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Episode 69: Personal Space Invasions – Ethical Implications of one of Psychology’s Strangest Studies

Famous Study Involving Watching Men at UrinalsRemember the psychological study conducted in a men’s toilet? In the 1970s men were videotaped as they urinated – without their knowing it. Think this sounds weird? Unethical? What exactly were they looking to find out? We revisit this study and take a close look at what the critics say and what the authors themselves have to say in response. A fascinating look at the ethics, informed consent and research in psychology.

Resources for this Episode

  • Personal Space Invasions – this is episode 16 in which I first discussed this strange but memorable study.
  • The article discussed in this episode is Middlemist, R. D., Knowles, E. S. & Matter, C.F. (1976). Personal Space Invasions in the Lavatory: Suggestive Evidence for Arousal. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 33 (5), 541-546.
  • The popular press article which criticized the study (in an off-handed way) is called "Bathroom Behaviors" and it appeared in the APA Monitor on November of 1977, 8 (11), 21.

  • The critique by Koocher: Koocher, G.P. (1977). Bathroom Behavior and Human Dignity (1977). Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 35 (2), 120-121.
  • The reply by Middlemist, et al.: Middlemist, R., Knowles, E.S., & Matter, C.F. (1977). What to Do and What to Report: A Reply to Koocher. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 35 (2), 122-124.
  • Many thanks to Dr. Blaine Peden of the University of Wisconson-Eau Claire for all his help in putting this episode together.
  • Thanks also to Steven Soifer, founder of the Shy Bladder Center, for agreeing to be interviewed for this episode.
  • This episode from NPR is a video on personal space in Second Life: “Avatar gender and personal space invasion anxiety level in desktop collaborative virtual environments.”
  • The Shy Bladder Center website
  • The International Paruresis Association website



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    September 1, 2008

    Hi, this podcast seems to be missing? It does not play when i use the player and when i try to download it, it gave me a 404 error.

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    September 1, 2008

    That article isn’t available for free online. You’d have to go to a library to get it. Probably a college library since the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology is an academic journal.

    Back in 1977 I don’t see how they could have done this study in any other way, but today I guess they might be able to put motion sensors inside the urinals in order to detect the onset of “micturation” instead of having to directly observe. There are lots of technological options today that they didn’t have then.

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    September 1, 2008

    Im really intrested in the iopdcast you presented on personal space and arousal do you know where i can get Bathroom Behavior and Human Dignity (1977). Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 35 (2), 120-121?

    And intrested in your thoughts id the orginal study on personal space and arousal if you thought this reseach could be followed up in any kind of way? or if the method chosen is appropriate or if you thought a diffrent method would have been better for the study? this is based on episode 16



  4. SCIENCEPODCASTERS.ORG » Ethical Issues Confronting One of the Strangest Studies in Psychology

    September 1, 2008

    […] Click here to listen to this episode on One of the Strangest Studies in Psychology. […]

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