25 Mind Blowing Psychology Experiments…You Won’t Believe What’s Inside Your Head

Posted by on June 5, 2012

Why do people act the way they do? Psychologists have been pondering this question since ancient times. Much of the knowledge we have about the human mind today has come from psychology experiments conducted within the last century. From Asch’s Conformity Experiment to Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment, the psychologists in this list of 25 Intriguing Psychology Experiments have helped gather new information and provide insight into the otherwise chaotic trends in human thought and behavior.

Do you think you’re pretty observant? There’s one way to find out. Click on the video link above. Did you get the correct answer? If you did, congratulations! But the more important question is: Did you notice the man in the gorilla suit? In Simons and Chabris’ famous awareness test, subjects were asked to count how many passes occurred between basketball players on the white team. In the middle of the test, a man in a gorilla suit walked onto the court and stood in the center before walking off-screen. The study found that the majority of the subjects didn’t notice the gorilla at all, proving that humans often overestimate their ability to effectively multi-task.


Violinist in the Metro Station

Do you take the time to stop and appreciate the beauty around you? According to an experiment conducted in 2007, chances are you don’t. World famous violinist Josh Bell posed as a street musician in a Washington D.C. metro station to see how many people would stop and listen. Despite the fact that he was playing a $3.5 million handcrafted violin and had just sold out a concert in Boston where ticket prices averaged $100 each, very few people stopped to appreciate his beautiful performance. He made a measly $32 that day.


Piano Stairs

A Volkswagen initiative called The Fun Theory is setting out to prove that people’s behavior can be changed for the better by making mundane activities fun. In a recent experiment, they set up musical piano steps on the staircase of a Stockholm, Sweden subway station to see if more people would be more willing to choose the healthier option and take the stairs instead of the escalator. That day, 66 percent more people took the stairs than usual, proving that fun is the best way to get people to change their ways.


The Milgram Experiment

Humans are trained to take direction from authority figures from very early in life. An experiment conducted in 1961 by Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram measured this willingness to obey authority figures by instructing people to perform acts that conflicted with their morals. Participants were told to play the role of “teacher” and administer electric shocks to “the learner,” who was supposedly in a different room, every time they answered a question incorrectly. In reality, no one was actually being shocked. Instead, Milgram played recordings to make it sound like the learner was in a great deal of pain and wanted to end the experiment. Despite these protests, many participants continued the experiment when the authority figure urged them to, increasing the voltage after each wrong answer until some eventually administered what would be lethal electric shocks. Similar experiments conducted since the original have provided nearly identical results, indicating that people are willing to go against their consciences if they are being told to do so by authority figures.


The Marshmallow Test

Can deferred gratification be an indicator of future success? This is what Walter Mischel of Stanford University sought to determine in his 1972 Marshmallow Experiment. Children ages four to six were taken into a room where a marshmallow was placed on the table in front of them. Before leaving each of the children alone in the room, the examiner told them they would receive a second marshmallow if the first was still on the table after 15 minutes. The examiner recorded how long each child resisted eating the marshmallow and later noted whether it correlated with the child’s success in adulthood. A minority of the 600 children ate the marshmallow immediately and one-third deferred gratification long enough to receive the second marshmallow. In follow-up studies, Mischel found that those who deferred gratification were significantly more competent and received higher SAT scores than their peers, meaning that this characteristic likely remains with a person for life.


The Bystander Effect

In case of an emergency, most people would probably want to be in a busy area so they have a higher chance of receiving help. Contrary to popular belief, being surrounded by people doesn’t guarantee anything. A psychological phenomenon called the Bystander Effect states that people are more likely to help someone in distress if there are few or no other witnesses. If there are more people around, one usually thinks someone else will stop to help. Scientists call this the diffusion of responsibility. The Bystander Effect was recently tested out on a busy London street and it turns out perceived social status plays a role in whether a person will receive help, but most people still continue on their way without stopping.


The Asch Conformity Experiment

The Asch Experiment is another famous example of the temptation to conform during group situations. This series of experiments conducted in the 1950s placed one subject in a room full of actors. The person conducting the experiment held up an image with three numbered lines and asked each person in the room to identify the longest line. The actors purposely chose the incorrect line in order to determine whether the subject would answer honestly or simply go along with the group answer. The results once again showed that people tend to conform in group situations.


