Psychology has, over the past few years, become a topic of much interest to me. Not in the sense that I'm willing to switch my major to psychology, but more so that I'm fascinated by the study of human behavior and all the strange quirks that psychologists have discovered about it.
I recently had the opportunity to spend some time with my parents, and not coincidentally much of the time I was also reading my textbook. I found many of the examples provided in the textbook to be interesting, and though I believed them, I wanted to see how they would hold up while conducting my own experiment (in this case my parents were the subjects).
My first question, posed individually to both my mom and my dad, was straight out of the text book; which compass direction would you travel to get from Reno, Nevada, to San Diego, California? Much as the textbook had indicated, they were both quick to respond "Southwest, of course." I then explained to them the concept of heuristics, and why they were both so quick to say a completely false direction.
After a few more questions of this nature, my dad (ever the thinking type) realized what I was doing. When I finally came around to quizzing him on "Popular Psychology Knowledge," he answered True to only two of the questions (for those of you who don't know, all 10 questions are False, though they all seem True). I knew what my dad was doing -- using the counter-intuitive answer in hopes that he could in some way appear more intelligent than the average human. Upon further reading, I realized exactly what he was doing. Instead of being "more clever," he was actually reacting to demand characteristics, meaning he was altering his experimental behavior based on what he thought the experimenter (me) wanted to hear, or more precisely what he thought others wouldn't say.
This principle sparked my interested, and I researched a little more into it. I found this article /a> detailing the phenomenon. This source of bias is an obvious way that researchers can be forced into incorrect conclusions, and thus is noteworthy as a pitfall for experimental design. Can any of you think of a way to completely eliminate the effect of demand characteristics? So far I've only come up with Naturalistic Observation...