The Reproducibility Crisis of Psychology and What It Is Trying to Tell Us

By Doug Marman

Over the last few years, a raging crisis has hit the field of psychology: Most published studies can’t be replicated by others. For example, 100 experiments published by highly respected psychology journals were recently tested and only 36% produced results in agreement with the original reports.[1] This is called the “reproducibility crisis.”

It’s a complicated problem. It isn’t caused by fraud, except in rare cases. Many factors are involved, as explained by this article. For example, designing psychology experiments is more difficult than it sounds, and drawing conclusions often involves complex statistical analysis. Even the experiments aimed at reproducing experiments have been found wanting.[2]

This has created a rift among psychologists, with half saying that the problem is more about the way reproducibility tests are run, with the other half feeling “the academic ground give up beneath their feet.” This led one reporter to ask:

“Crisis or not, if we end up with a more rigorous approach to science, and more confidence in what it tells us, surely that is a good thing?”[3]

No, I don’t think that is the answer. In fact, I believe it will make the reproducibility problem worse. The rigorous approach of traditional science is part of the problem. It is time to put a spotlight on how objectivity can interfere with psychology experiments. Otherwise, we are going to continue casting doubt on valid scientific experiments.

Take, for example, an experiment that is literally a textbook case:[4] In the 1980s, Fritz Strack and his co-workers showed that when a person smiles, it improves their mood. Many well-known psychologists, such as William James, and scientists, such as Charles Darwin, have said that expressions create emotions. It makes sense. The challenge was how to design an experiment that scientifically verifies this.

You can’t just ask people to smile, because that automatically makes them conscious of what they’re doing. That will invalidate the results. Strack and his co-workers needed to find a way to get people to move their mouths into a smile, or a pout, without them knowing what they were doing. They found an ingenious solution.

When they asked people to hold a pen in their mouths, with their mouths closed, they automatically moved their faces into a sort of pout. When they asked another group to hold a pen between their teeth without closing their lips, they naturally formed a smile. The subjects had no idea what the test was really about. They were told that the experiment was studying people trying to do two things at the same time. They needed to hold the pen in their mouths while evaluating a series of Far Side cartoons.

Images from an experiment that tested the influence of smiling versus pouting.

The results showed that the group with smiles found the cartoons funnier than the group who was pouting. In other words, just putting your face into a smile naturally brightens your day.

The experiment has been verified countless times over the last twenty-five years, by many researchers. Some have expanded and tested the idea in new ways, besides smiles and pouts, and found similar results. For example, if you take a confident stance, in front of a group, you feel more confident.

So, Strack volunteered to have his classic study be tested by a team of researchers who wanted to reproduce psychology experiments. He wasn’t concerned. It had already been validated before.

Unfortunately, results from the replication experiment contradict Strack’s conclusion. The new test was run by seventeen scientists, across eight countries, using 2,000 subjects. They found no evidence that an unintentional smile or pout made any difference in the funniness of cartoons.[5]

How can this be?

Strack questions the conclusions and the set-up of the experiments. He voiced his concerns even before the testing began, after looking over their approach. At first, as I read Strack’s complaints, it felt like he was trying to defend his original work. But a number of things made me question my first impression.

First, Strack himself offered his experiment to be tested for replication and willingly supplied his original notes and evidence. Second, it had been confirmed successfully many times by other researchers. Third, he questioned the impact of the replication experimenters excluding the results of 600 subjects because they felt those subjects were holding the pens incorrectly or their answers were too wildly divergent. Did their selection to exclude certain results introduce a bias? Fourth, Strack pointed out that many of the subjects were psychology students. Since this was a textbook case, they could have recognized the experiment and its true purpose. That would have prevented them from acting naturally. They should never have been involved.

But it was the fifth point he made that jolted my attention. Strack said that he didn’t like the addition of cameras in the room watching the subjects because it could make the participants self-conscious. That jogged my memory. I had seen this scenario before.

It was one of the most famous early studies in psychology. In 1897, George Stratton strapped on a pair of lenses over his eyes that inverted and reversed his field of view.[6] He knew that our eyes have built-in lenses that produce the same effect: All of the images hitting our retinas are flipped upside-down and reversed. Stratton wanted to see if his mind would naturally find a way to invert and correct his vision.

