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7 Truly Provocative Psychological Experiments

In psychological experiments, scientists seek to test our mental function and behavior when we encounter certain stimuli or when we are put in certain situations. Since the very first of these experiments, the question of morality has hung in the background of nearly every experiment, as many of them, purposefully or not, change individual behavior to suit the circumstances of the study.

We complied a list of the most influential and controversial psychological experiments so you can be the judge: Did these experiments help or hurt more?

1. The Milgram Experiment

In this famous 1960s experiment by Stanely Milgram, individuals' willingness to obey authority figures was tested when they were asked to perform acts that went against their moral conscience. 

The participants were given the role of 'the teacher' and were told to administer an electric shock to 'the learner' whenever they answered a question incorrectly. The teachers were led to believe that the learners were actually being shocked as Milgram played sounds of the learners in a great deal of pain, when in actuality none of the learners were not really being shocked. Although many of the teachers protested the harsh treatment of the learners, they continued in the experiment because an authority figure was telling them what to do. 
                                                  Image by: Victor Habbick/ freedigitalphotos.net     
2. Marshmallow Experiment

In order to measure the effects of deferred gratification on future success, Walter Mischel of Stanford University conducted an experiment where he presented children with a marshmallow. He told the children that if they waited 15 minutes and didn't eat that marshmallow, they would receive another. The results of the experiment shed light on the nature of self-control in individuals. 

Mischel later noted that, of the group of 600 children, those that deferred gratification and waited for the second marshmallow, about one third of them, were significantly more competent and had higher SAT scores than those who immediately ate the marshmallow. The conclusion of the study is that deterred gratification and self-control are qualities that are either part of an individual or not, but can be taught from an early age. 
3. Asch Conformity Experiment

These experiments conducted in the 1950s tested the degree to which individual opinions are influenced and shaped by those of a majority group. In the experiment, a subject was placed in a room full of actors. Everyone in the room was shown a drawing of three lines, and was then asked to identify the longest line of the three. The actors were told to identify the incorrect line in order to determine if their majority opinion affected that of the individual. The results proved the original hypothesis and the subject went along with the actors' assessment. 

4. Pavlov's Dog Experiment

Have you ever heard of Pavlov's Dog Experiment? In one of the most famous psychological experiment, Ivan Pavlov proved the concept of conditioned reflexes, also known as classical conditioning. In the experiment, he presented dogs with food that caused them to salivate. Then, he rang a bell immediately before giving them the actual food, causing them to associate the ringing of the bell with the receiving of food. Soon, the dogs would begin to salivate when they heard the bell, proving that our reflexes can be learned with the correct stimulation. 
   Image by: Tina Phillips/ freedigitalphotos.net
5. Harlow's Monkey Experiment
If you receieved a lot of attention and love as a child, you can thank Harry Harlow for that! In his 1960s experiments on rhesus monkeys, Harlow revealed the impact of a mother's love on childhood development. 
In the experiment, Harlow separated the rhesus monkeys from their mothers for a few hours after their birth and left them to be raised by 'surrogate' mothers. The surrogate mothers, however, were not other monkeys. One of the surrogates was a wire structure with a bottle attached to it for feeding, while another was a cloth doll without any food attached to it. Surprisingly, the monkeys spent their time around the cloth doll and not the bottle, proving that affection is the heart of the mother-child relationship and not sustenance. 
 Image by: James Barker/ freedigitalphotos.net      
6. Robber's Cave Experiment
Taken from Golding's classic novel Lord of the Flies, this experiment set out to test the prejudice and realistic conflict resolution.

For the experiment, 22 eleven-year old boys were randomly separated into two groups and taken to a summer camp in Oklahoma. These groups were bunked in separate cabins and neither of the groups knew of the others existence for an entire week. After a full week of bonding, the boys were reintroduced to each other and asked to compete against one another. Soon, they began to exhibit signs of aggression and verbal abuse, resulting in the groups refusing to eat in the same room. Finally, the two rival groups were turned into friends when fun activities were planned where the groups were forced to collaborate. At the end, the boys agreed to ride the bus home together, displaying that conflicts can be solved through cooperation. 
7. The Stanford Prison Experiment
prisonReknowned as one of the most unethical psychological experiments to date, the experiment studied the effects that a prison setting could have on individual's behavior. 

For the experiment, a mock prison was created and 24 male students were randomly assigned the roles of prisoners and guards. The participants soon adapted to their roles more than the researchers had expected, and the guards began to assert their authoritarian positions of power over the prisoners, even
subjecting some prisoners to psychological torture. The prisoners accepted the abuse, and even teamed up with the guards to harass any of those prisoners that tried to prevent it. Although the experiment was meant to last two weeks, it was called off after 6 days due to its intensity. It certainly proved that situations can evoke certain behaviors and even supersede an individual's natural tendencies. 

Image by: tiverylucky/ freedigitalphotos.net
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