If you’ve read some of my previous articles, you should already be aware of the two main approaches that shaped psychology into what it is today, the Psychodynamic and Behaviourist approaches. Of course, there are many more approaches used in modern Psychology, but at the moment, I feel like looking at some other very famous studies across the subject. Those I’ll cover today take a variety of different approaches, but all have one thing in common. When first shown, they shocked the scientific world with their findings. One study that had a big impact, and in this case, changed policy, is a study by Elizabeth Loftus into eyewitness testimony, where witnesses of a crime give evidence, in order to determine a verdict. It can be used as a major form of evidence in a trial to decide whether or not someone is guilty. In the study, participants watched a video of a car crash. They were then asked ‘How fast was the car going when it hit the other car?’, but with different participants, they replaced ‘hit’ with ‘smashed’. They then found that speed estimates were higher with the word ‘smashed’ than with ‘hit’. This showed that dependant on the questions asked, memory can change, and so is not reliable enough to use in court. Juries are now cautioned before using such evidence.
Another surprising study was Asch’s on conformity. He showed that we often lie about our feelings in order to fit in, and conform to social norms. The study involved several people doing a test at once. 1 a real participant, and all of the others, actors pretending to be participants. When shown a line and a set of three other lines, they were asked which one was the same length. All of the actors were told to say a line that wasn't the obvious correct answer, and so when the real participant, who was seated last, was asked, he agreed with the actors on the incorrect answer. This shocked many, because the correct answer was so obvious, and yet we hate standing out so much, that we are willing to lie about what we believe.
A third well known experiment is the Milgram experiment, which was based around the idea of obedience. Participants were paired with an actor who, like in the other study, would pretend to be a participant. The real participant was told it would be a study of memory and that they would be asking the other questions. When the other person got one wrong, the participant would give them an electric shock, which would get higher in voltage each time. In reality, no shocks were given, the participant just thought they were. Once in another room, all they heard of the other person was an audio recording. Over the course of the experiment, the participant would hear the other in distress and asking them to stop, before a period of silence, but the participant would keep shocking them, because the experimenter told them to. 65% of participants continued all the way to 450 volts; a lethal shock. This provided evidence that most people won’t stand up against an authority figure, even when they believe what they are doing is wrong.
Each of these studies shocked at the time, and still can be seen as pretty extraordinary, but through understanding the results, we can aid social change, and modify our own behaviour for the better. This type of psychology is so interesting and is exactly why the science is so important and relevant to everyday life.
Image from: https://thesituationist.files.wordpress.com/2011/09/shock-generator-buttons.jpg