Today, the world of psychological experimentation is tightly packed with ethical and professional guidelines, regulations, and prohibitions. In the Netherlands there are institutions such as the Leiden Commission Ethical Psychology (CEP) and also at the European level you will find regulations regarding ethics. For example, the European Federation for Psychologists (EFPA) ethical guidelines in which a lot of things are banned, or are made mandatory, mostly because of the well-being of the participants, but also to monitor the integrity of the subject of psychology. Scientists should take into account, among other things, respect for the participants’ human rights and dignity, with the scope of the researcher’s capacity (which means that he has to keep his field and not just to investigate other disciplines without thorough knowledge ), responsibility (the direct effects of his experiment become known), integrity and so on.
The American Psychology Association (APA) has also developed guidelines in a so-called ‘code of conduct’, or a code of conduct. Here too you will find a range of rules that a researcher must meet before he can run his experiment. Voluntary participation, for example.
Perhaps you know the story of the Dutch Diederik Stapel, who was wrestling with his data to make his publications look more beautiful? Of course, ethically (as well as professional) such behavior is absolutely not justified. But the above-mentioned aspects that a researcher should take into account, that’s just a summary of the rough categories found in an ethical code of conduct. Each category has tig of smaller rules.
In the past, psychologists had no guidelines or codes of conduct. Approximately 60 to 50 years ago, experiments were more or less “in fashion” among psychologists, and at that time many great discoveries were made through experiments that would now be absolutely out of the mind. Yet, these experiments have been very enlightening and are often quoted and quoted to date. In short, they have had a huge impact, both within psychology itself and beyond, both scientists and laymen. Below are some of those very remarkable experiments …
10. Stanford Prison: The role you play influences your behavior!
In 1971, scientist Philip Zimbardo started with colleagues an experiment that still enjoys great publicity today (or rather, infamous). They investigated the behavior of people in relation to roles taken, and required healthy young men to engage in a “prison life investigation”. They would earn $ 15 a day, compared with the current standard for fees very low. Half of the participants were arrested in a group of detainees, the other half in a group of ‘guards’. Everything was played as realistically as possible, so the detainees were also treated as true criminals (bleed and humiliated). The first day went well, but the second day the detainees started a strike, they no longer listened to the guards. These saw the latter as a threat, and they took revenge by isolating the prisoners from each other, and humiliating or lonely closing up.
In just a few days, these normal students changed into sadistic guards, and although the experiment had to take two weeks, it was stopped after five days. In the meanwhile, two prisoners had already been forced out of the experiment. Zimbardo himself has become one of the most successful behavioral psychologists in the last decades and won a Gold Medal for Progress in Psychology in 2012!
The BBC has made a good documentary about this remarkable experiment, which can be viewed here .
9. Blue eyes: a lesson in discrimination.
Jane Elliot designed an experiment in 1968 to teach primary school children how it is to be discriminated against. Jane was not a psychologist but a teacher, and she saw a major problem in discrimination. Therefore, she wanted to let children experience what it was like to live on the wrong side of society. A noble endeavor, perhaps, although the effect was discusable.
The children were split into two groups by means of their eye color, and Jane subsequently read ‘hardly’ scientific findings that concluded that blue-eyed children are superior to differently colored. So they would be treated the same day, Jane said. It took only one day until the proposed group of blues became fresher and the otherwise-colored insecure. The same effect occurred when the rolls were reversed.
The two biggest problems with this research? Firstly, participants were not asked if they wanted to participate or not, and secondly, they were lied. Both are now absolutely forbidden in experiments (although sometimes lying can be made exceptions).
Watch a video of this experiment here
8. The sample study: Learning stutter?
Jane of number nine came from Iowa, and experiment number eight was developed in Iowa by Wendell Johnson, a few decades earlier (1939). They wanted to liberate the world from the phenomenon. An honorable endeavor, but the approach was dubious. Wendell and colleagues took creatures under the wing, including some stutterers, and others who did not stutter. Then they taught these young children with either positive feedback, or negative feedback, in which the last were constantly told that they stumbled terribly (whether they actually did or did not).
