Tag Archives: experiment

Mad Scientists: Can we ever revisit Milgram’s diabolical studies?

By Erica Zaiser

Every student of social psychology remembers studying Stanley Milgram’s famous experiment. His studies shaped future thinking about authority, extreme group behavior, and morality. Many of those same psychology students, captivated by the lure of such exciting and revealing studies, would have also learned that you can no longer actually do that kind of research anymore.

The BBC recently reenacted the Milgram experiment for TV and now, the French have added their own twist. The BBC recently reported on a French TV documentary, which showed that under the guise of a game show, contestants were willing to send an electrical shock to other contestants– sometimes at dangerous levels. These types of TV “experiments” are not subject to the same ethical considerations social psychologists are. Of course, this also means they are also not subject to the same expectation of scientific rigour.  It’s always somewhat exciting to see confirmation (even in a highly unscientific setting) that what was shown by Milgram in the 60s may  still hold true today. However, the potential harm to participants from that type of experiment justifies the ethical limitations preventing such research.

Is there a middle ground?

Some psychologists have found that they can still re-do old experiments but also reduce potential harm to their participants by moving the experiments from the physical world into a virtual world. Two researchers in France used virtual reality to re-examine Milgram’s ideas. Like Milgram, they found that participants showed more obedience when they couldn’t see the victim and they also found that participants felt less distress when the victim was from North Africa than when he was of their same ethnic background.  Virtual reality has opened up a way for psychologists to do research on extreme behaviour, but minimize harm to participants.  Perhaps both psychologists and participants can benefit from future use of virtual reality as a medium for experiments.

Read more: Reopening the study of extreme social behaviors: Obedience to authority within an immersive video environment

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Really not seeing the elephant in the room

By Erica Zaiser

When something changes in our visual field, it seems obvious that the bigger the change the more likely it is that we would notice. However, much research has shown that in fact, we are often blind to large changes when we don’t know to focus on them. An interesting video posted on Boing Boing demonstrates the change-blindness effect well. In this experiment, participants walk over to a desk and are given a consent form to sign by an experimenter. When the experimenter bends down to “put the form away”, a completely different experimenter (wearing a different colored shirt) stands up and continues the instructions. Over 75% of participants fail to notice that the man who stands up is not the same man with whom they had just been conversing.

According to Simons and Ambinder (2005), most research on change blindness has shown that when a major change occurs outside of a person’s visual field (as opposed to a change that is visible as it happens) or in a situation where they are distracted, people are particularly bad at noticing any change. The failure to notice change seems to occur not because of an inability to represent visual information but because we aren’t very good at comparing information from before with information presented after the change. Change blindness is important to understand because people assume that they notice major changes when they actually do not. For example, in witness identification, people might not be accurate spotting differences between people coming and going. Another example, cited by the authors, is in driving safety; people assume they would notice a pedestrian crossing the street even if distracted by talking on a cell phone. The change-blindness effect shows us that we are not as capable of noticing changes in our visual environment as we think we are.

Read More: Simons, D.J., Ambinder, M.S.(2005).Change blindness: theory and consequences. Current Directions in Psychological Science.

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