A multi-site collaborative study of the hostile priming effect

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In a now-classic study by Srull and Wyer (1979), people who were exposed to phrases with hostile content subsequently judged a man as being more hostile. And this “hostile priming effect” has had a significant influence on the field of social cognition over the subsequent decades. However, a recent multi-lab collaborative study (McCarthy et al., 2018) that closely followed the methods described by Srull and Wyer (1979) found a hostile priming effect that was nearly zero, which casts doubt on whether these methods reliably produce an effect. To address some limitations with McCarthy et al. (2018), the current multi-site collaborative study included data collected from 29 labs. Each lab conducted a close replication (total N = 2,123) and a conceptual replication (total N = 2,579) of Srull and Wyer's methods. The hostile priming effect for both the close replication (d = 0.09, 95% CI [-0.04, 0.22], z = 1.34, p =.16) and the conceptual replication (d = 0.05, 95% CI [-0.04, 0.15], z = 1.15, p =.58) were not significantly different from zero and, if the true effects are non-zero, were smaller than what most labs could feasibly and routinely detect. Despite our best efforts to produce favorable conditions for the effect to emerge, we did not detect a hostile priming effect. We suggest that researchers should not invest more resources into trying to detect a hostile priming effect using methods like those described in Srull and Wyer (1979).