Most psychological studies consist simply in asking people to sit down and fill out a questionnaire or answer a series of questions. However, some psychologists have decided to go one step further and add a little excitement to their experiments. Thus, throughout the history of this science, have been developed several experiments that have frightened, ashamed or disgusted the participants.
1. Smell dirty diapers (Objective: to study disgust)
In this experiment, psychologists at Macquarie University in Sydney and the University of Washington, asked 13 mothers to smell different bins containing dirty diapers, some of their babies, some not. The researchers wanted to know if mothers reacted differently smelling those of their children. In fact, that’s how it was. Mothers rated the smell of diapers of their babies as less unpleasant.
According to these researchers, the study shows that mothers are scheduled evolutionarily to react with less disgust at the physiological needs of their babies, allowing them to provide all the care they need. However, another possibility is that they simply got used to that smell that becomes least unpleasant, something that happens to all of us everyday.
2. Resting in bed in a cell, doing nothing for days (Objective: to study sensory deprivation)
It was during the 1950s, when some students from McGill University in Canada were asked to wear glasses, cotton gloves and lie down on a bed of a small cell, doing nothing. They were paid 20 dollars each day, and should have remained there for as many days that could withstand. Of course, they could enjoy breaks to eat and relieve themselves.
The main objective of this experiment was to see how we react to situations in which nothing happens. These psychologists could see that students soon began to get irritated and develop paranoia, some even experienced auditory and visual hallucinations. Thus, the conclusion was that the monotony and lack of stimuli can be very harmful to our psychological balance. Apparently, we need stimuli almost as much as the air we breathe.
3. Swallow a balloon to be inflated within the person (Goal: to study pain)
In recent years there have been numerous experiments to understand how people react to pain and, of course, to reveal the mechanisms to alleviate the suffering of the sicks. Many of these studies consider exposure to cold or electric shock. However, in 2009 psychologists and gastroenterologists at the University of Manchester joined forces to discuss the visceral pain.
This time, participants had to swallow a ball that would be inflated in their esophagus. The experimenter would stop it when the person could not endure more pain. After this "torture", researchers noted that people who scored higher on the neuroticism scale indicated more pain and increased parasympathetic activity. By contrast, the persons who showed to be less neurotic supported pain better and showed less physiological activation.
4. Undergo a brain scan with a live snake (Objective: to study the brain circuitry of fear)
Researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel recruited people who were afraid of snakes and asked them to submit to a brain scan. The key was that while they were inside, they should press a button to facilitate a 1.5 meters alive snake approaching to their head. People could decide at any time how close or far would have reach the animal.
The fear felt by the participants in this study served to reveal that part of the frontal cortex, hidden below the corpus callosum, is the main responsible for the decision to succumb to fear or face it. And when people reported to be scared, but decided to approach the snake, the activity of the anterior cingulate cortex increased.
5. Imitate a tantrum of a child of 5 years (Objective: to study shame)
Did you know that when we feel embarrassed we’re more likely to help others? Those were the conclusions reached by psychologists at Harvard University in the 1970s. On that occasion, they recruited a group of students and asked them to put in place various ridiculous actions that could embarrass, as imitating a child tantrum. Meanwhile, someone was watching them.
Thus, the researchers could see that people who felt more embarrassed were also more likely to help someone when they were asked. Apparently the demand for help is generating positive feelings, helping to mitigate the shame.
6. Watching photos of delicious food while you're hungry (Objective: to study attention to food)
Researchers at the University of Rotterdam, recruited 40 women and asked them not to eat anything for 17 hours. After that time, they underwent an EEG and eye tracking test, as were showed images of delicious food. To compare the results, other women were allowed to drink a glass of milk to satisfy hunger.
The study found differences between obese women and those with normal weight. While women with normal weight showed brain waves indicating interest in pictures of food, overweight women didn’t. Researchers believe that this is a defense mechanism that can be implemented by obese women in an attempt to control the food intake.
7. Think about what happens when we die (Objective: to study the existential threat)
In 2007, psychologists at the University of Kentucky wondered whether everyone has a psychological defense mechanism to protect us from the paralyzing fear of death. So, they recruited a group of students and asked them to imagine their own death. Then had to describe what they had thought and felt.
The participants had to complete a series of words. Interestingly, people who thought of his own death, tended to create more positive words, compared to those who had been asked to imagine a painful visit to the dentist. Researchers believe that thinking about our own death triggers an automatic defense mechanism in which are activated more positive thoughts.
8. Brain scanned while the partner causes an orgasm (Objective: to study the function of the pituitary gland)
Eleven women and eleven men participated in a study for which the main condition was that they didn’t have to feel shame letting researchers scan their brains while their partner provoked them an orgasm through genital stimulation.
Thanks to this unusual experiment, researchers at the Hospital of Groningen in the Netherlands, could appreciate that during orgasm of women, the pituitary gland regulates the release of hormones such as oxytocin and prolactin. During the female orgasm there was a significant increase in blood flow to the pituitary, a change that was not seen in men.
9. Solve anagrams while receiving reproaches (Objective: to study the effects of provocation and aggression)
People who participated in this experiment were faced with a difficult task: they had to solve anagrams as a researcher incessantly repeated them they weren’t saying the answer loud enough. At one point, the researcher got angry and scolded them harshly. All this while in the background sounded “The passage of the storm” Beethoven's sixth symphony.
The aim of the researchers at the University of Southern California was to see what effect would have had the provocations of a third person in the relationship with the participants. This way was ushered another researcher to give them feedback on their performance. Thus it was observed that when the feedback was neutral the tension was reduced, but when it was negative, people reacted violently and uncontrollably.
10. Complete a psychological test with a full bladder
In this experiment, was asked some people to drink 5 glasses of water during 45 minutes, more than enough to fill their bladder and make them feel the need to go to the bathroom. Then they asked a series of questions to determine whether they wished to receive a financial reward for their participation immediately or whether they preferred to postpone it and receive a higher pay.
The aim of these psychologists, of the University of Leuven, was to see if the urge to urinate influenced the decisions of the participants. Interestingly, people who had a full bladder were those to postpone the reward. The researchers believe that the need to control urination is extended to the psychological field, which lead us to exercise a greater self-control and facilitate us to postpone the gratification, thus helping us to take more rational decisions.
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10 psychological experiments you won’t like to participateJennifer Delgado