In this report, we illustrate the considerable impact of researcher degrees of freedom with respect to exclusion of participants in paradimgs with a learning element. We illustrate this empirically through case examples from human fear conditioning research where the exclusion of ‘non-learners’ and ‘non-responders’ is common-despite a lack of consensus on how to define these groups. We illustrate the substantial heterogeneity in exclusion criteria based on a systematic literature search and highlight potential problems and pitfalls of different definitions through case examples based on re-analyses of existing data sets. Based on this, we propose a consensus on evidence-based rather than idiosyncratic criteria including clear guidelines on reporting details. Taken together, we illustrate how flexibility in data collection and analysis can be avoided, which will benefit the robustness and replicability of research findings and can be expected to be applicable to other fields of research that involve a learning element.

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Journal eLife
Lonsdorf, T.B. (Tina B.), Klingelhöfer-Jens, M. (Maren), Andreatta, M. (Marta), Beckers, T. (Tom), Chalkia, A. (Anastasia), Gerlicher, A. (Anna), … Merz, C.J. (Christian J.). (2019). Navigating the garden of forking paths for data exclusions in fear conditioning research. eLife, 8. doi:10.7554/eLife.52465