Experimental work, started in 1971, was based on the theoretical-methodological team work presented above. At that time the underlying assumptions of the production-centered psychology of personality were as follows:
1) Development of personality takes place in the course of a process during which the person retains or changes his place in a social structure. Retaining or changing place does not happen gradually but passes through conflicts arising from time to time, obliging the person to make clear-cut decisions for either conservation or change.
2) Development of personality is an integral part of the process of historical progress where the social structure mentioned in paragraph (1) is either preserved or subjected to change. The conservation or change of the social structure is not gradual: it occurs in social crises in which clear-cut decisions are made for the conservation or revolutionary change of the structure.
3) Preservation or change of the individual’s place within the social structure is not a mere result of external social intervention to move or maintain the individual. A person is motivated to change or retain his place by the specifically human fundamental need which is essentially a need for development. But this development itself is mediated by the series of acts of retaining or changing place within the social structure.
4) Conservation or change of the structure of society is not an outcome of what certain groups of individuals happen to want: it occurs by historical necessity, independent of any person’s will. It is a necessity of economic nature which depends on the production of the means of production. In certain historical periods it is served by the conservation of the structure of the relations of production whereas in other periods by a radical change in those relations.
5) The process of development of personality and that of social progress are interconnected. When the individual decides whether he is to preserve or to change his place in the social structure, this is at the same time a contribution to deciding whether the social structure should change or remain the same. Also, when historical events give rise to either stability or changes in the social structure, the positions that may be taken in it will stabilize or change accordingly.
6) The decision which in a given period a person makes concerning the question, arising in an historical context, of preserving or changing the social structure, is determined by that person’s position in the social structure in question i.e. his class position.
The basic assumption for the experiments was that the self-development of the personality through crises and decisions can be grasped by analyzing behavior in conflict situations of decision.
Analysis was centred on two aspects of decision-making behavior: (1) What is it that the decision evokes or inhibits the memory of from among whatever has been stored and arranged into structures in memory throughout life? (2) What kind of a permanent mark does the decision produce, which may then prove decisive for the rest of the person’s life?
As regards the first of these questions, experiments were conducted by Garai (1969a) with undergraduate students in Moscow. A replication of the experiment with a control group of Budapest undergraduates, using Hungarian versions of the experimental devices, produced evidence to support the original results, showing that in situations of decision, life history memories (personal memory) can act as determinants even without the person becoming aware of them. Moreover, only those memories become conscious that play a part in organizing the social relationships of the person through the decision.
In another experiment, high school pupils were given a passage of surrealist prose, that is the kind of literature in which the sentences are not connected to one another to form a story or a logical train of thought but seem to follow loosely, “making no sense”, but still somehow holding together. The different groups were asked to retell the passage after having made various evaluative decisions concerning the text. These experiments reinforced the presupposition that recalling hidden structures of a text was markedly affected by the kind of value dimension – beautiful/ugly, tragic/idyllic, comic/elegiac or sublime/base – along which the decision was made.
For the second aspect of decision-making behavior, mentioned above, the presupposition was that the specifically human fundamental need becomes a motive by virtue of a decision alone. That is, choice is not determined by previously existing preferences and aversions but, on the contrary, the direction of the choice determined by the fundamental need will shape the preferences and aversions which then consistently determine further activities. Since such a hypothesis finds ample support in the rich fund of empirical evidence gathered through experiments in the theory of cognitive dissonance, the Department did not look for renewed experimental proof of the existence of such an inverse relationship. Instead, the attempt was made to specify whether the relationship itself could be considered as a specifically human characteristic and to what extent it was justified to suppose that the relationship was present throughout phylogenesis but at the human level appeared with essentially different qualitative features.
In order to settle this question, the members of the Department designed an experiment. It was expected that by observing the behavior of animals in a maze with one single crossing point, they could see if the first (random) choice at the crossing determined later preferences of direction or not. However, after the preparatory experiments to check various conditions of reinforcement, the work had to be suspended due to lack of suitable equipment.
After a relatively long time an experimental methodology using a modification of the game “Monopoly” was finally set forth as a tool of an essentially production-centered psychological approach to the problem of decision. The game itself was unknown to the subjects, high school pupils, and the only modification was the insertion in the instructions, comprising the smallest possible number of formal rules, of one saying that among the four subjects playing at one time the leader “plays as he likes while the rest should all play accordingly and consistently”. The instructions identified the leader according to a criterion dependent on the progress of the game, and it characterized a player for a period of several steps. (The designation “leader” was not used). The steps in the first part of the game involve certain decisions simulating economic activities purchasing sites, building houses, etc. In the experiment, according to the instructions, the “leader” had the privilege of deciding what he was going to buy and on what terms. His power was limited only by the instruction to be “consistent”, while the rest of the players” power depended on how they interpreted the deliberately vague instruction to play “according to what the leader does”. All subjects had to give reasons for each of their decisions.
The experiment was designed to model the rationalization of decisions and to use the model in exploring to what extent it depends on the position of who decides, and on the actual phase of the game, whether the rationalization concerns this position and phase only or is claimed to cover all positions and the whole of the game. After testing in 1973, the method was ready for application.