An Experimental Design
Early on a Monday morning, Sandy found herself in conversation with Dr. Narrison about the forthcoming experiment. He pointed out,
"There's a difference between our design and that of the Asch experiment. Overtly, they were trying to find out how long the piece of wood was. But no one could believe that they'd go to that extreme instead of just measuring it."
"It's amazing that the subjects didn't catch on to the covert purpose."
"They were confused by the crazy estimates of the stooges. Our experiment is much more credible on the overt level."
Sandy nodded and replied,
"Sure. One of my friends did something rather like that for her senior project. But the obvious thing would be just to apply current to someone's finger-tips until they feel a tingling. They wouldn't have to undress for that."
"Solomon Asch only scratched the surface. You can get people to do much more extreme things, either because they want to please the experimenters, or as a result of peer pressure."
"I guess that's what we're banking on. It's more extreme to undress in public than to wrongly estimate the length of a stick."
"There are some people who want to take their clothes off. They'll only be waiting for an excuse."
"I suppose we should try to find out what sorts of inhibitions they have before the experiment so we'll know how much has to be overcome."
"That has to be done indirectly so as not to tip them off to the real purpose of the experiment. It won't be easy."
The secretary, Alice, burst in and said that Miss Susan Gatewood was waiting to see Sandy.
When Susan and Sandy were seated in her office, Susan said brightly,
"I wanted to confer with you about Bernie."
"How did your date with him go?"
"Well, it was a sort of disaster. But I think he may like me just the same."
"Do you like him?"
"Yes. I think he's really a terrific person underneath all that quirkiness. He'd also be good-looking if he got a better hair-cut and better clothes."
"That's about what I think, too. But what happened?"
"Of all places, he took me roller-skating. I was just hopeless. I fell down and tore my skirt before I'd taken even one step, and, after that, he had to hold me up practically all the time. He's really quite an athlete himself, and I'm sure he was appalled. But he wouldn't give up trying to teach me. We struggled along for more than an hour, and I really wasn't any better at the end than the beginning."
"That might have given him some confidence. He was apprehensive about your being better educated and having more money."
"He did seem nervous. I had to carry the conversation the whole way."
"That was Saturday night, wasn't it?"
"Have you spoken with him since?"
"No. I wondered if you could call him and find out if he hates me."
"I bet he doesn't, but I would've called anyway. He's probably at the store now. Perhaps if you could wait out in the outer office, I'll give him a try."
As soon as Sandy identified herself, Bernie said,
"I bombed, Sandy. It was horrible. I can't manage with a woman like that. I need some little clerk-typist somewhere."
"Didn't you like her?"
"I liked her a lot. She's real nice, and she's very attractive. But I made a fool of myself."
"She thinks she made a fool of herself by being so bad on skates. But she likes you and wants to go out again."
"You may have misunderstood. Or she may be talking about someone else."
"You're the only one we matched her with. I'm sure it's you. She thinks you're a nice person. And you are. Why shouldn't she like you?"
"Well, god-damn. Listen, don't tell her you've talked with me. I'll call her up today and ask her out as if nothing went wrong. Okay?"
Sandy was smiling when Susan returned. She said,
"I'm not supposed to tell you that I've talked with the gentleman in question, but I have reason to suppose that he'll soon call you for another date."
"Oh, isn't that just like him? He's going to pretend that everything went swimmingly, and we'll just pick up from there."
Susan was laughing and Sandy joined her. She then added,
"I've got you both signed up for this experiment we're doing. It may not be necessary now, but I thought it might help if you had a little more to talk about."
"That's probably still a good idea. We'll get him loosened up yet."
Ten minutes later, Alice came in and said,
"Hi hon, I was just upstairs helping Calvin fake the product tests, and he whispered to me to ask you to come up. He wants to know which of our tame subjects would make good stooges for your experiment."
Alice seemed never to have been under any illusions about the probity of her workplace, and Sandy replied,
"This is one that isn't going to be fake, Alice."
