Stokes 95.05.18

[From Paul Stokes (950518.1040)]

What is this 'test' and how is it carried out? If there is actually
something to this I would be keen to try it out in the sociological
domain. Since my last post to this list I have actually managed to tie
down what can be meant by relational control in social relationships (with
thanks to Thomas Scheff for this) and am keen to demonstrate
controlling behaviour around this topic.


I suspect you will find ethnomethodologist Harold Garfinkel's "breaching
exercises" to identify the "taken for granted grounds of everyday activity"
to be a more useful sociological parallel to "the test" as devised by
Powers (B:CP, 1973:241-243) and described by Runkel (1990: 105-108). All
of these are quite different from Tom Scheff's concerns as I understand

Powers's central point is that it is very difficult if not impossible to
control the behavior of another living control system without knowing the
reference signal(s) for which that system is controlling. Even then such
control is achieved only with great difficulty. To illustrate that
difficulty Powers has devised an exercise in interpersonal control built
upon his famed "rubber band exercise." Examine the latter first and then
turn to the "interpersonal rubber band exercise." I assign these in my
undergraduate social psychology courses (as does Chuck Tucker) and find
them to be very useful.

Clark McPhail


1. Carefully review "the rubber band exercise" described by Runkel (1990:
105-108) and Powers (1973:241-243) in reading assignment #3 and #4 in the
syllabus (Week #2, Mon. 1/23). Carry out that "exercise" with at least
three different people in preparation for this assignment.

2. For this exercise you will need: two looped rubber bands (as before);
one coin; two ball point or felt tip pens; four blank pieces of 8x10"
paper; some scrap paper; and a smooth flat table surface.

3. Think of a simple design (e.g., a square, triangle, parallelogram; or,
the letter W, X, Y, or Z) . Using scrap paper, mark a target in the center
and then practice keeping the knot of the rubber bands over the target
while using one hand to keep one pen (E) in one loop and the other to keep
the second pen (S) in the second loop. This is an exercise in coordinating
your own actions.

Let the hand with which you ordinarily write control the E pen and the
opposite hand control the S pen. Practice moving the E pen up so that the
S pen will move down, E to the right for S to move left, E down for S to
move up, and E to the left for S to move right. You will soon learn how
the E pen can draw a design, e.g., /\/\ upside down (and/or backward) to
result in the S pen drawing the design right side up \/\/.

4. On one of the blank sheets of paper - we'll call it the "design sheet"
- draw a small representation of the design or designs you intend to use
with each of your three subjects. Date and sign the plan.

5. Select a subject, S, with which to carry out a modification of the
rubber band experiment. You are the experimenter, E. Instead of having S
guess what is responsible for your behavior, you will ask S to adopt a
particular RS and then proceed as follows.

6. In the first phase, place a coin on the table surface; drape the rubber
band over the coin such that the knot is centered on the coin; place one of
your index fingers in one loop and ask your subject to do the same with the
other loop; then tell your subject the object is for her/him to keep the
knot centered over the coin without touching the knot in any way. Proceed
with this exercise as you introduce disturbances and your subject resists
them to achieve the objective she/he has adopted from you.

7. In the second phase, place one blank sheet of paper on the table
surface and center a coin on the paper.

a. Lay the rubber bands down so that their knot is on the coin, placing
one finger on the knot to hold it in position. With the other hand place
one pen tip/point through one loop and hold it a vertical position such
that the tip/point is on the paper and the rubber band is taut between the
knot and your pen point.

b. Ask your subject to put the other pen tip/point through the opposite
loop in the rubber band and hold it in a vertical position such that the
tip/point is on the paper and the rubber band is taut between the knot and
S's pen point.

c. Now tell your subject that, after you remove your finger from the knot,
her/his task is to keep the knot centered over the coin without S touching
the knot in any way.

If S wants to maintain her/his reference signal ( knot over the coin), E
should be able to make S's pen draw the simple design E has envisioned. S
cannot control both her/his pen position and the knot: they are connected
by S's RS and S's resistance to E's disturbance. If S wants to control the
knot over the first coin, S must resist E's disturbance. With ingenuity E
can therefore control S's pen point/tip.

e. This time you (E) introduce disturbances that will result in S's pen
drawing the design on the paper previously conceived for this subject.
Proceed with the disturbances until you perceive that S's drawing matches
your reference signal.

f. Have S write his/her name and the date on the drawing the two of you
have completed.

8. Repeat the exercise for a total of three subjects.

9. Your report is due 4/17/95. It should be typed (maximum of 2 pages,
doubled spaced) and it should include:

(a) a brief paragraph reporting your trial procedures with the rubber band
exercise described by Runkel.

(b) a brief paragraph reporting your procedures and results with the
subjects (Ss) in the first phase of the rubber band and coin manipulation
exercise devised by Powers.

(c) one paragraph for each of the three subjects reporting your general
procedures in the second phase of the pen-in-rubber band-over-coin
exercise. Also note the outcome for each S as well as their verbal and
non-verbal actions regarding procedure and outcome.

(d) based on the observations reported in (c), write a brief evaluation of
the working hypothesis that you can manipulate another person only if it
serves some purpose (RS) important to that person.

(e) attach this to your design page and three pages of drawings with Ss'
signatures and dates.



I hope you find this helpful.


Clark McPhail
Professor of Sociology
326 Lincoln Hall
University of Illinois
702 S. Wright
Urbana, IL 61801 USA
off/voice mail: 217-333-2528 dept/secretary: 217-333-1950
fax: 217-333-5225 home: 217-367-6058