11+ Psychology Experiment Ideas (Goals + Methods)

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Have you ever wondered why some days you remember things easily, while on others you keep forgetting? Or why certain songs make you super happy and others just…meh?

Our minds are like big, mysterious puzzles, and every day we're finding new pieces to fit. One of the coolest ways to explore our brains and the way they work is through psychology experiments.

A psychology experiment is a special kind of test or activity researchers use to learn more about how our minds work and why we behave the way we do.

It's like a detective game where scientists ask questions and try out different clues to find answers about our feelings, thoughts, and actions. These experiments aren't just for scientists in white coats but can be fun activities we all try to discover more about ourselves and others.

Some of these experiments have become so famous, they’re like the celebrities of the science world! Like the Marshmallow Test, where kids had to wait to eat a yummy marshmallow, or Pavlov's Dogs, where dogs learned to drool just hearing a bell.

Let's look at a few examples of psychology experiments you can do at home.

What Are Some Classic Experiments?

Imagine a time when the mysteries of the mind were being uncovered in groundbreaking ways. During these moments, a few experiments became legendary, capturing the world's attention with their intriguing results.

testing tubes

The Marshmallow Test

One of the most talked-about experiments of the 20th century was the Marshmallow Test , conducted by Walter Mischel in the late 1960s at Stanford University.

The goal was simple but profound: to understand a child's ability to delay gratification and exercise self-control.

Children were placed in a room with a marshmallow and given a choice: eat the marshmallow now or wait 15 minutes and receive two as a reward. Many kids struggled with the wait, some devouring the treat immediately, while others demonstrated remarkable patience.

But the experiment didn’t end there. Years later, Mischel discovered something astonishing. The children who had waited for the second marshmallow were generally more successful in several areas of life, from school achievements to job satisfaction!

While this experiment highlighted the importance of teaching patience and self-control from a young age, it wasn't without its criticisms. Some argued that a child's background, upbringing, or immediate surroundings might play a significant role in their choices.

Moreover, there were concerns about the ethics of judging a child's potential success based on a brief interaction with a marshmallow.

Pavlov's Dogs

Traveling further back in time and over to Russia, another classic experiment took the world by storm. Ivan Pavlov , in the early 1900s, wasn't initially studying learning or behavior. He was exploring the digestive systems of dogs.

But during his research, Pavlov stumbled upon a fascinating discovery. He noticed that by ringing a bell every time he fed his dogs, they eventually began to associate the bell's sound with mealtime. So much so, that merely ringing the bell, even without presenting food, made the dogs drool in anticipation!

This reaction demonstrated the concept of "conditioning" - where behaviors can be learned by linking two unrelated stimuli. Pavlov's work revolutionized the world's understanding of learning and had ripple effects in various areas like animal training and therapy techniques.

Pavlov came up with the term classical conditioning , which is still used today. Other psychologists have developed more nuanced types of conditioning that help us understand how people learn to perform different behaviours.

Classical conditioning is the process by which a neutral stimulus becomes associated with a meaningful stimulus , leading to the same response. In Pavlov's case, the neutral stimulus (bell) became associated with the meaningful stimulus (food), leading the dogs to salivate just by hearing the bell.

Modern thinkers often critique Pavlov's methods from an ethical standpoint. The dogs, crucial to his discovery, may not have been treated with today's standards of care and respect in research.

Both these experiments, while enlightening, also underline the importance of conducting research with empathy and consideration, especially when it involves living beings.

What is Ethical Experimentation?

The tales of Pavlov's bells and Mischel's marshmallows offer us not just insights into the human mind and behavior but also raise a significant question: At what cost do these discoveries come?

Ethical experimentation isn't just a fancy term; it's the backbone of good science. When we talk about ethics, we're referring to the moral principles that guide a researcher's decisions and actions. But why does it matter so much in the realm of psychological experimentation?

