulation that either emphasized the ending of university or not.
110 students participated in the study.
In the control condition (N = 59), participants were given the following instructions: “Keeping in mind your current experiences, please rate the degree to which you feel each of the following emotions,” and were then presented with the list of 19 emotions. In the limited-time condition (n = 51), in which emphasis was placed on the ending that they were experiencing, participants were given the following instructions: “As a graduating senior, today is the last day that you will be a student at Stanford. Keeping that in mind, please rate the degree to which you feel each of the following emotions,”
The key finding was significantly higher means in the experimental condition than in the control condition, t(108) = 2.34, p = .021.
Recruiting participants on graduation day is not easy. The replication study recruited participants over a 3-year period to achieve a sample size of N = 222 participants, more than double the sample size of the original study (2012 N = 95; 2013 N = 78; 2014 N = 49).
Despite the larger sample size, the study failed to replicate the effect of the experimental manipulation, t(220) = 0.07, p = .94.
While reports of mixed feelings in conflicting situations are a robust phenomenon (Study 1), experimental manipulations of the intensity of mixed feelings are relatively rare. The key novel contribution of Study 2 was the demonstration to focus on the ending of an event increase sadness and mixed feelings. However, the evidence for this effect was weak and could not be replicated in a larger sample. In combination, the evidence does not suggest that this is an effective way to manipulate the intensity of mixed feelings.
In Study 1, participants repeatedly imagined being in a meaningful location. Participants in the experimental condition imagined being in the meaningful
location for the final time. Only participants who imagined “last times” at meaningful locations
experienced more mixed emotions. In Study 2, college seniors reported their emotions on graduation day.
Mixed emotions were higher when participants were reminded of the ending that they were experiencing.
Findings suggest that poignancy is an emotional experience associated with meaningful endings.