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I would like to have a measure for how willing and eager participants were during an experiment. I have the intuition that their eagerness to comply will profoundly alter results of psychological and even psychophysiological experiments, but I lack a good way of experimentally quantifying this.

As a seed, one way would simply be to ask them following the experiment, another may be to include trick questions with an obvious but incorrect response - this would however tend to conflate willingness with attention.

Any suggestions very welcome.

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2 Answers

You might look for examples in the Witt, Donnellan & Orlando (2011). They tested subject motivation in a psychology subject pool to see how it varied among groups. There may be follow up studies. Looking through similar studies will give you an idea of the kinds of things people use to assess. This is not a standardized line of research (yet).

Witt, E. A., Donnellan, M. B., & Orlando, M. J. (2011). Timing and selection effects within a psychology subject pool: Personality and sex matter. Personality and Individual Differences, 50, 355-359. doi: 10.1016/j.paid.2010.10.019

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Thank you kindly, looks interesting. I don't have access unfortunately (BP;DR), but from the abstract it seems the metric they used 'conscientiousness' was probably a larger assessment of the subjects' social behaviour rather than just compliance within a given experiment. But, having not read it, I could be wrong. It's not clear from the abstract whether they found a way of measuring the traits such as compliance without directly asking the subjects. –  Robert Muil Aug 21 '13 at 16:26
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@Robert I only had a quick flick through the paper but the authors specifically measure the influence of participant personality (of which conscientiousness is one aspect) on participants' willingness to participate at all and in which form (online or in person), so unless you have reason to believe that a certain type of personality will be more eager during your experiment, this paper is probably not the best fit. –  ThomasH Aug 31 '13 at 22:59
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A method that could help increase both experimental compliance as well as quantify it could be as follows:

  • Take a quiz to measure subjects' self-perceived levels of obedience
  • Perform experiment normally
  • Take another test to measure current self-perceived levels of obedience

Although the initial test may significantly alter levels of compliance as questions on obedience will prime subjects' to be more compliant, the initial data, if looked at with the post experiment tests results, will give an accurate picture.

Why two tests?

The first would help in measuring their attitudes towards authority and general obedience that they believe, they hold. This may be highly inaccurate as has been observed in many experiments, most famously the Milgram Experiment, where less than 10% of the subjects were able to correctly predict how far they would go.

The second one would be a measure of actual behavior during the experiment. The results of both can be interpreted as follows:

  • If the attitudes and behavior did not match, that is, subjects first rated themselves as obedient but were less than compliant during the experiment, then they would be experiencing cognitive dissonance in the post-condition test. Hence, their second results would be higher and incorrect. In fact, their actual levels of compliance would probably have been even lower than initially predicted by them.

  • If attitudes and behavior match, then the post-experiment results could either be the same, or slightly lower than the pre-experiment results depending on the individual.

    • If they are the same, then the individual complied to the fullest extent possible with experimenter.
    • If lesser, then the subject complied with the experimenter to the maximum extent (s)he could justify to himself.

    In either of these cases, the real measures of compliance would be the results of the second test.

What to test?

The tests should contain questions which are indirect and mixed with other questions. These should be asking about general situational obedience such as when being stopped by a cop, or being approached by a formally dressed executive in a company office.

The post-condition test could be more direct and ask specifically about the test.

Lastly, this would be most effective for experiments which involve an experimenter actively conducting it, thereby creating the maximum chances of dissonance in individuals who did not fully comply. This would allow for most accurate result collection.

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Thank you AsheesR, very interesting considerations. As you mentioned, I think this approach might actually be useful also in a typical psychophysiological experiment, where it is not clear at all what obedience is, and one wants to quantify simply how well disposed the participants are to participating, rather than measure any particular direction of compliance or obedience to particular authority. Asking twice and comparing is a good idea. Unfortunately rife with various interpretations, some of which you've already enumerated. Much appreciated. –  Robert Muil Aug 21 '13 at 16:32
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Thanks for the feedback @Robert. I am pretty much an amateur to the field but am very interested. I only recently started learning it (somewhat formally). Any positive feedback here makes me feel I am on the right track :) cc /Skippy –  AsheeshR Aug 21 '13 at 16:51
    
@AsheeshR I would say that you are well and truly on the right track -excellent insight. –  user3554 Aug 23 '13 at 22:34
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