Their results? No effect of the way of learning on stuttering. But unfortunately, the self-confidence of the small participants! For example, some developed the same self-confidence problems that stewards often experience!
7. The Rovershol Experiment: Enemies make you so!
Muzafer Sherif is one of the most famous psychologists of recent decades, and this early 1954 experiment is one of his most famous “products”. He invited boys to a summer camp before their puberty and divided them into two groups. His team tried to influence group dynamics by, for example, stimulating a constant league between these two teams. This did not happen at all, and within a few days the two groups stood opposite each other and hated each other with an intensity that was not healthy for such young children.
However, Sherif and his team also managed to turn the vote on the other side by confronting both groups of youngsters with problems (like leaky lines) that could only be conquered. After a few of these kinds of challenges, the two groups were almost totally integrated! Still, this experiment, due to lack of permission, is unthinkable in the present time! Would you sacrifice your children to such an experiment?
This experiment is known as the “Robbers Cave Experiment” and falls under the “Realistic conflict theory”.
6. Taught helplessness: Even if the solution is still so obvious …
This time an experiment that is not harmful to humans, but to animals. Dogs, to be precise. Martin Seligman and his team used dogs to show that you can learn helplessness. They stopped dogs in a cage in which a barrier was mounted. The dogs were given painful electrical shocks, which were prevented when jumping over the barrier. No wonder, the dogs learned this fast! But in a next phase the dogs were put in a cage and whatever they did, the shocks were not to be avoided. Then they were again placed in the cage with the barrier, where they first learned to avoid the pain by jumping over the barrier. But, instead of jumping, the dogs did nothing but shame and crawl over the ground. Learned helplessness. Can you imagine that they would do this with the dog or cat (of the neighbors)? Or you hamster, guinea pig, rabbit, snake, goldfish?
10 MOST FAMOUS PSYCHOLOGICAL EXPERIMENTS
5. Harlow’s monkeys: fabrics versus wires mothers …
Harry Harlow experimented with monkeys in the 1950s. He presumably thought that his experiment would not be acceptable to people-babies, although this was a matter of interest. The monkey babies were separated from their real mother one hour after birth and stopped at two fake mothers, one by wire, for food, and one by one for cuddling. It turned out that the monkey babies spent almost all their time in the fabric mother, despite the fact that the wire mother gave food. In addition, when Harlow scared the monkeys, they went to their mother to the mother.
Also, Harry’s monkeys isolated from their group members to show that when someone is isolated from the group, he or she can no longer learn to work in a group at a later age. In 1985 Harlow stopped these experiments at the request of the APA. However, other researchers continue such experiments in a milder or more hidden way, although animal organizations are doing all the effort to stop this madness.
4. The Milgram experiment: who dares to enter the authorities?
One of the most famous experiments of the last century: Stanley Milgram’s experiments. In his experiment, he wanted to find out how it could be that people were capable of atrocities like in the Jewish camps in World War II. The idea behind his experiments (which probably also seems to be true) is that people are very inclined to follow a figure that radiates authority.
In 1961 he started his obedience experiment. Each experiment consisted of a teacher and a student, but in fact the student was a secret employee of the researcher, and the teacher was the only “real” participant. The teacher’s task was to ask the pupil (who was in a separate room, shielded by a mirror glass) to ask questions and to apply electrical shock when the answers were wrong. The height of shocks would gradually increase as the learner made more mistakes. The experiment began, the student started making mistakes, and gradually shouting out of pain. However, at the insistence of the researcher who stood behind the teacher and stimulated him to continue (“the experiment requires you to continue”), most participants continued to administer shocks to far in the “red” area voltage on their meter.