An example of an experiment that had major ethical issues is an experiment called the Monster Study . This study was conducted in 1936 and was interested in why children develop a stutter.

The major issue with it is that the psychologists treated some of the children poorly over a period of five months, telling them things like “You must try to stop yourself immediately. Don’t ever speak unless you can do it right.”

You can imagine how that made the children feel!

This study helped create guidelines for ethical treatment in experiments. The guidelines include:

Respect for Individuals: Whether it's a dog in Pavlov's lab or a child in Mischel's study room, every participant—human or animal—deserves respect. They should never be subjected to harm or undue stress. For humans, informed consent (knowing what they're signing up for) is a must. This means that if a child is participating, they, along with their guardians, should understand what the experiment entails and agree to it without being pressured.

Honesty is the Best Policy: Researchers have a responsibility to be truthful. This means not only being honest with participants about the study but also reporting findings truthfully, even if the results aren't what they hoped for. There can be exceptions if an experiment will only succeed if the participants aren't fully aware, but it has to be approved by an ethics committee .

Safety First: No discovery, no matter how groundbreaking, is worth harming a participant. The well-being and mental, emotional, and physical safety of participants is paramount. Experiments should be designed to minimize risks and discomfort.

Considering the Long-Term: Some experiments might have effects that aren't immediately obvious. For example, while a child might seem fine after participating in an experiment, they could feel stressed or anxious later on. Ethical researchers consider and plan for these possibilities, offering support and follow-up if needed.

The Rights of Animals: Just because animals can't voice their rights doesn't mean they don't have any. They should be treated with care, dignity, and respect. This means providing them with appropriate living conditions, not subjecting them to undue harm, and considering alternatives to animal testing when possible.

While the world of psychological experiments offers fascinating insights into behavior and the mind, it's essential to tread with care and compassion. The golden rule? Treat every participant, human or animal, as you'd wish to be treated. After all, the true mark of a groundbreaking experiment isn't just its findings but the ethical integrity with which it's conducted.

So, even if you're experimenting at home, please keep in mind the impact your experiments could have on the people and beings around you!

Let's get into some ideas for experiments.

1) Testing Conformity

Our primary aim with this experiment is to explore the intriguing world of social influences, specifically focusing on how much sway a group has over an individual's decisions. This social influence is called groupthink .

Humans, as social creatures, often find solace in numbers, seeking the approval and acceptance of those around them. But how deep does this need run? Does the desire to "fit in" overpower our trust in our own judgments?

This experiment not only provides insights into these questions but also touches upon the broader themes of peer pressure, societal norms, and individuality. Understanding this could shed light on various real-world situations, from why fashion trends catch on to more critical scenarios like how misinformation can spread.

Method: This idea is inspired by the classic Asch Conformity Experiments . Here's a simple way to try it:

  • Assemble a group of people (about 7-8). Only one person will be the real participant; the others will be in on the experiment.
  • Show the group a picture of three lines of different lengths and another line labeled "Test Line."
  • Ask each person to say out loud which of the three lines matches the length of the "Test Line."
  • Unknown to the real participant, the other members will intentionally choose the wrong line. This is to see if the participant goes along with the group's incorrect choice, even if they can see it's wrong.

Real-World Impacts of Groupthink

Groupthink is more than just a science term; we see it in our daily lives:

Decisions at Work or School: Imagine being in a group where everyone wants to do one thing, even if it's not the best idea. People might not speak up because they're worried about standing out or being the only one with a different opinion.

Wrong Information: Ever heard a rumor that turned out to be untrue? Sometimes, if many people believe and share something, others might believe it too, even if it's not correct. This happens a lot on the internet.

Peer Pressure: Sometimes, friends might all want to do something that's not safe or right. People might join in just because they don't want to feel left out.

Missing Out on New Ideas: When everyone thinks the same way and agrees all the time, cool new ideas might never get heard. It's like always coloring with the same crayon and missing out on all the other bright colors!

