A real shame: Psychology paper retracted when data behind problematic findings disappear

sjdmThe corresponding author of a paper on whether “a sense of shame heightens the desire for money” has retracted it, he claims, after being unable to repeat his analysis to try to fix an issue in the study.

Here’s the notice for “Shame for money: Shame enhances the incentive value of economic resources,” which appeared in Judgment and Decision Making:

This article was retracted by the corresponding author, Wen-Bin Chiou, on August 9, 2013, after problems were discovered with the data.

The paper has been completely removed from the journal’s website, but here’s the abstract:

Shame leads to devaluation of the social self, and thus to a desire to improve self-esteem. Money, which is related to the notion of one’s ability, may help people demonstrate competence and gain self-esteem and respect from others. Based on the perspectives of feelings-as-information and threatened ego, we tested the hypothesis that a sense of shame heightens the desire for money, prompting self-interested behaviors as reflected by monetary donations and social value orientation. The results showed that subjects in the shame condition donated less money (Experiment 1) and exhibited more self-interested choices in the modified decomposed game (Experiment 2). The desire for money as reflected in overestimated coin sizes mediated the effect of shame on self-interested behavior. Our findings suggest that shame elicits the desire to acquire money to amend the threatened social self and improve self-esteem; however, it may induce a self-interested inclination that could harm social relationships.

The editor of the journal, Jonathan Baron, declined to say more about the retraction, but corresponding author Wen-Bin Chiou, of National Sun Yat-sen University in Taiwan, tells us:

The main problem is that we used the mean estimate of coin sizes (the measure of desire for money) to conduct analysis. However, participants were asked to estimate four different coin sizes.

Unfortunately, my research assistant (who has left my lab last year) did not keep the original questionnaires. Hence, we cannot have correct data to rerun the data.

The paper has been cited just once, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge, by another paper by Chiou.

Chiou has one other paper in Judgment and Decision Making, on whether posting pictures of yourself to Facebook meant you were more likely to rely on your own perspectives. He has also studied online dating and online gaming addiction.

Update, 4:30 p.m. Eastern, 8/15/13: Added “he claimed” to first sentence of post to clarify that Chiou made that assertion.

Please see an update on this post.

Hat tip: Hal Pashler

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