Social Research — Public Behavior
Public behavior of individuals often reflects social patterns and interpersonal dynamics that may not be readily apparent without careful observation (Henslin, 2005; Macionis, 2006). Sometimes, apparently simple social interactions and behavioral choices are influenced by perceived expectations, relations between genders, and even the availability of plausible excuses for violating general social norms and expectations (Myers & Spencer, 2007). Social norms and expectations of ordinary gestures of politeness provide opportunities for social research to the extent that experiments can be devised to isolate specific behaviors and behavioral choices in situations where various options are available to individuals (Henslin, 2005; Macionis, 2006)
In this experiment, the behavior selected for observation consisted of the behavioral choices of individuals to observe common expectations of public politeness. More specifically, 40 individuals were observed as they entered or exited Applebee’s, a family restaurant in relation to whether or not they made the effort to hold the door for individuals following behind them.
It is theorized that several factors will influence the decision to hold the door or not to hold the door for others. Specifically, relative chronological age, race, gender, as well as the availability of excuses, (whether genuine or merely plausible) are expected to play a significant role in the behavioral choice (Healey, 2008; Schaefer, 2006). It is expected that, generally, older individuals are more likely to hold doors and to have doors held for them and that males of all ages are more likely to hold doors for females of all ages. Since so much of social behavior in public relates to the fear of social disapproval, it is anticipated that the individuals with any apparent excuse for inattention will take full advantage of it and ignore the socially expected norm of holding doors for others.
1. Males are more likely to hold doors for females than for other males.
2. Individuals are more likely to hold doors for their elders than for their juniors.
3. All individuals will make an effort to hold doors for the elderly and disabled.
4. Individuals with any excuse for diverted attention are least likely to hold doors.
Experimental Procedure and Methodology
The experimenter took a position in close enough proximity to observe the behavior at issue but remained in a vehicle parked far enough from the entrance to avoid influencing the outcome by becoming an observer in the minds of subjects. The concern in that respect was that people would react differently if they believed that they were being observed by a specific individual.
The experimenter imposed subjective judgment to determine whether or not individuals successively entering or leaving through the doorway were close enough for it to be reasonably expected that the preceding individual would hold the door. The experimenter decided that using an objective measure (such as linear distance or walking time) would be implausible because of the difficulty of measurement while conducting observation and also because the social appropriateness of the choice to hold doors based on the distance and gait speed of the next person is more a matter of overall perception than objective measurement. The experimenter did not consider instances where individuals did not hold doors for individuals judged by the experimenter to have been too far away to warrant the expectation of door holding.
Only 15 of 40 observed subjects held doors for others following behind them. Out of 25 subjects who did not hold doors for others, 11 were engaged in conversation with others as they passed through the doorway; 9 were engaged in cellular phone conversation; 5 did not make any apparent attempt to determine whether or not anybody was following behind them. The 5 who made no such attempt were all male; of those subjects, 3 made a deliberate attempt to throw the door open wider than necessary for them to pass through as an apparent attempt to avoid accidentally being rude to anybody behind them but without having to acknowledge or accommodate any specific person who might have been behind them.
In many respects, the raw data provided by the experiment revealed less than the subjective observations recorded by the experimenter. While acknowledging the obvious limitations of the reliability of subjective observation and characterizations of human behavior, the experimenter made the following observations and categorized them retrospectively by specific criteria as follows:
Male Behavior toward Females
Without exception, every male who was followed by a female made the effort to hold the door open. This was the most consistent pattern observed in connection with this experiment. The researcher concluded that this was a function of the convergence of two independent social norms and expectations: namely, the expectation of politeness with respect to the dependent variable (i.e. door-holding behavior) and the independent social norm and expectation that males will be chivalrous in their interactions with females in virtually all ordinary circumstances, including those involving complete strangers. The significance of this pattern is even greater in relation to the other categories of patterns observed.
For example, generally, the experimenter determined whether or not the relative distance and speed between successive individuals was appropriate to create an expectation that the door holding or non-door holding behavior would be relevant for inclusion. if, in the experimenter’s best attempt at an objective judgment, the individuals were too far from one another and/or that the second individual was moving too slowly to create a door-holding expectation, the experimenter did not record the failure to hold the door as an instance of non-door holding. In 4 specific instances, male subjects were observed waiting for females who were following them at a distance and/or pace at which the experimenter would not have recorded a non-door-holding event.
Similarly, in most cases, subjects talking on cell phones and individuals engaged in conversations with others as they exited made less of an effort to hold doors for individuals following behind them than subjects who were alone and not using cell phones. However, on two occasions (each) male subjects talking on cell phones and male subjects actively engaged in conversation with others as they exited did hold doors for individuals following them. In all four cases, the individual following was a female or a pair of females.
The Apparent Availability of Plausible Excuses
The experimenter observed that subjects actively engaged in conversations with others and/or using cell phones as they entered or exited the doorway almost never held doors except when: (1) an individual following behind was very close; and (2) the subject was a male and the individual following was female. Otherwise, the fact that the subjects were engaged in a distraction seemed to significantly reduce their inclination to hold doors. However, the fact that the male subjects who were engaged in those distractions nevertheless held doors for females strongly suggests that the use of cell phones and the involvement in conversations with others provides more of an excuse to avoid holding doors than it actually accounts for reduced awareness. In order for the apparent distraction to have genuinely accounted for a reduction in situational awareness, it would have to have had a similar effect in all situations. Therefore, the fact that male subjects who were distracted still held doors for females indicates that the distractions are most likely relied upon as excuses for suspension of social norms that are ordinarily associated with specific expectations in general.
Apparent Attempts at Excusing Purposeful Norm Violations
The observer recorded several instances where is seemed that the subject did not hold the door despite being aware that someone was following closely enough to create an expectation of door holding. Specifically, on those occasions, the subject seemed to purposely exaggerate the urgency of his exit in conjunction with what seemed to be largely a show of an attempt to be polite by throwing the door open more widely than necessary. On those occasions, it seemed obvious that the subject was attempting to avoid following the social norm that was expected under the circumstances but in such a way as to mitigate any pejorative interpretations by the individual following or by coincidental observers.
Healey, J.F. (2008). Race, Ethnicity, Gender, and Class: The Sociology of Group
Conflict and Change. Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge.
Henslin, J.M. (2005). Essentials of Sociology: A Down-to-Earth Approach. Boston:
Allyn and Bacon.
Macionis, J.J. (2006). Sociology. Hoboken, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Myers, D. And Spencer, S. (2007). Social Psychology. Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson.
Schaefer, R.T. (2006). Racial and Ethnic Groups. New York: Harper Collins.
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