2) Testing Color and Mood

colorful room

We all have favorite colors, right? But did you ever wonder if colors can make you feel a certain way? Color psychology is the study of how colors can influence our feelings and actions.

For instance, does blue always calm us down? Does red make us feel excited or even a bit angry? By exploring this, we can learn how colors play a role in our daily lives, from the clothes we wear to the color of our bedroom walls.

  • Find a quiet room and set up different colored lights or large sheets of colored paper: blue, red, yellow, and green.
  • Invite some friends over and let each person spend a few minutes under each colored light or in front of each colored paper.
  • After each color, ask your friends to write down or talk about how they feel. Are they relaxed? Energized? Happy? Sad?

Researchers have always been curious about this. Some studies have shown that colors like blue and green can make people feel calm, while colors like red might make them feel more alert or even hungry!

Real-World Impacts of Color Psychology

Ever noticed how different places use colors?

Hospitals and doctors' clinics often use soft blues and greens. This might be to help patients feel more relaxed and calm.

Many fast food restaurants use bright reds and yellows. These colors might make us feel hungry or want to eat quickly and leave.

Classrooms might use a mix of colors to help students feel both calm and energized.

3) Testing Music and Brainpower

Think about your favorite song. Do you feel smarter or more focused when you listen to it? This experiment seeks to understand the relationship between music and our brain's ability to remember things. Some people believe that certain types of music, like classical tunes, can help us study or work better. Let's find out if it's true!

  • Prepare a list of 10-15 things to remember, like a grocery list or names of places.
  • Invite some friends over. First, let them try to memorize the list in a quiet room.
  • After a short break, play some music (try different types like pop, classical, or even nature sounds) and ask them to memorize the list again.
  • Compare the results. Was there a difference in how much they remembered with and without music?

The " Mozart Effect " is a popular idea. Some studies in the past suggested that listening to Mozart's music might make people smarter, at least for a little while. But other researchers think the effect might not be specific to Mozart; it could be that any music we enjoy boosts our mood and helps our brain work better.

Real-World Impacts of Music and Memory

Think about how we use music:

  • Study Sessions: Many students listen to music while studying, believing it helps them concentrate better.
  • Workout Playlists: Gyms play energetic music to keep people motivated and help them push through tough workouts.
  • Meditation and Relaxation: Calm, soothing sounds are often used to help people relax or meditate.

4) Testing Dreams and Food

Ever had a really wild dream and wondered where it came from? Some say that eating certain foods before bedtime can make our dreams more vivid or even a bit strange.

This experiment is all about diving into the dreamy world of sleep to see if what we eat can really change our nighttime adventures. Can a piece of chocolate or a slice of cheese transport us to a land of wacky dreams? Let's find out!

  • Ask a group of friends to keep a "dream diary" for a week. Every morning, they should write down what they remember about their dreams.
  • For the next week, ask them to eat a small snack before bed, like cheese, chocolate, or even spicy foods.
  • They should continue writing in their "dream diary" every morning.
  • At the end of the two weeks, compare the dream notes. Do the dreams seem different during the snack week?

The link between food and dreams isn't super clear, but some people have shared personal stories. For example, some say that spicy food can lead to bizarre dreams. Scientists aren't completely sure why, but it could be related to how food affects our body temperature or brain activity during sleep.

A cool idea related to this experiment is that of vivid dreams , which are very clear, detailed, and easy to remember dreams. Some people are even able to control their vivid dreams, or say that they feel as real as daily, waking life !

Real-World Impacts of Food and Dreams

Our discoveries might shed light on:

  • Bedtime Routines: Knowing which foods might affect our dreams can help us choose better snacks before bedtime, especially if we want calmer sleep.
  • Understanding Our Brain: Dreams can be mysterious, but studying them can give us clues about how our brains work at night.
  • Cultural Beliefs: Many cultures have myths or stories about foods and dreams. Our findings might add a fun twist to these age-old tales!

