Observing Human Minds, With Human Eyes

Psychological Experiments

Today I will talk about a type of observation that features heavily in a few books by Malcolm Gladwell that I really enjoyed reading, namely, Blink. The book centers around the study of effects and power of our subconscious mind. I would recommend it to anyone with a passing interest in psychology or sociology.

Much of the book focuses on the results of its psychological experiments, a type of observation with some special features.

The Difference

In the observation studies we learn about in our CS3240 module, one important condition necessary for a successful observation is that the participants are clear about the objectives and purpose of the study.

The complete opposite applies for psychological experiments.

Since the purpose of psychological experiments is to gather data about natural human behavior, the participants cannot be informed of objective and purpose of the study due to the intrinsic need to avoid affecting participant behavior.

Also, as the word experiment implies, the participants are not observed passively but are rather asked to do whatever they want in a specific and controlled environment. The data gathered is then analyzed both qualitatively and quantitatively for the results.

Due to the nature of this particular type of observation, the standard rules of conducting and observation must be broken.

The Effectiveness Of Observing Psychological Experiments

Psychological experiments emerged as a type of data gathering method in the 1860s and to this date there are still prevalent critique about its effectiveness, ethics and validity.

One can see the potential ethical issues of conducting studies without informing the participants about the purpose and objectives, especially since the topic is a sensitive one such as your character. The study can extend in very dark or disturbing domains, as you will see from some examples later.

About the effectiveness of psychological experiments, the biggest problem is the contradiction in its setup. Critics argue that by informing participants that they are participating in an experiment, their behaviors have been inadvertently influenced, mostly to the direction of producing ‘nicer’ picture.

Furthermore, interpretation of the qualitative parts of the data is not objective and the resulting conclusions may be biased and potentially misleading and damaging.

However, the results of psychological studies have sometimes been far from nice and sometimes downright shocking, which seems to suggest that the data gathered from psychological experiments may be quite objective after all.

Mind Blowing Results From Psychological Experiments

In n described in the book Blink, participants are told that among the 10 people, 5 white and 5 black, whose photos they will be shown, a specific number are criminals. Their job is to correctly guess who are the criminals according to their faces.

It turns out that a large portion of participants showed a strong inclination to identify black people as criminals. That is to say, most of us are racists.

In another experiment described in the same book, participants are asked to walk down one of two equally long corridors, either A or B to the end point. Corridor A is filled with motivational posters full of positive words while Corridor B is full of posters about depressing posters about aging and illnesses. The time taken to pass both corridors by the participants are tabulated and analyzed.

The participants who walked through Corridor A showed higher movement rate of more than 20% compared to those who walked through Corridor B. It implies that even without us knowing, we are being influenced strongly by our environment, even if its just words on walls.
The last experiment is the most shocking: the Milgram Experiment. Basically, the experiment is designed to test how authority affects the willingness of humans to inflict pain on other humans. More details can be seen here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milgram_experiment

According to this experiment, it seems that humans are very willing to hurt other under the influence of authority.

This conclude this weeks post, I hope I have not bored you with a personal interest and you found my $0.02 interesting!

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