The Setup: Solomon Asch wanted to run a series of studies that would document the power of conformity, for the purpose of depressing everyone who would ever read the results. Subjects were told that they would be taking part in a vision test, along with a handful of people. The participants were then shown pictures, and individually asked to answer very simple and obvious questions. The catch was that everybody else in the room other than the subject was in on it, and they were were told to give obviously wrong answers. So would the subject go against the crowd, even when the crowd was clearly and retardedly wrong?
The Result: Over 1/3 (32%) of the subjects would answer incorrectly if they saw that three others in the classroom gave the same wrong answer. Even when the line was plainly off by a few inches, it didn't matter. One in three would follow the group right off the proverbial cliff.
The Setup: The Biblical story of the Good Samaritan, if you hadn't heard, is about a passing Samaritan helping an injured man in need, while other, self-righteous types walk right on by. Psychologists John Darley and C. Daniel Batson wanted to test if religion has any effect on helpful behavior. Their subjects were a group of seminary students. Half of the students were given the story of the Good Samaritan and asked to perform a sermon about it in another building. The other half were told to give a sermon about job opportunities in a seminary. As an extra twist, subjects were given different times that they had to deliver the sermon so that some would be in a hurry and others not. Then, on the way to the building, subjects would pass a person slumped in an alleyway, who looked to be in dire need of help.
The Result: The people who had been studying the Good Samaritan story did not stop any more often than the ones preparing for a speech on job opportunities. The factor that really seemed to make a difference was how much of a hurry the students were in. In fact, if pressed for time, only 10 percent would stop to give any aid, even when they were on their way to give a sermon about how awesome it is for people to stop and give aid.
The Setup: When a woman was murdered in 1964, newspapers printed that 38 people had heard and seen the attack, but did nothing. John Darley and Bibb Latane wanted to know if the fact that these people were in a large group played any role in the reluctance to come to aid. The two psychologists invited volunteers to take part in a discussion. They claimed that because the discussion would be extremely personal (probably asking about the size of their genitals or something) individuals would be separated in different rooms and talk to each other using an intercom. During the conversation, one of the members would fake an epileptic seizure, which could be heard on the speakers.
The Setup: Psychologist Philip Zimbardo wanted to find out how captivity affects authorities and inmates in prison. Sounds innocent enough. Seriously, what could go wrong? Zimbardo transformed the Stanford Psychology Department's basement into a mock prison. Subjects volunteered by simply responding to a newspaper ad and then passing a test proving good health and high-quality mental stability. These volunteers were all male college students who were then divided arbitrarily into 12 guards and 12 prisoners. Zimbardo himself decided that he wanted to play too, and elected himself Prison Superintendent. The simulation was planned to run for two weeks. Yep, nothing at all can go wrong with this.
The Setup: When the prosecution of the Nazis got underway at the Nuremberg Trials, many of the defendants' excuse seemed to revolve around the ideas of, "I'm not really a prick" and, "Hey man, I was just following orders." Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram wanted to test willingness of subjects to obey an authority figure using an experiment where the subject was told he was a "teacher" and that his job was to give a memory test to another subject, located in another room. The whole thing was fake and the other subject was an actor. The subject was told that whenever the other guy gave an incorrect answer, he was to press a button that would give him an electric shock. A guy in a lab coat was there to make sure he did it (again no real shock was being delivered, but the subject of course did not know this). The subject was told that the shocks started at 45 volts and would increase with every wrong answer. Each time they pushed the button, the actor on the other end would scream and beg for the subject to stop. So, can you guess how this went?