Welcome to the Nexus of Ethics, Psychology, Morality, Philosophy and Health Care

Welcome to the nexus of ethics, psychology, morality, technology, health care, and philosophy

Thursday, August 17, 2023

Delusion-like beliefs and data quality: Are classic cognitive biases artifacts of carelessness?

Sulik, J., Ross, R. M., Balzan, R., & McKay, R. (2023). 
Journal of Psychopathology and Clinical Science.


There is widespread agreement that delusions in clinical populations and delusion-like beliefs in the general population are, in part, caused by cognitive biases. Much of the evidence comes from two influential tasks: the Beads Task and the Bias Against Disconfirmatory Evidence Task. However, research using these tasks has been hampered by conceptual and empirical inconsistencies. In an online study, we examined relationships between delusion-like beliefs in the general population and cognitive biases associated with these tasks. Our study had four key strengths: A new animated Beads Task designed to reduce task miscomprehension, several data-quality checks to identify careless responders, a large sample (n = 1,002), and a preregistered analysis plan. When analyzing the full sample, our results replicated classic relationships between cognitive biases and delusion-like beliefs. However, when we removed 82 careless participants from the analyses (8.2% of the sample) we found that many of these relationships were severely diminished and, in some cases, eliminated outright. These results suggest that some (but not all) seemingly well-established relationships between cognitive biases and delusion-like beliefs might be artifacts of careless responding.

General Scientific Summary

Research suggests that cognitive biases play a key role in the development of delusion-like beliefs. For instance, participants who endorse such beliefs have been reported to “jump to conclusions” when performing abstract data-gathering tasks and to display a “bias against disconfirmatory evidence” when determining the best explanation for a scenario. However, the present study suggests that some (but not all) seemingly well-established relationships between cognitive biases and delusion-like beliefs might, in fact, be spurious—driven by careless responding in a subset of research participants.

And my summary:

The study emphasizes the importance of considering data quality in psychological research, particularly when studying biases associated with delusions. By examining whether these biases result from careless data collection or reflect genuine cognitive processes related to delusions, the research aims to enhance our understanding of the validity and reliability of findings in psychology. The findings have the potential to challenge the interpretation of classic cognitive biases and emphasize the need for careful data collection and analysis in order to ensure accurate and reliable research outcomes. Moreover, the research may contribute to improved diagnosis and treatment of delusional disorders by shedding light on the cognitive mechanisms underlying delusion-like beliefs.