"That's what you think! Wait til Calvin and Goodman get through with it. I'm to put on a white coat and participate, and I sure ain't no scientist."
Not trying to explain to Alice that some things could be fake in an experiment that wasn't itself fake, Sandy went up to the third floor.
Calvin was in the middle of the large room, behind a table on which there were five paper cups with soft-drink samples. He was surrounded by about twenty people whom he managed deftly with gestures, hardly ever having to say anything. Sandy caught his eye, and he grimaced slightly as he waited for a subject to point to the cup containing his favorite beverage. The subject was moving slowly, and Calvin had his right hand slightly closer to the cup just right of center than to the others. It might have been accidental, and, of course, the hand couldn't be equidistant from five cups, all arranged in a straight line. Even so, without knowing exactly why, Sandy knew which one he wanted the subject to choose. When the subject did so, Calvin smiled in a way that indicated to the waiting subjects which was the sample to be preferred. It was really just a suggestion of a smile, something that might not be picked up by an outside observer, but it was all that was needed with this group.
Docile as Calvin's tame subjects might be, they hardly looked appropriate as stooges for the proposed experiment. On the present design, each real subject would first take the personality tests in an adjoining room. The subject would then be taken to the main room to be tested with low-voltage electrodes. On entering the room, he or she would encounter a carefully arranged scene. There would be three or more "psychologists" of each sex with clip-boards.
Front and center, there would be a stooge of the same sex as the subject, being gone over with the electrodes. He or she would have on only underwear, but would show no sign of embarrassment. Five other half-dressed stooges of mixed sex would sit waiting on chairs, and would round out the peer group whose pressure they were attempting to measure.
One trouble was that the real subjects would mostly be recruited from an adult education course which Dr. Narrison taught at a small college on the North Shore. They would all be at least upper middle class, and some would actually be wealthy. The North Clark Street types presently around Sandy would definitely not make such people want to be like them. On the other hand, Sandy knew that Calvin's people could be had cheaply. She therefore looked more closely.
It was a theory of Sandy's that wealthy people tend to be good-looking. While some richies married other richies, a good many married non-richies who had, in effect, won a competition in which attractiveness played a large, and often dominant, role. Looking over the present group, Sandy decided that a tall red-haired woman with good posture and good bone- structure was the best looking. Unfortunately, her hair was configured into a bee-hive that might have real live bees, or perhaps other things, living in it. The clothes were also regrettable, but they, of course, wouldn't mattter. If they could get her to bathe and take down her hair, and then outfitted her with a brand-new snowy white bra and slip, she might pass. Sandy suspected that it would be left to her to make the necessary suggestions, and she worked it over in her mind how she might broach the subject.
Knowing that Calvin would want to get all the stooges from this group, Sandy lowered her standards a bit. Some of the people were a bit overweight, and some were rather homely, but, after all, not all affluent people were pretty. She carefully avoided those whose faces suggested that they had been defeated by life, and might be considering suicide.
When Calvin finished, and they went downstairs to talk, Sandy gave him her choices. He agreed readily, and it turned out that she was, indeed, to get the female stooges prepared. Calvin was himself to do it for the men. He suggested,
"If we put out an instruction sheet which says that the tests will only work on skin that's been carefully washed, we may not have to personally conduct them to the bathtub. We could also say something about clean underwear."
"I think I'd better buy it for the women. We don't know what their idea of clean might be, and we don't want any black bra and red slip combinations. We should also tell them not to talk when the real subjects come into the room. With luck, we might get them to look okay, but they won't sound right. Even the gestures they make when they talk are wrong."
"What if someone like Miss Gatewood sits down next to a stooge and makes a comment or asks a question? No speaka da English?"
"By that time, she'll already have made her choice and it won't matter. By the way, I'm feeling uncomfortable about her. We're becoming rather friendly, and I don't want to play tricks on her. Or on Bernie, for that matter."
"They've already agreed, haven't they?"
"Let's let it go. After all, no harm'll be done, and they'll never even know that we weren't correlating personality to sensitivity."
"I guess it's okay."