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Easy To Be Hard

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[embedded content]Young Children Policing Group Members This post presents examples of psychologists inducing stress in experimental subjects, some showing why we need Institutional Review Boards (IRBs). Some of the older studies involved so much suffering that experimental subjects suffered Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I recall that at the end of the 1976 movie, The Tenth Level, about the Milgram experiment, starring William Shatner, the scientists are discussing what they would do if they were experimental subjects. Would they refuse to torture others? And one says to Shatner/Milgram something like, "It seems to me, you have already been tested and failed." Yudkin, Van Bavel, and Rhodes: Almost the only somewhat happy story here. Toddlers are willing to close a fun slide,

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Young Children Policing Group Members

This post presents examples of psychologists inducing stress in experimental subjects, some showing why we need Institutional Review Boards (IRBs). Some of the older studies involved so much suffering that experimental subjects suffered Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I recall that at the end of the 1976 movie, The Tenth Level, about the Milgram experiment, starring William Shatner, the scientists are discussing what they would do if they were experimental subjects. Would they refuse to torture others? And one says to Shatner/Milgram something like, "It seems to me, you have already been tested and failed."

  • Yudkin, Van Bavel, and Rhodes: Almost the only somewhat happy story here. Toddlers are willing to close a fun slide, for themselves, to punish another child for misbehavior. The experiment illustrates costly third-party punishment.
  • Stanford prison experiment: A sample of college students are randomly divided up into pretend guards and prisoners. The guards quickly begin abusing the prisoners.
  • Jane Ellliot experiments: In order to understand segregation and prejudice, divides a class of school children into blue eyes and brown eyes. The blue eyes sit at the front and treated well; the brown eyes sit at the back and are badly treated. The next Monday, the situation is reversed. Quickly, the well-treated act as if they believe they are superior and the others inferior.
  • Robber's Cave experiment: A somewhat happy ending, I guess. Boys divided up into two competitive groups at summer camp quickly disdain one another. Given a problem that requires cooperation with the other group, they will work together.
  • Milgram experiment: Given an authority figure telling them that this is experiment on negative re-inforcement for learning, people are willing to increase electric shocks past the point of torture. Some refused.
  • Gibson and Walk experiment: As far as the baby is concerned, they are crawling over the edge of a cliff on air. Tests whether caution about heights is inherent. More about individual psychology than most of the rest in this list.
  • Asch experiment: On conformity. Subject goes last in a group noting which line was the same length as the a standard. The subject does not realize the rest are part of the experiment. Many were willing to go along with the obvious falsehood all the others said.
  • Little Albert experiment: A baby is conditioned, as with Pavlov's dogs, to be terrified of a white rat, rabbit, dog, and a sealskin coat. More about individual psychology than most of the rest in this list.

Randomized Control Trials (RCTs) provide a rigorous methodology, albeit they can present problems of generalization and external validity. Not all of the above are RCTs. They do illustrate that designing ethical RCTs can be difficult. I expect the above list of amazingly mostly abusive studies, even in psychology can be extended.

References
  • Yudkin, Danial A., Jay J. Van Bavel, and Marjorie Rhodes (2019). Young children police group members at personal cost. Journal of Experimental Psychology.
  • Haney, C., W. C. Banks, and P. G. Zimbardo (1973). A study of prisoners and guards in a simulated prison. Naval Research Review 30: 4-17.
  • Muzafer Sherif (1966). In Common Predicament: Social Psychology of Intergroup Conflict and Cooperation Houghton Miffin.
  • Milgram, Stanley (1963). Behavioral study of obedience. Journal of Abnormal Social Psychology 67: 371-378.
  • Gibson, E. J. and R. D. Walk (1960).Visual Cliff. Scientific American April.
  • Asch, Solomon E. (1955). Opinions and social pressure. Scientific American November.
  • Watson, John B. and Rosalie Rayner (1920). Conditioned emotional reactions. Journal of Experimental Psychology 3(1): 1-14.

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