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Studies In Getting Smacked
January 17, 2009 8:24 PM   Subscribe

Three psychology experiments that raise ethics questions because of the danger they posed to the research assistants. (via)

The Reaction to Rape by American Male Bystanders: "The present study simulated a rape in a realistic natural setting. The topography of the location ensured that the subjects, men walking to their adjacent parked cars, had but one of the following three options: to walk away, to intervene directly, or to intervene indirectly by summoning a police officer. Intervention was more frequent by groups of bystanders than by individual bystanders and was overwhelmingly of the direct kind."

Personal space invasions in the lavatory: Suggestive evidence for arousal.: "A field experiment was conducted to test the hypothesis that personal space invasions produce arousal as measured by delay of onset and duration of men’s urination. Men using a three-urinal lavatory at a Midwestern university were subjects. According to a previously determined schedule of random assignment a confederate either, stood at the urinal directly adjacent to the subject, stood one urinal away, or was absent from the lavatory. An observer with a periscope was concealed in a toilet stall and recorded measures of urination."

The stare as a stimulus to flight in human subjects: "An experimenter, reading a motor scooter, arranged to arrive first at a red traffic light. When a car drew along side, the experimenter turned to stare directly at the driver until the traffic signal turned green."
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing (38 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wow, that rape study really was dangerous. All it would take is one person with a gun to bring disaster. Or a rescuer who didn't speak english. Or, perhaps one who didn't believe the story, or didn't stop to listen. Hell, I can see some people hitting the researcher even after the explanation - fooling someone into thinking a rape is taking place is not ok at all, and the adrenaline is pumping...

How on Earth did this ever make it past the ethics committee?
posted by Mitrovarr at 8:39 PM on January 17, 2009 [4 favorites]


Wow, that first one sounds like it would be likely to result in violent death, and subsequent manslaughter/murder conviction against the researcher who set it up.
posted by BrotherCaine at 8:43 PM on January 17, 2009


Actually, the studies were secretly about "Risk Tolerance in Graduate Students Under The Influence of Perceived Authority".
posted by Xoebe at 9:00 PM on January 17, 2009 [38 favorites]


How on Earth did this ever make it past the ethics committee?

Part of the reason is that a lot of ethics committees are actually called "Human Subjects Committees." They're largely a legacy of the revelations of coercive Nazi scientific experiments uncovered at the Nuremberg trials. Because of their focus on protecting the subjects of the experiments, research assistants (who aren't technically "subjects") might get ignored in the process.

Another major factor is tort law. As one of my professors once said, ethics committees and human subjects committees have a manifest purpose and a latent purpose. The manifest purpose is to promote ethics or to protect human subjects. The latent purpose is to protect the university from getting sued. If universities were more vulnerable to getting sued because of a research assistant getting harmed, ethics committees would pay more attention to protecting those assistants.

By the way, an important bit of context is that these studies are all over 20 years old. The lavatory and staring studies are both from the 1970s, and the "reaction to rape" study was submitted for publication in 1985.
posted by jonp72 at 9:01 PM on January 17, 2009 [4 favorites]


Wow, that first one sounds like it would be likely to result in violent death, and subsequent manslaughter/murder conviction against the researcher who set it up.

The fact that it didn't is perhaps the take-home message and shows the research was worthwhile.
posted by Rumple at 9:06 PM on January 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


Pshaw. They should look into what goes on in physiology labs.
posted by The White Hat at 9:09 PM on January 17, 2009


Uh, yeah, lil undergrad duders, if I see you rough handling a woman who is screaming, "Help! Rape! Help!" I'm going to kick your ass first and then go get a cop. So don't do that.

Who is running that second experiment, Professor Knoxville?
posted by The Straightener at 9:20 PM on January 17, 2009


I smell a screenplay!
posted by odinsdream at 9:25 PM on January 17, 2009


The fact that it didn't is perhaps the take-home message and shows the research was worthwhile.

Not really. It's not a study in the 'willingness of unwilling participants in a study to be dissuaded from slaughtering presumed rapists'. And it's not even close to safe.

If this is what constitutes research, then Jackass should get a grant.
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:28 PM on January 17, 2009


"An observer with a periscope was concealed in a toilet stall..."

I was drinking water while reading this. I came that close to doing a spit-take all over the keyboard.

