8 Interesting Social Psychology Experiments (2022)

Do people really stop to appreciate the beauty of the world? How can society encourage people to engage in healthy behaviors? Is there anything that can be done to bring peace to rival groups?

Social psychologists have been tackling questions like these for decades, and some of the results of their experiments just might surprise you.

1

Robbers Cave Experiment

8 Interesting Social Psychology Experiments (1)

Why do conflicts tend to occur between different groups? According to psychologist Muzafer Sherif, intergroup conflicts tend to arise from competition for resources, stereotypes, and prejudices. In a controversial experiment, the researchers placed 22 boys between the ages of 11 and 12 in two groups at a camp in the Robbers Cave Park in Oklahoma.

The boys were separated into two groups and spent the first week of the experiment bonding with their other group members. It wasn't until the second phase of the experiment that the children learned that there was another group, at which point the experimenters placed the two groups in direct competition with each other.

This led to considerable discord, as the boys clearly favored their own group members while they disparaged the members of the other group. In the final phase, the researchers staged tasks that required the two groups to work together. These shared tasks helped the boys get to know members of the other group and eventually led to a truce between the rivals.

Why Do We Try So Hard to Be Like Other People?

2

The 'Violinist in the Metro' Experiment

8 Interesting Social Psychology Experiments (2)

In 2007, acclaimed violinist Josh Bell posed as a street musician at a busy Washington, D.C. subway station. Bell had just sold out a concert with an average ticket price of $100 each.

He is one of the most renowned musicians in the world and was playing on a handcrafted violin worth more than $3.5 million. Yet most people scurried on their way without stopping to listen to the music. When children would occasionally stop to listen, their parents would grab them and quickly usher them on their way.

The experiment raised some interesting questions about how we not only value beauty but whether we truly stop to appreciate the remarkable works of beauty that are around us.

3

The Piano Stairs Experiment

8 Interesting Social Psychology Experiments (3)

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How can you get people to change their daily behavior and make healthier choices? In one social experiment sponsored by Volkswagen as part of their Fun Theory initiative, making even the most mundane activities fun can inspire people to change their behavior.

In the experiment, a set of stairs was transformed into a giant working keyboard. Right next to the stairs was an escalator, so people were able to choose between taking the stairs or taking the escalator. The results revealed that 66% more people took the stairs instead of the escalator.

Adding an element of fun can inspire people to change their behavior and choose the healthier alternative.

4

The Marshmallow Test Experiment

8 Interesting Social Psychology Experiments (4)

During the late 1960s and early 1970s, a psychologist named Walter Mischel led a series of experiments on delayed gratification. Mischel was interested in learning whether the ability to delay gratification might be a predictor of future life success.

In the experiments, children between the ages of 3 and 5 were placed in a room with a treat (often a marshmallow or cookie). Before leaving the room, the experimenter told each child that they would receive a second treat if the first treat was still on the table after 15 minutes.

Follow-up studies conducted years later found that the children who were able to delay gratification did better in a variety of areas, including academically. Those who had been able to wait the 15 minutes for the second treat tended to have higher SAT scores and more academic success (according to parent surveys).

The results suggest that this ability to wait for gratification is not only an essential skill for success but also something that forms early on and lasts throughout life.

5

The Smoky Room Experiment

8 Interesting Social Psychology Experiments (5)

If you saw someone in trouble, do you think you would try to help? Psychologists have found that the answer to this question is highly dependent on the number of other people present. We are much more likely to help when we are the only witness but much less likely to lend a hand when we are part of a crowd.

The phenomenon came to the public's attention after the gruesome murder of a young woman named Kitty Genovese. According to the classic tale, while multiple people may have witnessed her attack, no one called for help until it was much too late.

This behavior was identified as an example of the bystander effect, or the failure of people to take action when there are other people present. (In reality, several witnesses did immediately call 911, so the real Genovese case was not a perfect example of the bystander effect.) 

How Diffusion of Responsibility Affects the Way We Act in Groups

In one classic experiment, researchers had participants sit in a room to fill out questionnaires. Suddenly, the room began to fill with smoke. In some cases the participantwas alone, in some there were three unsuspecting participants in the room, and in the final condition, there was one participant and two confederates.

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In the situation involving the two confederates who were in on the experiment, these actors ignored the smoke and went on filling out their questionnaires. When the participants were alone, about three-quarters of the participants left the room calmly to report the smoke to the researchers.

In the condition with three real participants, only 38% reported the smoke. In the final condition where the two confederates ignored the smoke, a mere 10% of participants left to report the smoke. The experiment is a great example of how much people rely on the responses of others to guide their actions.

When something is happening, but no one seems to be responding, people tend to take their cues from the group and assume that a response is not required.

6

Carlsberg Social Experiment

8 Interesting Social Psychology Experiments (6)

Have you ever felt like people have judged you unfairly based on your appearance? Or have you ever gotten the wrong first impression of someone based on how they looked? Unfortunately, people are all too quick to base their decisions on snap judgments made when they first meet people.

