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Good news! PPNAS releases updated guidelines for getting a paper published in their social science division

From zero to Ted talk in 18 simple steps: Rolf Zwaan explains how to do it!

The advice is from 2013 but I think it still just might work. Here’s Zwaan:

How to Cook up Your Own Social Priming Article

1. Come up with an idea for a study. Don’t sweat it. It’s not as hard as it looks. All you need to do is take an idiomatic expression and run with it. Here we go: the glass is half-full or the glass is half-empty.

2. Create a theoretical background. Surely there is some philosopher (preferably a Greek one) who has said something remotely relevant about optimists and pessimists while staring at a wine glass. Include him. For extra flavor you might want to add an anthropologist or a sociologist into the mix; Google is your friend here. Top it off with a few social psychology references. There, you have your theoretical framework. That wasn’t so hard, was it?

3. Think of a manipulation. Again, this is nothing to get nervous about. All you need to do is take the expression literally. Imagine this scenario. The subject is in a room. In the glass-full condition, a confederate comes in with an empty glass and a bottle of water. She then pours the glass half full and leaves the room. In the glass-half-empty condition, she comes in with a full glass and a bottle. She then pours half the glass back into the bottle and leaves.

4. Think of a dependent measure. This is where the fun begins. As you may know, the dependent measure of choice in social priming research is candy. You simply cannot go wrong with candy! So let’s say the subjects get to choose ten pieces of differently colored pieces of candy from a container that has equal numbers of orange and brown M&Ms. Your prediction here is that people in the half-full condition will be more likely to pick the cheery orange M&Ms than those in the half-empty condition, who will tend to prefer the gloomy brown ones.

5. Get a sample. You don’t want to overdo it here. About 30 students from a nondescript university will do nicely. Only 30 in a between-subjects design?, you worry. Worry no more. This is how we roll in social priming.

6. Run Experiment 1. Don’t fuss about issues like the age and gender of the subjects and details of the procedure; you won’t be reporting them anyway.

7. Analyze the results. Normally, you’d worry that you might not find an effect. But this is social priming remember? You are guaranteed to find an effect. In fact, your effect size will be around .8. That’s social priming for you!

8. Now on to Experiment 2. Come up with a new manipulation. What’s wrong with the glass and bottle from Experiment 1?, you might wonder. Are you kidding? This is social priming research. You need a new dependent measure. Just let your imagination run wild. How about balloons? In the half-full condition, the confederate walks in with an inflated balloon and lets half the air out in front of the subject. In the half empty condition, she half-inflates a balloon. And bingo! You’re done (careful with the word bingo, by the way; it makes people walk real slow).

9. Think of a new dependent measure. Why not have the subjects list their favorite TV shows? Your prediction here is that the half-full condition will list more sitcoms like Seinfeld and Big Bang Theory than the half-empty condition, which will list more crime shows like CSI and Law & Order (or maybe one of those stupid vampire shows). You could also include a second dependent measure. How about having subjects indicate how much they identify with Winnie de Pooh characters? Your prediction here is obvious: the half full condition will identify with Tigger the most while the half empty condition will prefer Eeyore by a landslide.

10. Repeat steps 5-7.

11. Now you are ready to write your General Discussion. You want to discuss the implications of your research. Don’t be shy here. Talk about the major implications for business, health, education, and politics this research so evidently has.

12. For garnish, add a quirky celebrity quote. Don’t work yourself into a lather. Just go to to find a quote. Here, I already did the work for you: “Some people see the glass half full. Others see it half empty. I see a glass that’s twice as big as it needs to be.” ― George Carlin. Just say something clever like: Unless you are like George Carlin, it does make a difference whether the glass is half empty or half full.

13. The next thing you need is an amusing title. And here your preparatory work really pays off. Just use the expression from Step 1 as your main title, describe your (huge) effect in the subtitle and your done: Is the Glass Half Empty or Half Full? The Effect of Perspective on Mood.

14. Submit to a journal that regularly publishes social priming research. They’ll eat it up.

15. Wax poetically about your research in the public media. If it wasn’t a good idea to be modest in the general discussion, you really need to let loose here. Like all social priming research, your work has profound consequences for all aspects of society. Make sure the taxpayer (and your Dean, haha) knows about it.

