Sociology Index


Demand characteristics refers to a problem which can distort research. Demand characteristic as used in experimental psychology, refers to unintended features of the experiment which affect the results, thus compromising the internal validity of the study. Demand Characteristic result as we do not simply respond to a situation or context because the meaning of such a situation or context is not given, but requires interpretation. The term demand characteristic is also used in the sociology of deviant behavior to refer to those organizational features of work settings, other than the formal goals of the organizations or principles such as due process model or fairness, which shape arrest decisions, plea bargaining, or jury deliberations. Examples of demand characteristics which police officers may attend to in making decisions on the street are the informal expectations of police culture, their work load, their need to accumulate overtime or organizational rules.

Demand Characteristic is a term used in Cognitive Psychology to denote the situation where the results of an experiment are biased because the experimenters' expectancies regarding the performance of the participants on a particular task create an implicit demand for the participants to perform as expected. The problem is that particular cues in an experimental situation may communicate to subjects what is expected and what the experimenter hopes to find. Subjects might do what they think is expected, “demanded”, of them rather than respond in any other way. Demand characteristics have a clear link to Evaluation Apprehension where subjects come to experiments or interviews expecting the possibility that they will be evaluated. Subjects may then behave in a way that is thought to project a favorable image of themselves.

Menstrual cycle symptomatology: the role of social expectancy and experimental demand characteristics - Psychosomatic Medicine, Vol 47, Issue 1 35-45.
The purpose of this study was to examine the effects of experimental demand characteristics and social expectancies on the report and experience of presumed menstrual cycle-related moods and symptoms. Results indicated that women who were informed of the interest in menstrual cycle symptomatology reported significantly more negative psychologic and somatic symptoms at the premenstrual and menstrual phases than did the women and men not so informed. It appears, therefore, that the report of stereotypic menstrual cycle symptomatology is influenced by social expectancy and experimental demand characteristics.

Demand characteristics in body-size estimation in anorexia nervosa
The British Journal of Psychiatry 149: 113-118 (1986).
We asked 24 patients with anorexia nervosa and 30 normal controls to estimate their body-size several times, each time using different instructions. Informing the subject that she had made an error without specifying the direction of the error resulted in reduced over-estimation on a subsequent trial, for both anorexics and controls. 'Internally directed' instructions were associated with a greater degree of over-estimation than 'external' instructions in both groups, but particularly in anorexic subjects. Our results indicate the necessity of controlling the demand characteristics of such experiments.

Demand characteristics, not effort: The role of backpacks in judging distance
Robert Russell, Frank H. Durgin Department of Psychology, Swarthmore College
Abstract: Does wearing a backpack increase perceived distance, or does it simply encourage subjects to increase numerical estimates? A no-backpack control condition was also run. Based on an earlier replication of the backpack experiment outdoors with a male experimenter, we only expected to find evidence of demand characteristics compliance among women subjects. We conclude that effects of backpacks on judgments of distance are probably due exclusively to demand characteristics and not to any actual change in perception when burdened.

Demand Characteristics and Inferential Processes in Psychotherapeutic Change.
Horvath, Peter - Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, v52 n4 p616-24 Aug 1984
Abstract: A brief narrative description of the journal article, document, or resource.
Offers evidence that demand characteristics referring to changes in clients' self-concepts are the common factors in psychotherapies. Unassertive subjects (N=87) were assigned to four types of imaginary role playing. Only the demand characteristics condition increased significantly in assertiveness and self-esteem and decreased significantly in social discomfort compared to controls.

Demand characteristics of residential substance abuse treatment programs
Christine Timko, Katherine Yua and Rudolf H. Moosa
Journal of Substance Abuse, Volume 12, Issue 4, Winter 2000, Pages 387-403
Abstract: Purpose: This study examined the objective demand characteristics of treatment programs in which substance abuse patients, or psychiatric patients, were residing. Results: When patients had a substance abuse rather than a psychiatric problem, objective demand characteristics was higher. Patients in high-demand programs engaged more in self-initiated activities and participated more in treatment services and program-organized events. Substance abuse patients' activity and participation levels were determined jointly by the level of demand characteristic and by the expectations for patients' expressiveness and self-understanding of their personal problems.

Demand Characteristics in Assessing Motion Sickness in a Virtual Environment: Or Does Taking a Motion Sickness Questionnaire Make You Sick?
Authors Sean D. Young, Bernard D. Adelstein, Stephen R. Ellis
Publisher IEEE Educational Activities Department Piscataway, NJ, USA
ABSTRACT: The experience of motion sickness in a virtual environment may be measured through pre and postexperiment self-report studies such as the Simulator Sickness Questionnaire. Although research provides converging evidence that users of virtual environments can experience motion sickness, there have been no controlled studies to determine to what extent the user's subjective response is a demand characteristic resulting from pre and posttest measures. In this study, subjects were given either Simulator Sickness Questionnaire's both pre and postvirtual environment immersion, or only postimmersion. This technique tested for contrast effects due to demand characteristics in which administration of the questionnaire itself suggested to the participant that the virtual environment may produce motion sickness.


J.W. Kanter, R.J. Kohlenberg, and E.F. Loftus, Demand Characteristics, Treatment Rationales, and Cognitive Therapy for Depression, Prevention and Treatment, vol. 5, p. 41, 2002.

M.T. Orne, On the Social Psychology of the Psychological Experiment: With Particular Reference to Demand Characteristics and their Implications, Am. Psychologist, vol. 17, pp. 776-783, 1962.