Street theater as “Experimental Ethnography”

Now looking through different research I was stopped by this little experiment in 1996: Insult, Aggression, and the Southern Culture of Honor: An “Experimental Ethnography”  (local copy) It’s not so much the purpose or goal of the experiment which is also questionable, but the method employed to achieve it.

In Experiment 1 we examined the effect of the insult on the immediate emotional reaction o f the participant and on subsequently expressed hostility during the rest o f the experiment. Subsequent hostility was assessed with a word-completion task, a face-rating task, and a neutral scenario-completion task to see if the participant would project his anger onto these stimuli. We also assessed hostility by having the participant complete the ending o f a scenario that involved affront and sexual challenge. These procedures allowed us to examine whether (a) relatively neutral stimuli would bring out aggression after priming by the insult or (b) only subsequent stimuli that also involve affront or challenge would bring out aggression.

Experiment 1: Students came to the laboratory of the Institute for Social Research, where they were informed that the experiment concerned the effects of “limited response time conditions on certain facets of human judgment.” After an initial introduction to the experiment, participants were told to fill out a short demographic questionnaire and were asked to take it to a table at the end of a long, narrow hallway. As the participant walked down the hall, a confederate of the experimenter walked out of a door marked “Photo Lab” and began working at a file cabinet in the hall. The confederate had to push the file drawer in to allow the participant to pass by him and drop his paper off at the table. As the participant returned seconds later and walked back down the hall toward the experimental room, the confederate (who had re opened the file drawer) slammed it shut on seeing the participant approach and bumped into the participant with his shoulder, calling the participant an “asshole.” The confederate then walked back into the “Photo Lab.” Two observers were stationed in the hall. They appeared to be working on homework, paying no attention to the goings-on in the hall. One (male) observer was seated on the floor in a location where he could glance up and see the participant’s face at the moment he was bumped. The other (female) observer was sitting at the table at the end of the hall where she could glance at the participant’s face if he turned around (which occurred about 86% of the time across Experiments 1 and 3 ). Both observers could hear everything the participant said and could read his body language (though from different perspectives). Immediately after the bumping incident, the observers rated the participant’s emotional reactions on 7-point scales. The reactions of anger and amusement were the ones of greatest interest, but observers also rated how aroused, flustered, resigned, or wary participants seemed.

In Experiment 2 we explored whether, for southerners, responses to insult go beyond annoyance and mere cognitive priming for aggression and are accompanied by physiological changes of a sort that might mediate genuine behavioral aggression. We also attempted to test whether insulted southern participants would be motivated to demonstrate their toughness. 

In Experiment 3 we tried to extend the results o f Experiments 1 and 2 by exploring whether southerners would perceive an insult as damaging to their status and reputation (consistent with a culture-of-honor worldview) and would actually behave in more aggressive and domineering ways after an insult. We examined three major sets of variables.

Method 2 and 3 becomes more refined and they start looking for more subtleties. So the question arises if the research really about the difference between the southerners and northerners males or it’s under guise to test some stress induction methods and get some data. Of course everyone knows that calling someone asshole would pretty much insult any person be it from south, west, east or north. What is unknown how much stress it generates. It’s common knowledge that southerners are more temperamental than northerners, but this experiment is just strange as I’m not sure what they gained by insulting almost 500 people. Their reward for the trouble: $5-10.


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