Effect of Experimenter Attire and Sex on Participant Productivity

Article excerpt

The experimental environment is complex and many subtle variables can influence the research findings. We investigated whether the sex of experimenter, the formality of experimenter attire, and the sex of participant affected respondents' productivity when asked to describe a business executive. The results revealed a significant interaction between experimenter sex and attire. Participants generated more terms and took longer to describe the business executive when the female experimenter was dressed casually and when the male experimenter was dressed professionally.

Psychologists receive years of training on the correct way to conduct objective scientific research, including the admonition to avoid experimenter effects that could call into question the validity of their findings. Rosenthal (1976) proposed four categories of experimenter effects: (a) biosocial attributes including sex, age, and race; (b) situational factors that include anything specific to the interaction between experimenter and participant, such as experimenter experience and appearance of the laboratory; (c) psychosocial attributes, including experimenter dominance or warmth; and (d) expectancy effects produced by the experimenter's expectations about the experimental outcome. Barnes and Rosenthal (1985) investigated the importance of a subset of these experimenter effects by looking at the effects of experimenter attire, gender, and attractiveness on the experimental setting. They found that these variables did affect participants' responses and urged researchers to take them into account in the planning and analysis of future experiments. More specifically, Barnes and Rosenthal found that experimenters received higher positivity scores1 from opposite sex subjects and that this effect was amplified when the experimenter was well-dressed.

In the current study we addressed the effects of sex of experimenter, sex of participant, and formality of dress on participant productivity. Although the influence of these independent variables on the outcome of an experiment is important, we also believe that it is vital to understand their effect on experimental realism. That is, before an experimenter can worry about the validity of his or her findings, s/he must first create an environment that draws participants into the process. The extant literature suggests that experimenter sex and attire may influence the amount of authority conveyed by the experimenter and the subsequent effort of the participant. Giles and Chavasse (1975) found that a formally attired interviewer elicited longer responses to a face-to-face survey than did the same interviewer in casual clothing. Further, clothing style had a greater influence on length of response than did social status.

Style of dress is an indicator of power (Joseph, 1986) and is manipulated by individuals hoping to present themselves as powerful (Rucker, Anderson, & Kangas 1999). Further, perceivers generally believe that they are accurate in using dress cues to infer information about social roles and personality characteristics (Johnson, Schofield, & Yurchisin, 2002). That is, people alter the way they dress to manipulate perceptions of power, and perceivers are influenced by these dress cues.

In terms of traditional gender stereotypes males are typically viewed as having more power than females. For example, agency (e.g., urge to master) has traditionally been associated with males, while communal qualities (e.g., concern for others) have been associated with women (Broverman, Vogel, Broverman, Clarkson, & Rosenkrantz, 1972; Spence & Helmreich, 1978). Although there is some evidence that these stereotypes are shifting as a result of societal changes (Diekman & Eagly, 2000; Spence & Buckner, 2000), women continue to rate themselves lower than men on agentic traits that reflect social dominance. Rudman and Glick (2001) argue that women are not allowed to exhibit social dominance because it conflicts with the prescription to be communal. …