These impressions based on what's on the outside sometimes cause people to overlook the characteristics and qualities that lie on the inside. In one rather amusing social experiment, which actually started out as an advertisement, unsuspecting couples walked into a crowded movie theater.

All but two of the 150 seats were already full. The twist is that the 148 already-filled seats were taken by a bunch of rather rugged and scary-looking male bikers. What would you do in this situation? Would you take one of the available seats and enjoy the movie, or would you feel intimidated and leave?

In the informal experiment, not all of the couples ended up taking a seat, but those who eventually did were rewarded with cheers from the crowd and a round of free Carlsberg beers.

The exercise served as a great example of why people shouldn't always judge a book by its cover.

7

Halo Effect Experiment

8 Interesting Social Psychology Experiments (7)

In an experiment described in a paper published in 1920, psychologist Edward Thorndike asked commanding officers in the military to give ratings of various characteristics of their subordinates.

Thorndike was interested in learning how impressions of one quality, such as intelligence, bled over onto perceptions of other personal characteristics, such as leadership, loyalty, and professional skill. Thorndike discovered that when people hold a good impression of one characteristic, those good feelings tend to affect perceptions of other qualities.

For example, thinking someone is attractive can create a halo effect that leads people also to believe that a person is kind, smart, and funny. The opposite effect is also true. Negative feelings about one characteristic lead to negative impressions of an individual's other features.

When people have a good impression of one characteristic, those good feelings tend to affect perceptions of other qualities.

8

False Consensus Experiment

8 Interesting Social Psychology Experiments (8)

During the late 1970s, researcher Lee Ross and his colleagues performed some eye-opening experiments. In one experiment, the researchers had participants choose a way to respond to an imagined conflict and then estimate how many people would also select the same resolution.

They found that no matter which option the respondents chose, they tended to believe that the vast majority of other people would also choose the same option. In another study, the experimenters asked students on campus to walk around carrying a large advertisement that read "Eat at Joe's."

The researchers then asked the students to estimate how many other people would agree to wear the advertisement. They found that those who agreed to carry the sign believed that the majority of people would also agree to carry the sign. Those who refused felt that the majority of people would refuse as well.

The results of these experiments demonstrate what is known in psychology as the false consensus effect.

No matter what our beliefs, options, or behaviors, we tend to believe that the majority of other people also agree with us and act the same way we do.

(Video) 7 Mind Blowing Psychological Experiments with Unbelievable Results

A Word From Verywell

Social psychology is a rich and varied field that offers fascinating insights into how people behave in groups and how behavior is influenced by social pressures. Exploring some of these classic social psychology experiments can provide a glimpse at some of the fascinating research that has emerged from this field of study.

Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. Sherif M. Superordinate goals in the reduction of intergroup conflict. American Journal of Sociology. 1958;63(4):349-356. doi:10.1086/222258

  2. Peeters M, Megens C, van den Hoven E, Hummels C, Brombacher A. Social Stairs: Taking the Piano Staircase towards long-term behavioral change. In: Berkovsky S, Freyne J, eds. Lecture Notes in Computer Science. Vol 7822. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg; 2013. doi:10.1007/978-3-642-37157-8_21

  3. Mischel W, Ebbeson EB, Zeiss A. Cognitive and attentional mechanisms in delay of gratification. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 1972;21(2):204–218. doi:10.1037/h0032198

  4. Mischel W, Shoda Y, Peake PK. Predicting adolescent cognitive and self-regulatory competencies from preschool delay of gratification: Identifying diagnostic conditions. Developmental Psychology. 1990;26(6):978-986. doi:10.1037/0012-1649.26.6.978

  5. Benderly, BL. Psychology's tall tales. gradPSYCH Magazine. 2012;9:20.

    (Video) The 5 Craziest Psychology Experiments

  6. Latane B, Darley JM. Group inhibition of bystander intervention in emergencies. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 1968;10(3):215-221. doi:10.1037/h0026570

  7. Thorndike EL. A constant error in psychological ratings. Journal of Applied Psychology. 1920;4(1):25-29. doi:10.1037/h0071663

  8. Talamas SN, Mayor KI, Perrett DI.Blinded by beauty: Attractiveness bias and accurate perceptions of academic performance.PLoS One. 2016;11(2):e0148284. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0148284

  9. Ross, L, Greene, D, & House, P. The "false consensus effect": An egocentric bias in social perception and attribution processes. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. 1977;13(3):279-301. doi:10.1016/0022-1031(77)90049-X

8 Interesting Social Psychology Experiments (9)

By Kendra Cherry
Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology.

FAQs

What was one of the best known social experiments? ›

The Milgram experiment, led by the well-known psychologist Stanley Milgram in the 1960s, aimed to test people's obedience to authority. The results of Milgram's social psychology experiment, sometimes known as the Milgram obedience study, continue to be both thought-provoking and controversial.

What are some examples of experiments in psychology? ›

This is a list of the 25 most influential psychological experiments still being taught to psychology students of today.
  • A Class Divided. ...
  • Asch Conformity Study.
  • Bobo Doll Experiment.
  • Car Crash Experiment.
  • Cognitive Dissonance Experiment.
  • Fantz's Looking Chamber.
  • Hawthorne Effect.
  • Kitty Genovese Case.

