The securing of subjects was relatively easy, since any college population offers a wealth of volunteers. Two elements of selectivity were employed. All students taking psychology were excluded. All students who were acquainted with the author were excluded for the reason that they might know that he was interested in hypnosis. Both male and female undergraduates were employed, most of them by mere chance being sophomores. Among them there was a predominance of agricultural, home economics, engineering, commerce, and liberal art students, with an approximately even distribution of sex, and of comparable ages.
To these students individually, using prepared typewritten material, a plausible, somewhat interesting, but definitely superficial explanation was given of the concept of "introspection." A comparably carefully worded invitation was extended to each of them to participate in an experiment; this embraced the idea that the experimenter proposed to do research consisting of "discovering the processes of thought in thinking through from beginning to end any specified task." As an illustrative example, it was pointed out that people know the alphabet and can recite it fluently. However, the majority of those same people cannot recite the alphabet backward correctly from Z to A except by a slow "back-and-forth process of thinking." To those who promptly demonstrated that they could recite the alphabet backward easily, a second example was offered, namely, the extreme difficulty that would be encountered in reciting backward the entire nursery rhyme of, "Mary had a little lamb —."
It was then explained that a much simpler task was in mind for them to do, and they were earnestly asked not to do any reading of Titchener's "work on thought processes" (Titchener's name was repeatedly mentioned to discover any previous awareness of his work, to emphasize "thought processes," and to distract their attention from the word "introspection ").
They were individually apprised of the possibility that the task might take from one half to two hours, and a clock was indicated in full view, running silently, located directly in front of them on a shelf on the laboratory wall. The experimenter, it was explained, would sit quietly behind a screen some 12 feet to the rear and would not be visible; he could be spoken to or questioned if the desire or need arose, but it was preferred that the task once begun be done in complete silence, so that there would be no distractions or interferences.
What the subjects did not know or observe was that a mirror was so arranged carelessly among odds and ends in a jumble of laboratory apparatus so that the author had a full view of the subjects' faces by means of an obscure peephole concealed by the patterned design on the screen.
From a typewritten copy each subject was separately given the following instructions:
"You are to seat yourself in this chair comfortably, just looking straight ahead. With your eyes open you are to imagine that there is a small table standing beside the right (left in the case of those left-handed) arm of the chair. Your arms are to be resting comfortably in your lap. On that imaginary small table you will imagine that there is a large fruit bowl filled with apples, pears, bananas, plums, oranges, or any other kind of fruit you like, but do not turn your head to look in that direction. All of this imaginary fruit you can imagine as being in easy reach of your hand resting in your lap.
Next you are to imagine a table of normal height on the bare floor just in front of you, just far enough away so that you would have to lean a little forward to place anything on it.
Now the task to be done is for you to sit in the chair looking straight ahead and mentally go through the processes step by step and in correct order of thinking at a mental level only of the task of lifting your hand up from your lap, of reaching up over the arm of the chair, of feeling elbow and shoulder movements, the lateral extension of your arm, the slight lowering of your hand, the touching of the fruit, the feel of the fruit, the selection of any one piece, of closing your fingers on it, lifting it, sensing its weight, moving your hand with the fruit up, back over the arm of the chair and then placing it on that imaginary table in front of you. That is all you have to do, just imagine the whole thing. If your eyes get tired or if you can think your thought processes out more clearly with them shut, just close them. You should expect to make errors in getting each step in the right order, and you will have to pause and think back just as you would in trying to think the alphabet (or the nursery rhyme) backward, and it is only reasonable that you will make mistakes and have to go back and start over again. Just take your time, and do it carefully, silently, really noting each of your thought processes. If you wish, I will reread these instructions, and you may realize that perhaps you might have such a thought as first picking up an apple and then changing your mind and deciding to pick up an orange. [All subjects wanted a second reading, some a third.]
Now that the instructions are clear, let's look at the bulletin board on the wall over there, and when the minute hand of the clock is directly on one of the numerals of the clock face, we will both take our positions and the experiment will begin."
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