The Hot Sauce Paradigm

The first scholarly paper describing the use of chilli sauce as a method of inducing pain in psychological experimentees was published in 1999. The so-called Hot Sauce Paradigm (HSP) was suggested as an alternative to previously-used but ethically-problematic methods – such as administering electric shocks.

“Our goal was to provide an opportunity for people to engage in a behavior that could cause direct and unambiguous physical harm to another individual, while minimizing ethical concerns stemming from actual physical discomfort endured by participants during the procedure.”

- explained the four authors of ‘A hot new way to measure aggression: Hot sauce allocation.’(Aggressive Behavior, Volume 25, Issue 5, pages 331–348, 1999). The recipe for the sauce was described as follows:

“ – a mixture of 5 parts Heinz chili sauce and 3 parts Tapatio salsa picante hot sauce, produced by the Empacadora Company (Vernon, CA).”

Since 1999, the Hot Sauce Paradigm has been extensively employed to induce pain in psychological research experimentees across the globe. For a recent example, see : Rising up to higher virtues: Experiencing elevated physical height uplifts prosocial actions (Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 47 (2011) 472–476)

“To ensure the sauce was hot and could be considered hurtful, an independent sample of 12 participants tasted the sauce and rated the degree to which it could be considered hot and painful (1=not at all; 7=extremely). The sauce was considered to be quite hot (M=5.66, SD=0.88) and painful (M=5.58, SD=0.79).”

A precautionary standardisation measure which not all HSP-reliant studies have taken the trouble to perform. For although the recipe is very specific in terms of quantity and brand etc, until now the literature has not described any formal procedures to calibrate the true ‘hotness’ of the sauce, and thus the pain which it causes for participants. Perhaps suggesting, for future research, the possibility of rating the Hot Sauce via the internationally recognised Scoville Scale?

Resauces for psychology researchers: Heinz and  Tapatio