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Document Type

Article

Abstract

College students chose between reinforcement schedules in which a key press produced a cartoon video followed by nonreinforcement. The experimenter introduced a demand characteristic by stating a preference for choosing one schedule while indicating that the other schedule was also acceptable. With identical schedules (25 s of reinforcement, 5 s of nonreinforcement), compliant choices approached 100%. When the designated schedule presented a 5-s reinforcer followed by a 25-s timeout, participants complied initially, and then chose the other schedule on most trials. The aversiveness of the timeout, combined with the predominantly reinforcing alternative, deterred compliance. Elaborating the instructional context by stating that choosing the designated schedule would “help us with the data analysis” significantly increased compliant choices but did not alter the rise-and-decline pattern found with the simpler instructions. A salient relation between an experimenter’s preference and a scientific benefit thus promotes compliance with demand cues but does not insulate it from attenuation by relatively mild aversive consequences. Demand characteristics are not a uniquely powerful source of behavioral control.

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