BULLET: DODGED.
posted by Rhaomi at 9:42 PM on January 17, 2009


My first reaction to that picture of the writer of the article, Jesse Bering, was a strong urge to punch him in the face. And I am a peaceful man. Interesting.
posted by longsleeves at 10:16 PM on January 17, 2009


Intervention ... was overwhelmingly of the direct kind.

Well, duh. You think I'd just stand there and go, "Um, you shouldn't do that"?
posted by Xere at 10:17 PM on January 17, 2009


Coming back from hunting had someone glaring at me. I pulled into a gas station to use the pay phone (I know, how 20th century, but I don't bring my cell) guy kept staring me down. Not like I could go anywhere, and my firearms were properly (legally) sealed. Maybe it was the outfit, I dunno. Anyway, he shuffled towards me and I held up my buck knife (which was covered in blood and gristle) and he turned right back around.
That 'rape' thing though, wow. I suspect I could knock a research student cold before the 'victim' could explain it was a hoax.

I suspect the 'foot in the door' study would have opposite results in the age of telemarketing.
And that 'tearoom' thing is pretty astonishing. Got their license numbers, found their homes, duplicitously asked them 'health' survey questions, and the tone is kind of funny about evidence of blackmailing by law enforcement personnel. I mean, you're tracking them down, aren't you? Ok, the info was sealed, but c'mon, the operation couldn't be duplicated? Joe Undergrad is that trustworthy?
posted by Smedleyman at 10:53 PM on January 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


How on Earth did this ever make it past the ethics committee?

Because we're talking about research assistants. They're one step above lab rats.

I think the lab rats are fed better.
posted by dhartung at 11:08 PM on January 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


...personal space invasions produce arousal as measured by delay of onset and duration of men’s urination.

Um, yeah, because when there's a guy standing way too close to me, arousal is the only possible reason I might have trouble pissing.
posted by rokusan at 11:18 PM on January 17, 2009


A challenge to all male MeFites: next time you're using a public bathroom, try NOT to think about someone watching you from a periscope!
posted by rokusan at 11:19 PM on January 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


Because we're talking about research assistants. They're one step above lab rats.

Lab rats have nicer coats, too.
posted by rokusan at 11:19 PM on January 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


A challenge to all male MeFites: next time you're using a public bathroom, try NOT to think about someone watching you from a periscope!

Dude, I'm in New York. Trust me, Toity U-Boats are small potatoes.
posted by jonmc at 11:44 PM on January 17, 2009


Image: lolcat with periscope.

Caption: Research assistant is watching you micturate.
posted by zippy at 12:54 AM on January 18, 2009


...personal space invasions produce arousal as measured by delay of onset and duration of men’s urination.

Well, they must mean arousal in the general sense, but surely they could have found a better word for it.. like excitation. Okay, maybe not.
posted by Chuckles at 1:32 AM on January 18, 2009


My first reaction to that picture of the writer of the article, Jesse Bering, was a strong urge to punch him in the face. And I am a peaceful man. Interesting.

Yes fascinating how you threaten Mr. Bering based on his appearance and then deny it by pretending to be a clinically detached pacifist.
posted by srboisvert at 2:35 AM on January 18, 2009


I propose a variant on the first study, and theorize one could discover a statistically curious gap between a) the reactions of subjects in the experiment described and b) the reactions of subjects in a similar experiment, where subjects instead enter into forms, via the Internet, what their reactions to that first experiment would be.

I furthermore postulate that the results of this followup study, further corroborating evidence accumulated by the three described studies, would be remarkably close to what a randomly selected 'damn fool' would have guessed in the first place.

NOBEL PRIZE PLEASE
posted by Bokononist at 4:54 AM on January 18, 2009


I share many of these first reactions, but my second reaction is research assistants can get away with anything!
posted by doobiedoo at 5:10 AM on January 18, 2009


And that 'tearoom' thing is pretty astonishing.

The book is great. They used to use it when teaching soc. sci. students methods, generally in the module on participant observation. IIRC, it was because the researcher became a 'participant' in the various bathroom orgies he observed, discovering that many/most of the people who engage in 'tearoom trade' tend to be married men. He didn't get involved in any flesh-on-flesh action (he claims, anyway) but established an identity as a 'watchqueen' -- someone who just liked to get off while he watched other people having sex in bathrooms.

