Posts tagged ‘Real Studies’

Real Studies: Asch (1951-1956) Conformity Experiments.

Nobody wants to believe that they’re susceptible to conforming to the behaviour of others. We have our own minds, our own will, and hate thinking that anything else has an influence over that. It is certainly not that case, however, according to vast amounts of research into the area.

Perhaps one of the most influential studies into the field of majority influence is that of Asch. He conducted a number of experiments throughout the 1950’s aiming to test just how easily people are willing to conform when pressured by a majority. His results were important not just in minority influences, but also group interaction. So, what did he do and what were the results?

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Continue Reading April 15, 2011 at 10:00 am Leave a comment

Psychology gone bad: when animals pay the price for science.

Psychology is a fascinating subject which provides a good insight into human behaviour. Comparative Psychology uses animals to help us understand our own behaviour, as sometimes it is considered “too unethical” to conduct an experiment on a human – but not on an animal. This blog explores Psychology at it’s worst, when helpless animals pay the price for science. I’m going to list some of the worst experiments involving animals.

For big animal lovers, you may find this article upsetting. Please do not read on if you think this may do so.

I’d like to point out that post-1980, ethical guidelines were developed for animals. Now, they’re very protective of animals and experiments like the ones mentioned below simply would not occur these days. Thankfully, Psychology is nice again (most of the time anyway…)

Monkey Drug Trials (1969)

Sad monkeys - bad times.

In this experiment (for some reason, no matter how hard I tried, I just could not find the scientist behind this study. For that, I apologise), monkeys were taught how to self inject a number of horrendous drugs into their bodies. Monkeys were injected with the drugs (to include cocaine, morphine, alcohol and amphetamines), so that they became addicted to their effects. They were then taught how to inject the drugs themselves, and left with an abundance of the drug. The monkeys were so effected with the drugs, some broke their arms trying desperately to escape their torment. Some of the monkeys using cocaine even ripped their own fingers off, most likely as a result from hallucinations. Monkeys who were injecting both morphine and cocaine all died within 2 weeks. It makes you think, is a study aiming to explore the effect of drugs really worth the lives of these beautiful animals?

Landis’ Facial Expression Study (1924)

In this experiment, Landis aimed to see whether different emotions create different facial expressions. The experiment was mainly ethical; participants were made to look at pornography, smell ammonia, and feel frogs among other activities. Their facial expressions were caught on camera, so Landis could see if there was a relationship between the emotion and expression. However, it was the final part of the experiment that saw the death of animals – rats namely. Participants were asked to behead a rat, so Landis could see the expression of disgust. Shockingly, two thirds of the participants proceeded to do so. They were not trained in the procedure of beheading (obviously) so the rats were subjected to agony. The participants who refused to behead the rats had the rats beheaded for them by Landis. What makes this worse is that Landis found no significant results; facial expressions aren’t exclusive to emotions. The rats were killed for nothing.

Harlow’s Monkey Experiments (1957 to mid-1960’s)

Harry Harlow holding one of his monkeys.

Harlow is infamous for being insensitive towards animals. His studies caused disturbance to many monkeys. One of his experiments saw tiny baby monkeys, just bonded with their mothers, separated so they had no friends or family for social support. They were put in something Harlow called the “Pit of Despair” for up to an entire year. The pits were tiny and completely pitch black. He was aiming to study the effect of social isolation, but he was later criticised and his study brushed off as “common sense science”. It’s quite obvious that someone, human or not, will develop incorrectly without the social support from their family – particularly the mother. The monkeys left the pits severely disturbed and depressed; Harlow wrote that they showed “autistic self clutching and repetitive rocking”.  Another of his experiments forced baby monkeys to choose between a wire or cloth “mother”. Naturally, they chose the comfier cloth mother, does it really take a genius to work out which one is more appealing? No it doesn’t, and it certainly doesn’t require the abuse of poor monkeys either. Another example of bad animal ethics in Psychology.

For more on Harlow, visit and also

Addiction studies.

As it is deemed unethical to perform drug tests on humans, many animals take the pain so we can learn more about the effects of nasty drugs. Newman & Lehman (1938) investigated the effects of severe alcoholism on dogs. No surprise, they found that the dogs became alcoholic and most of them died soon after when withdrawn from alcohol. Heyser did much research on cocaine using rats. In 1994, Heyser injected adults rats with cocaine, and tested their offspring for signs of deformity or poor motor skills. Fortunately, the rats showed no signs of being negatively effected by their parents addiction to cocaine. Bozarth (1989) also tested the effects of cocaine on rats; he, however, tested the effects of abstinence from the drug. He compared the effects seen in the rats with the effects seen in human – in other words they showed negative symptoms when the drug was abstained. Animals are no strangers to drugs testing, and there are still, to this day, campaigns to reduce the testing of drugs, products and other items on animals. It is not just Psychology that are the criminals here, cosmetic companies, biomedical research and many other science tests are conducted on animals.


Fortunately, the use of animal studies is Psychology is declining. They may still be used, but there is usually no serious harm caused to animals. If it is, the importance of the research has to seriously outweigh the cost of the animal’s life. Even though the studies above were horrible, it is worth noting that most of them were a long time ago – especially the worst ones. We have learnt many important things with unethical animal studies, so sometimes the research is vitally important. One day, it might be a rat’s life which saves millions of human’s lives from cancer. The cost of one rats life to save millions of humans would seem acceptable.

