Revolutionary Psychology Experiments That Are As Crazy As Their Results

A crazy scientist locks up a group of people by dividing them into two groups, the guards and the prisoners. As time goes by, insanity checks in, making the guards go full Nazi on the prisoners. Things escalate every minute and a sense of danger and violence seem persistent.

This is not a thrilling movie narration. It was a very real psychological experiment done by Psychology Professor Philip Zimbardo at Stanford University in 1971.

As crazy as this experiment may sound, wait until you hear about many crazier experiments that have had a great impact, both good and bad, in the field of psychology.

Here is a compilation of some of the mind-blowing psychological experiments.


Marshmallow Test of Patience

1. Marshmallow Test of Patience

This is a simple test of patience that has, time and again, proved that people who wait for better mostly end up with better results.

Walter Mischel of Stanford University decided to find out how instant gratification helped in shaping a person's future. He placed a marshmallow on the table and made kids choose to have them right then or wait for 15 minutes after which they can have two.

While few of the 600 children ate the marshmallow immediately about one-third of them waited and got two marshmallow treats. Follow up studies on all the children in their later years showed that children who waited and deferred gratification scored better in their SATs, meaning they held onto their behavior as they grew up.

Halo Effect - Love is Indeed Blind

2. Halo Effect - Love is Indeed Blind

What comes to your kind when you think of a particular person? It is probably just one major trait that kind of describes the person for us.

When you like something about a person, their other characteristics become appealing too.

This was tested by making man read the same script in two different tones. People found him more attractive when he was upbeat and smiling while he read. The same content delivered in a sad way made him look unpleasant.

How a person perceives another is mostly the halo effect in action. That's probably why you don't see the flaws in someone you are attracted to.

Habit or Conditioning?

3. Habit or Conditioning?

Pavlov demonstrated classical conditioning behavior through his experiments, now famously known as Pavlov's dog experiments.

He rang bells every time he presented his dogs with food. This made the dog’s associate food with the sound of bells. Next time when the bells were rung, the dogs salivated even when there was no food.

Humans Are Not Far Behind Too

4. Humans Are Not Far Behind Too

Little Albert was a victim of experimentation where he was treated with conditioning just the way Pavlov's dog was used.

John B Watson and his partner Rosalie Rayner, in 1920, decided to use 9 months old Albert in their experiments.

They induced fear to Albert whenever he touched a white rat by making a huge loud noise.They continued the conditioning with other animals until Albert became scared of them all, thus proving that conditioning worked on humans as well.

Free Hugs Campaign

5. Free Hugs Campaign

A hug is a human contact that can make anyone feel better. You don't have to trust my word on that. There is a study by Juan Mann to prove it.

He stood on the busy streets of Sydney holding a sign saying "Free Hugs".

While the campaign was banned by the police, over 10,000 people signed a petition to bring it back showing hugs do help.

Here is a warm big virtual hug for you!

Do You Actually See What's Missing

6. Do You Actually See What's Missing

What do most of us do on seeing a flyer with a missing child? This experiment proved that most people don't even look at it.

Humans tend to be quite low on observation when it does not directly concern them. When a poster with a missing child was put up, people did not take a good look at it. They, simply, gave it a glance all the while the exact same child was standing right in front of the poster.

Monkeys on Drugs

7. Monkeys on Drugs

Addiction has been a severe problem that many humans face. But experimenting on monkeys to find the psychological link to addiction does not sound like a good idea. Yet that is what psychologists G.A Deneau, Yanagita and Seevers intended to do in their experiments.

They exposed macaque monkeys to illegal addictive drugs like morphine, alcohol, cocaine, and amphetamines. Most monkeys ended up harming themselves by seeking the drugs on their own later.

Do You Think Your Memory is Foolproof?

8. Do You Think Your Memory is Foolproof?

Do you think your memory is foolproof? The answer is most often a NO. Our memories are easy to deceive and manipulate. They could get distorted every time we try remembering them.

Louis and Palmer were able to prove this with their car crash experiment in 1974. They questioned eyewitnesses to a clear crash to see if leading questions could distort their memory.

By using different verbs, the experimenters could indeed distort the witness's memory.

How to Stir Up and Resolve Conflicts in a Scout Camp

9. How to Stir Up and Resolve Conflicts in a Scout Camp

This is an interesting case of conflict resolution in a social group situation.

22 eleven-year-old boys were divided into two groups and were sent to different lodgings in a summer cabin. When the two groups met after a week, conflicts began to rise. This was further fueled by competitions that pitted them against each other.

But later, the experimenters designed fun activities and collaborative events to make the two groups work together and finally, they did go back home on the same bus as a single group.

This experiment showed that conflicts can be resolved through cooperation.

Cognitive Dissonance - Do You Mean What You Say

10. Cognitive Dissonance - Do You Mean What You Say

Cognitive dissonance is the fancy word used by psychologists to explain the mental process that contradicts one's own convictions.