Humphrey did the work as his PhD thesis, and IIRC when the word actually got out, his university pulled his doctorate. There was certainly a big fuss about it at the time, and one of the reasons they teach it in methods class is because of the ethical issues it raises.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:30 AM on January 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


That 'rape' thing though, wow. I suspect I could knock a research student cold before the 'victim' could explain it was a hoax.

See me, I'd be more inclined to punch the guy after it was revealed he was experimenting on me without my informed consent, because I'm less scared of psych research assistants than I am of violent criminals.

Now, where do I apply for my research grant to test my hypothesis?
posted by Mike1024 at 5:32 AM on January 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


ZOMG ancient experiments violated contemporary ethical standards? Who would ever have guessed? Research assistants know what they're getting into. If they're undergrads, they likely work on a voluntary basis, and can quit if they feel uncomfortable. If they're grad students, it's likely that they're in the processing of beginning their own careers as experimental psychologists. If this author wanted to make a relevant point, why not find some recent research with questionable ethical practices? Yeah, Institutional Review Boards were a lot different twenty or thirty years ago, and they'll probably be a lot different twenty or thirty years from now.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 7:26 AM on January 18, 2009


Because we're talking about research assistants. They're one step above lab rats.

Creating and breeding transgenic mice can take years of work. I can replace an undergrad RA in a week.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 8:01 AM on January 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


"Awesome," I thought to myself when I saw this post, "I'm going to get to read about some dangerous psych exeriments gone horribly awry. Hopefully something like Milgram with real electric shocks or a riot at Stanford Prison."

How disappointing, then, to read the article and discover that these "Studies in Getting Smacked" were no more than experiments in which something could have gone horribly awry, but...um...didn't.
posted by dersins at 8:07 AM on January 18, 2009


Live Ammo Milgram.
posted by Artw at 8:58 AM on January 18, 2009


Yes fascinating how you threaten Mr. Bering based on his appearance and then deny it by pretending to be a clinically detached pacifist.

Thank you, Miss Constue.
posted by longsleeves at 9:34 AM on January 18, 2009


Miss Construe.
posted by longsleeves at 9:35 AM on January 18, 2009


Next time you're using a public bathroom...

Dude, I'm in New York. Trust me, Toity U-Boats are small potatoes.


Me too, and I've used all five public toilets in Manhattan!
posted by rokusan at 10:28 AM on January 18, 2009


Periscope Cat: silver lining to a "golden" problem.
posted by greekphilosophy at 12:04 PM on January 18, 2009


As predicted, when the participants were relieving themselves next to the confederate, their urination delay was significantly greater (8.4 sec) than when they were separated from the confederate by one urinal (6.2 sec) or when the confederate was absent (4.9 sec). The duration of urine flow also supported the hypotheses, with participants urinating, on average, for a briefer period in the close condition (17.4 sec) than in either the far (23.4 sec) or alone condition (24.8 sec).

Wait wait wait. When alone, it takes a guy 5 seconds to start peeing? And takes 30 seconds to finish? That seems like a small eternity. What is the deal? Former boyfriends have not had this problem.
posted by desjardins at 12:27 PM on January 18, 2009


When alone, it takes a guy 5 seconds to start peeing?

It doesn't apply in actual bathrooms. But when at a urinal, sure. Sometimes a period of zen mind-emptying is needed in order to convince yourself that yes, yes, you should be peeing here. Never mind those people over there. Yes, it's fine. Go ahead.

Five seconds sounds about right. Sometimes more, sometimes less.

It's like a battle of wills. Willies. Whatever.
posted by rokusan at 12:39 PM on January 18, 2009


OK, I'll take your word for it. I guess women don't have this problem since we use stalls.
posted by desjardins at 12:56 PM on January 18, 2009


Thank you, Miss Constue.

OK. I was wrong. You're a pacifist aggressive.
posted by srboisvert at 3:36 PM on January 18, 2009


Well, when I was a research assistant I was often afraid for my safety. But that was less because of experiment design and more because of walking into various ghettos alone carrying expensive laptops, digital video cameras, etc. But it's amazing the authority a laminated piece of paper on a lanyard has. Actually, that wouldn't make a bad study...
posted by threeturtles at 7:17 AM on January 19, 2009


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