Four Famous Psychological Experiments
The intricacies of the human mind have always been fascinating. What drives us, people, to behave the way we do is a mystery, but over time, there have been many psychological experiments conducted to better understand human psychology. Throughout the centuries, many psychological experiments were carried out, ranging from social tests to behavioral experiments that produced thought-provoking outcomes.
Today, we will be listing four psychological experiments whose results were more than merely interesting. It is worthy of mention, however, that some of the experiments listed below could not be repeated in modern times due to their unethical natures.
Stanford Prison Experiment, in 1971
Conducted by a research group led by psychology professor Phillip Zimbardo, the Stanford prison experiment was a social psychology experiment that focused on perceived power between prisoners and police officers. Zimbardo wanted to test the psychological effects of authority, so he recruited 24 male participants who, predictably, were the most mentally stable and healthy. The volunteers were assigned as either ‘guards’ or ‘prisoners’ with Zimbardo himself as the ‘superintendent’. Early reports revealed that the participants quickly embodied the roles they were handed. The ones acting as the guards would physically and mentally torture the prisoners, who in return were emotionally traumatized. This experiment was shut down only six days later due to its overwhelming danger, with Zimbardo writing: “We realized how ordinary people could be readily transformed from the good Dr. Jekyll to the evil Mr. Hyde..”
The Pygmalion Effect (or Rosenthall effect)
Psychologists Robert Rosenthall and Lenore Jacobson conducted a study that revealed higher expectations from teachers lead to enhanced performances from students. They tested children at an elementary school, where teachers were led to believe that the results would show students to be more gifted than others. The researchers, however, selected kids at random but presented them as the gifted ones to their teachers. At the end of the year, the students they had chosen arbitrarily were found to be performing better than the rest, even though they were not actually gifted in the first place. These results caused Rosenthall to conclude that biased expectancies could affect reality and create self-fulfilling prophecies. And that teachers had a real effect on their students’ academic performances.
The Marshmallow Experiment.
Walter Mischel, a psychologist, conducted several experiments in the 1960s to test preschool children’s delayed gratification. Along with his colleagues, he brought four-year-olds into a room and presented them with a marshmallow and two options. The researcher would leave the room, and if the children had not eaten the marshmallow yet when he came back, they would be rewarded with a second marshmallow. If they did eat it, however, they would not get a second — small reward now or a bigger one later. Some children reached for the marshmallow as soon as he left, while others resisted gratification and earned two at his return.
In follow-up experiments, the same children who had waited were re-evaluated as they got older. They demonstrated higher S.A.T scores, better responses to stress, and social competence. They even continued to show the same high results well in their 40s. This proved that delaying gratification at a young age led to successful advantages later in life.
The ‘Monster’ Study.
In 1939, a stuttering experiment was conducted on 22 orphans in Iowa. It was conducted by Wendell Johnson, and Mary Tudor to prove stuttering was a learned behavior. The kids were divided into two groups: one labeled ‘normal speakers’ and the second ‘stutters’ (half were actually stutters). During the course of the experiment, the first group was given positive feedback. The second group was made self-conscious about their speech and belittled for its imperfections. Five (normal) kids in the second group began stuttering after the negative therapy, while the ones with previous speech problems became even worse. Some even retained speech problems for the rest of their lives. The researchers tried to reverse the experiment (since they initially believed it was acquired), but its effects were permanent. It prompted major ethical concerns and that is why it is called the ‘Monster’ study.
Some of these psychological experiments brought about thought-provoking results and introduced new angles to look at human psychology. But, the methods with which the studies were conducted were unethical, and at the expense of actual human beings.
Author: Nour Nachoua Nait Ali.
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