In 1962, a classic social psychology experiment was completed by Schachter and Singer. In the study, the researchers injected participants with a drug known to increase physiological arousal (increased heart rate, blood pressure, and energy). Only half of the participants were told about the drug’s effects in advance. The participants were then divided into two groups. The first group of participants was placed in a waiting room with nonstudy individuals who acted excitedly happy. The second group of participants was placed in a waiting room with nonstudy individuals who acted irritable. Interestingly, those participants who were not told about the drug’s effects beforehand responded to the drug in the same manner as the nonstudy individuals with whom they shared a waiting room. Participants waiting with happy individuals became happy, while participants waiting with irritable individuals became irritated (Schachter & Singer, 1962).
The Schachter and Singer study is believed to be evidence in support of Daryl J. Bem’s Self-Perception Theory. Bem’s theory suggests that when a person is experiencing vague or unknown internal stimuli (such as the increased heart rate and blood pressure mentioned in the study above), that person will then look outside him- or herself to clues within the environment. These external clues are then used to make an interpretation about how the person should feel or behave (Bem, 1972).
- Describe a situation from your own life or a situation you observed in which you or others responded primarily because of the behaviors, attitudes, or feelings of those around you.
- Describe the situation in detail.
- If you are using an example from your own experience, describe the internal stimuli that you were experiencing.
- Describe the signals that you picked up on from the other people within your environment.
- Looking back now, do you think that your interpretation of the situation could have changed if you had experienced a different environment at that time?
- Can you think of certain situations where this theory is more likely to occur?
- How might you apply your knowledge of this theory to the workplace?