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Why Study Psychology? - Overview & Experiments

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  • 0:41 Weekend Effect
  • 2:50 Solomon Asch
  • 4:45 Misattribution
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Robert Egan
What at first seems obvious may not be the case. Psychology looks past intuitions and feelings to search for the true roots to our behaviors. Watch this lesson to learn about two experiments that demonstrate how testing the 'obvious' can yield surprising results.

So you might think that some of the things psychologists study are kind of obvious. They're not things that are mindblowingly cool. They study behavior. We all have our own intuitions about behavior. We all have our own ways that we think it works, and this is something that can kind of be a misconception about psychology - that they're confirming things that we already know about ourselves.

One kind of funny example is there was a recent study that studied the weekend effect. That's what they called it in the paper, and there were some researchers at the University of Rochester. What they concluded was that, regardless of whatever job you have, people are happier on the weekend than they are during the week. And this is something that your personal experience has probably confirmed over and over again. You might not think that this is something that scientists need to study. Well in this case, the obvious hypothesis is that the weekend is more fun than the non-weekend. While in this case this was proved to be true, there are a lot of instances in psychology where this hasn't been true.

Some of the coolest experiments have been when people have thought things to be obvious but they've turned out not to be. This would be like if your weekend effect experiment actually proved that people were happier during the work week. That would be the magnitude of some of these experiments that disprove the hypothesis. That seems crazy - it isn't true in this case, but in some cases it is. As an example of this, let's say your friend decides to design an experiment where he's going to see if people get an incredibly easy question wrong just because everyone else in the room is answering wrong as well.

The question he's going to ask is he's going to give two cards. The first card is going to have a line on it, and the second card is going to have three lines on it of different lengths. Now one of them is the same length as the one on the card. These lines are labeled A,B and C. So he's going ask a bunch of people in the room which line is the same as the line on the first card. This is the most obvious, easy question ever, a 3-year-old can answer this - if he can see, he's going to be able to answer this question. But what your friend's going to do is he's going to have everyone else in the room answer wrong. If the answer is B, then he's going to have everyone else say C. Let's see if our subject will also say C.

Social psychologist Soloman Asch
Solomon Asch

And now, this is a real experiment. The guy who designed it, his name is Solomon Asch, and he thought that people wouldn't do this. Again, they can see that B is clearly the answer, and they're not going to get it wrong even if they're pressured by other people. He thought that he would find this was true. No, people got it wrong all the time. Only about 24% of the subjects didn't say the wrong answer on average - they would do three trials each. 24% didn't say the wrong answer. Everyone else gave the wrong answer at least once because the effect of having all these people in a row saying the wrong answer over and over again was so powerful that they said the wrong answer.

This is something that if Solomon Asch just said 'Oh yeah this is something obvious that people can see, and they're not going to get this wrong,' we would never know this. We would never know how powerful people's peers are and how powerful peer pressure is. And that was an experiment where it was good that it got done, and it turned out not be so obvious. That's a way in which psychology can be useful. It's true of psychology, what you see over and over again, because it's true that we have ideas of how things work and our brains work. We don't actually have any idea a lot of the time.

And there's another study that shows this perfectly. It's about how people misattribute why they're feeling the way they're feeling. In this particular study, the researchers decided to have men go out on a bridge. They had two bridges, one of which is kind of shaky like one of those wooden, Indiana Jones bridges where you figure a plank may fall out in the middle. And one of them is really sturdy - it's not going anywhere; you're going to be fine if you're on this bridge.

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