Harm Hypervigilance in Public Reactions to Scientific Evidence

Cory J. Clark, Maja Graso, Ilana Redstone, Philip E. Tetlock

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Two preregistered studies from two different platforms with representative U.S. adult samples (N = 1,865) tested the harm-hypervigilance hypothesis in risk assessments of controversial behavioral science. As expected, across six sets of scientific findings, people consistently overestimated others’ harmful reactions (medium to large average effect sizes) and underestimated helpful ones, even when incentivized for accuracy. Additional analyses found that (a) harm overestimations were associated with support for censoring science, (b) people who were more offended by scientific findings reported greater difficulty understanding them, and (c) evidence was moderately consistent for an association between more conservative ideology and harm overestimations. These findings are particularly relevant because journals have begun evaluating potential downstream harms of scientific findings. We discuss implications of our work and invite scholars to develop rigorous tests of (a) the social pressures that lead science astray and (b) the actual costs and benefits of publishing or not publishing potentially controversial conclusions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)834-848
Number of pages15
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2023


  • bias
  • evolutionary psychology
  • harm avoidance
  • metascience
  • moral psychology
  • open data
  • open materials
  • preregistered
  • risk perception

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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