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5 Psychology Experiments That Will Change Your View Of Humans

Updated on April 3, 2016
These are the lines that the participant would be asked about
These are the lines that the participant would be asked about

1: Asch's Conformity Experiments

Conformity is when a person changes their behavior or attitude to fit with a group standard. This is very prevalent in our society as we have all felt at some point that we need to act a certain way in order to in. Solomon Asch (1955) wanted to test the power of conformity, so he devised a simple test. If you were a participant in this test you would arrive and sit at a table where five other people are already seated. The tester would then show you a standard line and three others. You would be asked which line matches the standard line. You can clearly see that the answer is the second line and await your turn to say so. You complete another trial in the same way. When you come to the third trial the answer is just as clear-cut but when the other participants answer they give an answer that is obviously wrong. You begin to squint and feel your heart pound. When you are asked for your answer will you go with your instinct or will you go with what the groups say?

Surprisingly most people will go with what the group say more than a third of the time. Certain conditions can increase chances of conformity such as the group having more than three people and the group being unanimous. It is quite scary that most people will change their views in order to fit in with a group, even if they know that the group is wrong.

L= Learner, T= Teacher, E= Experiementer
L= Learner, T= Teacher, E= Experiementer | Source

2: Milgram's Experiment on Obedience

Stanley Milgram (1933-1984) knew that people will often comply with social pressures but he wondered what they would do if given outright commands by people "in charge." To find this out he devised one of psychology's most famous and controversial experiments. In this experiment, participants drew slips from a hat. The participant would draw "teacher" and the other person (who would be in on the experiment), would draw "learner". The learner was led to an adjoining room and strapped into an electric chair (it wasn't really electric but the participant was led to believe that it was). The participant would then test the other person on a list of word pairs. Every time that they got a wrong answer the participant was to administer an "electric shock" to the learner, beginning with 15 volts- slight shock. If the participant did this then they would hear the learner grunt with pain. From there the shock moved on to 120 volts- moderate shock. The learner would shout out that the shocks are painful. By the time the tenth switch was reached which was labeled 150 volts- strong shock, the learner would be screaming and saying that they didn't want to continue. At this point in the experiment participants would be hesitating. But the experimenter would prod them by saying things like: "Please continue- the experiment requires that you continue" or "You have no other choice- you must go on". If the participant obeyed then the learner's protests would turned into shrieks of agony and they would eventually fall silent. Still the experimenter would push the participant towards the final, 450 volt switch. How far did the participants go?

Shockingly, 63 percent of the people complied with the experimenters wishes right up until the last switch. Even though in a pre-experimental survey most people claimed that they would stop as soon as the person began to shriek in agony. Milgram did more experiments to find out when obedience was highest. He found that obedience was highest when:

  • The authority figure was close at hand and was perceived to be a legitimate authority figure.
  • The authority figure was supported by a prestigious institution.
  • The victim was depersonalized or at a distance.
  • There was no one there to promote defience.

3: The Stanford Prison Experiment

The Stanford Prison Experiment was designed by Philip Zimbardo (1973). Zimbardo was interested in whether the brutality was reported among American prison guards was due to their personalities or was more due to the prison setting. His aim was to see how readily people conformed to their roles as either prison guard or prisoner in a simulated prison setting.

To study this, Zimbardo converted a basement of Stanford University into a mock prison. He recruited 10 "prisoners" and 11 "guards". The prisoners were treated like any criminal, they were arrested at their homes, fingerprinted, and "booked". They were given prison clothes and bedding and housed three to a room. The prisoners were given an ID number and only referred to by that number. The guards worse identical uniforms and dark sunglasses so as to make eye contact impossible. Three guards worked 8 hour shifts at a time and were allowed to do what they thought necessary to maintain order in the prison. (With the exception of physical violence).

Zimbardo found that within hours the guards had started to harass the prisoners. They behaved in a sadistic manner, and seemed to almost enjoy it. The prisoners soon adopted a prisoner-like behaviour as well. They started to take the prison rules very seriously and even told tales about other prisoners to the guards. The prisoners were completely dependant on the guards for everything and so they became more submissive towards them. As they became more submissive, the guards became more abusive.

During the second day of the experiment the prisoners barricaded themselves in their cells. The guards forced their way in and the ringleader was put into solitary confinement. After 36 hours the ringleader had to be removed from the experiment as he started to having uncontrollable bouts of screaming and crying. Despite being perfectly mentally stable 36 hours ago, he was showing signs of going into a deep depression. Over the next few days more prisoners had to be removed. Zimbardo intended to have to experiment run over the course of a fortnight but after just six days the experiment was shut down since the potential for psychological harm to the prisoners was so great.

This experiment shows that people will readily conform to the social roles they are expected to play. None of the guards had shown any sadistic tendencies before but yet they quickly became aggressive and abusive towards the prisoners. After the experiment ended both the guards and the prisoners were surprised by the way they had behaved and how quickly they had conformed to their roles.

An example of one of the punishments that the guards gave a prisoner.
An example of one of the punishments that the guards gave a prisoner. | Source

4: Blue Eyes Vs. Brown Eyes

The blue eyes vs. brown eyes experiment was developed by Jane Elliot in 1968. She wasn't a psychologist but an elementary school teacher who wanted to give her students hands-on experience with discrimination. She divided her class into two groups, one was a blue-eyed group and one was a brown-eyed group. She told the students that the children who had blue eyes were superior to those that had brown eyes. She told the children fake scientific research to make them believe her and gave the blue-eyed children certain privileges over the others. Within a day the "superior" group had turned crueller and the "inferior" group had become much more insecure. She switched the groups over and the same thing happened again.

This experiment shows that people will quickly adopt a superior attitude if they are led to believe that they are better than a certain group. Although this experiment was done with children we can see this behaviour in adults in real life. Things such as racism and sexism are based on a belief of one group thinking they are better than another.

5: The Bystander Effect

John Darley and Bibb Latane conducted a study in 1968 to test the bystander effect. They spilt participants into two groups. In one group a participant was given a survey and then left in a room alone to fill it out. The other group was given the same thing but they were together in the room instead of alone. In both groups harmless smoke would start to fill the room. Daley and Latane wanted to see if people would react differently to the smoke if they were alone verses in a group. They found that the participants that were left alone were much quicker to respond than the participants that were in a group.

This shows that we often stand by when we think someone else will step in. If we know we are the only ones who can help then we do but if we think someone else will do it then we have a tendency to do nothing.

What Experiment Did You Find Most Disturbing?

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