psychological experiments


2 years ago

“ Experimental psychology itself has, it is true, now and again suffered a relapse into a metaphysical treatment of its problems. ” -Wilhelm Wundt

The field of psychology is a wider branch of science which leads to a number of specializations. A number of psychological experiments have impacted the growth and research of the field. Many of these experiments can’t be repeated today due to the contraventions in the ethical boundaries; which does not contribute to diminishing the significance of their research and the results.

Here, we take a look at some of the known and recognized psychological experiments that created a huge impact in the field of psychology which constituted a better understanding.


Experiment by : Jane Elliot

Study conducted in 1968 in an Iowa classroom.

Experiment details :

Jane Elliot’s famous experiment was inspired by the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the inspirational life that he led. To make Caucasian students understand the effects of prejudice and racism, the third-grade teacher developed an exercise. Elliott divided her class into two groups: blue-eyed students and brown-eyed students. On the first day, she labeled the blue-eyed students as superior to the other group, and from that moment they experienced extra privileges, leaving the brown-eyed students representing the minority. She restricted the groups from an interaction and appointed individuals to stress the negative characteristics of the children in the minority group. This exercise proved that the children’s behavior comes with the early conditioning of them and the children’s behavior changed almost instantaneously. The group of blue-eyed performed better in academics and even began bullying and teasing the brown-eyed classmates. The brown-eyed experienced lower self – esteem and this led to the worst academic performance. The next day, she reversed the groups and by the end of the experiment, children breathed a sense of relief that they were reported to have embraced one another and mutually agreed that people should not discriminate and judge based on people’s attire.


Study conducted by : Dr. Solomon Asch

Conducted in 1951 at Swarthmore College.

Experiment details :

psychological experiments
Asch conformity Test

Dr. Solomon Asch conducted this study to evaluate an individual’s likelihood to conform to a standard when there is a pressure to do so. A group of participants were shown pictures with lines of various lengths and were then asked a direct and simple question: “ Which line is the longest? ” Interesting part of the experiment was that, in the group, just one was the true subject. The others were actors with a script. Most of them were instructed to give out the wrong answer. Strangely, the subject almost agreed with the majority, even though he knew that they were giving the wrong answer. This experiment has proved beneficial to a number of studies in the area of social psychology and has proved helpful in understanding an individual’s opinions and thoughts in the social group. This is one famous instance of temptations humans face in abiding or conforming to a standard norm in the social structure.


Study conducted by : Dr. Albert Bandura

Study conducted between 1961-1963 at Stanford University

Experiment details :

Several debates began from the 1960s regarding the way in which genetic, environmental factors, and social learning shaped a child’s development. Famously known as the nature vs nurture debate. Albert separated participants into three groups. One was exposed to a video wherein the adult was being aggressive towards the bobo doll. Another was exposed to a passive adult playing with the bobo doll and the third group was kept under control. Children were assigned to watch the concerned videos and later left alone in the rooms with the same bobo doll they saw in the videos except for the controlled group. It was found that the group exposed to the aggressive nature behaved the same and while the other group didn’t show much aggression. It was also noted that boys exposed to the male model observed more aggression as compared to the female models. The number of derivative physical aggression shown by the boys was 38.2 and 12.7  for girls. The number of physical aggression exhibited was 304 on the exposure of the male model in comparison to female models that recorded 48.4. As a result of the girls show similar findings yet less drastic. Girls exposed to female models recorded 57.7 while the girls exposed to male aggressive models noted 36.3 aggressive instances which again supported Bandura’s second prediction that children will be attracted and highly influenced by same-sex models. This experiment proved how imitation is more relevant than the inheritance of genetic factors.


Experiment by : Ivan Pavlov

Study conducted in the 1890s at the Military Medical Academy in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Experiment details :

psychological experiments
Classical conditioning

The most pivotal experiment of all times, Pavlov’s experiment with dogs made conditioning a whole new branch of psychological studies. Pavlov began with the basic nature of dogs which didn’t require any training. Specific to this study, Pavlov realized that dogs don’t salivate when they see food. And this reflex was but ‘hand-wired’ and what became ‘behavioristic terms’, which is an unconditioned response. Pavlov noted that the animal has unconditioned responses by presenting a bowl of food and then measuring the saliva secretion. In the experiment, Pavlov used a bell as neutral stimulus and whenever he gave food to the dog he ran the bell before. After several repetitions of the same action, Pavlov then rang the bell and didn’t provide the food. And it was noticed that the dog started drooling right after it heard the sound of the bell. The dog had associated the bell with the food, creating a new behavior. This was called a conditioned response. The neutral stimulus turned to a conditioned response. This experiment became well recognized and was further developed by many psychologists like John Watson and so on. This experiment then came to be known as ‘Classical Conditioning’.


Study conducted by : John B Watson and Rosalie Rayner

Study conducted in 1920 at Johns Hopkins University.