The Stanford Prison Experiment

Considered to be one of the most unethical psychological experiments of all time, the Stanford Prison experiment studied the psychological effects a prison setting could have on behavior. In 1971, a mock prison was constructed in the basement of the psychology building of Stanford University and 24 male students were randomly selected to play the role of either a prisoner or prison guard for two weeks. The students adapted to their roles a little too well, becoming aggressive to the point of inflicting psychological torture. Even psychology professor Philip Zimbardo, who acted as superintendent of the experiment, proved susceptible to its effects by allowing the abuse to continue. The study was called off after only six days due to its intensity, but it proved that situations could provoke certain behaviors, in spite of an individual’s natural tendencies


The Bobo Doll Experiment

During the 1960s, much debate arose about how genetics, environmental factors, or social learning shaped children’s development. Albert Bandura conducted the Bobo Doll Experiment in 1961 to prove that human behavior stemmed from social imitation rather than inherited genetic factors. He set up three groups: one was exposed to adults showing aggressive behavior towards a Bobo doll, another was exposed to a passive adult playing with the Bobo doll, and the third formed a control group. The results showed that children exposed to the aggressive model were more likely to exhibit aggressive behavior towards the doll themselves, while the other groups showed little imitative aggressive behavior.


Pavlov’s Dogs

Does the name Pavlov ring a bell? If not, you’ve probably been living under a rock. This famous experiment made the concept of the conditioned reflex widespread. Pavlov examined the rate of salivation among dogs when presented with food. He noticed the dogs would salivate upon seeing their food, so he began ringing a bell every time the food was presented to the dogs. Over time, the dogs began to associate the ringing of the bell with food and would salivate upon hearing the bell, demonstrating that reflexes can be learned.


Little Albert

The Little Albert experiment is like the human equivalent of Pavlov’s dogs. Probably one of the most unethical psychological studies of all time, this experiment conducted in 1920 by John B. Watson and his partner Rosalie Rayner at Johns Hopkins University conditioned a nine-month-old boy to develop irrational fears. Watson began by placing a white rat in front of the infant, who showed no fear at first. He then produced a loud sound by striking a steel bar with a hammer every time little Albert touched the rat. After a while, the boy began to cry and exhibit signs of fear every time the rat appeared in the room. Watson also created similar conditioned reflexes with other common animals and objects until Albert feared them all, proving that classical conditioning works on humans.


Carlsberg Social ExperimentIn this hilarious advertisement turned social experiment, unsuspecting couples walked into a 150-seat movie theater filled with 148 badass bikers and discovered that the only two empty seats were smack-dab in the middle. Some of the couples exited the theater to avoid having to shuffle past the bikers, but those who stayed were rewarded with Carlsberg beers and a whole lot of cheering. What would you do in that situation? Would you leave knowing your life would still be intact or trek your way to the middle of the theater and risk offending one of those intimidating guys? Just another reason why people shouldn’t judge based on appearances.


“Missing Child” Experiment

People often fail to notice their surroundings, an idea that was put to the test during a missing child experiment. A flier with information and a picture about a “missing child” was posted on the doors of a busy store. Some people stopped to study the flier while others merely glanced at it or didn’t look at all. What all of these people had in common that they were completely oblivious of the fact that the boy on the flier was standing right in front of the store. This experiment demonstrates that humans tend to overlook a lot of the things around them.


A Class Divided

Inspired by the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., third grade teacher Jane Elliott created an exercise in 1968 to help her white students understand the effects of racism. Elliott divided her class into two groups: blue-eyed students and brown-eyed students. On the first day, she designated the blue-eyed children as the superior group and gave them extra privileges, while the brown-eyed children represented the minority group. She discouraged the two groups from interacting and singled out students to emphasize the negative aspects of those in the minority group. She noticed immediate changes in the behavior of the children. Blue-eyed students performed better academically and some began bullying their brown-eyed classmates, while brown-eyed students experienced lower self-confidence and worse academic performance. The next day, she reversed the roles of the two groups and the blue-eyed students became the minority group. At the end of the exercise, the children were so happy they embraced one another and agreed that people shouldn’t be judged based on outward appearances.


Harlow’s Monkeys

You can thank Harry Harlow for the amount of affection you received as a child. In a series of controversial experiments during the 1960s, he revealed the importance of a mother’s love for healthy childhood development. Harlow separated rhesus monkeys from their mothers a few hours after birth and left them to be “raised” by two surrogate mothers. One mother was made of wire with an attached bottle for food; the other was made of soft terrycloth but lacked food. Interestingly, the baby monkeys spent much more time with the cloth mother than the wire mother, thus proving that affection plays a greater role than sustenance when it comes to childhood development.

