Psychedelic researchers who admit to using the substances themselves tend to be viewed as having less integrity compared to their abstinent counterparts, according to new research that surveyed 952 individuals from the United States. The new study, published in the journal Public Understanding of Science, suggests that stereotypes about psychedelics and their users can impact people’s perceptions of scientists.
“Anecdotally, personal use of psychedelic substances by researchers in the field is a common occurrence, and quite a few of them are very open about this use,” said study author Matthias Forstmann of the University of Zurich.
“In addition, many scientists publicly display their association with the psychedelic subculture. Yet, we know very little about how such open admissions or associations affect the public’s perception of the research these scientists are conducting, which is what we tried to find out in our studies.”
In two studies, participants read a brief story about a scientist who was conducting research on psychedelic substances. The researchers found that participants viewed the scientist as having less scientific integrity when the story mentioned that he had extensive personal experience with taking psychedelics, compared to when the story stated he no had no personal experience with the substances.
But knowledge about a the scientist’s substance use did not impact evaluations of the quality of his research or its perceived value.
In a third study, participants were asked to evaluate the quality of research presented at a “Science of Psychedelics” conference. The conference was either described as either including psychedelic-related social activities — such as a shamanic drum circle and a group meditation session — or described as including more conventional social activities — such as a tour of a local brewery.
In addition, pictures of the former conference depicted it as occurring in a spacious hall with colorful light installations, while the latter version of the conference was depicted as occurring in an ordinary university auditorium.
Participants tended to view the quality of the research at the conference to be lower when it included psychedelic activities and imagery.
The findings indicate that “both self-admitted personal use of psychedelic and association with the psychedelic subculture can negatively affect the public’s perception of those researchers (in terms of their integrity) and/or their findings (in terms of their validity) — to different degrees,” Forstmann told PsyPost.
“Interestingly, knowledge about a researcher’s association with the psychedelic subculture primarily affects those individuals that have no first-hand experience with psychedelics themselves. Those individuals consider the scientists’ findings less valid.”
“We still need to find out more about the processes underlying the effects we observed,” Forstmann noted. “There are many possible reasons for why researchers’ personal use of psychedelics or association with the psychedelic subculture negatively affect the public’s opinion on their research, and we have yet to figure our which mechanisms in particular drive the effect.”
The study, “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“, was authored by Matthias Forstmann and Christina Sagioglou.