Have you ever wondered why people act the way they do? It’s likely crossed your mind. While psychologists have pondered this question for a long time, much of what we know about the human mind has come from psychology experiments conducted within the last century. These experiments have been important to improving people’s lives. Unfortunately, some were not exactly ethical. From Asch’s Conformity Experiment to Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment, the psychologists on this list have helped gather new information and provided insight into the otherwise chaotic trends in human thought and behavior. Here are 25 Mind Blowing Psychology Experiments!
Selective Attention Test
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.
A Volkswagen initiative called The Fun Theory set 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.