5) Testing Mirrors and Self-image

Stand in front of a mirror. How do you feel? Proud? Shy? Curious? Mirrors reflect more than just our appearance; they might influence how we think about ourselves.

This experiment delves into the mystery of self-perception. Do we feel more confident when we see our reflection? Or do we become more self-conscious? Let's take a closer look.

  • Set up two rooms: one with mirrors on all walls and another with no mirrors at all.
  • Invite friends over and ask them to spend some time in each room doing normal activities, like reading or talking.
  • After their time in both rooms, ask them questions like: "Did you think about how you looked more in one room? Did you feel more confident or shy?"
  • Compare the responses to see if the presence of mirrors changes how they feel about themselves.

Studies have shown that when people are in rooms with mirrors, they can become more aware of themselves. Some might stand straighter, fix their hair, or even change how they behave. The mirror acts like an audience, making us more conscious of our actions.

Real-World Impacts of Mirrors and Self-perception

Mirrors aren't just for checking our hair. Ever wonder why clothing stores have so many mirrors? They might help shoppers visualize themselves in new outfits, encouraging them to buy.

Mirrors in gyms can motivate people to work out with correct form and posture. They also help us see progress in real-time!

And sometimes, looking in a mirror can be a reminder to take care of ourselves, both inside and out.

But remember, what we look like isn't as important as how we act in the world or how healthy we are. Some people claim that having too many mirrors around can actually make us more self conscious and distract us from the good parts of ourselves.

Some studies are showing that mirrors can actually increase self-compassion , amongst other things. As any tool, it seems like mirrors can be both good and bad, depending on how we use them!

6) Testing Plants and Talking

potted plants

Have you ever seen someone talking to their plants? It might sound silly, but some people believe that plants can "feel" our vibes and that talking to them might even help them grow better.

In this experiment, we'll explore whether plants can indeed react to our voices and if they might grow taller, faster, or healthier when we chat with them.

  • Get three similar plants, placing each one in a separate room.
  • Talk to the first plant, saying positive things like "You're doing great!" or singing to it.
  • Say negative things to the second plant, like "You're not growing fast enough!"
  • Don't talk to the third plant at all; let it be your "silent" control group .
  • Water all plants equally and make sure they all get the same amount of light.
  • At the end of the month, measure the growth of each plant and note any differences in their health or size.

The idea isn't brand new. Some experiments from the past suggest plants might respond to sounds or vibrations. Some growers play music for their crops, thinking it helps them flourish.

Even if talking to our plants doesn't have an impact on their growth, it can make us feel better! Sometimes, if we are lonely, talking to our plants can help us feel less alone. Remember, they are living too!

Real-World Impacts of Talking to Plants

If plants do react to our voices, gardeners and farmers might adopt new techniques, like playing music in greenhouses or regularly talking to plants.

Taking care of plants and talking to them could become a recommended activity for reducing stress and boosting mood.

And if plants react to sound, it gives us a whole new perspective on how connected all living things might be .

7) Testing Virtual Reality and Senses

Virtual reality (VR) seems like magic, doesn't it? You put on a headset and suddenly, you're in a different world! But how does this "new world" affect our senses? This experiment wants to find out how our brains react to VR compared to the real world. Do we feel, see, or hear things differently? Let's get to the bottom of this digital mystery!

  • You'll need a VR headset and a game or experience that can be replicated in real life (like walking through a forest). If you don't have a headset yourself, there are virtual reality arcades now!
  • Invite friends to first experience the scenario in VR.
  • Afterwards, replicate the experience in the real world, like taking a walk in an actual forest.
  • Ask them questions about both experiences: Did one seem more real than the other? Which sounds were more clear? Which colors were brighter? Did they feel different emotions?

As VR becomes more popular, scientists have been curious about its effects. Some studies show that our brains can sometimes struggle to tell the difference between VR and reality. That's why some people might feel like they're really "falling" in a VR game even though they're standing still.

