Psyching You Out

in Categories, Social Science, Trending Topics
April 5th, 2012

Interesting psychology experiments that have helped us understand ourselves.

The shock box used for the infamous Milgrams experiment, which revealed much about the human mind. Photo Credit | via Wikimedia Commons

The shock box used for the infamous Milgrams experiment, which revealed much about the human mind. Photo Credit | via Wikimedia Commons

Psychology has forced humans to question ourselves: our personality, our thoughts, and our experiences. What do psychology experiments reveal about how we behave and interact with others? Years of research have yielded some of the best and the brightest classic experiments and helped us to understand who we are- and who we might become.

Fake It Til You Make It

Elizabeth Loftus was a researcher who dedicated her life to studying “false memories” and the misinformation effect. To study false memories, she conducted the ‘Lost in the Mall’ experiment, in which she asked participants to imagine and describe an experience of getting lost in a mall.1 To strengthen their recollections, Loftus gathered fake testimonies from participants’ families or friends about the imagined event. Loftus discovered that upon prompting her participants, those interviewed came to believe that they had actually once been lost in the mall. In a similar study, Loftus’s participants watched a car crash scene and were asked afterwards to describe what they had witnessed.2 Interviewers tested the effect of bias upon the participants: leading them with phrases such as, “When the blue car smashed into the red car…” Sure enough, depending on the leading phrase, the crash would be remembered differently by each witness. Watch more here:

Loftus’s discoveries prompt us to wonder the obvious – how do we know what we really remember and what we’ve colored in between the lines? Watch out for similarities between your ‘recovered’ memory and a favorite book or movie – you just might have borrowed the storyline.

Follow the Leader

After the world suffered the atrocities of WWII, people struggled to understand the lack of ethics behind the Nazi’s apathetic terror tactics. Researcher Stanley Milgram pondered this perplexity; and he was determined to figure it out. He designed an experiment to evaluate the importance of ethics and authority by using a  ‘learner’ and a ‘teacher’ simulation.3 The subjects (teachers) were falsely led to believe that another person (a learner) was in a separate room, and that it would be their responsibility to ask the learner a predetermined set of questions. If the learner answered correctly, the teacher would move on to the next question. If, however, the answer was wrong, the teacher was instructed to dose the learner with an electrical shock, which increased in intensity with each question. Milgram was interested to see how easily the teacher would follow directions to shock the learner even if they knew the detrimental effects.4 Watch more here:

So what happened? Ordinary people knowingly and willingly gave their imaginary partners enormous shocks and in turn the research community was appalled by the apparent ‘following orders’ outcome. Yet just because someone has authority does not mean you must obey them at all costs! At the end of the day, follow your own moral compass and retain your right to say no. Be your own leader.

To eat, or not to eat

A big, puffy pack of marshmallows sure looks tempting. But by and large we’re able to resist – or at least until we’re left alone with them. How does this trait to resist temptation develop? Were we always able to resist? In a classic developmental research study at Stanford by Walter Mischel, children were brought in a room and told that the researcher had to leave for a moment – leaving a marshmallow on the table – and if the child waited, they would bring back a second one.5 If the child ate the first marshmallow, there would be no seconds. The researcher leaves, and the child’s inner-debate over the treat begins. To eat or not to eat? Of the 600 children who were part of the study, only 1/3rd were able to resist temptation and obtain a second marshmallow. Many of the children tried to cover their eyes or distract themselves, but the temptation would prove to be too great for their young age. See the experiment in action here:

Can you resist temptation? You are not a little kid anymore and can all the cookies you want. But it’s a reminder that you do have those delay of gratification skills and can wait until you’re a little less full to chow down on some more sweets.

Psychology experiments help inform us about how our brains function and how we are wired to react and behave in various settings. We can be smart consumers of research by reading articles with a critical mind and a social awareness to understand how it relates to our immediate lives. This way, we will better comprehend our world, our friends, and our own lives.


1False memories – Lost in a shopping mall – Elizabeth Loftus.flv. YouTube. (n.d.) YouTube – Broadcast Yourself. Retrieved March 20, 2012, from

2Creating False Memories. (n.d.) UW Faculty Web Server. Retrieved March 20, 2012, from

3Stanley Milgram Experiment (1961). . A website about the Scientific Method, Research and Experiments. (n.d.) A website about the Scientific Method, Research and Experiment. Retrieved March 19, 2012, from

4Milgram Obedience Study. YouTube. (n.d.) YouTube – Broadcast Yourself. Retrieved March 20, 2012, from

5Kids Marshmallow Experiment . YouTube. (n.d.) YouTube – Broadcast Yourself. Retrieved March 19, 2012, from

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