Friday, April 13, 2012

Mind games

I am a Psychology graduate.

This does not mean I can read your mind - that's a common misconception.
But it does mean I can throw fascinating anecdotes into conversations at dinner parties.

I can tell you how 'Little Albert' developed a phobia of white rats, after scientists freaked the heck out of him by banging a gong in his ear each time he looked at one.  And how, over time, his phobia expanded to include white rabbits, Santa Claus' beard, and even a fur coat (Watson, 1920).  

I can tell you about the people who were asked to administer electric shocks to their peers if they answered test questions incorrectly - and who did it, just because someone in authority told them to (Milgram, 1963).

And I can tell you about the summer camp experiment where psychologists pitched eleven-year old boys against each other, until it got so Lord of the Flies that they had to call it off (Sherif, 1954).

But that all happened in the good old days, before things like "ethics" became popular or necessary. 

These days, we're not allowed to perform experiments like that. 

But that doesn't mean we can't still have a little harmless psychological fun. 

So some days, when the mood takes me, I play mind games with random people on the street.

Here's one you can try at home: 

Methodology:

Step 1: Go walking down a street. 

Step 2: Select your target.

Step 3: Fall into step beside them.  
Without making eye contact, match your pace so that you are walking side by side.

Step 4: Observe what happens next.  
Write notes on a little pad if you want to feel like a real psychologist.


Step 5: Repeat, until you get bored or someone hits you.

Results:
In 100% of my "experiments", the "subject" will either slow down or speed up. 
They will not allow you to walk beside them. 
People simply won't tolerate someone they don't know walking next to them.  It is unnerving.

Conclusion:
Unnerving people is fun, and makes walking less boring.

(And if you get bored of that, you can always hold up a white rat and bang a gong in their ear.) 

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Brilliant. I loved the recapitulation of the white rat motif!

Anonymous said...

this actually happened to me today, but i was the one who sped up to avoid it!