As much as we’d like to think we know ourselves and our own minds, in actual fact there is a lot that we don’t know, are yet to discover and sometimes may not ever know.
The human mind works in mysterious ways and the endless studies into different aspects can only widen our understanding, not complete it. Psychologists have made a huge impact on our understanding of human behaviours and how we view the world around us, but there is much we still have to learn.
Saying that, there are a lot of surprising studies that will change your perception of yourself and, hopefully, will help you get to know the human mind a little better:
1. Stanford Prison Experiment
This experiment is said to be the most famous psychology study in history and showcased how social environments can affect human behaviour.
The study placed 24 healthy undergraduates with no criminal background into a mock prison, asking some to act as guards and the rest to act as prisoners. After six days (the experiment was scheduled to run for two weeks), it had to be cut short due to the violent behaviour of the guards.
Phillip Zimbardo, who ran the experiment, commented on the behaviour, “The guards escalated their aggression against the prisoners, stripping them naked, putting bags over their heads, and then finally had them engage in increasingly humiliating sexual activities.”
This study taught us that even those of us who are declared psychologically “normal” can demonstrate an evil streak when placed in certain environments. How do you think you’d behave in the same situation?
2. Wooden Door Experiment
Another famous experiment where college students were targeted by a researcher who asked for directions. Halfway through the directions, workmen holding a wooden door passed between the two having the discussion, switching places with the individual who was asking for the directions. Half of the participants didn’t even notice that the person asking for directions had completely changed.
This demonstrates how the human mind can experience “change blindness” and how we may not be aware when something is happening right in front of our very eyes.
3. Milgram’s Authoritarian Experiment
After the Second World War, Stanley Milgram wanted to understand why Nazi criminals committed the crimes they did and if the authority figure had something to do with it.
The “teacher and learner” experiment had one researcher instructing a participant to produce electric shocks of high voltage on another human being in front of them, simply because they were asked to do so. 65% of participants administered the highest possible voltage of 450-volts when asked to do so by an authority figure, despite seeming distressed and uncomfortable at doing so.
How do you perform around authority figures? Would you cause harm to others if you were asked to do so by somebody in power?
4. The Harvard Grant Study
Spanning 75-years, this study followed 268 male Harvard graduates at various points in their life to record data on various aspects of their lives. The conclusion to the experiment is that love really does make us happy and fills us with a sense of life-satisfaction that we don’t get from other areas of our lives.
Perhaps one of the most uplifting stories, especially since one participant started the study with the lowest rate of future stability and a past of attempted suicide, but at the end of the study he was one of the happiest – the reason being he spent his life looking for love.
5. Cognitive Dissonance Experiments
One of the most popular theories and areas within psychology, cognitive dissonance is the idea that humans cannot cope with conflicting thoughts, emotions or values so experience some mental distress.
There have been many experiments in this area, but one of the most interesting was carried out by Leon Festinger. He asked participants to complete long, mundane tasks. Then he offered half of them $1 and the other half $20 to tell the waiting participants that they had enjoyed the task. The $1 group felt the need to justify the time spent by saying it was a fun task, whereas the higher-paid group believed they had sufficient justification for completing the task.
Summarised, we tend to tell ourselves lies to justify events that happen throughout our lives, even simple ones such as mundane tasks.
There are many more experiments that demonstrate just how little we know about ourselves and our minds as humans, these studies only scratch the surface. Which do you agree with most? Are there any more studies that you have heard about that taught you something new about yourself?
art by Cameron Gray
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