Conducting social experiments is a really effective means of better understanding our true human nature. People can do all sorts of unexpected things that don’t actually make logical sense, and why this happens is a mystery to psychologists as much as anyone else.
In this article, we’ll be taking a look at a selection of the most interesting experiments that produced results that nobody could have expected.
1. Unattended field tests visitors’ honesty
In this experiment, self-service fields were placed along the roads, allowing people to pick flowers, fruits and veggies. These weren’t free to take – you were supposed to pay according to the prices on the sign. With nobody controlling the box, it was up to each customer whether they chose to pay or not. In this case, there were nearly no thefts at all, and some people even left more money than what was dictated on the price tag.
2. Collaborative art
In a project overseen by Reddit, users were presented with an online canvas where each user could draw, select pixels, and change their color. A user had to wait for 5 minutes to change the color of a pixel, or make a group decision. The group was split into “creators”, who created drawings, and “guardians”, who prevented other users from simply painting the canvas the same color. The “creators” made complex drawings to start with, as a result of the actions of the “guardians”. But over time, the “guardians” started to choose which drawings to protect, and users began to fight amongst themselves.
3. Law-breakers pay law-abiders
This experiment used something we’re all familiar with: a camera at the side of the road monitoring the speed of passing vehicles. As is standard, those who were speeding were fined, but here’s the difference: those who abided by the laws received an offer to take part in a lottery, funded by the fines paid by the offenders. Pre-experiment, the average speed on this road was 20 miles per hour. During the experiment, it was reduced by 22% to 15 miles per hour.
4. How attention affects children
This experiment saw a class of children split into 2 groups based on their eye color. On the first day of the experiment, the blue-eyed children were on the receiving end of privileges, praise, and support, while their brown-eyed classmates did not receive any of this attention. The groups swapped places on the second day. The result was that the group of children who received the attention actually performed better in study, but were arrogant towards the other group. This group felt humiliated, and their performance suffered as a result.
5. Musical staircase encourages healthier approach
Most of us take the escalator over the stairs, but in this case, a regular staircase was replaced with a musical one. You could play your own melody when climbing the stairs, which people found pretty cool, considering 66% more people were reported to have used the stairs during the experiment.
6. Removing foreign items from shelves
A supermarket in Hamburg left only German-produced items on their shelves, which resulted in completely empty shelves. The aim of this project was to show German shoppers how poorly their country would fare without collaborating with other countries.
7. Fame vs talent
Back in 2015, members of U2 donned disguises and pretended to be regular street musicians. They headed to a New York City subway station to play their music. Hilariously, nobody batted an eyelid at the band members until they revealed who they really were.
8. How we see ourselves vs how others see us
In this study, a forensic artist drew women’s portraits according to a verbal description the women gave of themselves. The artist, who wasn’t able to see the women himself, then asked a stranger to describe the women and made a second portrait based on what he heard. All of the self-described portraits were radically different from those that had been drawn from strangers’ descriptions.
9. Effects of negative information
One Facebook experiment saw more than 600,000 users being only able to view posts with negative information for a week. It was recorded that the news changed the users’ online behavior, causing them to share their own negative information more often. People behaved as if the negative news had directly affected them, making them feel worse in themselves.
10. How music affects mood
A taxi driver played different music in his car, changing it once a week to see how it affected his passengers’ mood and his rating. His rating dropped when he played rock-music, retro songs and rap music. He received the best reaction (and better tips!) when he played a combination of classical music with a bit of rock music.
11. Views united
— Jane Lynch (@janemarielynch) April 27, 2017
In this experiment, three pairs of strangers were asked to enter a warehouse together. They interacted while working on a project together, and it was only at the end of the experiment that they learned that their partner had completely different beliefs from themselves. Despite their opposing views, the participants decided to remain together after being told the news, and attempted to better understand the other person without prejudice.
12. How similar are we?
Finding out your gene history is always interesting, and in this study, 67 people took a DNA test to find out their genetic origin. The test revealed that not a single member of the 67 people had roots back to purely one ethnicity or race – and those who were prejudiced against a specific race or nation had those genes in their DNA.
13. Paid for nothing
And finally, in a particularly interesting social experiment, 2,000 people in Finland were given €560 per month for 2 years, without having to do a single thing. They received the money instead of unemployment allowance, and they weren’t asked to get a job – but even if they did find work, they’d still receive the money. Some participants of the study demonstrated a reduction in stress thanks to the stable monthly income, which gave them the time to pursue their dreams without the fear of failure.
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