Interpersonal Understanding, Interpersonal Stress and Current States: Interrelationships and Treatment Assessment

Comtois, Richard J. (Ph.D., 1970)

Thesis directed by Associate Professor Keith E. Davis

This study investigated the effects of secobarbital (125 mg.) and methamphetamine (10 mg.) on interpersonal understanding, the handling of interpersonal stress, and a number of dimensions of self-report concerning the current state of subjects. New procedures were developed for these assessments, and a questionnaire concerning background and personality was also developed. There was a dual interest in validating the instruments and in assessing drug effects.

Subjects were 36 males, over 21 years old, with at least two years of college. They were divided into secobarbital, methamphetamine and control groups, with each subject being assessed on the same procedures two times--once under drug and once under placebo for the drug groups and once under placebo and once with no capsule for the control group. Order of treatment was counterbalanced, with six of each group of 12 receiving treatment during the first session and six during the second session. Treatments were administered in identical capsules using double-blind techniques.

Interpersonal understanding was assessed by averaging judges' ratings of subjects' answers to essay questions about short stories. Two different stories were used in each experimental session and each was assessed in terms of the appropriateness and completeness of handling ten areas of content (e.g., hostility, affection, authority), as well as several general dimensions. Samples of good answers and locations of each content type in each story were written for use by judges, along with detailed scale descriptions.

In order to assess the handling of interpersonal stress, each subject was placed in a different group of three confederates for an hour each session. The group would spend half of the session getting to know the subject, and then would proceed to stress him by challenging his values, attacking his motives, questioning his ability, and forcing him in general to deal with a fairly realistic criticism of his character and behavior. Performances were videotaped for later viewing by judges, two or more of whom rated each session on 100 scales. Some scales covered different aspects of the individuals' performance and others dealt with the situation created by the group so that it could be adjusted for.

A structured self-report of current state questionnaire was developed out of an explicit rationale. Logically related categories were used to organize and choose items, and items were written with a context to maximize their interpretability. It was administered four times prior to the experimental session to establish a baseline, and then at three different points in each experimental session.

The only drug effects were predicted ones on the self-report questionnaire: a highly significant effect for secobarbital on the scale "High," and a significant report for methamphetamine on the "Happy and relaxed" scale. An extensive consistency analysis was made within and between scales derived from the different instruments. They were constructed so as to be conceptually related and the relationships were highly consistent. On the basis of the carefully developed rationales for the instruments, some prior experimental results, and the successful consistency analysis, it was decided that there were no substantial treatment effects on the dimensions dealt with other than those mentioned above. It appeared that subjects were able to avoid drug effects which would have been an interference in a very demanding situation.

The three techniques were in large part validated by the study, and some different uses for them were specified. The next major step was seen to be further analysis of the data along lines suggested by this study--centering around further interpretation of the interpersonal understanding data by analyzing the results in terms of the contexts of individual stories. These results could then be more meaningfully related to behavioral and self-report data. [335 pp.]