If it was not an employee in the other room but a real person, with real electroshocks, then the vast majority of teachers would actually have killed their student in this experiment! Disclosure of this data to participants, afterwards, could cause emotional trauma. After all, it tells people that they could have killed someone in theory, simply because a man in a white lab coat said they had to do that!
In addition, Milgram had begun his experiments to ask a group of psychologists to estimate how many people would be the “life-threatening” area with shocks. These so-called experts in the field of human knowledge estimate about 1 to 3%. In fact, 65% of participants exceeded 450 volts.
One final remark to mitigate these shocking findings: most teacher participants had a lot to do with their victims and each participant stopped halfway at least once to ask if he really had to go through.Some participants even offered to return the participants money if they were allowed to stop. But the experimental leader was insane, and ultimately, more than half of all people swore for his authority!
3. Impact effect: If others do nothing, why do I?
In 1968, John Darley and Bibb Latane began an experiment to investigate how people respond to the shared responsibility that arises when one is in a group. They were stimulated by the killing of Kitty Genovese, a lady who was arrested for a period of about half an hour and eventually killed by a guardian, in a street where dozens of people watched, and no one was alarmed because everyone thought that others would do.
Darley and Latane were waiting for participants in a waiting room, or filling in a short questionnaire.Without informing the participant, Darley and Latane then caused all kinds of alarming things in the area, such as a situation in which smoke from another room, or another participant who suddenly suffered an epileptic attack. How quickly responded to such threats, seemed to depend strongly on the amount of others in the room. If they were alone, then most participants came into action quite quickly. When there were others, and they did not do anything, the participant almost never did anything! After all, others did not do anything? Maybe it was not so serious?
2. Asch Conformity: If others think, who am I then to disagree?
In 1951, Solomon Asch conducted an experiment to the conformity, or similarity, that one shows if their own opinion stands against another’s opinion. One participant was right in a group of other “participants”, not knowing that these others were all secretly Solomon staff members. Their task was to identify the longest or the shortest of three lines. A very simple task! And yet, sometimes other participants had the wrong one, just picking the wrong line. However, a large proportion of the actual participants (37 out of 50 in total) matched one or more times with that ‘wrong’ option if the group members were in front of him. Afterwards, it was found that people were not really convinced that their own answer was wrong, but that they only participated with the group because they were not sure. So strong group pressure can be!
1. Little Albert: Forever a plush phobia!
In 1920, this number was one of the unethical experiments ever performed by John B. Watson (one of the great thinkers behind behaviorism, a flow of which the psychology of today is largely developed).Behaviorism is about learning, in particular learning to connect an observation with another. Suppose you hear a click and then get an ice cream. Soon, most will learn to associate the click with an ice cream. At one point, this effect is so bad that a click can already let your water teeth before you see or smoke the ice cream!
Watson tested this on a 9 month old baby named Albert. The boy had fun in (plush) animals, mainly a white rat. But Watson always confronted Albert with a painfully loud noise when the white mouse was in the neighborhood. As a result, Albert developed an fear of white rats, and for almost all other animals and plush issues. And after the experiment, nobody bothered to bring Albert back to this fear!Forever a plush phobia!
The conditions for which experiments are required may sound quite obvious, after all, of course, you ask your participants in advance for their voluntary participation, and help them later if they develop personal problems because of your experiment! However, it is not always easy to take into account all those ethical rules as it seems. Sometimes you are hurting participants without knowing yourself (for example, when you show shocking images, this can work traumatically when participants remember the pictures later). Sometimes it’s also difficult to inform participants about what to do in an experiment without contaminating the experiment, but you must tell participants about the actions in the experiment, otherwise they can not make a good estimate of whether they are or do not want to participate). Difficult or not, nowadays, ethical control is much stricter, and although we can make fewer major steps now, it is a reassurance for our “potential participants”. You will not soon get into a Stanford prison experiment … at least not as a participant in an experiment.
10 MOST FAMOUS PSYCHOLOGICAL EXPERIMENTS