Thanks for reading.

Samuel Eddy.

April 2, 2010 at 4:00 pm 16 comments

Real Studies: Philip Zimbardo’s (1971) Stanford Prison Experiment.

The Stanford Prison experiment lead to effects so disastrous that it had to be shut down after running for only six days of the planned two week duration. In 1971, Zimbardo decided to explore the psychological effect of becoming a prison guard or prisoner. The experiment has come under large amounts of criticism, due to the disturbance caused to participants (mainly the guards). The experiment took place in Stanford University, California, and there was 24 male participants. The participants we predominantly white and middle-class. There were originally 70 volunteers, but Zimbardo picked the 24 “most psychologically stable and healthy”. The “prison” was mock, and constructed in the basement of the Psychology department in Stanford University. Participants were paid for their time ($15 a day).

So what actually happened?

The 24 males were randomly assigned to two groups. 12 were prison guards, and 12 were prisoners. Zimbardo’s aim was to disorientate and depersonalise the prisoners. He constructed a set of conditions which he hoped would achieve this. Prison Guards were given ultimate power. They were equipped with wooden batons, and given the power to deliver punishments as they saw necessary. They also had mirrored sunglasses which prevented any eye contact. They were made to wear khaki army clothes to replicate army guard clothes. Prisoners wore dirty prison clothes which fitted badly and caused much discomfort. They were called by numbers, which were sewn on their clothes – further dehumanising them. They also wore chains around their ankles to remind them of their powerlessness.

Prison Guard from the experiment.

Zimbardo took the role of “superintendent”, but did not interfere with the interactions of the guards and prisoners. He also had a research assistant who was a “warden”. The mock prison had small cells, each holding three prisoners. There was a tiny solitary confinement room, and another room served as the ‘prison yard’. To begin, there was a day of “orientation” where the guards were not allowed to physically harm the prisoners; they could only provoke fear and stamp their authority on them. The prisoners went through an official arrest and booking. They were arrested in their homes and charged with local robbery. With assistance from the local police force, Zimbardo then took mug shots and fingerprinted the prisoners. This further created a feeling of helplessness.

So what were the results?

Guards humiliating a prisoner.

Within the first few days, guards were abusing their power in the most horrific of ways. Prisoners were violently abused and humiliated on a regular basis. Normal students were turning into monsters in less than 72 hours. Before Zimbardo’s eyes, the experiment was spiralling out of control; guards were becoming sadistic and evil. Prisoners accepted their fate will little or no resistance, rather, they were so stressed they felt too helpless to fight back in any way. By the end of the experiments closure, many prisoners faced severe emotional disturbance.

The beginning of the abuse began on the second day; the first day was uneventful and the guards were not too abusive of the prisoners. However, during day two, a riot broke out. Guards agreed to work overtime to break up the riots, and used fire extinguishers to batter protesters – when the research team weren’t around. After that, the guards became wild, unpredictable and sadistic. After merely 36 hours, one of the prisoners (Prisoner #8612) started to show signs of insanity. According to Zimbardo:

#8612 then began to act “crazy,” to scream, to curse, to go into a rage that seemed out of control. It took quite a while before we became convinced that he was really suffering and that we had to release him.

The study rapidly crumbled after this stage. Rumours were spread that Prisoner #8612 wasn’t really disturbed, but was going to help break the other prisoners out. To prevent this, the guards rebuilt the prison in a different area of Stanford University. When there was no riot or attempt to break out, the guards were dismayed they worked so hard to move the prison. They took out this anger on the prisoners.

Prisoners were often not allowed to defecate or urinate, and the “sanitation bucket” was left till the level of squalor was disgusting. Mattresses were regarded as a gift, so prisoners often slept on cold concrete. They were subjected to push ups regularly and other intense exercise. They were sometimes stripped of clothes and humiliated, and sometimes made to do sexual acts to other prisoners. Zimbardo stated that about 1/3 of guards showed genuine sadistic tendencies.

To see footage of the experiment, play the video below.

After 6 days of sadistic torture, the experiment had to be closed down for the safety of the participants. So what are the conclusions from this highly unethical study?

It was concluded that the experiment supports the idea of situational attribution, rather than dispositional attribution. This basically means that it was the situation that caused the prison guards to become sadistic, not their actual personalities. Like the Milgram Experiment, it shows that ordinary people can commit the most horrific of deeds in very little time. The study is used to support the Cognitive Dissonance Theory as well.

For further footage, type “Stanford Prison Experiment” into the YouTube search. There is a 6 part film which shows the study in detail.

Thanks for reading.

Samuel Eddy.

March 31, 2010 at 4:00 pm 4 comments

Real Studies: “Milgram Obedience Study”, 1963.

A Psychologist called Stanley Milgram wanted to understand what caused ordinary German soldiers and officers to commit horrific deeds, such as the holocaust. He suggested that the reason they did was because they were following orders and obeying authority, despite the conflict with their actual moral beliefs.

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Continue Reading March 10, 2010 at 4:00 pm 2 comments

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