Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

John J. Harnett


This research investigated the influence of two social situational factors, anonymity and expected audience, on the expression of criticism and subsequent physiological and psychological response. The expression of criticism towards a disagreeable stranger was studied under the provision of either anonymity or no anonymity to the critic factorially combined with an expected audience for the criticism of either the person criticized (criticism-relevant expected audience), or someone who knew neither the critic or the person criticized (criticism-irrelevant expected audience).

A series of hypotheses were derived from Zillman's (1972) two factor theory of aggressive responding concerning the expression of criticism and subsequent physiological and psychological response. In general, it was expected that criticism would be greatest, and subsequent physiological response least, when the critic was anonymous with a criticism-irrelevant expected audience. The opposite pattern of response was predicted for critics who were nonanonymous with a criticism-relevant expected audience.

Subjects were 54 female students enrolled at a large urban university who were told that they were participating in a study concerned with the physiological and psychological correlates of critical thinking and expression. All subjects heard an audiotape of an obnoxious, though not personally insulting, confederate student at the same university. Two-thirds of the subjects were then randomly assigned to one of the four treatment conditions of anonymity or no anonymity with a criticism-relevant or irrelevant expected audience and asked to make a critical evaluation of the student. The remaining subjects were assigned to two control group conditions in which they did not criticize but were given an unrelated task involving verbalization. Forty-two subjects participated in a second session under the same treatment condition as the first session.

Dependent measures consisted of an independently rated score for the criticalness of each subject's evaluation of the obnoxious student, frequency of skin resistance response (SRR), range-corrected skin conductance level (SCL) and heart rate (HR), and responses to a postsession Self-Report Questionnaire which asked the subjects to rate themselves, the obnoxious student, and their criticism on various scales.

Results indicated no differences in the expression of criticism or subsequent physiological response as a function of the anonymity and expected audience factors. However, significant differences were noted on the anonymity factor for items on the Self-Report Questionnaire. Anonymous subjects reported less dislike of the confederate student and greater feelings of restraint in criticizing than the nonanonymous subjects. All subjects who expressed criticism gave themselves significantly less positive self-evaluations than those who did not. Physiological responding on SRR and HR was also found to vary significantly in the second session prior to criticizing when subjects received instructions which identified the particular treatment condition to which they had been assigned. Subjects in the anonymous, criticism-irrelevant treatment group showed the greatest arousal while subjects in the nonanonymous, criticism-irrelevant group displayed the least.

Results were discussed as reflecting an interaction between the potential threat of retaliation which subjects may have attributed to the various treatment conditions, and the social inappropriateness of expressing criticism towards a peer under conditions of low provocation. Modifications to the design of the present study were suggested to overcome these problems.


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