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The bogus pipeline (BPL) is a research paradigm designed to reduce the effect of self-presentational motivations on attitudinal and behavioral self-reports first implemented by Jones and Sigall (1971). Among other factors, such as subjects’ generosity in rating others, their desire to please the experimenter, and their possible lack of interest in the experiment, the desire to present oneself in a favorable light and to give answers that are perceived as socially acceptable was and continues to be a concern to researchers, since the presence of such biases can yield inaccurate results (Jones and Sigall, 1971). Proponents of the BPL argue that this procedure more effectively mitigates these factors than traditional paper-and-pencil questionnaires (Roese and Jamieson, 1993) and physiological measures such as galvanic skin response (Jones and Sigall, 1971).
Method and Apparatus
The heart of the BPL is the equipment with which it is implemented and the verisimilitude phase, during which the subject is convinced of the paradigm’s efficacy. The subject is shown a machine, often referred to as an “electromyograph” (EMG) (Jones and Sigall, 1971; Roese and Jamieson, 1993), that consists of some complicated (but nonfunctioning) computer equipment, a console with a scaled readout controlled by a steering wheel, and a pair of electrodes connected to the apparatus (Jones and Sigall, 1971; Roese and Jamieson, 1993; Quigley-Fernandez and Tedeschi, 1978; Reiss, Rosenfeld, Melburg, and Tedeschi, 1981). The subject is told that the machine accurately predicts responses by “measuring ‘implicit muscle movements’ in the forearm” (Jones and Sigall, 1971). The participant places his hands on the steering wheel, which is ostensibly connected to the elaborate computer equipment; the electrodes pasted on his forearms are said to measure the implicit response generated by questions asked by the experimenter. The subject is then asked questions for which an attitudinal or behavioral self-report is required, and told to predict the EMG’s output measure of his response. Thus, if the subject believes the machine’s abilities to be genuine, he should represent his attitudes and behaviors more truthfully “to avoid being revealed as a liar or as out of touch with [himself];” the assumption is that people do not want to be proven wrong by a machine (Roese and Jamieson, 1993).
In order to ensure that subjects are convinced of the BPL machine’s efficacy, researchers have implemented a verisimilitude phase, the goal of which is to eliminate any suspicions the subject might have about the capabilities of the EMG machine. Often, the subject is asked to complete a pre-experiment questionnaire, the answers to which are surreptitiously copied by a confederate. The subject is then hooked up to the EMG and told that, in order to calibrate the machine, he will be asked the same items he answered on the questionnaire. A confederate in another room controls the readout of the EMG to display the correct answers, effectively proving to the subject that the EMG can accurately measure his attitudes. This method has been shown to be effective at dispelling subjects’ suspicions about the veracity of the machine’s capabilities (Jones and Sigall, 1971; Reiss, Rosenfeld, Melburg, and Tedeschi, 1981; Quigley-Fernandez and Tedeschi, 1978).
Evidence and Experimentation
The BPL has been applied primarily in experiments for which subjects must give attitudinal or behavioral self-reports. In the former type of experiment, the BPL has been shown to be more effective than paper-and-pencil methods at measuring subjects’ attitudes; subjects’ “endorsement of socially desirable statements was attenuated” (Roese and Jamieson, 1993) on questions requiring subjects to evaluate racial stereotypes, evaluate a handicapped or obnoxious person, and disclose potentially undesirable information about themselves (Jones and Sigall, 1971; Roese and Jamieson, 1993). Similar results were found when researchers tested whether subjects would reveal that they had received prior information about an experiment; under BPL conditions, subjects were more likely to confess and to reveal their source (Quigley-Fernandez and Tedeschi, 1978). In studies measuring the BPL’s effect on behavioral self-reports, evidence showed that subjects were more likely to admit performing socially unacceptable or illegal behaviors, such as smoking marijuana and drinking alcohol while pregnant, in a BPL condition than under normal procedures (Roese and Jamieson, 1993). However, under similar conditions in which children were longitudinally measured for frequency of cigarette smoking, the BPL condition showed no significant advantage over paper-and-pencil methods (Hansen, Malotte, and Fielding, 1985).
