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In the field of social psychology, a breaching experiment is an experiment that seeks to examine peoples' reactions to violations of commonly accepted social rules or norms. Breaching experiments are most commonly associated with ethnomethodology, in particular the work of Harold Garfinkel. The conduct of a breaching experiment is sometimes referred to as "Garfinkeling."
- Erving Goffman's seminal study Behavior in Public Places gives some classic examples of behavioral norms, such as "it is inconsiderate to litter - put your garbage in the trash can". A breaching experiment studies people's reaction to an experimenter who breaks this kind of small, everyday rule. The strength of the reaction is taken as an indication of the strength of the rule.
- "The inexplicable do-gooder": Social science researcher Earl R. Babbie writes that "it is a social rule that ordinary citizens should not pick up garbage from the street, or mend street signs, or otherwise fix problems." Babbie claims that people have negative reactions when they see somebody fixing something that is not "their job" to fix; in some cases, altruistic actions are viewed as personal intrusions.
- A famous breaching experiment was conducted on the New York City subway in the 1970s, when experimenters boarded crowded trains and asked able-bodied but seated riders, with no explanation, to give up their seats. Reportedly, the experimenters themselves were deeply troubled by being involved in such a seemingly minor violation of a social norm. The experiment was supervised by Stanley Milgram. 
- The MTV show Boiling Points is a breaching experiment-based reality program where actors will subject people, chosen randomly, to absurd and often discomforting behavior. If the "subject" endures throughout a pre-set period of time without losing control of their temper, they are given US$ 100.
Interview usage of experiments Edit
Often, breaching experiments are conducted on job or educational interviews, particularly of candidates for medical school admission. This type of interview is known as a stress interview, and is used to verify that the interviewee can handle high-stress, interpersonal situations, such as when one party behaves in a clearly inappropriate manner. For example, physicians are often asked inappropriate questions by patients, but must keep a calm temper even when this happens. Sometimes these interview devices are considered inappropriate and may constitute harassment.
Some breaching experiments conducted in the past would be considered unethical today because of their intrusive nature. Such experiments have contributed to the rise of human subjects review of social science research, often based on the principle of informed consent.
Garfinkel, Harold, 1985 [Reprint]. Studies in Ethnomethodology. Polity Press.
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