Real-World Impacts of VR on Our Senses

Schools might use VR to teach lessons, like taking students on a virtual trip to ancient Egypt. Understanding how our senses react in VR can also help game designers create even more exciting and realistic games.

Doctors could use VR to help patients overcome fears or to provide relaxation exercises. This is actually already a method therapists can use for helping patients who have serious phobias. This is called exposure therapy , which basically means slowly exposing someone (or yourself) to the thing you fear, starting from very far away to becoming closer.

For instance, if someone is afraid of snakes. You might show them images of snakes first. Once they are comfortable with the picture, they can know there is one in the next room. Once they are okay with that, they might use a VR headset to see the snake in the same room with them, though of course there is not an actual snake there.

8) Testing Sleep and Learning

We all know that feeling of trying to study or work when we're super tired. Our brains feel foggy, and it's hard to remember stuff. But how exactly does sleep (or lack of it) influence our ability to learn and remember things?

With this experiment, we'll uncover the mysteries of sleep and see how it can be our secret weapon for better learning.

  • Split participants into two groups.
  • Ask both groups to study the same material in the evening.
  • One group goes to bed early, while the other stays up late.
  • The next morning, give both groups a quiz on what they studied.
  • Compare the results to see which group remembered more.

Sleep and its relation to learning have been explored a lot. Scientists believe that during sleep, especially deep sleep, our brains sort and store new information. This is why sometimes, after a good night's rest, we might understand something better or remember more.

Real-World Impacts of Sleep and Learning

Understanding the power of sleep can help:

  • Students: If they know the importance of sleep, students might plan better, mixing study sessions with rest, especially before big exams.
  • Workplaces: Employers might consider more flexible hours, understanding that well-rested employees learn faster and make fewer mistakes.
  • Health: Regularly missing out on sleep can have other bad effects on our health. So, promoting good sleep is about more than just better learning.

9) Testing Social Media and Mood

Have you ever felt different after spending time on social media? Maybe happy after seeing a friend's fun photos, or a bit sad after reading someone's tough news.

Social media is a big part of our lives, but how does it really affect our mood? This experiment aims to shine a light on the emotional roller-coaster of likes, shares, and comments.

  • Ask participants to note down how they're feeling - are they happy, sad, excited, or bored?
  • Have them spend a set amount of time (like 30 minutes) on their favorite social media platforms.
  • After the session, ask them again about their mood. Did it change? Why?
  • Discuss what they saw or read that made them feel that way.

Previous research has shown mixed results. Some studies suggest that seeing positive posts can make us feel good, while others say that too much time on social media can make us feel lonely or left out.

Real-World Impacts of Social Media on Mood

Understanding the emotional impact of social media can help users understand their feelings and take breaks if needed. Knowing is half the battle! Additionally, teachers and parents can guide young users on healthy social media habits, like limiting time or following positive accounts.

And if it's shown that social media does impact mood, social media companies can design friendlier, less stressful user experiences.

But even if the social media companies don't change things, we can still change our social media habits to make ourselves feel better.

10) Testing Handwriting or Typing

Think about the last time you took notes. Did you grab a pen and paper or did you type them out on a computer or tablet?

Both ways are popular, but there's a big question: which method helps us remember and understand better? In this experiment, we'll find out if the classic art of handwriting has an edge over speedy typing.

  • Divide participants into two groups.
  • Present a short lesson or story to both groups.
  • One group will take notes by hand, while the other will type them out.
  • After some time, quiz both groups on the content of the lesson or story.
  • Compare the results to see which note-taking method led to better recall and understanding.

Studies have shown some interesting results. While typing can be faster and allows for more notes, handwriting might boost memory and comprehension because it engages the brain differently, making us process the information as we write.

Importantly, each person might find one or the other works better for them. This could be useful in understanding our learning habits and what instructional style would be best for us.

