A magician pulls rabbits out of hats. An experimental psychologist pulls habits out of rats.
It’s amazing what we all find interest in.
My sister loves to bake and cook. I have difficulty operating the microwave. My father loves to gamble and play poker. I don’t enjoy flipping coins. My mother is a talented artist and animal enthusiast. I’m not sure which dislikes my hands more: paintbrushes or dogs. And my brother…oh, my brother. He’s currently trekking through the frozen tundra of Alaska for a program with the Naval Academy. I get uncomfortable if the home heating system gets below seventy degrees.
However, one passion of mine—one that began in the 6th grade when I wanted to study my neighbors for their bizarre and erratic behavior—is psychology. I have loved it since I can remember and have been secretly conducting on all those I speak with and listen to me.
You don’t think it’s just “enjoyment of my writing” that’s brought you back to this blog, do you?
One of the cool things about psychology—a field that all of us should investigate at least a little bit—is the information that it can tell us about ourselves.
For instance, in Solomon Asch’s famous social psychology study, he brought participants one at a time into a room and had him or her seated at a table. He then brought in other “participants” (what psychologists call “confederates”—other scientists posing as real participants) and had them sit around the table as well.
Asch then presented cards with different sized lines on them (as you can see in the picture) and asked all the participants—the confederates included—which line matched the one on the left. And for the first two rounds of this, everyone went around, one at a time, giving the correct, obvious answer.
But on the third card, the first confederate asked to respond gave the wrong answer. Then the second confederate gave the same wrong answer. Then the third. And after this had happened 6 times, the real participant was asked to give his or her answer.
Now, anyone hearing this situation obviously thinks, “Well of course it doesn’t matter what those imbeciles are saying. I know which one’s right, and I’ll say that answer.” But that’s not what Asch found. In fact, the majority of real participants will, at one time or another, give the wrong answer to conform to the responses of the group. Furthermore, one third of all participants will usually answer with the wrong choice just to be the same as everyone else.
They will ignore what their eyes are clearly telling them just to answer with the same responses as the others. Now the reason for why people do this is contested and complicated, but the finding is still the same: Even though people know what they should be saying, they repress this urge to go along with the group.
Can you think of any other instances where such behavior is evident?