The theory of personal space proposes that you and I feel uncomfortable when others get too close in certain situations. This discomfort can, says the theory, be measured by increased heart rate, blood pressure or skin perspiration. The research problem is that to measure these things we have to hook a subject up to some device, and they thus know they are being studied. Their behavior might not be natural. To test the theory and solve this problem, the following was done: A study by Middlemist, Knowles, and Matter (1976) used a public lavatory as their laboratory. When a person came in to use the urinals, a member of the research team would use one right next to him, or two down, or three down. The closer condition should most violate personal space. The researchers knew a basic biological fact: anxiety increases latency for urination to begin and shortens its duration. Another member of the research team, hiding in a stall, listened and recorded these variables. No pictures or films were made of study subjects. They had no idea at any time that they were in an experiment. The study confirmed the hypothesis of greater arousal in the "closest" condition, using the operational definition of latency and duration. Our question: Let's think about the ethics. What was not done, ethically? Could it have been done without spoiling the natural behavior elicited we seek in research? Should the study have been done at all? The reference is: Middlemist, R.D., Knowles, E., S., & Matter, C.F. (1976). Personal space invasions in the lavatory: suggestive evidence for arousal. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 33, 541-546.
Ethically, the subject should have been aware or at least notified that he was part of an experiment. They could have done this by approaching the person after the experiment was done and having them approve or deny their request in making them a part of the experiment. Sometimes, there are studies that just cannot be done because...
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