Real-World Impacts of Handwriting vs. Typing

Knowing the pros and cons of each method can:

  • Boost Study Habits: Students can pick the method that helps them learn best, especially during important study sessions or lectures.
  • Work Efficiency: In jobs where information retention is crucial, understanding the best method can increase efficiency and accuracy.
  • Tech Design: If we find out more about how handwriting benefits us, tech companies might design gadgets that mimic the feel of writing while combining the advantages of digital tools.

11) Testing Money and Happiness

game board with money

We often hear the saying, "Money can't buy happiness," but is that really true? Many dream of winning the lottery or getting a big raise, believing it would solve all problems.

In this experiment, we dig deep to see if there's a real connection between wealth and well-being.

  • Survey a range of participants, from those who earn a little to those who earn a lot, about their overall happiness. You can keep it to your friends and family, but that might not be as accurate as surveying a wider group of people.
  • Ask them to rank things that bring them joy and note if they believe more money would boost their happiness. You could try different methods, one where you include some things that they have to rank, such as gardening, spending time with friends, reading books, learning, etc. Or you could just leave a blank list that they can fill in with their own ideas.
  • Study the data to find patterns or trends about income and happiness.

Some studies have found money can boost happiness, especially when it helps people out of tough financial spots. But after reaching a certain income, extra dollars usually do not add much extra joy.

In fact, psychologists just realized that once people have an income that can comfortably support their needs (and some of their wants), they stop getting happier with more . That number is roughly $75,000, but of course that depends on the cost of living and how many members are in the family.

Real-World Impacts of Money and Happiness

If we can understand the link between money and joy, it might help folks choose jobs they love over jobs that just pay well. And instead of buying things, people might spend on experiences, like trips or classes, that make lasting memories.

Most importantly, we all might spend more time on hobbies, friends, and family, knowing they're big parts of what makes life great.

Some people are hoping that with Artificial Intelligence being able to do a lot of the less well-paying jobs, people might be able to do work they enjoy more, all while making more money and having more time to do the things that make them happy.

12) Testing Temperature and Productivity

Have you ever noticed how a cold classroom or office makes it harder to focus? Or how on hot days, all you want to do is relax? In this experiment, we're going to find out if the temperature around us really does change how well we work.

  • Find a group of participants and a room where you can change the temperature.
  • Set the room to a chilly temperature and give the participants a set of tasks to do.
  • Measure how well and quickly they do these tasks.
  • The next day, make the room comfortably warm and have them do similar tasks.
  • Compare the results to see if the warmer or cooler temperature made them work better.

Some studies have shown that people can work better when they're in a room that feels just right, not too cold or hot. Being too chilly can make fingers slow, and being too warm can make minds wander.

What temperature is "just right"? It won't be the same for everyone, but most people find it's between 70-73 degrees Fahrenheit (21-23 Celsius).

Real-World Implications of Temperature and Productivity

If we can learn more about how temperature affects our work, teachers might set classroom temperatures to help students focus and learn better, offices might adjust temperatures to get the best work out of their teams, and at home, we might find the best temperature for doing homework or chores quickly and well.

Interestingly, temperature also has an impact on our sleep quality. Most people find slightly cooler rooms to be better for good sleep. While the daytime temperature between 70-73F is good for productivity, a nighttime temperature around 65F (18C) is ideal for most people's sleep.

Psychology is like a treasure hunt, where the prize is understanding ourselves better. With every experiment, we learn a little more about why we think, feel, and act the way we do. Some of these experiments might seem simple, like seeing if colors change our mood or if being warm helps us work better. But even the simple questions can have big answers that help us in everyday life.

Remember, while doing experiments is fun, it's also important to always be kind and think about how others feel. We should never make someone uncomfortable just for a test. Instead, let's use these experiments to learn and grow, helping to make the world a brighter, more understanding place for everyone.

