Preregistration of Research Plans

The Editors of Psychological Science encourage psychologists to preregister their research plans before collecting data (or at least before analyzing data). Briefly, in a preregistration researchers specify, in as much detail as they can, their plans for a study (e.g., number and nature of subjects, stimulus materials, procedures, measures, rules for excluding data, plans for data analysis, predictions/hypotheses, etc.) and they post those plans in a time-stamped, locked file in an online repository that can be accessed by editors and reviewers (and, ultimately, by readers).  Pregistrations can be embargoed (such that only those invited to view them can do so), although some repositories limit the duration of embargoes.

Preregistration does not require every detail be specified in advance; researchers can leave some methodological/analytical details to be decided as the project goes along. Also, researchers can deviate from the preregistration plan whenever they judge it appropriate. For example, if the data turned out to have a non-normal distribution then the researcher might transform the scores before analyzing them. Or if the data revealed an unexpected pattern the researcher might decide to conduct an unplanned statistical test. In such cases the researcher would explain in the manuscript why the unplanned transformation or test was deemed appropriate. The preregistration for an exploratory study might be brief, but it would nonetheless have value as an explicit record of which if any aspects of the study were specified a priori. That information is especially helpful in research that emphasizes null hypothesis significance testing. A thorough preregistration promotes transparency and openness and protects researchers from suspicions of p-hacking.

Authors who preregistered at least one study in a manuscript accepted for publication in Psychological Science are eligible to apply for the Preregistered badge. Applications are invited when a manuscript is accepted. The badge icon appears in the entry for the article in This Week in Psychological Science (TWiPS), in the electronic and print journal table of contents, and on the title page of the article. The badge signals to readers that the work was preregistered (there are also badges for open data and for open materials). Decisions as to whether or not a manuscript warrants a badge are made on a case-by-case basis. The primary reasons a Preregistered badge is not awarded are if (a) the “plan” was so vague and incomplete that one cannot tell which aspects of the project were versus were not specified a priori or (b) there is insufficient evidence that the plan was finalized before the data were analyzed. Regarding the latter point, it is important to use an online repository and to go through the step of formally registering (i.e., date-stamping and locking) the plan. That’s what makes it “preregistered.”

There are many online services that support preregistration. The best-known is the Open Science Framework (OSF). Other options for preregistration include ClinicalTrials.gov, AEA RegistryEGAP, Uri Simonsohn’s AsPredicted, and trial registries in the WHO Registry Network. There is a detailed example of how to do a preregistration on OSF at https://osf.io/sgrk6/. Although that example refers to a template, researchers need not adhere to a template; the key thing is to make clear which aspects of the study were versus were not specified in advance.

Some journals invite submissions that are essentially contextualized preregistrations, before data are collected. Such manuscripts have an introduction and Method section but the Results section only specifies the plans for the analysis. Although we see merit to this idea, Psychological Science is not at this time considering such submissions. But we do encourage preregistration. Manuscripts reporting preregistered research will have an advantage over otherwise comparable manuscripts reporting studies that were not pre-registered.