Experiment details:

Psychological experiment
Little Albert Experiment

This experiment is known to be the most unethical. The hypothesis was that they could develop an irrational fear by conditioning a 9-month-old child. The experiment began by placing a white rat in front of the child which he initially didn’t fear. Then Watson produced a loud sound by banging on a steel bar with a hammer right after he presented a rat in front of the child. This continued for some time unless the child began crying right after the white rat was placed. He started being afraid of the sound as a result of the conditioning. Watson also tried such conditioning with other animals like rabbits and certain objects like Santa beard until Albert was afraid of them all. This proved that classical conditioning also works with humans. And that deep fears adults inherit is of the childhood memories.


Experimentconducted by Philip Zimbardo.

Study conducted in 1971 at Stanford University.

Experiment details :

This is one of the prominent psychological experiments of all and was conducted for the assumption of roles in contrived circumstances. This experiment was conducted to know how normal people behave if prisoned or guarded. College participants were recruited as participants and categorized them as guards or inmates. Zimbardo played the role of warden. The setup of the prison was made realistic. The prison guards were asked to run the prison for two weeks. They were instructed to not physically harm any of the inmates during the study. After a few days, the prison guards became aggressive and verbally abusive towards the inmates and many of the prisoners became submissive to those in authority. The experiment had to be canceled because many were emotionally and mentally down and were about to face a breakdown. Even though the experiment was conducted unethically, the experiment proved that human behavior is situational and people will conform to certain roles if the conditions are right.


Experiment conducted by Walter Mischel.

Experiment was conducted in 1972 at Stanford University.

Experiment details:

Psychological experiments
Marshmellow experiment

The hypothesis stated whether deferred gratification can be an indicator of future success. In 1972, for the Marshmallow experiment, children in the age group of four to six were taken into a room where a marshmallow was placed on the table in front of them. Before leaving, the experimental informed them that they would be receiving a second Marshmallow if the first one was still on the table after he returned in 15 minutes. The examiner recorded how long each child resisted himself or herself from eating the Marshmallow and recorded whether that correlated or associated with the child’s favorable results or success in the following years or adulthood. The record stated that 600 children had eaten the Marshmallow immediately and one third delayed the gratification long enough to receive the second Marshmallow. This resistance was noted to check whether it correlated with the child’s success in adulthood. In follow up studies, Mischel found that those who deferred gratification were significantly more complete and received the highest SAT scores than their peers, meaning such characteristics or features remain with a person for life.


Study conducted by New York police force.

Conducted in 1964 in New York city.

Experiment details:

This is not the usual experiment; the murder case of Kitty Genovese was never intended or supposed to be a psychological experiment. However, it ended up as a serious case to be pondered upon for the field of psychology. According to the New York article, about 14 neighbors irresistibly witnessed the event where Kitty Genovese was being savagely attacked and murdered in Queens, New York in 1964, but none of the neighbors called the police for help. It was recorded that the attacker had left the crime scene yet later returned to “finish off”  his victim. This case later in the psychological field became famous as a “Bystander effect” which states that when a huge number of crowd or bystanders are present in a given situation it’s less likely that anyone will come in for help. Later many exercises and tests were taken to prove this theory.


Study by B. F. Skinner.

Conducted in 1937, which was influenced by the ‘law of effects’ proposed by American psychologist Edward Thorndike.

Experiment details:

Hypothesis: Behavior can be reinforced by the repeated or weakened source of process.

Psychological experiments

The famous ‘Skinner’s box’ where an animal mostly rodent, would be provided a foot pellet or an electric shock. At first, whenever the rodent pressed the lever the food would arrive and this continued for some time. The rodent had associated the food with pressing the lever And therefore this caused positive reinforcement. The rodent quickly learned to reach out to the lever for the food. Positive reinforcement as the name suggests is strengthening certain behavior by providing a desirable reward. The same way negative reinforcement could also be taught. Skinner replaced the food with an electric shock. So then whenever the rodent tried to press the lever it sensed electric shock. This discomfort provided could also change the behavior by adding an undesirable object to the situation which is known as negative reinforcement. In fact, Skinner had been turning on a light before the electric current passed which rodent soon learned. This punishment and reward method proved applicable when exercised with humans.


Study conducted by Daniel Simons and Christopher Chabris.

Conducted in 1999 at Harvard University.

Experiment details :

This was one of the famous psychology awareness experiment conducted. The participants were instructed to watch a video and keep track of how many passes occurred in between basketball players on the white team. The video is played at a moderate speed rate so that keeping track becomes an easy task. In the video, a man in the attire of a Gorilla suit walked onto the field and stood in the center yet the study found the majority of the participants or subjects did not notice the man in the Gorilla suit. Disproved that humans overestimated their ability for an effective multitasking purpose. We, humans, tend to give selective attention to one task and focus on it so strongly that other elements or the important details are missed out. Therefore this experiment is also known as “Selective Attention”.

“All experimentation is criticism. If an experiment does not hold the possibility of causing one to revise one’s views, it is hard to see white should be done at all.” -Sir Peter Medawar

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Chanchal Vinod

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