What is the most famous experiment in psychology? ›

Stanford Prison Study

Experiment Details: One of the most widely cited experiments in the field of psychology is the Stanford Prison Experiment in which psychology professor Philip Zimbardo set out to study the assumption of roles in a contrived situation.

What are the 7 big ideas of social psychology? ›

The major themes are:
  • Social cognition and perception.
  • The self in a social context.
  • Attitudes and persuasion.
  • Group decisions.
  • Attraction and close relationships.
  • Prosocial behavior.
  • Stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination.
6 Apr 2022

What is an example of a social experiment? ›

An example of this is Stanley Milgram's obedience experiment in 1963. Social experiments began in the United States as a test of the negative income tax concept in the late 1960s and since then have been conducted on all the populated continents.

What social psychology experiment was shocking? ›

The Milgram Shock Experiment

One of the most famous studies of obedience in psychology was carried out by Stanley Milgram, a psychologist at Yale University.

What was the first social psychology experiment? ›

For generations, social psychology students have read that Norman Triplett did the first social psychology experiment in 1889, when he found that children reeled in a fishing line faster when they were in the presence of another child than when they were alone.

What are the 4 types of experiments? ›

Four major design types with relevance to user research are experimental, quasi-experimental, correlational and single subject. These research designs proceed from a level of high validity and generalizability to ones with lower validity and generalizability. First, a note on validity.

What are some good experimental research topics? ›

The best experimental research topics for school or college student.
...
Following are the fields from which experimental research topics for stem students can be framed:
  • Magnifying lens Discovery.
  • Centripetal Force & Centrifugal Force.
  • Electromagnetics.
  • Nuclear Fusion & Fission.
  • Optical Fiber.
  • Electricity.

What are the 3 types of experiments? ›

Three key types of experiments are controlled experiments, field experiments, and natural experiments.

What is the biggest experiment in the world? ›

The large yellow circle identifies the underground path of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the “biggest science experiment in the world.”

What are the 3 experimental designs psychology? ›

Experimental design describes the way participants are allocated to experimental groups of an investigation. Types of design include Repeated Measures, Independent Groups, and Matched Pairs designs.

What is a famous case study in psychology? ›

Famous case studies in psychology

Breuer & Freud (1895) - Anna O. Cleckley's (1941) case studies of psychopathy (The Mask of Sanity) and multiple personality disorder (The Three Faces of Eve) (1957) Freud and Little Hans. Freud and the Rat Man. John Money and the John/Joan case.

What are the big 8 theories in psychology? ›

At this point in modern psychology, the varying viewpoints on human behavior have been split into eight different perspectives: biological, behavioral, cognitive, humanistic, psychodynamic, sociocultural, evolutionary, and biopsychosocial.

What are the 4 big ideas of social psychology? ›

Big Ideas of Social Psychology
  • We Construct Our Social Reality.
  • Social Influences Shape Behavior.
  • Personal Attitudes and Dispositions Shape Behavior.
23 Mar 2021

What are the 4 types of social research? ›

Types of social research
  • Primary research. Primary research involves gathering new data through the creation of an experiment or study. ...
  • Secondary research. Secondary research involves analyzing and generating conclusions from data that already exists. ...
  • Qualitative research. ...
  • Quantitative research.

What is an example of social psychology? ›

The decisions you make and the behaviors you exhibit might depend on not only how many people are present but exactly who you are around. For example, you are likely to behave much differently when you are around a group of close friends than you would around a group of colleagues or supervisors from work.

What are 2 examples of social? ›

The definition of social is someone or something that enjoys being with others or has to do with people living or gathering in groups. An example of social is children laughing and playing together. An example of social is people forming a community health clinic. Living or associating in groups or communities.

What are some good experimental research topics? ›

The best experimental research topics for school or college student.
...
Following are the fields from which experimental research topics for stem students can be framed:
  • Magnifying lens Discovery.
  • Centripetal Force & Centrifugal Force.
  • Electromagnetics.
  • Nuclear Fusion & Fission.
  • Optical Fiber.
  • Electricity.

What is an example of a social psychological concept? ›

For example, someone who is normally quiet and reserved might become much more outgoing when placed in some type of leadership role. Another example is how people sometimes behave differently in groups than they would if they were by themselves.

How do you create a social psychology experiment? ›

Draw your conclusion and share the results with the scientific community.
  1. Find a Research Problem or Question. ...
  2. Define Your Variables. ...
  3. Develop a Hypothesis. ...
  4. Conduct Background Research. ...
  5. Select an Experimental Design. ...
  6. Standardize Your Procedures. ...
  7. Choose Your Participants. ...
  8. Conduct Tests and Collect Data.
10 Apr 2020

What is the most popular method of testing ideas in social psychology? ›

Experimentation – To be able to make causal or cause and effect statements, we must be able to isolate variables. We have to manipulate one variable and see the effect of doing so on another variable. Experimentation is the primary method social psychology uses to test its hypotheses.

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