Sure enough, after five days of looking through inverting lenses, he saw everything as right-side-up. After a week, his new vision felt completely normal.

The results were so startling that hundreds of follow-on experiments were run to reproduce the results. Many did, but some could not. For example, David Linden, a hundred years later, called Stratton’s theory of achieving upright vision a myth.[7] This has created an ongoing controversy.

I studied dozens of experiments with inverting lenses to find an explanation for what was going on. Why were the results so different? I finally found an answer in the longest study ever performed (40 days).[8] Ivan Kohler discovered, unexpectedly, that when he tried to examine the subjects every day with a battery of clinical tests, it prevented with their ability to adapt. They actually regressed.[9]

At first, Kohler thought lab tests would help show the progress his subjects were displaying. Just as Linden did, Kohler brought them in for examination on a daily basis. However, the tests made things worse. The subjects reverted back, losing the gains they had made. What’s going on, he wondered? Kohler had to alter his tests before figuring out the problem. As soon as the experiments were designed to resemble the everyday world, the problem disappeared:

“When the subject was asked to ‘aim’ at something, or to put up his hands in protection when danger threatened…he made correct responses. But when he was asked, ‘Please point this marker in the direction the light is coming from,’ errors occurred.”[10]

That’s when Kohler realized that the subjects were adapting instinctively to the real world. The moment they tried to think critically and objectively about what they were seeing, it broke their “perceptual set.” They reverted back to pre-experimental ways of seeing the world. Asking them to analyze what they were doing interfered with their ability to adapt.

This was hard to understand, Kohler wrote. It took weeks to solve the mystery. For example, after fourteen days of fencing practice, subjects with inverting lenses were able to respond to their opponent’s blade without errors. When it came to fencing, the correct reaction was all that mattered. But if he asked them the question, “Where do you see the rapier point?” it forced them to think critically about what they were experiencing, breaking their lens of perception. They immediately reverted back to old ways of seeing. His question interfered with their instinctive responses.

Getting the subjects to think objectively about what they were doing prevented them from adapting to upright vision. This was the mistake Linden had made. Even though Linden ran his experiment thirty years after Kohler, he didn’t realize the negative impact of objectivity. No wonder all his subjects failed to achieve upright vision.

This is the same affect that cameras can have on subjects. Strack was right: It would make them conscious of being recorded and seeing what they were doing objectively. It will probably make the whole experience far less natural. On top of this chilling effect of cameras, all of the instructions telling the subjects what to do were presented by a recorded video, in a closed room with no other people, making the experience even more sterile and impersonal.

Can this explain why the subjects showed no positive effects from their unintentional smiles? I think it does. Remember, Strack was trying to study an unconscious effect. He designed his experiments specifically to avoid any interference of conscious thought on the part of the subjects. If moving their mouths into the shape of a smile influences their mood, it is going to happen unconsciously. This means they need to feel at ease and natural, or it isn’t going to work. Thinking critically and objectively about what they were doing is going to interfere.

Think of the irony: From the desire to subject psychology experiments to rigorous, clinical objectivity, they prevented the very thing they were trying to study—natural responses. They intentionally used cameras and pre-recorded instructions to eliminate outside biases, and without knowing it they introduced a new bias that was just as powerful—objectivity.

Imagine what would happen to a loving relationship if you started analyzing your life partner or lover objectively. Do you think your relationship is going to get better or worse? Is it going to warm up or cool down your natural and playful back-and-forth exchanges?

Psychology research projects have noted the detrimental impact of objectivity on natural relationships. For example, in the last few decades, psychologists have looked closer at the way people learn new skills. John Flach, Professor of Psychology at Wright State University, offers an interesting illustration for how skill-based learning works: Look at the process a child goes through when first learning how to walk, then how to skate on ice, next how to do a handstand, and finally how to walk on stilts.

Each skill needs a “different type of coordination pattern,” a different way of acting to achieve control.[11] In other words, they each require a different lens of perception, a different way of seeing, to master these skills. They learn this unconsciously through trial and error.

Skill-based learning starts with actions. Trying something gives the child feedback, such as falling on their faces or flipping onto their backs. Then they try a new approach. With each loop of trial and error they gradually figure out how to balance and how to move. Learning at this stage is non-verbal and not mediated by thought: The child can’t explain how to balance on stilts. They don’t know how they learned to walk on their hands or skate on ice. They just did it.

