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Study 3 - Laboratory

This study was conducted to examine the effect found in Study 2 that protagonists who are members of a high-status group (ingroup or outgroup) are more likely to be seen as amused about a low-culpability faux-pas incident than low-status group members. Research on the infrahumanisation effect suggests that amusement, a simple emotion, should be attributed to both ingroup and outgroup members equally. However, Beaupre and Hess (2003) found that a smile was more often attributed to ingroup than outgroup members, suggesting that the meaning of the emotion attributed in a particular context may alter the general effect of infrahumanisation. In the context of a faux-pas situation, a protagonist who shows amusement seems less concerned with his or her social image than an embarrassed protagonist. Whereas amusement may not be socially desirable in a situation in which the protagonist is culpable for the faux-pas, and should therefore apologise for the misbehaviour by appearing embarrassed, amusement in a non-culpable faux-pas may be seen as reflecting high social status. Arguably, members of high-status groups need to be less concerned about their social image than members of low-status groups, at least in situations in which there is nothing to apologise for.

In contrast to Study 2, in which participants had to imagine a protagonist in a number of high- and low-culpability faux-pas scenarios, participants in Study 3 watched an ostensible video partner commit a low-culpability faux-pas. The social status of the video partner was manipulated in relation to the participants' own social status. We predicted that a high-status video partner would be seen as more amused than a lower-status video partner, but equally embarrassed.


Design: Low-status ingroup (n = 15), high-status ingroup (n = 9), high-status outgroup (n = 16), control condition (n = 17, equal numbers of high- & lower-status participants)

Participants: N = 57 female British students from the University of St Andrews (age: 18-30 years, M = 19, SD = 2; Nationality: 54% English, 42% Scottish, 2% Welsh, 2% Irish; Major: 19 different subjects, 23% Psychology, 10% Biology; 7% Chemistry, 60% other subject areas)

Cover story:
 Participants were told that the study was concerned with "Emotions during video conferencing". After signing up for the study, participants were asked to fill in an online survey, including details from their CV, such as their social class, parents' income, school education (state or private), work experience, and hobbies. This information was used to determine the social status of the participant prior to the laboratory session. When the participants arrived for their individual laboratory session, they were told that they would meet two young women via two short video conferences. Ostensibly, the video partner sat in a room next door with a second experimenter. Participants were seated in front of a large screen facing a video camera. After participants were informed about the (ostensible) study, and had given consent to participate, a baseline of their heart rate was measured. Next, participants received two CVs, one for each of the ostensible video partners, and were told that their video partner would receive the CV they had submitted online. They were told to read the CV and think about a few questions which they could ask their video partner. The ostensible video conference was said to last only a few minutes, and would be a nice, informal chat. When participants indicated that they were ready, the experimenter left the room, and started a video clip showing a young woman waiting in front of a camera, asking when the video conference would start, and that she could neither see nor hear anything. She then started to fiddle with a coke bottle. When she opened the bottle, the coke started to bubble over. The picture became blurry and then stopped altogether. After a few seconds, the experimenter came into the room to check why the video conference had been interrupted and then left, ostensibly to try to get the video conference running again. After two minutes, the experimenter came back into the room and told the participant that she had been called by her colleague who said that they had to clean up before trying again. To bridge the time, the experimenter suggested to do a short interview about the impressions and emotions so far. After the interview, participants were given a questionnaire, and were then fully debriefed.

Social status manipulation: The social status of the video partner was manipulated with a fictitious CV. The CV of the high-status partner indicated that her name was Victoria Alice Roxburgh Davies, that she considered herself upper-middle class, her parents earned over £100,000 p.a., she had visited prestigious private schools, had been to South Africa for a gap year, had no work experience but had volunteered for charity work. Her hobbies included drama, hockey, riding, gymnastics, and travelling. The CV of the lower-status partner indicated that her name was Tracy Miller, she considered herself lower-middle/working class, with her parents earning £15,000-30,000 p.a., she had visited state-funded schools, had work experience as a waitress and volunteered for charity. Her hobbies included dance, fitness, music, shopping, and climbing. The CVs of the video partners in the control condition indicted that one video partner was called Laura Gould, and the other Leah Ann Jones. No information was given on their social class, parents' income, educational background or work experience. However, all CVs stated the age, gender, nationality - which were matched to the information provided by the participant - as well as university major - which was chosen to be different from that of the participant. In the high-status conditions, participants were told that they would meet Victoria Alice Roxburgh Davies first, and then Tracy Miller. In the lower-status condition, participants were told that they would first talk to Tracy Miller, and then Victoria Alice Roxburgh Davies. In the control condition, it was randomly decided whether Laura Gould or Leah Ann Jones was the first video partner. 

Heart rate: At the beginning of the laboratory session, a finger clip was placed on the index finger of the non-dominant hand of the participant. Participants were instructed to imagine a relaxing scenario such as walking on the beach or making themselves a cup of tea. The experimenter left the room, waited until the heart rate had settled, and then recorded a 30-second baseline. The heart rate was recorded five times per two seconds.
The heart rate of participants was again measured at the start of the video clip (8.5 sec), throughout the incident (3 sec), as well as 20 seconds after the video had finished.

Emotions: Participants were first asked how they believed the video partner had felt before, during, and after the incident. First, participants could mention any emotion they had perceived in the other person, and then rate the strength of the emotion. Answers were recorded on a feeling thermometer, ranging from 0 (not at all) to 100 (extremely strong). When participants had not mentioned amusement and/or embarrassment, they were prompted. Similarly participants were asked how they themselves had felt before, during, and after the incident. After a free recall, participants were asked whether they had felt embarrassed for the video partner, sorry for the video partner, whether they had felt amused about the incident. Answers were again recorded on a feeling thermometer. 

Manipulation check: Participants were asked whether they thought the video partner to be of similar or different social class than themselves. 


Manipulation check
As intended, all participants in the high-status ingroup condition and the lower-status ingroup condition thought that the video partner was of similar social background than themselves. With the exception of one participant, all participants in the high-status outgroup condition believed the video partner was of a different social background than themselves. In the control condition, most participants (n=9) believed the video partner to be of similar social background, with two participants indicating that the video partner was of a different social background. Chi-square(3, N=50) = 38.19, p < .001.

Emotions of video partner

Figure 1a. Embarrassment of partner by condition                Figure 1b. Amusement of partner by condition
Note. Error bars represent standard errors for each condition.

Heart rate