Enlightening Field Experiments
Armed with a horoscope, a decent grade in psychology 101, and a self-help book, it may seem to many that human behavior is predictable and simple. However, conducting case studies prove time and again that the way we think and behave is one of the most interesting aspects of science. Case studies in sociological issues go in-depth for a single event, situation, individual, or group, in order to analyze and provide an explanation or an exploration of how humans behave. Would New Yorkers be willing to help a robot find its way home? Would average men obediently inflict electric shocks on a stranger? Here are some famous and interesting case studies that reveal thought-provoking aspects of humanity.
Crime and Racism in America
The ABC news show 20/20 conducts social experiments in a series titled “What Would You Do?”. One particular study had actors portray teenage boys vandalizing a car in broad daylight. The willingness of the passersby to get involved, such as calling the police or approaching the boys, was all recorded on hidden camera. The results of the situation were fascinating, especially when considering the different outcomes when the actors were Caucasian as opposed to African-American.
During the first run of the experiment, which had three white teenagers involved in defacing the car, passersby were unlikely to get involved, and only one call was placed to the police. When the African-American youths were “committing” the crime, 10 calls were made to the authorities.
It should be noted that the park in which this experiment took place is in a neighborhood that has a large Caucasian population. It would be interesting to see a similar test performed in a neighborhood that was more racially diverse. In any event, the results of this experiment raise questions about why Americans seem to respond to different races with different reactions.
Being Zac Efron
A young man named Dom Coccaro stumbled upon a rather disturbing sociological experiment. Out of nothing other than boredom, Dom changed his published name on the social networking site MySpace to Zac Efron. Unmotivated by interest or love of the star, Coccaro was motivated purely for the sake of amusement.
Unexpectedly, Dom began being deluged with friend requests. He granted them, seeing it as a way to extend the joke to the point where his new “friends” would enter his space and see the heavy metal, twisted content that would clearly tell them that he was not the Disney-pop Efron.
Much to Coccaro’s surprise, young girls ignored all the clear clues that this was not Efron at all, sending him flirtatious messages, and even personal phone numbers. It was a surprising and disturbing result to an unintentional sociology experiment. This “test” unfortunately demonstrated how easy it could be for people of dubious integrity to lure young kids into giving out too much of their personal information.
The Stanley Milgram Experiment
Conducted in 1961, the experiment performed by Stanley Milgram is one of the more famous sociological experiments ever performed. Forty male test subjects from all professions were recruited for the study. When the subjects arrived at the research facility for their participation, they were labeled a “teacher,” and another man was labeled a “learner.” Learners were hooked to a device that was designed to deliver electric shocks in a room separate from the “teacher” and the experiment monitors. Teachers were positioned in front of a board with switches in 15-volt increments, up to 375 volts. The teachers were unable to directly see the learners, but they were in a position, they believed, to hear them.
The experiment subjects, the “teachers,” were instructed to ask a series of questions via microphone to the “learner.” Every time a learner answered a question incorrectly, the teacher was instructed to administer an electric shock, starting with the lowest voltage, and eventually increasing in severity. Unbeknownst to the teachers, pre-recorded audio was played as each shock was delivered, first with yelps of surprise, then requests and pleas, cries of pain, and eventually silence. Nearly every one of the teachers, although often visibly distressed, continued to administer shocks even after the “learner” had cried out that he had enough, and that his heart was bothering him. A full 65% of the teachers never stopped giving the shocks at all, despite the repeated distress from the learners.
Milgram’s experiment could be construed as a commentary on a basic lack of compassion exhibited by human beings, or possibly more accurately, an almost fanatical dedication to taking direction, particularly from authority figures. It would be quite interesting to observe the results of such a test today, taking into account the many changes in our society since 1961.
Tweenbots were involved in a simplistic test conducted by Kacie Kinzer to study the basic helpfulness of people. A Tweenbot is a simple, cardboard box-designed remote control robot with only basic forward movement. In the study, Kinzer placed several of these simple bots along the streets of New York, each with a flag with a widely known destination attached to it. Unable to move in a manner other than a straight line, the Tweenbot was sent on missions through areas of New York City, totally dependent on the assistance of strangers to successfully navigate to its destination.
In a feel-good result, Tweenbot accomplished every one of its missions. Passersby happily turned the robot, freed it from obstruction and otherwise made sure that it stayed on the right path. The only possible downside to the results of the test is the possibility that it proves that humans react more kindly to cute machines than they do to one another.
The Honest Tea Company, based out of Maryland, conducted an experiment testing people’s honesty in 2010. Honest Tea set up several “Honest Stores”, simple and unmanned stands advertising a bottle of tea for sale at $1 apiece – all on the honor system. The tests were performed in seven cities; Boston, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, New York City, Atlanta, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Hidden cameras recorded whether or not people would fairly pay for the tea.
The results? Boston led the way, with 93.3% of “customers” honest. Los Angeles showed up last at 75% honest.
It is hard to say what this information means. On one side, 93% of people acting in an honest manner should be somewhat heartening. On the other side, the fact that one in every four people in Los Angeles was dishonest over an amount as trivial as a single dollar is somewhat disappointing.
One thing is for certain: No major retailers will be switching to this business model any time soon.