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DOI: 10.1177/1745691613497967

2013 8: 549Perspectives on Psychological Science Kurt Gray and Daniel M. Wegner

Six Guidelines for Interesting Research

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by Jamie Hughes on September 15, 2013pps.sagepub.comDownloaded from

Perspectives on Psychological Science 8(5) 549 –553 © The Author(s) 2013 Reprints and permissions: DOI: 10.1177/1745691613497967

“We know the truth not only by reason, but by the heart.” (#282, Pascal, 1670)

Composing music isn’t hard. Just sit down at a keyboard, press a few white and black keys, and voilà!—you’re a maestro. Admittedly, there are rules regarding keys, time signatures, and chord progressions, but once these are learned, composing legitimate music is a snap. Of course, there is a great leap from legitimate music to compelling music, from obeying rules to moving an audience to tears. Likewise, doing psychological research isn’t hard. Pick a research question, randomly assign participants, collect data, compute statistics, and then write it up, making sure to follow rules of reliability and validity. Indeed, thousands of research articles are published every year that feature legitimate scientific research—but how many of them are interesting? Interesting research not only contains words of scientific truth but also sets them to music; with its rise and fall, it speaks of the grandness of human experience to both our minds and our hearts. Like compelling music, interesting research may seem ephemeral and difficult to capture, but here we offer six guidelines.

These guidelines are meant to accompany the many articles on conducting proper research—articles that sketch out rules regarding sufficient statistical power, double-blind experimenters, and appropriate analysis techniques; that give suggestions regarding construct operationalization, questionnaire development, and debriefing; and that warn about external generalizability, the limits of self-report, and

the dangers of nonreplicability. These guides are immensely helpful, but most of us aspire to do more than simply proper research. We became psychologists to explore the true nature of the self, solve the mysteries of love, find the seeds of evil, or address similarly deep and important ques- tions about humanity. Unfortunately, the vicissitudes of peer review, job markets, tenure races, and grant panels can dim this spark, turning the seductive and stirring into the safe and suitable. We write this article to reignite the fire.

The first section of this article covers how to choose an interesting research question, and the second section covers how to answer it. Each guideline is illustrated by examples from social psychological research, both classic and modern, from our labs and those of others. These guidelines have been learned through a career that includes discovering the slippery definition of action (Vallacher & Wegner, 1987), the distributive nature of memory (Wegner, Erber, & Raymond, 1991), the intractability of thought (Wegner, 1994b), the illusion of

497967 PPSXXX10.1177/1745691613497967Gray and WegnerSix Guidelines for Interesting Research research-article2013

Corresponding Author: Kurt Gray, Department of Psychology, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC 27599 E-mail:

†APS notes with sadness the passing of our friend and colleague Dan Wegner on July 5, 2013, just as this manuscript went into production. His memory will live on, not just in the creativity and breadth of his contribution to psychological science, but also in the obvious joy he took from his research, as imparted to his students, and in his writing, as illustrated in this piece.

Six Guidelines for Interesting Research

Kurt Gray1 and Daniel M. Wegner2† 1University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and 2Harvard University

Abstract There are many guides on proper psychology, but far fewer on interesting psychology. This article presents six guidelines for interesting research. The first three—Phenomena First, Be Surprising, and Grandmothers, Not Scientists— suggest how to choose your research question; the last three—Be The Participant, Simple Statistics, and Powerful Beginnings—suggest how to answer your research question and offer perspectives on experimental design, statistical analysis, and effective communication. These guidelines serve as reminders that replicability is necessary but not sufficient for compelling psychological science. Interesting research considers subjective experience; it listens to the music of the human condition.

Keywords creativity, imagination, social cognition, research design, data analysis

by Jamie Hughes on September 15, 2013pps.sagepub.comDownloaded from


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