This natural learning process is the best way to acquire new skills. No one teaches babies how to talk. They learn it themselves by making sounds and hearing the sounds they make. They learn how to use their bodies the same way: They form working relationships with their muscles and cells. They figure it out without thinking about it.

This is different from academic study, where we consciously think to understand new ideas and what they mean. Our natural process for learning new skills, on the other hand, is largely unconscious and critical thinking can interfere with this natural process.

Psychology experiments are not easy to design. The more rigorous and objective you make them, the more artificial they become, preventing the natural responses you are looking for. You end up learning less about how people act in the real world and more how they behave in a clinical lab.

This is why, as I said above, I believe more objectivity will make the reproducibility crisis worse, not better. What is needed is a better understanding of our lenses of perception, and where to use them. For example, objectivity, as a way of seeing, shouldn’t be the goal of science, but as a tool for double-checking and verifying our experiments. If we want our relationships with others and with our bodies to be natural and spontaneous, we need a relational lens instead, not objectivity.

Over the last century, psychologists have tried to become more rigorous and objective—to become more like physicists. At the same time physicists have come to realize that objectivity can’t explain the behavior of subatomic particles. This is the lesson they learned from quantum mechanics: How you set up an experiment alters the results, and there is nothing you can do to avoid this. In other words, there is no such thing as a fully objective perspective because all measurements influence the outcome.

This same principle applies to the study of natural human responses. It can’t be avoided. Objectivity and critical analysis can and will interfere. If we understand this better, I believe psychology experiments will become easier to reproduce.

I think Katie Palmer got it right when she said that the reproducibility crisis comes down to this:

“The field [of psychology] may have to think differently about how it thinks about itself.”

[1] Open Science Collaboration (over 260 co-authors), “Estimating the Reproducibility of Psychological Science,” Science, August 28, 2015: Vol. 349, Issue 6251.

[2] Daniel T. Gilbert, Gary King, Stephen Pettigrew, Timothy D. Wilson, Comment on ‘Estimating the Reproducibility of Psychological Science,’” Science, March 4, 2016: Vol. 351, Issue 6277.

[3] Ed Young, “Psychology’s Replication Crisis Can’t Be Wished Away,” The Atlantic, March 4, 2016.

[4] Fritz Strack, Leonard L. Martin, Sabine Stepper, “Inhibiting and Facilitating Conditions of the Human Smile: A Nonobtrusive Test of the Facial Feedback Hypothesis,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 54(5), May 1988, 768-777.

[5] Daniel Engber, “Sad Face,” Slate magazine,  August 28, 2016.

[6] George M. Stratton, “Vision without Inversion of the Retinal Image,” Psychological Review 4, no. 4 (1897), p. 341-360.

[7] David E. J. Linden, Ulrich Kallenbach, Armin Heinecke, Wolf Singer, Rainer Goebel, “The Myth of Upright Vision,” Perception 28, no. 4 (1999), p. 469-481. Also posted at

[8] Ivo Kohler, The Formation and Transformation of the Perceptual World, tr. Harry Fiss (New York: International Universities Press, 1964).

[9] Doug Marman, “Lenses of Perception: A Surprising New Look at the Origin of Life, the Laws of Nature, and Our Universe,” (Ridgefield, Washington, Lenses of Perception Press, 2016.), p. 88-90.

[10] Ivo Kohler, The Formation and Transformation of the Perceptual World, p. 153-155.

[11] John M. Flach and Fred Voorhorst, “What Matters?: Putting Common Sense to Work,” (Dayton, Ohio, Wright State University Libraries, 2016), p. 104-105.

From The Nature of Business

What is life?? Let’s take a closer look shall we…
Once upon a time, not too long ago, I had the great pleasure of spending time with Dr Alan Rayner, a first rate scientist and former President of the British Mycological Society.  Alan kindly contributed many insights to my book The Illusion of Separation, about how nature really works once we see beyond our acculturation.

This blog post is a guest post jointly written by Alan Rayner (author of NaturesScope) and Doug Marman (author of Lenses of Perception).

