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The subject's hypothesis : its determinants and its effect on research data Safford, Ralph Kirk

Abstract

Subjects' hypotheses about the purposes of experiments, regardless of the accuracy of such hypotheses, may contaminate research data. Experiment I was designed to assess how readily subjects generate hypotheses about experiments and what effect such hypotheses have on performance. In the context of a personality impressions experiment, forty subjects participated either in one of two bogus hypothesis conditions, in which they were given unauthorized information about the purpose of the experiment by an accomplice posing as a subject, or in a no bogus hypothesis condition, in which they received no unauthorized information but were interviewed at the experiment's termination for self-generated hypotheses. Bogus hypotheses were not found to have affected subjects' task performance and only two of the fourteen subjects interviewed reported an attempt to generate an hypothesis. This latter result was interpreted as contradicting the notion that subjects are strongly motivated to figure out the purpose of an experiment. It was hypothesized that subjects are indifferent towards the purposes of research generally, and that certain types of experimental stimuli must be present in an experiment in order to arouse subjects to speculate about research purposes. Experiment II, designed to test this hypothesis, investigated the speculation arousal function of two such types of stimuli -experimental rationales and sensitization tasks. Thirty-six subjects participated in one of four conditions provided by orthogonal manipulation of the two treatment variables and had their level of suspicion, apprehension, and speculation about the experiment assessed by a brief post-experimental questionnaire. Neither factor was shown to have an arousal function as no significant differences were obtained. Other factors possibly involved in arousing subject speculation were discussed.

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