Say you made a decision to buy expensive shoes which turned out to be quite useless. But you will convince yourself it was worthy. Humans will always try to convince their decisions were right.

In 1956, Jack Brehm, a psychology student demonstrated this by bringing in a few gifts to class and asked everyone to rate it. He then asked students to choose two items that were equally attractive. This made everyone rate their desired items higher than their original rating and their second choice received lower ratings.

A Practical Crash Course on Racism

11. A Practical Crash Course on Racism

One teacher in 1968 found a good way to teach about racism in her class. Grade teacher Jane Elliott divided her class into two groups. One with blue eyes and the other with brown eyes.

The blue-eyed students were given extra privileges and the groups were barred from any interaction with each other. The brown-eyed students were stereotyped by singling out students with negative behaviors.

The effects were very much noticeable. The blue-eyed kids did better in their studies and sometimes even bullied the brown-eyed minority kids. The brown-eyed kids, on the other hand, started losing confidence and had waning grades.

The Monster Study - The Power of Words

12. The Monster Study - The Power of Words

This is another unethical but popular experiment where the effects of positive and negative reinforcements were studied in speech therapy.

22 orphans were divided into two groups of children who stuttered and who did not. Children who suffered from stuttering were encouraged to speak more and given praises continuously. The other group was not so lucky. They were constantly criticized for every small mistake they made.

The results were quite something. While the first group showed improvements, children from the second group retained permanent speech problems.

Contagious Yawn

13. Contagious Yawn

On the lighter side of things, let's just talk about yawns. Did you know that it’s not just your stalker you might catch with your infectious yawn, your dog is not safe either?

A London study has found that 72 percent of dogs catch yawns by watching a person yawn. It took about 99 seconds for the dogs to yawn after seeing a person yawn. While the reason why this happens is not known, it is definitely a cool fact to know.

Homosexual Aversion Therapy

14. Homosexual Aversion Therapy

Talk about experiments that don't age well. In 1967, scientists MJ Mac Culloch and MP Feldman attempted a way to cure homosexuality. They published their results in British Medical Journal claiming to have cured 43 homosexual men.

Their experiment was rather disturbing. They gave electric shocks to subjects as they were shown slides of men. Slides of women were shown without any shocks associated with them. The study was discredited for good in 1994 by the American Psychological Association and was deemed dangerous and ineffective.

$32 For a $3 Million Violin

15. $32 For a $3 Million Violin

Have you ever wondered how a pack of fruits presented in a supermarket looks more attractive than the same sold in a street shop? That's because our minds tend to attach value from how it is shown.

This fact was proven by a simple experiment. In 2007, famous violinist Joshua Bell played his $3.5-million handcrafted violin in a street near the metro station in Washington DC. All he could gather was measly $32 while his previous performance at a Boston concert was sold out with tickets costing an average $100.

Piano Stairs - The Proof to Fun Theory

16. Piano Stairs - The Proof to Fun Theory

Did you know that adding a little bit of fun to whatever you do makes you more productive? Of course, all work and no play all day can make anyone glum.

This was taken to experiment by Volkswagen in what they called the Fun Theory experiment in Stockholm, Sweden. They simply redesigned a stairwell to look like piano keys and noticed that a 66% rise in the number of people opting to take the stairs instead of the escalator.

The Order is Important!

17. The Order is Important!

In 1961, Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram wanted to know the extent to which people would obey an authoritative figure and perform acts that conflict with their morals. Participants played the role of a 'teacher' who had to punish 'learners' with electric shocks when they answered a question incorrectly.

While, in reality, no one was actually shocked, the experiment showed that many participants continued to administer electric shocks despite hearing painful cries and pleas to stop.

Some even went as far as to raise the voltage to lethal levels when authority urged them to do so.

The Bystander Effect

18. The Bystander Effect

There have been quite a few notorious cases of bystander effect where people when in a social group, do not offer help in emergencies.

This socio-psychological phenomenon has been put to test on a busy London street. While social status may play a role in receiving help, most of the time, people from a crowd wouldn't bother much to offer help.

That's why it is advised that when you seek help in a social situation during emergencies, point to a person and ask them for help directly. Generally addressing a crowd may not push anyone to call an ambulance.

The Need to Fit In

19. The Need to Fit In

If there is one common feeling other than basic needs that humans feel, it is the need to fit in. The Asch experiment was a series of experiments conducted in the 1950s to see if people could resist the temptation to conform to a social group.

The study involved a group of actors placed along with the participant in a room. When asked which the longest line from an image was, all the actors correctly pointed out a line. More often, this made the unsuspecting participant to choose the incorrect line as well.

Children See and Children Do

20. Children See and Children Do

In the 1960s,scientist Albert Bandura tried to prove that human nature was a result of social learning and imitation rather than inherent genetic factors.

He devised an experiment where children were divided into three groups.

