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Choose a juice! The effect of choice options, demand and harmful intentions on aggression in a modified Hot Sauce Paradigm

Beier, Susanne

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One of the main goals of aggression research is to examine the conditions that heighten the likelihood of aggressive behavior. Many studies with a variety of laboratory paradigms have been conducted to address this question. However, many of these studies and the applied paradigms suffer from shortcomings, including a large distance between victim and aggressor, demand characteristics or cues permitting the ostensible aggressive behavior, as well as disregard of participants’ affective states, motivations and intentions. In modern laboratory research some of these shortcomings have been overcome and new paradigms like the Hot Sauce Paradigm – a commonly used paradigm in modern laboratory research – have evolved. Paralleling real assault and child abuse cases, in which hot sauce was put in the food of other people or children with the intention to cause them harm, this paradigm measures aggression via the amount of hot sauce participants allocate to another person that allegedly provoked them beforehand. As most paradigms the Hot Sauce Paradigm still has shortcomings that need to be improved. One major shortcoming the Hot Sauce Paradigm shares with some classical paradigms is that participants are not provided with non-aggressive choice options. Without choice options it is impossible to answer questions about conditions under which people choose to act aggressively, since participants do not actually have a choice in regard to their behavior. It is only possible to answer questions regarding the amount of aggression presupposing that participants do act aggressively. One of the main goals of this dissertation was to analyze the effect of choice options on aggression in a modified Hot Sauce Paradigm. With 5 studies presented in this dissertation, I attempted to answer the overriding question whether or not the validity of the Hot Sauce Paradigm, as one commonly used paradigm to measure and analyze aggression, could be improved by providing response options (pleasant, neutral, aggressive option) to participants. In general, over the course of five studies I found evidence questioning the traditional paradigm’s validity to capture aggressive behavior but also evidence for an enhanced validity of the paradigm when choice options were included. To test the effect of choice options on the behavior observed in the Hot Sauce Paradigm I used a modified version of the paradigm in the first study. Participants chose one juice out of three juices (pleasant, neutral, spicy juice) to be consumed by a target person that had allegedly just chosen either a sour (provocation) or neutral (no provocation) juice for them. This condition with choice options was contrasted with three control conditions in which participants could only administer different amounts of either the pleasant, neutral or spicy juice. Provoked participants that were provided with a spicy juice only administered more spicy juice than non-provoked participants, replicating previous findings with the Hot Sauce Paradigm. However, there also was a main effect of provocation on the allocated juice with provoked participants generally allocating larger amounts of any type of juice than non-provoked ones. With choice options, critically, only three of the 18 provoked participants did not choose the pleasant juice and chose the neutral (1 participant) or spicy juice (2 participants) instead. None of the 20 unprovoked participants chose the spicy juice. These findings question the original Hot Sauce Paradigm’s validity to capture aggressive behavior with an intention to harm another person. The low choice rates for the aggressive option also highlight the importance of providing non-aggressive response options to participants to avoid an overestimation of aggressive and an underestimation of non-aggressive behavior. I hypothesized that the main effect of provocation on the allocated amount that I found in Study 1 was due to provoked participants’ higher responsiveness to the paradigm’s demand in the direction of applying more juice resulting from a lowered self-control after experiencing a provoking event. The aim of Study 2 and 3 was to test this assumption. In Study 2, I replicated the result of provoked participants allocating more spicy juice than non-provoked ones in conditions without alternative choice options. However, this effect disappeared with less guiding instructions and thus, again, questioning the traditional paradigms validity. To test whether or not this responsiveness to the demand of the paradigm is associated with the participants’ self-control, I measured participants’ state self-control in both Study 2 and 3, in which I applied the same provocation method as Study 1, and in Study 4, in which I used a more intense interpersonal provocation. In none of these studies I found a difference in self-control between provoked and non-provoked participants after the provocation. This makes the proposed self-control explanation for the allocation amount results unlikely. The amount of aggressive choices shown in Study 1 was relatively low (2 of 18 provoked participants chose the spicy juice). To test whether a more intense form of provocation would increase aggressive choices, which would make additional analyses and ultimately the application of the modified paradigm in aggression research possible, I used a more intense interpersonal provocation in Study 4. The provocation included waiting for another alleged participant and rude behavior toward the actual participant shown by the unpunctual confederate. To also test the effect of victim visibility – another shortcoming of modern laboratory research – on the behavior shown in the Hot Sauce Paradigm, I orthogonally manipulated the visibility of the victim with the provocation manipulation. To assure that the measured behavior captures aggression, I measured the key aggression defining variable harmful intentions of participants. The results of Study 4 indicated that descriptively aggressive choices occurred more often than in Study 1 and that provoked participants chose the spicy juice significantly more often than non-provoked ones. This effect of provocation on spicy juice choices was mediated by the participants’ harmful intentions indicating the validity of juice choices as a measurement of behavioral aggression. The visibility of the victim was not significantly associated with differences in the juice choices. To gain further evidence for a connection of juice choices and harmful intentions and to externally validate juice choices as aggression measures I analyzed the perception of intentions behind juice choices from the victim’s point of view in Study 5. In a scenario study, modeled after Study 4, participants imagined to receive a sample of the spicy juice from another participant in a study for which they arrived 15 minutes late. Intentions behind the juice allocation were perceived as more harmful if the person who made the allocation was provided with choice options in comparison to if the person was not provided with choice options (like in the traditional Hot Sauce Paradigm). This finding supports the claim that the inclusion of choice options heightens the paradigm’s validity, since the connection with a key aggression defining construct was strengthened with choice options in comparison to without them. The present research underlines the importance of providing non-aggressive choice options to participants in laboratory aggression research. Particularly if the conditions under which aggressive behavior occurs are examined, participants have to be able to make a choice of what kind of behavior they want to show. With the modified Hot Sauce Paradigm introduced in this dissertation a research instrument is provided to achieve this goal.

Item Type: Dissertation
Supervisor: Fiedler, Prof. Dr. Klaus
Date of thesis defense: 22 April 2013
Date Deposited: 07 Jun 2013 07:57
Date: 2013
Faculties / Institutes: The Faculty of Behavioural and Cultural Studies > Institute of Psychology
Subjects: 150 Psychology
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