Related posts:

  • 150+ Flirty Goodnight Texts For Him (Sweet and Naughty Examples)
  • Dream Interpreter & Dictionary (270+ Meanings)
  • Sleep Stages (Light, Deep, REM)
  • What Part of the Brain Regulates Body Temperature?
  • Why Do We Dream? (6 Theories and Psychological Reasons)

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Psychology Experiment Ideas

Categories Psychology Education

Psychology Experiment Ideas

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Quick Ideas | Experiment Ideas | Designing Your Experiment | Types of Research

If you are taking a psychology class, you might at some point be asked to design an imaginary experiment or perform an experiment or study. The idea you ultimately choose to use for your psychology experiment may depend upon the number of participants you can find, the time constraints of your project, and limitations in the materials available to you.

Consider these factors before deciding which psychology experiment idea might work for your project.

This article discusses some ideas you might try if you need to perform a psychology experiment or study.

A Quick List of Experiment Ideas

If you are looking for a quick experiment idea that would be easy to tackle, the following might be some research questions you want to explore:

  • How many items can people hold in short-term memory ?
  • Are people with a Type A personality more stressed than those with a Type B personality?
  • Does listening to upbeat music increase heart rate?
  • Are men or women better at detecting emotions ?
  • Are women or men more likely to experience imposter syndrome ?
  • Will students conform if others in the group all share an opinion that is different from their own?
  • Do people’s heartbeat or breathing rates change in response to certain colors?
  • How much do people rely on nonverbal communication to convey information in a conversation?
  • Do people who score higher on measures of emotional intelligence also score higher on measures of overall well-being?
  • Do more successful people share certain personality traits ?

Most of the following ideas are easily conducted with a small group of participants, who may likely be your classmates. Some of the psychology experiment or study ideas you might want to explore:

Sleep and Short-Term Memory

Does sleep deprivation have an impact on short-term memory ?

Ask participants how much sleep they got the night before and then conduct a task to test short-term memory for items on a list.

Social Media and Mental Health

Is social media usage linked to anxiety or depression?

Ask participants about how many hours a week they use social media sites and then have them complete a depression and anxiety assessment.

Procrastination and Stress

How does procrastination impact student stress levels?

Ask participants about how frequently they procrastinate on their homework and then have them complete an assessment looking at their current stress levels.

Caffeine and Cognition

How does caffeine impact performance on a Stroop test?

In the Stroop test , participants are asked to tell the color of a word, rather than just reading the word. Have a control group consume no caffeine and then complete a Stroop test, and then have an experimental group consume caffeine before completing the same test. Compare results.

Color and Memory

Does the color of text have any impact on memory?

Randomly assign participants to two groups. Have one group memorize words written in black ink for two minutes. Have the second group memorize the same words for the same amount of time, but instead written in red ink. Compare the results.

Weight Bias

How does weight bias influence how people are judged by others?

Find pictures of models in a magazine who look similar, including similar hair and clothing, but who differ in terms of weight. Have participants look at the two models and then ask them to identify which one they think is smarter, wealthier, kinder, and healthier.

Assess how each model was rated and how weight bias may have influenced how they were described by participants.

Music and Exercise

Does music have an effect on how hard people work out?

Have people listen to different styles of music while jogging on a treadmill and measure their walking speed, heart rate, and workout length.

The Halo Effect

How does the Halo Effect influence how people see others?

Show participants pictures of people and ask them to rate the photos in terms of how attractive, kind, intelligent, helpful, and successful the people in the images are.

How does the attractiveness of the person in the photo correlate to how participants rate other qualities? Are attractive people more likely to be perceived as kind, funny, and intelligent?

Eyewitness Testimony

How reliable is eyewitness testimony?

Have participants view video footage of a car crash. Ask some participants to describe how fast the cars were going when they “hit into” each other. Ask other participants to describe how fast the cars were going when they “smashed into” each other.

