You Did That on Purpose!

January 7th, 2009 | Sources: Economist

Subjects: ,

If someone accidentally pokes you in the eye, it hurts. But is it more painful if you believe he did it on purpose? Probably yes, according to the findings of a study in Psychological Science.

Kurt Gray and Daniel Wegner didn’t poke anyone in the eye, but they did set up a study calling for participants to receive electric shocks and then lured 43 students to participate with offers of course credit or cash.

At the beginning of the study, participants met their “partner,” who was casually introduced as another student but who was in fact in cahoots with the scientists.

Participants were then assigned several tasks including judging musical tones, matching colors, solving number problems and assessing discomfort levels in response to an electric shock. 

The scientists cared only about the latter.

In this task, the student receiving the shock was asked to rate the pain on a 7-point scale, in which 1 meant no discomfort and 7 meant child birth. According to the study design, this rating took place just after scientists gave participants a rather key piece of information.

Half the time, the scientists informed participants that their study partner signed them up for the shock test. The rest of the time, scientists told the participants their partner chose a non-shocking task for them but the trial design called for the decision to be reversed and the shock to be administered.

Students rated the pain they thought was administered intentionally as a 3.62. They rated the unintentionally administered pain at 3.00.

As well, pain associated with shocks perceived to be unintentional decayed with time, but there was no attenuation when the pain was perceived to be deliberate.


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