Bad Methods Drive out Good: The Curse of Imagination in Social Psychology Research
We agree with Doliński (2018, this issue) that behavior is disappearing as an object of study of contemporary social psychology and it has been increasingly replaced by verbal declarations of imagined behaviors, which are analyzed as dependent variables. We read this as a case of a methodological version of Gresham’s law: “bad methods drive out good”. We notice a complementary trend on the side of manipulations of independent variables. Instead of manipulating real situations, researchers frequently instruct their participants to imagine these situations. In effect, social psychology drifts to studying imaginary behaviors in imagined situations and this poses a serious threat for the validity of our findings. We present one study comparing responses to imagined and actually experienced situations (concerning moral judgment and trust) and find that these two types of situation produce divergent responses. We conclude that imagined situations cannot be a source of knowledge about responses in situations that people really experience.