Distributions of p-values smaller than .05 in psychology: What is going on?

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Previous studies provided mixed findings on pecularities in p-value distributions in psychology. This paper examined 258,050 test results across 30,710 articles from eight high impact journals to investigate the existence of a peculiar prevalence of p-values just below .05 (i.e., a bump) in the psychological literature, and a potential increase thereof over time. We indeed found evidence for a bump just below .05 in the distribution of exactly reported p-values in the journals Developmental Psychology, Journal of Applied Psychology, and Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, but the bump did not increase over the years and disappeared when using recalculated p-values. We found clear and direct evidence for the QRP "incorrect rounding of p-value" (John, Loewenstein & Prelec, 2012) in all psychology journals. Finally, we also investigated monotonic excess of p-values, an effect of certain QRPs that has been neglected in previous research, and developed two measures to detect this by modeling the distributions of statistically significant p-values. Using simulations and applying the two measures to the retrieved test results, we argue that, although one of the measures suggests the use of QRPs in psychology, it is difficult to draw general conclusions concerning QRPs based on modeling of p-value distributions.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1935
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • p-values
  • NHST
  • QRP
  • Caliper test
  • Data peeking


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