How psychedelic researchers’ self-admitted substance use and their association with psychedelic culture affect people’s perceptions of their scientific integrity and the quality of their research

A three-part survey study (n=952) found that psychedelic use by (fictitious) researchers themselves led to lower ratings on integrity, but not the quality of research. Associating with psychedelic culture did influence the perception of research quality, but only if participants didn’t take psychedelics themselves.

Abstract

Across three studies (total N = 952), we tested how self-admitted use of psychedelics and association with psychedelic culture affects the public’s evaluation of researchers’ scientific integrity and of the quality of their research. In Studies 1 and 2, we found that self-admitted substance use negatively affected people’s assessment of a fictitious researcher’s integrity (i.e. being unbiased, professional, and honest), but not of the quality of his research, or how much value and significance they ascribed to the findings. Study 3, however, found that an association with psychedelic culture (i.e. presenting work at a scientific conference that includes social activities stereotypically associated with psychedelic culture) negatively affected perceived research quality (e.g. less valid, true, unbiased). We further found that the latter effect was moderated by participants’ personal experience with psychedelic substances: only participants without such experience evaluated research quality more negatively when it was presented in a stereotyped context.

Authors: Matthias Forstmann & Christina Sagioglou

Notes

This paper takes the resurgence of research and the subsequent barrage of news articles about psychedelics as the reason for investigating how the views/associations of researchers influence the perceptions of people on their research.

The research was divided into three surveys with the following goals and outcomes:

  1. Self-admitted psychedelic substance use by researcher – significant (negative) effect on integrity, but no effect on the quality of research
    • This effect held for the subset of participants who used psychedelics themselves (25.4%)
    • n=185
  2. This study replicated the first one with larger sample size, a longer description/example, and found no effect on a third variable – if research should be funded
    • As in the first study, those who used psychedelics themselves had higher average scores on the variables
    • n=414
  3. Association with psychedelic culture by the researcher – a fictitious conference with (or without) psychedelic culture references negatively influenced research quality scores
    • Those who used psychedelics themselves did not use show this effect
    • n=353

Participants in this study were recruited via an online survey tool (MTurk). One drawback of the study is that it is speaking about hypothetical scenarios and thus the result might not map perfectly onto people’s perception of ‘real’ scientists.

It does show that one should be wary to both shows an association with psychedelic culture (quality) and personal use (integrity) if one cares about those variables.