In March 2016, a group of biologists led by Craig Venter announced the creation of ‘independently’ living cells with the smallest genome. Their announcement was hailed as a milestone. The big lesson learned by the biologists is that no one can explain why almost one-third of the genes are needed for survival. However, hidden in the subtext of this study, we believe, is an even more important lesson: The most essential ingredient of life may not actually be genes or a substance of any kind, but rather a relationship.

Image of the new freely-living cells with the smallest genome. Image by: Tom Deerinck and Mark Ellisman of the National Center for Imaging and Microscopy Research at the University of California at San Diego.

Image of the new freely-living cells with the smallest genome. Image by: Tom Deerinck and Mark Ellisman of the National Center for Imaging and Microscopy Research at the University of California at San Diego.

In the experiment, the biologists started with bacteria that had the smallest genomes they could find. They then began deactivating genes one at a time, to see which ones were needed for survival. If the bacteria lived and kept reproducing, those genes weren’t necessary and were removed. After years of work, the genome was reduced to half its original size. Every remaining gene has been tested. None can be eliminated. Their goal is now to identify the role of the mystery genes. They hope this will give them a blueprint of what is needed for living cells to survive as independent entities.

But there’s more to the story. It turns out that many of the “unnecessary” genes could only be deleted after supplying the petri dish with key nutrients and eliminating potential dangers. As a result, the new cells can no longer survive in the wild because they’ve lost the ability to hunt for food and avoid threats.

Is it fair to say that these are independently living cells? Don’t they need the biologists to feed them and remove their wastes? This is where the story gets interesting.

[To read the rest of this post on The Nature of Business, go HERE.]

From Yahoo Finance News

The Fundamental Building Block of Life Is Not DNA, It’s a Relationship, According to a New Scientific Study

RIDGEFIELD, Wash., July 26, 2016 /PRNewswire/ — All origin-of-life theories have a problem: explaining the gap between chemistry and living cells. A new paper by Doug Marman and Alan Rayner offers a solution by posing that the source of life isn’t DNA, proteins, or any other kind of substance, but the relationship between a life form and its environment. This is consistent with quantum physics, where entangled relationships between particles produce states that can’t be reduced. This creates a bridge between particles and organisms.

“It sounds strange that a relationship would be fundamental,” said Marman. “But quantum theory shows that fundamental particles need relationships to exist in this world. No particle is an island; they are also wave-like. Every biologist knows that the same thing is true for living things: they need their habitat to survive. If we accept this relationship as fundamental, it changes the story of the origin of life and what it means to be alive.”

For example, a cell can survive for a while if its DNA is removed. But DNA is inert, a mere chemical compound, on its own. Therefore, DNA is involved in the process of life only when it’s in the right environment, a living cell. The same thing is true for the proteins and enzymes in a cell.

“It’s a theory that challenges some fundamental assumptions most scientists have been holding,” says Jonathan Reams, associate professor at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, who has been following the discussion between Marman and Rayner that led to their study. “They are at the early stages of exploring the implications of the theory, but what I think many will find interesting is that their insights offer new possibilities for how to address many challenges in society today. I would encourage readers to imagine how they could use this theory in their own work and life.”

About the Authors:

Doug Marman is author of the recently published book: Lenses of Perception: A Surprising New Look at the Origin of Life, the Laws of Nature, and Our Universe. He was Chief Technology Officer of a $1.7B division of General Electric, co-founder of an artificial intelligence business, and inventor with over 30 patents.

Alan Rayner is a biological scientist, a former Reader in Biology at the University of Bath, and the author of seven academic books. Since spring 2000, he has been pioneering ‘natural inclusionality,’ a new philosophy of ecological and evolutionary diversity and sustainability, based on how we naturally live in the world.

From the Blog of Marcha Fox

“Lenses of Perception” by Doug Marman: An Interesting Summer Read for Science Aficionados

Let me start out by saying that this book has 359 references that comprise eleven pages of endnotes. If you’re not impressed by that, then this is probably not the book for you. However, if you love science and appreciate revolutionary ideas supported by considerable research that relate to an enigma no one, including Einstein, Feynman or Hawking, has been able to solve, then you would probably enjoy this book.

As a physicist and science fiction writer myself, I was fascinated by the book’s precepts. When I really get into such a tome, I become a librarian’s worst nightmare: highlighting key passages, scribbling notes in the margin and, heaven forbid, dog-earing pages. For what it’s worth, my copy sports 46 pages in that condition as well as more marginal notes and highlights than I care to count.

