12 Oct 2017

Comment: A celebration of social experiments

12:04 pm on 12 October 2017

Yesterday, former broadcaster Sean Plunket did a social experiment, which prompted us to come up with this fun list of other social experiments people have done.


Yesterday, Sean Plunket -  Broadcasting Standards Authority board member, former TOP Party media advisor, and the guy who called Spinoff editor Duncan Grieve a “c” word - wrote the following sentence and hit the ‘tweet’ button: 

“Anyone else feeling for Harvey Weinstein?”   

For those of you who don’t know, Weinstein is a hollywood big wig accused of rape, sexual assault, and, in my personal opinion, generally being a revolting slug. 

People were, unsurprisingly, outraged by Plunket’s tweet. 

But Plunket saw that all coming! The tweet, it turns out, was a social experiment and actually he felt “revulsion, anger and contempt” towards Weinstein. 

He’s since deleted his Twitter account. 

Anyway, here at The Wireless, we love social experiments, so to have taken this opportunity to list our top five favourites, in no particular order

1. NZ Police: 

Last year, as part of a recruitment drive, police released a series of videos which explored some of the  issues that officers deal with.

The first video in the series showed a young actor looking dirty, tired and hungry eating food from a rubbish bin, while people walked past. Eventually, three young women stop to ask where his parents are, if he’s ok, if he wants to go home and if he needs food or money. 


2. STHLM Panda experiments: 

This Swedish group’s YouTube channel features videos of Halloween pranks and Americans reacting to Swedish food. But in 2014, it was a video that showed people ignoring domestic violence in an elevator that went viral. The video showed an actor ‘couple’ arguing, with the man physically and verbally threatening and intimidating the woman, while an unwitting member of the public stood by. According to the Guardian, only one person out of 53 reacted - a woman who threatened to call police. 


3. The Third Wave: 

In 1967, Californian high school history teacher Ron Jones used this experiment to teach students how the German population could accept the actions of the Nazi regime. Over five days, Jones conducted a series of exercises in his classroom emphasizing discipline and community. Students were unaware that this was intended to model certain characteristics of the Nazi movement. He called the movement “The Third Wave.” By day three, students from all over the school had joined in. By day four, it was out of control and Jones decided to end the experiment. The following day he explained to students what was going on. 

Check out this sweet 1980s dramatisation: 

4. The Marshmallow test: 

I don’t know why, but someone (actually it was Walter Mischel and Ebbe B. Ebbesen at Stanford University in 1960 and they were studying delayed gratification) decided to leave a kid in a room for 15 minutes with a marshmallow, and tell them that they can eat the marshmallow, but if they wait, they will get another one. The experiment found that the younger kids tended to eat the marshmallow while older ones tended to wait for both. 

Here’s some kids doing the experiment to a very hip backing track. 


5. The Monster Study

This 1939 speech therapy experiment was performed on 22 orphan children. Half received positive therapy, while the others were belittled for their speech imperfections. Many of the normal speaking orphan children who received negative therapy in the experiment suffered negative psychological effects and some retained speech problems for the rest of their lives and it was dubbed the “Monster Study.” 

Honourable mentions: 

The great Dunedin Social Media project. (sorry, I mean Christchurch, buddy).
According to Stuff, year 12 students at St Margaret's College in Christchurch set up several social media accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, assisted by teachers, as part of a health project about cyber safety and cyber citizenship. During the project, several year 10 students were individually invited to a Snapchat account called 'Merivale Gossip Girl'. The year 10 students shared personal information via the photo messaging service, unaware the account was operated and controlled by teachers. Parents were “ropable.”  

Eden was a TV show billed as a social experiment in which 23 strangers spent a year in the Scottish highlands building a self sufficient community. The Guardian reports: “only four episodes of the show – covering March, April and May – were screened, as viewing figures dropped from 1.7m to 800,000. Sexual jealousy, infighting and hunger also meant that over the year, a reported 13 of the 23 contestants left the show.” 

The Robbers Cave Study.
The experiment examined the ‘realistic conflict theory,’ which relates to conflict between groups as a result of competition over limited resources. Over three weeks in 1961 at a summer camp in Robbers Cave State Park the US, psychologist Muzafer Sherif and researchers posing as staff observed 22 eleven and 12-year-old boys who were split into groups. The groups competed in games for prizes - and increasingly hostile attitudes between groups were observed - then were integrated and made to do teamwork exercises, where tensions reduced.

Cover image credit: Tom Pumford / Unsplash