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HBS The Social Experiments and The Human Error Discussion


The discussion question: conduct a field experiment on norms in our society by (safely) breaking a commonly held social norm, such as standing too close to someone while speaking or facing a direction other than the elevator door. Do NOT break laws or harm any people, places, or things, please! Use both people you know and strangers as subjects. Share your experiment and observations. How was this similar to a classic experimental design? Different? How did the type of subject(s) (i.e. friends or strangers) affect the outcome? Can this type of experiment be conducted in a more formal lab setting? How or why not? The ANSWER:

Social norms refer to unwritten rules of conduct or behavior by which a group of people or society is expected to abide. Social norms implicitly regulate the behavior patterns of members in a group without necessarily being enforced like normal laws (DeCarlo, 2019). In my field experiment, I sought to break a social norm that requires people to follow queues either in a bank or any social setting where people are served in a particular order. In society, it is generally expected that people follow the queues either in banks, hospitals, or even when serving meals at social events like parties. I sought to break this norm and observe how people would react to the situation. The only exception to this rule is that people with special needs or conditions can jump queues. Such groups include the elderly, critically ill, expectant mothers, infants, or people abled differently.
My experiment incorporated both familiar faces and strangers. I first visited my local hospital and sought to see the doctor. There were about ten people ahead of me seated sequentially. Without excusing myself, I sought to see the doctor immediately after I arrived without following the queue, yet I did not appear as a critically ill patient. More than five people looked at me suspiciously, and one approached to ask why I was not following the queue. Secondly, I visited my local bank, where I sought to be served immediately by jumping the queue. Although some people seemed unbothered, most of those in the line looked at me suspiciously, and some complained loudly that I lacked manners. I followed the queue before they could call the security personnel. Lastly, I attended a friend’s graduation ceremony at their home. Many of the people in attendance were close friends and family members. During meals, people followed a queue as they served themselves with a buffet. I decided to overtake almost everyone and joined the line at the front. Although people looked unimpressed, no one complained or removed me from the queue. My family members appeared embarrassed, and even my mother complained once we got home.
The above social experiment resembled a classical experimental design, save for a few factors. A classical experimental design usually has both dependent and independent variables (Wallen and Romulo, 2017). In my case, my behavior of failing to follow the queue was the independent variable, while the reaction of the different groups was the dependent variable. The response of people at the hospital, bank, and graduation ceremony depended on whether I followed the social norm of queuing or not. However, the experiment lacked control variables. The type of subjects affected the research outcomes. For instance, at the graduation ceremony with friends and family, they tolerated my behavior, although they did not endorse it. With strangers at the bank and the hospital, they could not take my behavior of failing to follow a social norm like queuing. This experiment can not be carried out in a lab setting due to the lack of control variables. Also, in a lab experiment, the variables should be measurable to establish the correlation between dependent and independent variables, as highlighted in our class discussions. In the above case, it is almost impossible to measure the extent to which people are annoyed when one breaks a social norm like failing to queue.References : DeCarlo, M. (2019). Scientific inquiry in social work: Experimental design; what is it and when should it be used? Pressbooks. https://scientificinquiryinsocialwork.pressbooks.c…
Wallen, K.E. & Romulo, C.L. (2017). Social norms; more details, please. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 114(27). My classmates posts:

1- Betzabe Avila : Trying to choose a social norm to break for this post was tough because it can be a bit embarrassing to break societal normalities. I decided to use one of my good friends as a subject. This friend of mine picks me up to carpool twice a week. Because it is a social norm to greet another when you meet them or greeting someone you know, I decided to do the opposite. I usually get into her car, give her a kind greeting, and ask about her day. In my small social experiment, I did not greet her and stayed as silent as I could. It was very very awkward and I felt extremely rude. After a few moments I had to break the silence and tell her why I didn’t greet her when I got in the car. She laughed and said she thought I was upset about something and didn’t feel like talking. We had both felt very awkward during the silence. The outcome could have been different if I had done this with a stranger because a stranger might not expect us to greet them and have conversation. For example, Uber and Lyft drivers pick up customers and many of them will remain silent from beginning to end. This type of experiment could possibly be tested by others who carpool and be compared to car rides with Uber/Lyft drivers who are strangers. Write reply,,,

2- Zachary Gowlett : For my social experiment, I decided to talk obnoxiously loud on the 2nd floor of the library for a couple minutes with my teammates. While conducting the experiment, I observed that we were drawing a lot of attention towards ourselves as we got almost everyone in the library looking at us. I also observed that the other groups in the library stopped talking amongst each other to tune in and watch what we were doing. It felt almost as if the whole floor went completely silent which is common when a social norm is being broken because people tend to get silent when they don’t know how to react to a situation that’s out of the norm. I feel like it was similar to a classic design because us talking loud in the library acted as the independent variable, which influenced a reaction from the strangers in the library (dependent variable.) My friends affected the outcome because us all talking loudly amongst one another made it seem more believable and probably caused more of a reaction rather than if I was simply loud by myself because we were in a group. I feel like this type of experiment cannot be conducted in a formal lab setting because it wouldn’t get people’s natural reactions compared to the study being done in public. Write reply,,,,

discuss your peer’s field experiment relative to the textbook and lesson material this week. What strengths or disadvantages does this type of experiment have? What changes would you suggest to increase external or internal validity? What are some ethical concerns of social or classic experiments? Be sure to fully explain your thoughts and use course concepts and ideas to support your response (even if you’re elaborating on what’s been said). Write about 8-9 sentences paragraphs!


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