The premise of this fascinating book has been touched on ever since the double-slit experiment suggested some mysterious interaction existed between consciousness and physical matter. Rather than argue this, the author makes an a priori assumption that such a relationship exists. That in and of itself is not particularly remarkable, since it has been the stance of various other authors for decades. Marman, however, does not stop there. It’s not simply a matter of human consciousness influencing subatomic particles. He systematically builds a credible case for the tiniest subatomic particles possessing consciousness as well.

The author is an engineer and inventor who holds various patents and is thus experienced on the technical side, but is not a PhD physicist. This is a good thing. Stepping beyond the bounds of conventional science tends to be a career-limiting experience. Some have referred to scientific progression as occurring only via funerals, e.g., German physicist, Max Planck, who stated, “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”

Marman’s theory is imaginative to the point of resembling one of Einstein’s thought experiments. While he doesn’t do the math, it goes beyond philosophizing, conjecture or excursions of fantasy. As indicated in the first sentence of this review, this book is well documented. The author states his theory then backs it up with existing scientific research.

[To read the rest of March’s blog post, go HERE.]

NEW BOOK: Lenses of Perception

A Surprising New Look at the Origin of Life, the Laws of Nature, and Our Universe

By Doug Marman

“An important work for scientists who have suspected consciousness and subjective perceptions are fundamental to the universe and not some accidental epi-phenomenon. Marman’s work brings first-, second-, and third-person points of view into the fabric of the universe. The reader will never look at the world the same.”

Michael Clarage, PhD, Physicist

How did the universe come into existence out of nothing? Why is biological life irreducible? What are the deeper principles that create the laws of nature?


Lenses of Perception reads like a detective novel, as it dives into the foundations of physical reality and discovers the surprising role of consciousness. The evidence comes from experiments run by leading scientists.

Our scientific way of looking at the world as outsiders was pioneered by Isaac Newton. This third-person “lens of perception” allows us to objectively analyze forces with incredible precision. It ushered in our age of technology. But the limitations of this lens are clear.

It can’t explain the paradoxes of quantum mechanics or figure out how life began. It doesn’t even see consciousness, since awareness is invisible to outsiders. This is why physicists have been struggling with the same problems for more than forty years. Some call it a crisis. Many believe something big is missing.

Lenses of Perception offers promising solutions to “The Five Unsolved Problems of Physics” and new insights into how our mind controls our body—a puzzle that has baffled scientists and philosophers for hundreds of years. You will also see explanations for the biggest leaps in evolution, such as the origin of life and multicellular creatures.

These mysteries can all be explained using the same tools. Not with theoretical concepts, but through three simple fundamental ways of seeing.

ISBN 978-0-9793260-3-5 / 512 pages / $19.90

Click link above to Buy Now from our website.

Or click image below to buy from Amazon.




What are lenses of perception? Simply put, they’re ways of seeing. We change lenses when looking at the world in different ways. Seems simple enough. We all do it, partially, when we relate to another person, dive into the artificial reality of a movie, or think outside the box.

However, if we want to be more than just a tourist and truly understand how life looks through a different lens, we need to first let go of everything holding us to our old worldview. Then we must pass through a zone of confusion and bewilderment. We feel lost until another lens makes sense. Only then can we fully adjust to a new perspective. Who wants to go that far?

This is why breakdowns in communication are so common. Without a strong desire to understand, other points of view seem wrong and confused.

Thus, in our age of specialists, we’re more like ships passing in the night. We rarely realize how different our perspectives are. It’s easy to write everyone else off as fools. The problem is that we look just as foolish to them.

More importantly, learning to switch lenses is a vital necessity in a society changing as fast as ours. It’s the only way our inner selves can adapt and keep up. If we avoid the path of wisdom and understanding and focus only on objective knowledge, modern culture soon seems alien and wrong to us. We see ourselves as outsiders and feel disconnected. Adjusting our lenses of perception allows us to connect at a deeper level, where we can see that things do make sense.

Here’s an example: The first major earthquake I experienced registered 5.4 on the Richter scale. It was powerful enough to make the ground beneath the San Francisco Bay area move in long undulating waves, as if it were fluid. The illusion of solidity vanished. I felt more like a surfer than someone standing on firm land. My sense of location disappeared as the earth itself flowed beneath my feet.

