Empirical assessment of published effect sizes and power in the recent cognitive neuroscience and psychology literature

PLoS Biol. 2017 Mar 2;15(3):e2000797. doi: 10.1371/journal.pbio.2000797. eCollection 2017 Mar.


We have empirically assessed the distribution of published effect sizes and estimated power by analyzing 26,841 statistical records from 3,801 cognitive neuroscience and psychology papers published recently. The reported median effect size was D = 0.93 (interquartile range: 0.64-1.46) for nominally statistically significant results and D = 0.24 (0.11-0.42) for nonsignificant results. Median power to detect small, medium, and large effects was 0.12, 0.44, and 0.73, reflecting no improvement through the past half-century. This is so because sample sizes have remained small. Assuming similar true effect sizes in both disciplines, power was lower in cognitive neuroscience than in psychology. Journal impact factors negatively correlated with power. Assuming a realistic range of prior probabilities for null hypotheses, false report probability is likely to exceed 50% for the whole literature. In light of our findings, the recently reported low replication success in psychology is realistic, and worse performance may be expected for cognitive neuroscience.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cognitive Neuroscience / statistics & numerical data*
  • Empirical Research*
  • Humans
  • Probability
  • Psychology / statistics & numerical data*
  • Publications / statistics & numerical data*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires

Grant support

James S. McDonnell Foundation 21st Century Science Initiative in Understanding Human Cognition (grant number 220020370). Received by DS. The funder had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.