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Sunday, July 24, 2005

The Mind Is Stranger Than Fiction

Mixing Memory has a post that summarizes the results of some experiments in which subjects are exposed to words and images that suggest concepts like Polite, Rude and Elderly and then measure the subject's response to various situations. Ex. in one experiment, two groups of subjects arrange words to form sentences; one group has words that relate to politeness, one to rudeness. And then...

    While the participant was completing the scrambled sentence test, the experimenter left and began talking to a confederate (an experimenter posing as another participant). When the participant finished, he or she came out of the room to look for the experimenter to receive instructions for the next task (as the experimenter had instructed). However, the participant always found the experimenter talking to the confederate. Bargh et al. then measured the time it took for the participant to interrupt the conversation between the experimenter and the confederate.

    Guess what they found. Of the participants who did the RUDE version of the sentence test, more than 60% interrupted in under ten minutes (they cut it off at ten minutes -- can you imagine how frustrated some of those participants were after standing there for ten minutes?), whereas fewer than 20% of the POLITE-primed participants interrupted in that time. The neutral list participants were in between at around 40%. The RUDE participants also interrupted a full 3 minutes sooner than neutral participants, and almost 4 minutes sooner than the POLITE participants.

Apparently, just reading words associated with rudeness causes people to become more impatient and interruptive; and reading words associated with politeness causes people to become more patient and ... polite.

..."But it gets weirder."

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