Research article is family affair for Purdue professor

September 28, 2015  

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — A Purdue University communication professor's recent research publication shares a byline with three family members.

Glenn Sparks, a professor in the Brian Lamb School of Communication, is an expert on mass media effects and is known for his work on how violence in films can affect people of all ages and on the effects of communication technologies on relationships. Sparks also is co-author of "Refrigerator Rights: Our Crucial Need for Close Connection."

His most recent article, "Opportunistic biases: Their origins, effects, and an integrated solution," is published in American Psychologist. The article reports on "opportunistic biases" in scientific research: things researchers do that bias findings and lead to incorrect conclusions that ultimately slow the progress of science.

In addition to Sparks, the article was co-authored by Cheri Sparks, and their two daughters. Cheri is a Purdue alumna who earned her master’s degree in human development and family studies and her doctorate in psychological sciences and works at Indiana First Steps. Erin Sparks is a continuing lecturer in Purdue's Department of Psychological Sciences, and Jordan Sparks is an assistant professor in the School of Psychological Sciences at the University of Indianapolis. The fifth author is Jamie DeCoster, who earned his doctorate from the Department of Psychological Sciences and is now at the Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning at the University of Virginia.

Writer: Amy Patterson Neubert, 765-494-9723,

Source: Glenn Sparks,

Related websites:

College of Liberal Arts

College of Health and Human Sciences


Opportunistic biases: Their origins, effects, and an integrated solution

Jamie DeCoster; Erin A. Sparks; Jordan C. Sparks; Glenn G. Sparks; and Cheri W. Sparks

Researchers commonly explore their data in multiple ways before deciding which analyses they will include in the final versions of their papers. While this improves the chances of researchers finding publishable results, it introduces an "opportunistic bias," such that the reported relations are stronger or otherwise more supportive of the researcher's theories than they would be without the exploratory process. The magnitudes of opportunistic biases can often be stronger than those of the effects being investigated, leading to invalid conclusions and a lack of clarity in research results. Authors typically do not report their exploratory procedures, so opportunistic biases are very difficult to detect just by reading the final version of a research report. In this article, we explain how a number of accepted research practices can lead to opportunistic biases, discuss the prevalence of these practices in psychology, consider the different effects that opportunistic biases have on psychological science, evaluate the strategies that methodologists have proposed to prevent or correct for the effects of these biases, and introduce an integrated solution to reduce the prevalence and influence of opportunistic biases. The recent prominence of articles discussing questionable research practices both in scientific journals and in the public media underscores the importance of understanding how opportunistic biases are created and how we might undo their effects.

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