Social psychology studies human behavior in the presence of other people. The most popular and effective way to discover relations between human behaviors and reactions is through an experiment.
This article presents some of the most important experiments in social psychology. Some of them are believed to be the most controversial experiments in history. Still, they contributed to the development of social psychology in the XX century.
To learn more about what is social psychology check out our article.
Milgram’s obedience experiments
After World War II, Stanley Milgram wondered how so many Nazi generals were convinced to carry out mass extermination of innocent people. He wanted to examine the role of the authority figure in the process of influencing people to go against their morals.
The experiments began in July 1961, three months after the start of the trial of German Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem, in Linsly-Chittenden Hall at Yale University’s basement.
They inquired into the willingness of participants, 20-50-year-old males from various vocations with varying levels of education, to obey an authority figure who instructed them to do things that conflicted with their personal beliefs.
Participants believed they were assisting in an unrelated memory study. They were told to watch another person (who was actually an actor) do a memory test while pressing a button each time they got an incorrect response. The electric shock was unreal, but the participants were not aware of this. These fake electric shocks gradually increased to levels that would have been fatal if they had been real.
Participants were instructed to act as “teachers” and administer electric shocks to “the learner,” who was supposedly in a different room, every time they gave an incorrect response.
The experimenters urged the participants to increase the shocks. Even though the tested person appeared to be in severe discomfort or claimed they had a heart condition, most of them complied.
Despite the objections, many participants continued experimenting as soon as the authority figure urged them to do so, bringing up the voltage after each incorrect answer until some eventually delivered lethal electric shocks.
65% (26 of 40) of experiment participants in Milgram’s first round of tests administered the experiment’s ultimate major 450-volt shock, and all of them delivered shocks of at least 300 volts.
All of the subjects, at some time or other, questioned the experiment. Most continued after being reassured by the experimenter.
The test was repeated across the world many times, with similar findings.
Stanford prison experiment
The Stanford prison experiment was a role-play and simulation conducted at Stanford University in 1971 by Philip Zimbardo. It was designed to examine participants’ reactions and behaviors in a prison environment.
Participants acted as prisoners and wardens, with Zimbardo playing the part of the prison warden. The study was meant to examine how a penitentiary environment would impact conduct. Still, it quickly became one of the most notorious and disputed experiments in history.
The Stanford prison experiment was intended to run for two weeks. It lasted only six days because the participants became so immersed in their assumed personas that the guards began sadistically abusive. The prisoners became apprehensive, depressed, and emotionally distressed.
While the Stanford prison experiment was intended to examine prisoner conduct, it has since become a symbol of how readily people are influenced by their surroundings.
Another part of the mystery is due to the study’s approach with the participants. The individuals were put into a scenario that induced significant mental anguish. As a result, the research had to be suspended just after half.
The experiment cited as an example of how individuals succumb to the situation has come under attack from critics who claim that the participants’ conduct was perhaps inappropriately influenced by Zimbardo’s position as the “warden” of the mock jail.
Bobo doll experiment
The Bobo Doll experiment was designed to examine if children are negatively affected by observing aggressive behavior. In the early 1960s, psychologist Albert Bandura set out to study the impact of observed aggressiveness on children’s behavior. Children watched an adult interacting with a Bobo doll in his Bobo doll studies.
In one scenario, the adult model acted passively toward the doll. Still, in another, he or she kicked, punched, assaulted, and cursed at the doll. The study showed that youngsters who observed an adult model behave violently towards a doll were more inclined to do the same later.
The ongoing debate about the extent to which television, movies, video games, and other media influences children’s behavior is no surprise, given that Bandura’s research is still relevant today. The study has also served as a source of inspiration for hundreds of additional studies examining the consequences of observed anger and violence.
Asch’s conformity experiment
What happens when you’re convinced that you’re right, yet the rest of the group disagrees? Do you cave to peer pressure? In a series of notable research in the 1950s, psychologist Solomon Asch showed that individuals would give incorrect answers on a test to keep up with the crowd.
People were asked to choose the line of a matching length from a group of three in Asch’s famous conformity experiments. In addition, confederates were placed in the group who would select the incorrect lines on purpose.
When other people got the wrong answer, participants were more inclined to conform and provide the same answers as everyone else.
People are surprisingly susceptible to conformity, according to Asch’s findings. Not only did Asch’s experiment teach us a lot about the power of conformity, but it also sparked a slew of additional research on how people conform and obey, including Milgram’s infamous obedience studies.
We tackled the topic of conformity in our article about social influence.
Cognitive dissonance experiment
Cognitive dissonance is a term used to describe a scenario in which two or more attitudes, beliefs, or behaviors are at odds. This conflict produces an uncomfortable feeling that must be alleviated by changing attitudes, beliefs, or actions to restore balance.
Leon Festinger developed cognitive dissonance after an observational study of a cult that believed a flood would destroy the world. This study produced an exciting experiment carried out by Festinger and Carlsmith as a result of it.
Participants were given a list of monotonous duties to complete (such as turning pegs in a pegboard for an hour). The idea that participants initially had toward this activity was extremely negative. They were then paid either $1 or $20 to tell a person waiting in the lobby that the tasks were fascinating.
All of the participants accepted a bet that they would go into the waiting room and convince the next participant that the tedious study would be enjoyable. When asked to assess the experiment, later on, those paid only $1 considered the monotonous task more fun and amusing than those paid $20 to lie.
When people were paid just $1, they had a hard time justifying their lies. As a result, those who were compensated $1 experienced conflict. They could only overcome the dissonance by coming to believe that the responsibilities were fascinating and fun. Being paid $20 gives one motivation for tuning pegs, so there is no discord.
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Social psychology experiments helped us answer some questions about ourselves and the world we live in. Social psychology experiments have been proven to help us understand human behavior more, such as how people conform and obey, including Milgram’s infamous obedience studies. They also showed that when one is paid $1, their story will not be supported, which will increase cognitive dissonance. They would change their attitude towards the task or convince themselves that the monotonous task is fun. Social psychology experiments are a source of inspiration for hundreds of research papers in social behavior, conformity, obedience, aggression, and cognitive dissonance. And they are still relevant today.