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."
3 Tempting Babies to Crawl Off a Cliff
Once babies reach crawling age, they tend to not crawl straight off the edge of things when the fall is great enough to result in potential injury. But why is that? How do they know what a fatal drop is if they've never experienced one? Clearly the only way to study the phenomenon was to observe some infants as they encountered a remorseless abyss, then try to convince them to crawl off of it.
"Indiana Jones did it, do you want him to think you're a pussy?"
And so, in 1960, two psychologists at Cornell University named Eleanor J. Gibson and Richard D. Walk proceeded to build what they dubbed the "visual cliff" -- a contraption made up of boards laid across a heavy sheet of glass. When some patterned fabric was added, the resulting effect was that the transition from boards to bare glass looked like a sheer drop straight to the floor below. Well, that's not so bad -- there was no real danger to the babies, right?
Well, not physical danger, anyway. One at a time, they plopped a bunch of babies on the "cliff" and had their mothers try to coax them across the glass. In other words, they had the mothers tell their own babies to do something that the babies believed was certain death, and the babies then had to choose between obedience and their own self-preservation.
You may remember that this is exactly how Gollum went crazy the second time.
They tested 36 infants ranging from 6 to 14 months old (you can see the video here), and of those 36, only three crept over the "cliff" and onto the glass (those three presumably did not grow up to become scientists themselves). Most of them crawled away from their mothers, presumably instilling a mistrust that plagued them for the rest of their lives. Others cried, probably because they lacked the language to fill the air with confused, wounded obscenities.
However, Gibson and Walk did notice that several of the infants who didn't cross onto the glass still got close enough to the edge to fall, had the drop been real. This led them to the following conclusion: "Evidently infants should not be left close to a brink, no matter how well they may discriminate depth." So, babies should be kept away from long drops. Thanks, science!