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Instigation and conditioning of vicarious affective responses Weinstein, Malcolm Samuel

Abstract

The purpose of this study was to determine whether affective responses, as measured by electrical skin conductance, could be vicariously instigated and classically conditioned to a previously neutral stimulus in a two-person social situation. A naive observer watched a model (a confederate of the experimenter) attempt a difficult motor task. The task involved lifting a marble, supported on the end of a specially grooved rod, to the top of a three foot vertical channel, and then into a funnel. It was hypothesized that the model's failure experiences on the task would increase the frequency of the observer's affective responses to a greater extent than would the model's success. This same relationship was hypothesized for conditioning effects. The addition of instructions to the observer that the model's failure on the task would result in an electric shock to the model was expected to enhance both instigation and conditioning effects. Differences In male and female reactivity, as well as a decline in frequency of responses over time, were expected. Subjects were 50 volunteers from introductory psychology classes, 25 male and 25 female. They were randomly assigned to five experimental groups, with the stipulation that each group contain an equal number of males and females. A four factor analysis of variance design constituted the main statistical analysis. Main effects for Shock, Failure, Sex, and Blocks of Trials were analyzed in terms of their relationship to three response classes - Vicariously Instigated Responses (VIR); Conditioned Responses (CR); and Unconditioned Responses to the CS (UCR to CS). The CS was a small light warning the observer that the experimenter predicted the performer's failure on the task was imminent; the UCS to the observer was the Inferred emotional response of the performer to his success or failure on the task. A secondary analysis comprised three of the five experimental groups in which only the effects of shock, sex and blocks of trials were examined. Initial basal conductance levels were recorded and analyzed. In addition, ratings of the quality of the performance, the difficulty of the task, and comments by Observer's about their subjective attitudes during the experiment were examined. It was found that the paradigm employed effectively instigated affective arousal, and that this arousal could be conditioned to a warning signal. Shock contingent upon failure was no more effective than failure alone in producing these instigation and conditioning effects. No sex differences in responsivity were found. Significant declines in arousal over blocks of trials were observed. Ratings of the quality of the performance and the difficulty of the task conformed to expectations.

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