Are Small Effects the Indispensable Foundation for a Cumulative Psychological Science? A Reply to Götz et al. (2022)

Perspect Psychol Sci. 2022 Sep 20;17456916221100420. doi: 10.1177/17456916221100420. Online ahead of print.


In the January 2022 issue of Perspectives, Götz et al. argued that small effects are "the indispensable foundation for a cumulative psychological science." They supported their argument by claiming that (a) psychology, like genetics, consists of complex phenomena explained by additive small effects; (b) psychological-research culture rewards large effects, which means small effects are being ignored; and (c) small effects become meaningful at scale and over time. We rebut these claims with three objections: First, the analogy between genetics and psychology is misleading; second, p values are the main currency for publication in psychology, meaning that any biases in the literature are (currently) caused by pressure to publish statistically significant results and not large effects; and third, claims regarding small effects as important and consequential must be supported by empirical evidence or, at least, a falsifiable line of reasoning. If accepted uncritically, we believe the arguments of Götz et al. could be used as a blanket justification for the importance of any and all "small" effects, thereby undermining best practices in effect-size interpretation. We end with guidance on evaluating effect sizes in relative, not absolute, terms.

Keywords: benchmarks; effect sizes; practical significance; small effects; statistical inference.