Sometimes science has to be ruthless. If curing cancer means dropping a dozen frightened children into the jungle for some reason, then by God that's what you do. And if you aren't curing cancer, but are just curious about what children look like when abandoned in a jungle, well, you still do it. Why? Because science.
Think we're joking? Hold on to your butts, because all of the following experiments really happened.
#6. Put Kids in the Wilderness, Make Them Go to War
In the summer of 1954, social psychologist Muzafer Sherif wanted to see if two groups stuck in the wild would learn to hate each other. What else was there to do but try it?
Thus kicked off his Robbers Cave experiment, in which a group of 11 ordinary, middle-class 11-year-old boys headed to summer camp at Robbers Cave State Park in Oklahoma, anxious for three fun-filled weeks of hiking, fishing and swimming. They were completely unaware that their parents had signed them up for Sherif's experiment, and that there was a second group of campers elsewhere on the site that they would be trained to hate.
"In retrospect, providing the camp chapel with a full-sized crucifix was tragically misguided."
For the first week, the groups were kept apart and encouraged to participate in separate team-building events and activities, in order to form relationships within each group. They established their own hierarchy and elected leaders, and gave their groups names -- the Eagles and the Rattlers, because it was the 1950s. Each group even designed flags to represent themselves. Then, once each group had formed a close-knit bond, the Eagles and the Rattlers conveniently "discovered" each other, and both sides approached the situation with about as much grace and understanding as David Duke running a three-legged race with Tyler Perry.
To see how much conflict they could instigate between the two groups, the experimenters arranged a tournament with events like baseball and tug-of-war, promising shiny trophies and pocket knives to the winners, because as we all know, the one prize you should always award a warring band of feral children is a knife. With a little creative prodding, what started with boos and insults quickly escalated into a full-out battle, ending with the Eagles burning the Rattlers' flag after being defeated at tug-of-war.
A nationalistic coup then wracked the Rattlers, leading to the establishment of a military junta.
As the tournament waged on, fistfights had to be constantly broken up, and any time the two groups had to eat together, the mess hall would erupt into Road House. Finally, the Eagles won the tournament and were given the coveted prizes, only to have the Rattlers ransack their cabin and steal the bejeezus out of them. Yep, Sherif and his team had successfully transformed 22 ordinary 11-year-old boys with no previous behavioral problems into a mob of aggressive savages.
It took less than three weeks.
"I HAVE THE CONCH!"
Hey, did we mention that Robbers Cave was actually the third time Sherif had run the same experiment, and some sort of violence had inevitably exploded by the end of each trial? And that in one instance, the boys turned on Sherif and his team?
#5. Programming Kids for Violence, Then Turning Them Loose on a Clown
In the early '60s, a psychologist named Albert Bandura wanted to investigate whether children would imitate aggressive behavior without encouragement or active suggestion. So he took a Bobo Doll (the original version of those inflatable bop bags you probably had as a kid) and filmed a video of an adult punching, kicking and beating the doll with hammers, because if you're going to hit a clown with something, there's no point in fucking around. Then he showed the video to a group of 24 young children. A second group was given a nonviolent video, and a third control group was given no video at all.
All three groups were unleashed one at a time into a room with a Bobo Doll, some hammers and even some toy guns, though no guns were featured in either video. As seen in this clip, the kids who were shown the aggressive video wasted no time in showing Bobo exactly what they thought of his inflatable whimsy.
Skeptics maintain that the children displayed a perfectly natural reaction to the presence of a Juggalo.
The white kid in the beginning even seems to be creepily whispering things to the doll at gunpoint:
"I'll laugh when you bleed."
The children in the other two groups didn't demonstrate anywhere near as much aggression. However, Bandura's critics argued that you couldn't put children in a room with a toy that's essentially a punching bag and then claim to be proving anything when they hit it -- the Bobo Doll is designed to be smacked around, that's the whole point of its existence. So, Bandura gathered up more children from the infinite supply of them that these scientists seem to have access to and showed them a video of an adult punching, kicking and hammering a real live clown (this was presumably an old Super 8 film he found in his grandfather's attic, along with various antique torture equipment).
After watching the video, Bandura turned the kids loose into a room with ... a real live clown. Sure enough, the children happily assaulted the man with punches, kicks and hammer blows, proving not only that kids imitate aggression, but that they have the same grasp of consequences as a death row inmate with his shoelaces and utensils revoked. And that they won't pass up a chance to rough up a clown.
This would all fit rather nicely as a backstory for the Joker.
#4. The Broken Toy Experiment
Psychologists at the University of Iowa wanted to gain a better understanding of how preschoolers and toddlers experience guilt, because it's never too early to get started on that. So, they devised the broken toy experiment, which is exactly what it sounds like.
"Today you're going to learn that adults will do terrible things for $50 and extra credit."
The experiment was simple. An adult would show a toy to a young child. The adult would go on to explain that the toy was something very special, a sentimental item they'd had since they were very little. Then, asking the child to be very careful with it, the adult would hand over the toy. You know where this is going: The toy was rigged to "break spectacularly" as soon as the kid messed with it, presumably vaporizing in a two-inch fireball after a mild explosion.
The adult then simply said, "Oh, my," and would sit staring at the child for a full minute.
"Timmy, do you know what it means to be 'pro-choice?'"
Picture it, just sitting there in total silence, watching mutely as the children "squirmed, avoided the experimenter's gaze, hunched their shoulders, hugged themselves and covered their faces with their hands." This part of the experiment was presumably designed to teach the children the concept of time dilation -- that is, how their guilt made it the longest goddamn minute they had so far experienced in their short lives.
Interestingly, the kids who seemed most traumatized by the broken toy experiment went on to have the least behavioral problems over the next five years -- though whether this was due to the fact that they'd developed a healthy guilt response or that they'd learned early on that adults are fucking lunatics is impossible to determine.
"He still cries every time we pass a Toys R Us."