Demand characteristics refer to cues in an experiment that tell the participant what behavior is expected. It is a term used in psychology experiments to describe a cue that makes participants aware of what the experimenter expects to find or how participants are expected to behave.

Demand characteristics can change the outcome of an experiment because participants will often change their behavior to conform to the experimenters expectations. It refers to unintended features of the experiment which affect the results, thus compromising the internal validity of the study. The term is also used in the sociology of deviance to refer to those organizational features of work settings, other than the formal goals of the organizations or principles such as due process or fairness, which shape arrest decisions, plea bargaining, or jury deliberations. Examples of "demand characteristics" which police officers may attend to in making decisions on the street are the informal expectations of police culture, their work load, their need to accumulate overtime or organizational rules.

Moreover, Demand characteristics refers to the expectations of participants in an experiment about what is going to happen to them or the proper way to respond.

Other /More definition:
Demand characteristics refer to cues available to subjects in an experimental setting that may enable them to determine the purpose of the experiment or what is expected by the experimenter. Demand characteristics are factors in an experiment that suggest to participants how the experimenter would like them to behave. Moreover, Demand characteristics are attributes of an experiment that lead a participant to behave in a certain way, usually in support of the experimental hypothesis, independent of the levels of the independent variable.

Any potential cues or features of a study that:

  1. suggest to the participants what the purpose and hypothesis are, and
  2. influence the participants to respond or behave in a certain way.

Demand characteristics are artifacts and can threaten both internal and external validity.

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