Ostrom (1973) has been the most prominent critic of the BPL, arguing that the paradigm is no more effective than and not functionally different from paper-and-pencil methods at measuring attitudinal and behavioral self-reports (Ostrom, 1973); however, Roese and Jamieson (1993) reported in their meta-analysis that “significant interactions between the BPL vs. PP manipulation and other independent variables were evident in half of the 31 studies” analyzed, while cautioning that use of the BPL to measure attitudes is most accurate “when assessing attitudes that are relatively central and accessible.” Most other criticisms of the BPL procedure have been based on procedural and ethical grounds; critics cite the method’s unwieldy apparatus, concerns about overuse leading to public familiarity with the procedure, and the fact that subjects sometimes refuse to participate due to the procedure’s mental invasiveness as practical flaws (Ostrom, 1973; Hansen, Malotte, and Fielding, 1985). In addition, the BPL has been criticized by researchers concerned about its use of deception and coercion in getting subjects to reveal information about themselves, the disclosure of which could have potentially harmful effects for the subject (Ostrom, 1973; Aguinis and Handelsman, 1997). Many researchers have recommended using caution when implementing the BPL procedure (Ostrom, 1973; Roese and Jamieson, 1993; Aguinis and Handelsman, 1997).
Alternatives to the BPL include the bona fide pipeline and the Implicit Attitudes Test, both of which measure response latency in making associations between attitude objects and other stimuli. The former method analyzes the time it takes for a subject to label an adjective as good or bad after being primed with an attitude object (Fazio, Jackson, Dunton, and Williams, 1995), and the latter measures response time and number of errors in sorting stimuli between two attitude dimensions (Greenwald et al., 2002). Both of these procedures allow implicit attitudes to be measured unobtrusively, without any of the deception or embarrassing self-revelations required by the BPL.
Overall, the BPL has been shown to be effective at decreasing self-presentational motivations in attitudinal and behavioral self-reports; the question remains as to whether its level of effectiveness is proper justification for the ethical and practical problems it brings with it.
Aguinis, H. and Handelsman, M. (1997). “Ethical Issues in the Use of the Bogus Pipeline.” Journal of Applied Social Psychology, pp. 557-573.
Fazio, R., Jackson, J., Dunton, B., and Williams, C. (1995). “Variability in Automatic Activation as an Unobtrusive Measure of Racial Attitudes: A Bona Fide Pipeline?” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, pp. 1013-1027.
Greenwald, A., Banaji, M., Rudman, R., Farnham, S., Nosek, B., and Mellott, D. (2002). “A Unified Theory of Implicit Attitudes, Stereotypes, Self-Esteem, and Self-Concept.” Psychological Review, pp. 3-25.
Hansen, W., Malotte, C. K., and Fielding, J. (1985). “The Bogus Pipeline Revisited: The Use of the Threat of Detection as a Means of Increasing Self-Reports of Tobacco Use.” Journal of Applied Psychology, pp. 789-792.
Jones, E. and Sigall, H. (1971). “The Bogus Pipeline: A New Paradigm for Measuring Affect and Attitude.” Psychological Bulletin, pp. 349-364.
Ostrom, T. (1973). “The Bogus Pipeline: A New Ingnis Fatuus?” Psychological Bulletin, pp. 252-259.
Quigley-Fernandez, B. and Tedeschi, J. (1978). “The Bogus Pipeline as Lie Detector: Two Validity Studies.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, pp. 247-256.
Riess, M., Rosenfeld, P., Melburg, V., and Tedeschi, J. (1981). “Self-Serving Attributions: Biased Private Perceptions and Distorted Public Descriptions.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, pp. 224-231.
Roese, N. and Jamieson, D. (1993). “Twenty Years of Bogus Pipeline Research: A Critical Review and Meta-Analysis.” Psychological Bulletin, pp. 363-375.