People around me screamed and froze, not knowing what to do. Others ran outside. However, a few old-timers smiled and calmly walked to the door. One of them said, “It’s nice to feel one once in a while.”

They’d been through the experience before. They knew what earthquakes feel like, so it didn’t shake them to their core. They retained a sense of orientation because they learned another way of seeing.

We don’t like changing lenses. Most of us fight tooth and nail to avoid the feeling of nausea that comes from a new mindset.

We build up our defenses to hang onto our picture of the world, whether philosophical, religious, or scientific.

If we can pry our fingernails free from our precious perspectives and let go of our death grip, we can discover new perceptions we’ve never seen before. These experiences alter our understanding in deep ways. They shine new lights on who we are.

Shifting perspectives not only broadens our understanding of other cultures; it also allows us to peer deeper into nature, solving mysteries that science has pondered for hundreds of years. When I first sat down to write this book, I had no answers to the questions of quantum physics. I didn’t know what was missing from Newton’s laws of motion. I sensed that the theory of evolution was incomplete, but I didn’t know why. I had no explanation for the mind-body problem or the scientific enigma known as “emergence.” The five unsolved problems of physics seemed inscrutable.

I only knew from experience that, when I changed lenses, I found an added level of comprehension. I learned this after making a practice of switching points of view, as an experiment, to explore the nature of consciousness. This doesn’t mean that a new perspective, by itself, gives us better insight. No, it’s the contrast. Seeing from another angle adds context.

While writing this book, I soon realized that I’d underestimated the importance of this simple tool of changing points of view. It’s far more powerful than I realized.

It not only offers the key to seeing in the dark, you might say, and getting to know realms that are new and unknown to us, it also restores our sense of wholeness to life. It bridges the gap between science, philosophy, the arts, and the spiritual experience of being. This is what happens when we connect with nature at a deeper level.

However, explaining lenses of perception isn’t easy. It’s hard wrapping our brains around the impact they have on us. Reading about them isn’t enough to see how deeply they affect our connection with the world. If we want to understand—to truly understand—we need to experience changes in our way of seeing firsthand. That’s what this book attempts to do.

Successful writers know the importance of “showing” rather than “telling.” A good story pulls us into a world where the scene unfolds as if we were there. Telling gives us only a clinical, literal description; it doesn’t move us to a new perspective.

So, to explain lenses of perception properly, I’ll be using words poetically at times to evoke new views of the world, even when talking about science. This is how we can find what is hidden in plain sight.

But words can’t pull this off alone. The reader must do some heavy lifting. This book is more like a tour guide. We are, in a sense, going on a jungle safari to explore untamed points of view. Hopefully your mind will be boggled. That’s the point of this journey.

I’ll start with familiar views of the world. At first you can retain your normal way of seeing and thinking. Yet the quest soon takes us into dense underbrush where the most valuable treasures are hidden. If we want to unearth the gold, we must let go of the way we usually see reality.

That’s where we discover that lenses of perception are not just tools that help us understand the world, they’re fundamental to reality itself. We’ll see the scientific evidence that supports this.

To make such a leap requires a completely different mindset. It will probably feel unsettling at times when the ground starts shifting. New perspectives can shake us to our core. This is true for everyone. I experience the same thing.

If a section of this book leaves you feeling disturbed, even if in a subtle way, try setting it down for a while. Give the ideas a chance to percolate. Then go back and read the section again. You might be surprised. Remember, the goal here is to experience the uncomfortable feeling of confusion and then, breaking through that, to learn how we can change the way we see.

When writing this book, I didn’t expect to be pulled into questions about the laws of nature. I was simply trying to understand the problems of our modern times and see where the story led. Each chapter took me by surprise, as if the sails of my ship were being blown onto a new course by powerful winds. The thread of the story kept leading to deeper and deeper insights. I found myself farther from shore than expected, facing a whole new view of the world and the meaning of human understanding.

If you’re interested in a wild ride, buckle your seatbelt. Then join me on the path of discovery I took to find the dimension of life that scientists have been missing. We’ll use new tools to guide us: lenses of perception.

Click to download a longer excerpt