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Psychologist’s Resignation Throws Results into Question

Lawrence Sanna’s research into embodied cognition may be based on questionable data.
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Lawrence Sanna

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To kick off 2011, we reported on some fascinating new research that found being physically higher influences people to act more altruistically. But those results, authored by social psychologist Lawrence Sanna, have now been thrown into serious question.

According to Ed Yong of, one of the world’s top science writers, Sanna has resigned from the University of Michigan faculty and written the editor of the Journal of Experimental Psychology, Joel Cooper, asking that three of his articles—including the one showing that links literal elevation with moral uplift—be retracted.

Cooper told Yong he would comply, but the paper in question remained accessible on the journal’s website as of July 17.

Sanna’s veracity has been questioned by researcher Uri Simonsohn, who has been working to find and uncover psychological research based on suspicious data.

This is only the latest example of psychological research coming under scrutiny. In late 2011, an investigative committee at Tilburg University found Dutch social psychologist Diederik Stapel had used faked data in a number of his studies.

Such revelations will no doubt reinforce the views of those who question the reliability of social-science research—a point of view which has engendered some eloquent responses. Others, however, will counter that the willingness to bring problematic findings to light, and withdraw them when appropriate, just makes a scientific discipline that much more trustworthy.