Mary Reyes


Mary is a journalism student at the University of Florida. She loves vintage fashion, The Rat Pack, superheroes, and all things Disney. Someday, she hopes to dazzle the world with her writing skills by becoming the next J.K. Rowling.

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  • reviveramesh

    goof listing – thanks mary reyes ….and to all the people who are arguing to death about who is right and wrong – stop it – please ….funnily this comments section can be added to the list as a social experiment in how bad ass we are as humans are – instead of thanking mary for the work of putting it all together we take off one or the opther issues and create a situation of confrontation and agreeing and disagreeing – yo people stop all that – simply enjoy the list and move on

  • logids

    i love bacon

  • frfvrefre

    i l0ove burgers

  • jc3833

    anyone else disapointed to find the elevator video missing?

  • chandrakant kulkarni

    Yes, memories can be distorted.
    I was a witness to an accident in Mumbai, India -where a man on bike was hit by a speeding truck.
    The unfortunate biker fell down miserably.
    Trucks that came behind that accident – causing truck were also deadly fast, being on a highway.
    I saw 2-3 trucks ‘virtually flying’ over the biker’s injured body – thus saving him from shredding to pieces!
    Strangely, other 2-3 witnesses saw the trucks behind turning left or right: avoiding the biker’s injured body to get under their wheels.



  • Alius

    wow…really superb

  • Ken Doan

    Wow really intriguing or though i agree with Sean just because a huge group of people act a certain doesn’t mean everyone acts that way. Great list though =3

  • Connor

    As a student who is interested in the field of psychology I found this quite intriguing and yes whilst some of these tests where unethical and did prove what we already know they still did help enhance the knowledge that we do currently have

  • Dr. John M. Cook

    As a former behavioral scientist it is easy to punch holes in many older psychological tests with current research. Old experiments get revised with current information as science predicts will happen, but one is especially absurd and only amplifies how things change and how we learn over time.

    The baby monkey trial that shows how the monkey prefers the cloth covered frame to the wire one has more to do with the instinctual traits of a baby rhesus than a predilection for love over food.

    Most (but not all) baby monkeys will instinctually cling to the mothers coat for security against falling. This is an innate function similar to human babies knowing how cry for attention or food and to suckle. That bit of behavioral information was somewhat overlooked in the original trials, but is now better understood. It is not that they are demonstrating a need for love (they also are doing that) but the effective instinct is one of security.

  • Melinda Kane

    This was a truly fascinating article! I’d read about some but others were completely new and also funny:)

  • SETH

    Mmmmm! that’s quite interesting…although a sociology student, i find this work very educative and enlightening.thanks.keep that up.

  • Deb North

    Thank God you left out some of the horror stories. Much research has been outright unspeakable abuse and those researchers should be put in jail for the harm they’ve done. “Let’s see what this will do” is a mindset that, if given free reign (and it has), does not serve except to satisfy the ego of the ‘researcher’ who can brag they “discovered” something. I mean personally, I never understood how it bettered us as a species to ‘prove’ that a baby needs a mothers love, we have an innate need to belong to a group, and that contact with each other is a basic need just like food and water. I think we already knew this. But hey, grant money is a powerful motivator. Having said that, the FREE HUGS was a great story I remember seeing it when it first came out and getting emotional at the beauty of that single act, and how it grew. It reached people, love that stuff!

    • Dr. John M. Cook

      I’m saddened to see that you think that way. Most scientists are working on research grants that provide them with the income to do scientific research. They are sensitive humans and many, myself included, dislike harming animals, but for the progress of science and medicine and to factually comprehend the world we live in, scientists must steel their heartfelt spirits for the good that science brings.

      Animal torture is common in the world of humans ( cattle slaughterhouses, puppy mills, and others) and the world of animals is even worse. Please realize that most baby monkeys do not reach the age of a year before they are tortured and killed by adult monkeys, fall victim to vicious predation, or die a slow death to disease. Animals take those things far different than humans. Please try not to anthropomorphize animals too much. A common error by the scientifically uneducated. No negative dissention intended, simply information.

