Psychological Experiments Examples

Experiment psychology example cover

Psychological experiments are an essential part of the research in psychology. Whether it be to learn about the behaviors of our mind or how the information is processed by our brain. Since the beginning of modern psychology, experiments are being conducted to learn more about humans’ mental processes. Sometimes the researchers make it evident to the participants that they are a part of a psychological experiment, more often than not participants are kept unbeknown to the experiment to mitigate any unnecessary variable that can alter the results. Nowadays these experiments are conducted in a fairly ethical manner, in the past, some of the assessments were subject to downright cruelty. Here are some of the experiments that are either popular or educational to the general public.

Seven Examples of Psychological Experiments

1. Delayed Gratification Experiment: In 1960, a test was conducted amongst pre-schoolers of the Bing Nursery School. Each child was sat in a small room and was presented with a plate of two cookies, two marshmallows, or two pretzels. When a child decided what they wanted to eat other two options were taken away and a deal was made with the pre-schoolers. The deal was that they could either eat one of the items right away and forfeit the second piece or wait as long as required by the researchers and then claim both. To make it even more challenging, the researcher left the room and left the children with a ring. They were told if they wanted to eat one of the two they simply need to ring the bell and the researcher would rush back but they could not have both treats. The pre-schoolers who were able to delay the gratification for 15 minutes used various tactics like physically running around the room or avoiding looking at the treats, then they were given both treats, and later all the participants were checked upon in their teenage. The individuals who managed to delay their gratification grew up to be more successful and with no addiction compared to others who didn’t delay the gratification.

Delayed gratification

A girl staring at a marshmallow.

2. Bobo Doll Experiment: Professor Albert Badura wanted to test the social learning theory. The theory is that most of our actions and emotions are a result of unconscious learning that we do by simply observing events and actions performed around us. In 1961, he conducted this famous experiment, where 72 children in the age group of 3-6 were exposed to an adult showing physical aggression towards a bobo doll. Following this, these children were taken to a room where both non-aggressive toys such as crayons and plastic animals and aggressive toys being a bobo doll and dart guns were kept. Interestingly, children overlooked everything else in the room and started attacking the doll. While the boys showed physical aggression towards the doll, the girls approached the situation differently. If an adult male was attacking the doll, they followed similarly, however, if a female adult was attacking the doll they projected verbal aggression with minor attacking.

Bobo Doll Experiment

Children attacking the Boba doll in the experiment.

3. The Halo Effect: In 1920, research conducted in the military was published by an American psychologist Edward Thorndike, who stated that due to an error in how we think of a person affects how we perceive that person and give judgments which were known as the Halo effect. Two professors, Richard Nisbett, and Timothy Wilson wanted to expand on this research. They conducted the experiment with 118 college students, where they were asked to rank a Belgian teacher with a heavy English accent on the basis of two interviews shown to different students. In the first interview, the teacher was friendly and engaging with the students while in the second interview he was rude. Students who watched the first interview rated the teachers as appealing, while the students who observed the second interview stated that the teacher was irritating and his accent was annoying. This cements the prior experiment conducted by Thorndike, that we judge based on our thinking, not on our perception.

4. The Robbers Cave Experiment: This experiment was conducted in the Robbers Cave Park over the course of two weeks. In this experiment, a psychologist named Muzafer Sherif wanted to understand the psychology of hate between two groups or perhaps countries. Under the name of summer camp, two groups of 11 boys each were made, all of these boys were eleven years old. Sherif didn’t mention anything about the second group for the first week and each group assumed they were the only group in the park. During the first week, each boy started bonding with their assigned group and enjoying activities together. Finally, both groups were introduced to one another and as soon as that happened, boys started calling names to each other. Then for the second week, they competed in various sports and activities where each group seems to have developed a prejudice toward the other team, Sherif tried to fix these feelings by introducing leisure activities which ultimately failed. This does, however, provides us with information as to why hate exists among two nations.

5. The Little Albert Experiment: Perhaps one of the most unethical and borderline cruel experiments, which in today’s time will send anyone to jail. In 1920, psychologist John B. Watson wanted to test classical conditioning, where one learns involuntary or automatic behaviors. To conduct the experiment a nine-month-old orphan was taken, named Albert. In the experiment, Albert was presented with white furry objects and naturally, he played with them. Later a white rat was shown to the child and as soon as he observed the rat, Watson produced a loud sound behind his head with steel rods. This continued for some time. After repeated trials, Albert became conditioned to be frightened upon seeing anything white and furry. Psychologists at that time strongly believe that this experiment would have had a prolonged effect on the child, however, it was not possible to know as Albert passed away at the age of 6. This cruel test did, however, showed us that humans can be conditioned to be happy or afraid.

Illustration of albert experiment

Illustration of The Little Albert Experiment.

6. Visualize Success if you want to Fail: Unlike other experiments, this is fairly new, conducted in 2011 by psychologists, Heather Kappes and Gabriele Oettingen. If you have ever been feeling demotivated or are just going through a difficult phase, chances are you’ve encountered a video of self-help gurus over the internet that states very boldly that visualizing a better future will get you in the right mindset and help you achieve everything you desire. Over the course of four studies going chronologically first asking females to fantasize about their looks in high heels, then had participants think of winning the essay contest after that had participants fantasizing to achieve their goals in the following weeks, and finally students to receive high grades in the exams. In each assessment, it was seen that individuals who fantasized positively had overall negative outcomes. The reason behind this was given that when we visualize our success we invest a lot of energy into that process and lose the ambition to actually take action that is required for the needed outcome. We basically start waiting for the thing to happen rather than doing anything about it.

7. Choice Paralysis: Ever walked into a store wanting a bag of chips, only to be flooded with so many options that you felt indecisive? This is known as choice paralysis, where one is presented with so many choices that they fail to make any decision. In the year 2000, research was published by two psychologists Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper where they conducted a test in a supermarket. This experiment was done for two days, first day shoppers were presented with 24 variants of gourmet jam and upon tasting a sample they’d receive $1. The next day, only 6 variants were displayed with similar criteria. Psychologists noticed that when asked which jam they’d buy people who were presented with six options quickly answered the question and were more likely to buy it while the ones who were presented with twenty-four jams felt lost as to what option to buy. So more is not always better.

Jam tower

A tower of jam with a huge range of flavors.

As you can tell from these experiments, psychology span over a huge space of the mental process, as vast as our mental abilities can go psychology follows suit. Though some psychological experiments may appear useless to us, however, those are the ones that helped present psychologists understand humans better and improve our lives.

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