More Interesting Psychology Examples

Feel free to check out my first article on this subject where I described examples like the “Dollar Auction” and various strategies of persuasion.

  1. The Commons Dilemma:

    Perhaps the primary reason humans just can’t get along is exemplified in the Commons Dilemma which describes a social situation in which a group shares a common resource. The supply of a resource, fish for example, can be expected to naturally replenish itself over time. This requires that the group only moderately use the resource so that they do not overuse it.

    In a classic experiment, a number of college students were gathered and given a bowl of peanuts and were told that the amount of peanuts would double every minute. The most logical response would have been for the subjects to not touch the peanuts until a few rounds into the experiment after which they would reach a threshold where they could not possibly exhaust the resource. Instead, in almost all cases the peanuts were all gone before even the first stage (Ernst, 1994).

    This dilemma involves both the fear of exploitation and the unwillingness to delay immediate gratification for a larger reward.

  2. Cognitive Dissonance:

    A state of cognitive dissonance arises when a person is faced with conflicting ideas and is forced to resolve these issues and relieve an otherwise tense personal state. What is particularly interesting about this idea is its influence on our understanding of rewards and reinforcement.

    Most would agree that rewarding someone for performing a desired action would make them more likely to perform that action later. Festinger and Carlsmith’s experiments in 1959 showed that the opposite was true under some conditions. To make a long experiment short, subjects in this experiment performed a very menial and boring task and were then deceived into recommending the task they had performed to another subject. Some were paid only $1 to do this and some were paid $20. The results showed that those who were paid $1 were much more likely to lie about their thoughts on the task than those who were paid $20. Why? Apparently, those who were paid $20 (a much higher amount today) experienced cognitive dissonance greater than those who were paid only $1 because the higher amount of money forced them to scrutinize their own actions and found the conflict of lying about the excitement of the task less bearable.

    What does this mean? Be careful when rewarding someone, a much higher than necessary reward could actually result in a decrease in the desired activity (Festinger & Carlsmith, 1959).

  3. Phineas Gage:

    The famous case study of Phineas Gage gives great insight into the physical nature of the brain and the impact that various regions have on decision-making, emotion and cognition.

    Phineas Gage was a construction worker who experienced a severe brain injury while working with explosives on a railroad. An unintentional explosion caused a 3-foot long and 1.25 inch thick iron rod to shoot through his head and land almost 65 feet behind him. Amazingly, Phineas regained consciousness moments after the incident and remained responsive during his trip to the doctor (Kalat, 2006).

    However, after returning to work, co-workers noticed a change in the previously friendly Gage who had become much more aloof and was prone to long cursing bouts and irresponsible behavior.

    Another interesting area concerning the brain is the phenomenon of Split Brains.

  4. Little Albert:

    The Little Albert experiments are famous examples of classical conditioning. These experiments, performed by John Watson, involved fear and its learning in humans. Little Albert was taught to fear certain animals by first presenting them with no reaction (other than an understandable curiosity) and then presenting them combined with a loud stimulus. This combination conditioned the infant’s response of fear to the loud sound to the presence of the animal.

    An interesting note that my professor explained was that Watson had no experience with unconditioning and Little Albert remained unreasonably frightened of rabbits for the remainder of his life.

  5. Facial Expressions and Emotion

    One of the most interesting experiments I have ever encountered studied the impact of facial expressions on our emotions. Subjects in this experiment were told to rate the funniness of a cartoon. The first group was told to hold a pen with their teeth while reading and the other was told to use their lips. The first group’s face was therefore in an almost full smile while the second group’s position was incompatible with smiling. The results of the experiment showed that subjects rated the cartoons much funnier if they had the pen held with their teeth in the forced-smile position (Strack, Martin, & Stepper, 1988).

    The results were echoed in later experiments that showed that subjects who were told to smile more for a day reported being happier than they were on normal days (Kalat, 2006).

  1. This is very interesting. I find the experiment involving facial expression very interesting, emotion is usually thought of as something that we have very little control over. Here however, a disconnected variable effected it, what I find even more interesting is that having to hold a pen in teeth, a very annoying thing to do did not sour dispositions. I wonder if a child was trained to pucker(or something as arbitrary) when happy, and this experiment was repeated with some manner of forced puckering, would the effect be the same given that smiling is innately linked to happiness and puckering is not?


    Jun 20, 09:44 AM #

  2. That’s a really interesting point Gerald. I’m not sure if it would be difficult to get the approval to train a child to pucker when happy, but it’s a great idea to really test the concept :D


    Jun 21, 07:11 PM #

  3. i have read the experiement of Little Albert,by the way i’m doing my first year in psychology@university of Zululand.can you please tell me more this course e.g type of work i can do as a psychologist,how many years i should study in order to be psychologist.can i work if i have study 4years?which is the best type of psychology i must take.(clinical,education,counseling ETC).i’ll be gland if you can answer me as soon as you get this.bye


    Jul 29, 10:38 AM #

  4. I’m not sure I can help you ntobeko, I’m not a psychology student and know relatively little about potential professions. Perhaps a course counselor of some sort might help?


    Jul 29, 04:26 PM #

  5. I find the “Facial Expressions and Emotions” experiment extremely interesting. There is a saying that has gone around for some time now that states, “a smile is contagious”. Does this experiment prove it true? If someone who is depressed and generally unhappy is placed in a room with people who are absolutely jubilent and optimistic would the one subject who is of an unhappy nature become an optimist himself. If he does become happier then this situation would be considered an example of conforming to society. But then there is also another saying that states, “one apple could ruin the whole bushel.” Would it then be that the one persons negativity would spread to those who are positive and make the majority of the people just as pessimistic as the negative person is?


    Jan 30, 04:51 PM #

  6. Brianne: I think this would depend on the leadership qualities of the said “depressed” person, the other people will follow their emotion if they seem like a confident intelligent person.

    The other people would fit in with them as they think they have a good reason and also think that person has a good control on their emotions.

    If they seem like a bipolar mentally unstable mess on the other hand, the other people will not follow as they won’t see it as beneficial to themselves or even rational.

    We kind of covered this stuff in psychology a few years back.

    I THINK that makes sense. Interesting site!


    Feb 18, 05:15 AM #

  7. True RigGerMortis,

    It may also be a form of a defense mechanism stated by Freud (Yes i know, despite his crazy theories he has made some interesting contributions to Psychology) The defense mechanism being I.D, if a person is in a room of sad people, they will want to identify with that group to fit in, therefore act sad as a way of identification.

    Just an idea.



    Jul 15, 07:05 AM #

  8. Thats a very interesting thought Brianne! I think it would be even more interesting to see the results of a more in depth test. Where in one instance, the group of happy people in the room would ignore the depressed individual and in the other would focus 100% of everyone’s attention on them. is a person more likely become happy by diffusion or insertion?


    Mar 31, 06:08 PM #

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