      • TheGrandChawhee

        Haha wow. Isnt it amazing how humans can know someone’s personality just by the things they type in forums? ……………. “A common error by the scientifically uneducated. No negative dissention intended, simply information”…..Here we have the smug, douche personality. This is your common Illusory superiority personality. common traits are Thinking their own opinions are facts, thinking that their beliefs are really “Correct answers” (facts) , and also feels the need to tell people that their opinions are incorrect when it is after all, a matter of opinion. Now this is not a Unique personality type to encounter, however the possessor always believes otherwise. A common error by the scientifically uneducated. No negative dissention intended, simply information…………………………………maybe read some philosophy or something and stop regurgitating ******** you heard some real scientist say.

        • George Elliter

          TheGrandChawhee, I believe you are interpreting his post too harshly. I don’t see anything suggested negatively to anyone, and where is the smug personality? What that person says is accurate and not, that I can see, intended to bother anyone. I would recommend that you read openly, not with such a need to be right (and angered) at all things you consider incorrect. That I can see, you should read your message again and consider all the abuse you have leveled at a person you know nothing about. Perhaps in your overt need to feel justified, your message is more applicable to yourself.

          He said “Please try not to anthropomorphize animals too much. A common error by the scientifically uneducated. No negative dissention intended, simply information.” and I take it to mean as he says. It is a common error, and he means nothing against anyone.

          I would have to ask you, why so violent? Is that truly necessary to justify your bitterness at those who have a more complete education than you? Please, take it easy and try not to assume others are against you. In this case, it appears you are the one who is tryly out of line.

        • ajstokes8

          “Scientifically uneducated” simply means those who do not understand the intent of, or the methods of, the scientific way. Scientific research is to add “weight” to claims of knowledge (or perceived “facts”) or conversely to refute them. It is a way of objectively testing new and old hypothesis. This way we can build on truths rather then ******** (scientific terminology) – well more likely to build on truths. Like anything this can be done for good or not so good purposes. Science is neutral, like a hammer, it can be used to destroy or to build up. What I think the good Dr is saying, is improving the lives of humans is more important then “culling” a few animals to potentially increase our knowledge base which can then be used to do much good and relieve much suffering.

          “Here we have the smug, douche personality. This is your common Illusory superiority personality. common traits are Thinking their own opinions are facts, thinking that their beliefs are really “Correct answers” (facts) ,” did you deduct that from his post? “Isn’t it amazing how humans can know someone’s personality just by the things they type in forums?” So is it, or isn’t it?

        • Levi Landes

          Don’t be a fool, in one breath you defend someone’s right to an opinion then in the next you ridicule someone else’s. Why? Because you agree with the former and not with the latter. Animals feel, they think, but not as humans do, and death and suffering have different effects on their minds. Speaking in terms of evolution, animals have adapted to the struggle that is survival. That is what they do, they survive, they do not prosper, they do not take more than is needed, and they do not feel a need for change, either positive or negative, this makes them a perfect control for the experiments that led to you having Penicillin when you get sick, or Vicodin when injured. Scientific advancement is a necessary thing, and at times a necessary evil., without which you’d be living under a feudal lord in a middle ages society breaking yourself in half to harvest someone else’s crops before the storms ruined yours, thereby causing you and your family to starve to death. Literally every single thing you touch on a daily basis you owe to science and the men who practice it. Now how about you take your pompous *** into your kitchen and eat one of the Pop-Tarts science so kindly provided you, brush your teeth with the toothpaste science provided you, then drive to work in the car that science provided you, and shut the hell up.

      • Paula

        I agree with you

  • Sean

    The experiments were quite interesting indeed. However, saying an experiment demonstrates that people ALWAYS behave in the same manner is a huge generalization. I really liked the information, but I feel it would be more accurate if, instead of saying people always act a certain way, you said people tend to act a certain way. Otherwise a good list. The experiments are definitely intriguing!

  • Plaisham

    Todays Horror….Harlow’s Monkeys….Go and read the story in Scientific American on abandoned children in Romanian orphanages. and the experiment of puttinf some in foster homes,,,somes to be adopted,,,and some LEFT there. And then tested these chikldren for various problems. THIS IS TODAY.

    And no one has said anything. A Todays Horror list number one for sure,

    • Deb North

      EXACTLY Plaisham! Leaving a child there, who no doubt understood it was separated and left behind. How effing CRUEL!

  • caroline mohamed

    Dear you are sweet and intelligent, go ahead!

  • Chelsea

    Stuff like this is great for college students! Im in a psychology course right now, and every week we have to share an article. Thanks for the help.

  • Caucasian (Georgian)

    Well done, Mary. It was really interesting. Thank you very much, my dear.

  • Stephanie

    Why are you so awesome? Looove reading your lists! =]