There are many famous psychology experiments that have shaped the world of human psychology as we know it. A lot of these experiments would never have taken place today as they would be considered too unethical, but read on for a list of famous psychology experiments that led researchers to make important breakthroughs in various aspects of psychology.
A list of famous psychology experiments
Stanford Prison Experiment – Philip Zimbardo is famous for his study of the psychological impact on becoming a prisoner or prison guard. He created a mock prison and populated it with “prisoners” and “prison guards” to determine the causes of prison abuse situations and illustrate the effect of cognitive dissonance theory. The results were deeply disturbing and revealed a very dark side to human nature.
Pavlov’s classical conditioning studies on dogs gave us vital information about the way humans and animals react to their environment and how behavioural or “conditional” responses can be taught. The dogs were trained to associate sensory stimulants with food until the stimulus was enough to make them salivate, even when no food was anywhere in sight.
Watson & Rayner’s “Little Albert” classical conditioning experiment illustrated how humans could be conditioned to exhibit a fear response to something that would not normally be frightening. A young child was taught to associate a frightening noise with a series of benign objects. Eventually, even without the noise, the child reacted with terror at the mere sight of something that vaguely looked like the objects.
Asch’s conformity experiments showed how people will often succumb to peer pressure and conform to the group in a bid to fit in, rather than face ridicule. This behavior occurs even when the person recognises that his behaviour is wrong.
The Milgram experiment was a series of social psychology experiments designed to measure how willingly a person placed in a position of authority would perform acts that were in direct conflict with their personal conscience. Each participant was told to inflict a painful electric shock on another person to see if they would obey or follow their conscience and refuse. The results were highly disturbing—a massive 63% carried on administering pain until the end of the experiment.
The Robbers Cave Experiment tested the theory that a group could form, along with attendant prejudices, in as little as thirty seconds, even if the members of the “group” did not know each other and there were no consequences. The results of the experiment showed that people in groups need few excuses to do many disturbing things, including looking for a leader and picking fights with other groups.
Festinger and Carlsmith’s cognitive dissonance experiment helped psychologists to understand how and why people are able to cope with conflicting thoughts and feelings, adjust their personal values to suit their behaviour, and interpret the same piece of information differently to suit their own viewpoint.
The “Bystander Effect” study by Darley and Latane in 1964 investigated how the presence of other people affected the individual’s helping instinct in the face of an apparent emergency. The experiment was similar to the Milgram study, but in this instance, the variable was the number of people present.