Nowadays, if you want to conduct ethically dubious on how college students speak to one another, you have all sorts of technologically advanced options: bugs, nanny cams, recording applications installed on cell phones. But in 1938, when a team of psychological researchers wanted to study the speech habits of students, they had to resort to personally spying on their subjects, sometimes even hiding under their beds.
Mind Hacks points us to this odd study, <em>"Egocentricity" in Adult Conversation, authored by Bryn Mawr department of psychology researchers Mary Henlea and Marian B. Hubbella, and published in a 1938 issue of the Journal of Social Psychology. The study was conducted in response to research that claimed that children engage in self-centered speech only to grow out of it as they get older. Henlea and Hubbella's research showed that college students continued to engage in this egocentric speech, but their methods of studying candid, unselfconscious speech were a little unorthodox:
In order not to introduce artifacts into the conversations, the investigators took special precautions to keep the subjects ignorant of the fact that their remarks were being recorded. To this end they concealed themselves under beds in students' rooms where tea parties were being held, eavesdropped in dormitory smoking-rooms and dormitory wash-rooms, and listened to telephone conversations.
It sounds like, for the most part, the researchers were studying peers who wouldn't realize they were being studied. But I imagine the tea partying ladies of Bryn Mawr would have been less than thrilled to discover someone hiding under their beds and recording their conversations. One of the commenters at Mind Hacks linked to this Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal comic, which reminds us that shouts of "I'm a scientist!" don't negate awkward situations and can, in fact, taint your results.
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