16. If bloggers are critical about your work, just ignore them. They’re usually cognitive psychologists with nothing better to do.

17. Once you’ve worked through this example, you might try your hand at more advanced topics like coming out of the closet. Imagine all the fun you’ll have with that one!

18. Good luck!

This is all so perfect, I just have nothing to add. You know how journals have style guides, and instructions on what sort of papers they like to publish? Wouldn’t it be just perfect if PPNAS (see here or here or here or . . .) linked to the Rolf Zwaan page, completely deadpan, saying this is the path to getting a paper published in their social science division?


  1. Clark says:

    Reminds me of the time I was explaining to an investigator about p-hacking and the garden of forking paths, and her immediate response was to suggest that WE should do this to get more publications. She came around eventually, and now is a big advocate of such things as taking blinding seriously and minimizing bias. My experience has been that most investigators genuinely want to do the right thing, they’re just not always clear on what that is.

  2. Anonymous says:

    “I was explaining to an investigator about p-hacking and the garden of forking paths, and her immediate response was to suggest that WE should do this to get more publications”

    In response to a complaint about how hard it was to find anything that seemed interesting, a “guy from Harvard” told one of my clients that is how people find things to publish about genetics data (microarray, RNA Seq). A major tool in that area is trying out all possible normalization strategies.

  3. jrc says:

    Sure, this advice sounds good on first glance and all, but the IRB totally rejected my proposal for “Adding Insult to Injury: The Effects of Self-Confidence on Recovery Time for Injured Student Athletes.”

  4. Z says:

    Good timing on this post. Look at this real article about optimistic and pessimistic pigs:

  5. I’m going to follow the steps this very minute.

    1. “I Have Walked in Your Shoes.” The relation between identification and empathy is well-known, but until now studies have only considered obvious identification criteria (by gender, ethnicity, age, etc.) Do people have greater empathy with people who, unbeknownst to them, share their shoe tastes? This study determines beyond all doubt whether people with the same shoe brand are inclined toward mutual empathy.

    2. In Aeschylus’s play The Libation Bearers, Orestes and Elektra recognize each other through their footprints. It is unlikely that they ever spent time contemplating each other’s footprints; rather, the similarity in foot shape and size awakens in them a sense of a greater similarity of the heart. This ancient observation serves as the theoretical basis for a study of empathy and shoe.

    3. For the first experiment, we select two people on the street with the same shoe brand and test their empathy for each other (without letting them see each other’s shoes). For the manipulation, we select two people on the street and test their empathy for each other, then check their shoe brands.

    4. To test empathy, we show the subjects a photo of the other person (down to the torso) and give them the option of “liking” it.

    5. To get our sample, we select a few pairs at random, then a few pairs by shoe brand, and select the pair in the first category that shows the least mutual liking, and in the second category, the most.

    6. We’ve already run Experiment 1 (to select our sample), but hey, let’s do it again. We can average the two results.

    7. We analyze our data. Those with the same shoe brand tend to like each other. Those with different shoe brands tend toward lower levels of liking. Time for a press release.

    8. But wait–someone could say this is cheating. So for our second experiment we simply collect a large group of people at random.

    9. This time, we hold up a shoe and ask, “Good person or bad person”? We count how many times they say “good person” for someone with their own shoe brand vs. someone with a different one. We find a statistically significant preference for those with their own shoe brand.

    10. We repeat steps 5-7.

    11. Implications: People like others who “walk in their shoes.” Implications: Schools and workplaces should require everyone to wear Shoe X (a sponsor of our study) to increase compassion and collaboration.

    12. “Empathy is about standing in someone else’s shoes, feeling with his or her heart, seeing with his or her eyes.”–Daniel H. Pink

    13. Solemates Are Soulmates: The Correlation of Same-Shoe Choices With Empathy Levels

    14. I have some good ideas for journals.

    15. “Shoes Improve Humanity, Study Finds.”

    16. They just envy us our shoes. They’re to busy criticizing to go shoe-shopping or even pay attention to the brand.

    17. Next Up: The Emotional Scuffs Caused by Shoe-Scuffing

    18. Thank you!

  6. Martha (Smith) says:

    +1 to both Diana and Andrew. Maybe you should audition for a new comedy team?

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