Sunday, February 28, 2010

Social Experiment

This project was a social experiment. My intended result was to deduce, or enable my audience to deduce, something about each of the subjects based on a set of standardized criteria. My experimental design was as follows:

Execution/Process: Propositioned strangers and offered to tell them an embarrassing story about myself on condition that we take their picture. This was done with a partner photographing me and the subjects' reactions with me telling the story. I took notes on each subject.

Input/Stimuli: Told the same embarrassing story about myself to each subject using the prescribed dialogue below.

"A couple of weeks ago I was shopping with my wife. It was one of those times when I did NOT want to be shopping. Somehow in this process we got separated and I lost her. When I finally found her I was feeling pretty ready to get home. She had her back to me and so I walked up behind her and slapped her on the butt. I then whispered in her ear, 'I can't wait to undress you when we get home.' As soon as I said this she turned around and I realized she was actually not my wife but a total stranger. I was so flustered that I didn't even take the time to explain to this poor woman her mistaken identity. All I could get out was, 'I'm sorry, I'm sorry I'm sorry' as I ran away, and I actually still have not told my wife that story."

Control: Story could not vary. I had to tell the story. I had to convey genuine embarrassment with every telling.

The reactions varied significantly and rather than be so didactic as to include my deductions of each subject, I will let their photos, my notes, and their stories be evidence enough for my audience to deduce on their own.

Subject Wayne is a Costco janitor who was more interested in the fact that I hadn't told my wife the stimuli than the implications of the stimuli itself, though he did seem shocked. He first suggested that I should continue to keep stimuli a secret, then changed his mind, conceding that I would have to tell her eventually. He was also very involved with the idea of us taking his picture and insisted that he would "break the camera" by us doing so. We ran into him several times and this was the thing he kept bringing up.

Subjects Suzy and Tyanna were unique to this experiment in one significant way. Most subjects anticipated the climax of the input by about the time I told them what I whispered in my "wife's" ear. These two, however, were the only of our subjects to be completely caught off guard by the end of the stimuli.

Subject Mike McPheters is the author of "Agent Bishop: True Stories from an FBI agent Moonlighting as a Mormon Bishop" and was doing a book signing. Although we only asked his first name he repeatedly told us his full name and seemed very
concerned with not over-reacting to the stimuli. This subject seemed genuinely embarrassed as a direct response to stimuli.

Subject Noji reacted to stimuli with complete disdain. His only verbal response was, "Well you apologized? I suppose that was gracious of you." His cart was completely empty with exception of his transitions lenses glasses.

Subject JoAnne Losee (of Losee Jewlers) was dressed to the hilt and joked that if we were going to take her name we had better spell it correctly (with a capital "A"). Her reaction was, "Well, I have one that tops you, I had a couple come in to one of our stores and I referred to his wife as his mother and then to tried to explain myself by telling the man I only thought she was older because of her wig. She was NOT wearing a wig!"

Subject Leo's reaction to stimuli was laughter and seemed to be humorously inspired while Subject Elva feigned distaste but couldn't quite hide her smile. As we left Leo pulled me aside and whispered in my ear, "Can I tell you a joke?" This was the joke:
Two women met at the pearly gates. The first woman said to the second, "You look aweful, how did you die? " The second woman replied, "I froze to death, how did you die?" The first woman said, "I knew my husband was having an affair and so I raced home during lunch to try to catch him in the act, when I got there I raced all through our house and couldn't find the woman, but I got so frenzied that I had a heart attach." The second woman replied, "You should have looked in the freezer, We'd both be alive!"

Subject Larry was wandering around while his wife was doing the shopping. Before I could tell him the end of the stimuli he asked, "What did you do!?" I replied, "What would you do?" He laughed and immediately broke out in a sweat and said, "I'm getting embarrassed just thinking about it!"


  1. I think this is a perfect way to implicate yourself, while using it to study others around you. Great choice on project - I wish people came up to me in grocery stores and told me funny stories!

  2. i love that story! great idea executed so well

  3. I absolutely love this! You pocked such great people to talk. The composition is perfect and the stories are hilarious.

  4. I told you in person, but I'll say it again...fantastic work! Great candid shots, nice composition and the perfect balance of pictures and prose.

  5. I really like the triptych style that you've used. It allows the photos to tell a story. My favorite are the two girls who seem to have reacted so strongly, but I also love the old woman. I kind of want to go hang out at Costco and see who I run into there now. Also, is the embarrassing story true?

  6. I also like the triptych style since it gives us more of the people's reactions. The idea is great and the pictures really show the results of your experiment well.

  7. An interesting idea - I can only assume the story is true, though even if it was an act, you pulled it off convincingly. I'm also amazed at the variety of characters you found to work with. Perhaps I don't look around enough.

  8. I love the composition (the triptych with the hand scrawled notes on lined paper). I think that the visuals in this project are pitch perfect. I also think the concept is very novel. By means of criticism, I feel like the stuffy scientific language (constantly referring to the story as the 'stimuli') detracted from the personal interaction. I guess what I'm saying is, it's a fantastic photo essay, but it's not science so keep it human.

  9. The way you have the photos set up with the text in the bottom half is brilliant. My favorite picture is of the one on the left of the old ritzy lady. Well done.

  10. The story rocks!!! I live for stories like that. I liked the text and picture idea too. nicely done.

  11. yours is by far my favorite. I think it has the best layout, and a great experiment. You certainly implicated yourself a lot. the text was great, but i wish your notes had more of your personal reactions to these people.