The first group was exposed to adults who were aggressive with the Bobo doll. The children who witnessed aggressive behavior were themselves exhibiting similar behavior to the doll.

The second group was let to be with adults who were passive and played with the doll and the third group was a control group. Children from both these groups did not exhibit aggressiveness as the first group did.

Free Beer to Unprejudiced Souls

21. Free Beer to Unprejudiced Souls

Carlsberg took its advertisement to several notches higher when they decided to run in as asocial experiment.

They filled a movie theater of 150 seats with 148 heavy-looking bikers with just two seats in the middle left free. A pair of couples were then led into the theater. Most couples avoided the trek amidst the thug-like bikers but those who made it to the empty seats were given free beer. This was a message from Carlsberg to clear up that appearances don't mean anything.

Harlow's Monkeys and Their Fake Mothers

22. Harlow's Monkeys and Their Fake Mothers

While still considered unethical by animal lovers, Harlow's Monkeys experiment helped prove how much a mother's affection is required for the healthy upbringing of a baby.

In the 1960s, Harlow did a series of experiments where he separated rhesus monkeys from their mothers just after birth. He made two surrogate mother figures, one made of wire and one of soft terrycloth. The wire mother had food but the terrycloth mother did not.

Still, the baby monkeys chose to stay longer with the cloth mother, thus proving that affection and warmth are necessary for bringing up a child.

David Reimer - A Tragic Experiment on Nature vs. Nurture

23. David Reimer - A Tragic Experiment on Nature vs. Nurture

A Canadian man ended up with lifelong identity issues, depression and finally suicide in what was to be one of the most unethical and controversial psychological experiments by one John Hopkins University professor.

When David Reimer, one of the identical twins suffered a botched circumcision. John Money. a professor took the opportunity to change the boy's life forever. David was just 6 months old when Money suggested gender reassignment instead of repairing his damaged penis. He thought this case study would prove his theory of gender-neutrality, meaning all kids are born gender neutral.

Even after a sex reassignment surgery and seemingly moving on, David committed suicide due to depression in 2004.

Identical Twins

24. Identical Twins

While fiction has a lot to do with the myth behind shared pain and stimuli in identical twins, several studies have proved that identical twins do have similar responses to stimuli. This was famously demonstrated by TV person Derren Brown.

The reason for this phenomenon could be shared genes, similar upbringings, and life experiences that identical twins go through.

The controversial case of twin studies by Peter Neubauer and Violet Bernard has been involved with studying the lives of separated identical twins as well.

Change Blindness

25. Change Blindness

A simple experiment at the cashier counter proved that we find it difficult to catch subtle changes in objects around us.

This could be anew signboard on the road or recognizing a person's face. A man waiting in line at the cashier counter disappeared while trying to take a packet and another man appeared and finished the billing. About 75 percent of the time, the participants did not notice the change, showing how much selectively our brain chooses to get information.

Candid Camera Experiment

26. Candid Camera Experiment

This is another experiment that was done to test our urge to conformity. A simple announcement on the elevator to smile for the candid camera makes them come up with comical reactions to fit with actors around them.

People start posing even when they don't understand why they have to just because the actors in the room do so.

The Third Wave - How to Establish a Dictatorship 101

27. The Third Wave - How to Establish a Dictatorship 101

A high school teacher Ron Jones attempted a way to explain how holocaust could have happened. In 1967, he practically showed his students the phenomenon by making himself an authoritative figure in the lines of a supreme leader.

The third wave, as it was called, spread quickly and became a school club reminiscent of the secret police under the Nazi regime. The students had their own salutations and anti-democratic ideologies. Thankfully, Jones stopped the movement on the fourth day and explained how the feelings of supremacy make them act the way they did.

Emma Eckstein - Unfortunate Patient of Freud

28. Emma Eckstein - Unfortunate Patient of Freud

While most of Sigmund Freud's theories have been discredited, he remains to be an influential psychologist for his methods and theories.

He experimented on one of his unfortunate patients Emma Eckstein with cocaine and anesthetics in improper ways despite her wanting treatment only for her stomach ailments.

Operation Midnight Climax

29. Operation Midnight Climax

In the 1950s, the CIA orchestrated a mind-control research project with the use of LSDs. While this gave the government immense information on mind-altering drugs,surveillance and blackmailing opportunities, one cannot refuse how unethical and disturbing these experiments are.

Non-consenting subjects of New York and San Francisco were administered LSD by prostitutes and the experiments continued for over a decade.

Facial Expressions - What's Your Expression When You Behead a Rat

30. Facial Expressions - What's Your Expression When You Behead a Rat

In 1924, Carney Landis of the University of Minnesota wanted to study common facial expressions. He painted the subject's facial muscles in black and recorded their expressions to various stimuli using photos.

While the experiment sounds innocent on the surface, the actual dark part came in when participants were asked to behead a rat to get their expression. This went similar to the Milgram experiment and many participants hacked the rat even when they have never done it before. When they couldn't, Landis did the act for them.