The Milgram Experiment
This experiment, conducted in 1961 by Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram measured the 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 “Violinist in the Metro” Experiment
In 2007, acclaimed violinist Josh Bell posed as a street musician at a busy Washington, D.C. subway station. Bell had just sold out a concert with an average ticket price of $100 each. He is one of the most renowned musicians in the world and was playing on a handcrafted violin worth more than $3.5 million. Yet most people scurried on their way without stopping to listen to the music.
When children would occasionally stop to listen, their parents would grab them and quickly usher them on their way. The experiment raised some interested questions about how we not only value beauty but whether we truly stop to appreciate the remarkable works of beauty that are around us.
The Marshmallow Test Experiment
In these experiments conducted by Walter Mischel in the late 1960s and early 1970s,children between the ages of four and six were placed in a room with a treat (often a marshmallow or cookie). Before leaving the room, the experimenter told each child that they would receive a second treat if the first treat was still on the table after 15 minutes.
Follow-up studies conducted years later found that the children who were able to delay gratification did better in a variety of areas including academically. Those who had been able to wait the 15 minutes for the second treat tended to have higher SAT scores and higher educational levels. The results suggest that this ability to wait for gratification is not only an essential skill for success but also something that forms early on and lasts throughout life.
Carlsberg Social Experiment
In this social experiment, which actually started out as an advertisement, unsuspecting couples walked into a crowded movie theater. All but two of the 150 seats were already full. The twist is that the 148 already-filled seats were taken by a bunch of rather rugged and scary-looking male bikers.
In the informal experiment, not all of the couples ended up taking a seat, but those who eventually did were rewarded with cheers from the crowd and a round of free Carlsberg beers. The exercise served as a great example of why people shouldn’t always judge a book by its cover.
Halo Effect Experiment
In this experiment, published in 1920, psychologist Edward Thorndike asked commanding officers in the military to give ratings of various characteristics of their subordinates. Thorndike was interested in learning how impressions of one quality, such as intelligence, bled over onto perceptions of other personal characteristics, such as leadership, loyalty, and honesty.
Thorndike discovered that when people hold a good impression of one characteristic, those good feelings tend to affect perceptions of other qualities. For example, thinking someone is attractive can create a halo effect that leads people also to believe that person is kind, smart, and funny. The opposite effect is also true. Negative feelings about one characteristic lead to negative impressions of an individual’s other features.