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Opinion of applied ethologists on expectation bias, blinding observers and other debiasing techniques

By Frank A. M. Tuyttens, Lisanne Stadig, Jasper L. T. Heerkens, Eva Van laer, Stephanie Buijs, Bart Ampe

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Abstract

There is increasing evidence that the field of applied ethology is prone to expectation biases invalidating research outcomes. Nevertheless, outcome assessors are rarely blinded. We surveyed delegates of the International Society for Applied Ethology (ISAE) 2014 congress shortly before (n=39 respondents) and after (n=51 respondents) a combined congress plenary and workshop on expectation bias in applied ethology. The aims were to evaluate the effect of the plenary and workshop on the opinion of applied ethologists in order to better comprehend why blinding outcome assessors seems so rarely practiced as a debiasing technique in this field of research. The results suggest that a moderate awareness about expectancy effects among ethologists and the logistic constraints of blinded observations rather than a perceived low susceptibility of the research field is the larger part of the explanation. Although awareness about expectancy effects and debiasing techniques was higher immediately after than before the congress plenary and workshop, a more sustained and concerted effort is needed throughout all stages of the research process to avoid expectation bias invalidating research finding and to improve the scientific credibility of the field of applied ethology.

Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 181
Pages 27-33
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
DOI https://doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2016.04.019
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  1. Animal behavior
  2. Context