Give the participants a memory test a few days later and ask them to recall if they saw any broken glass at the accident scene. Compare to see if those in the “smashed into” condition were more likely to report seeing broken glass than those in the “hit into” group.

The experiment is a good illustration of how easily false memories can be triggered.

Simple Psychology Experiment Ideas

If you are looking for a relatively simple psychology experiment idea, here are a few options you might consider.

The Stroop Effect

This classic experiment involves presenting participants with words printed in different colors and asking them to name the color of the ink rather than read the word. Students can manipulate the congruency of the word and the color to test the Stroop effect.

Memory Recall

Students can design a simple experiment to test memory recall by presenting participants with a list of items to remember and then asking them to recall the items after a delay. Students can manipulate the length of the delay or the type of encoding strategy used to see the effect on recall.

Social Conformity

Students can test social conformity by presenting participants with a simple task and manipulating the responses of confederates to see if the participant conforms to the group response.

Selective Attention

Students can design an experiment to test selective attention by presenting participants with a video or audio stimulus and manipulating the presence or absence of a distracting stimulus to see the effect on attention.

Implicit Bias

Students can test implicit bias by presenting participants with a series of words or images and measuring their response time to categorize the stimuli into different categories.

The Primacy/Recency Effect

Students can test the primacy /recency effect by presenting participants with a list of items to remember and manipulating the order of the items to see the effect on recall.

Sleep Deprivation

Students can test the effect of sleep deprivation on cognitive performance by comparing the performance of participants who have had a full night’s sleep to those who have been deprived of sleep.

These are just a few examples of simple psychology experiment ideas for students. The specific experiment will depend on the research question and resources available.

Elements of a Good Psychology Experiment

Finding psychology experiment ideas is not necessarily difficult, but finding a good experimental or study topic that is right for your needs can be a little tough. You need to find something that meets the guidelines and, perhaps most importantly, is approved by your instructor.

Requirements may vary, but you need to ensure that your experiment, study, or survey is:

  • Easy to set up and carry out
  • Easy to find participants willing to take part
  • Free of any ethical concerns

In some cases, you may need to present your idea to your school’s institutional review board before you begin to obtain permission to work with human participants.

Consider Your Own Interests

At some point in your life, you have likely pondered why people behave in certain ways. Or wondered why certain things seem to always happen. Your own interests can be a rich source of ideas for your psychology experiments.

As you are trying to come up with a topic or hypothesis, try focusing on the subjects that fascinate you the most. If you have a particular interest in a topic, look for ideas that answer questions about the topic that you and others may have. Examples of topics you might choose to explore include:

  • Development
  • Personality
  • Social behavior

This can be a fun opportunity to investigate something that appeals to your interests.

Read About Classic Experiments

Sometimes reviewing classic psychological experiments that have been done in the past can give you great ideas for your own psychology experiments. For example, the false memory experiment above is inspired by the classic memory study conducted by Elizabeth Loftus.

Textbooks can be a great place to start looking for topics, but you might want to expand your search to research journals. When you find a study that sparks your interest, read through the discussion section. Researchers will often indicate ideas for future directions that research could take.

Ask Your Instructor

Your professor or instructor is often the best person to consult for advice right from the start.

In most cases, you will probably receive fairly detailed instructions about your assignment. This may include information about the sort of topic you can choose or perhaps the type of experiment or study on which you should focus.

If your instructor does not assign a specific subject area to explore, it is still a great idea to talk about your ideas and get feedback before you get too invested in your topic idea. You will need your teacher’s permission to proceed with your experiment anyway, so now is a great time to open a dialogue and get some good critical feedback.

Experiments vs. Other Types of Research

One thing to note, many of the ideas found here are actually examples of surveys or correlational studies .

For something to qualify as a tru e experiment, there must be manipulation of an independent variable .

For many students, conducting an actual experiment may be outside the scope of their project or may not be permitted by their instructor, school, or institutional review board.

If your assignment or project requires you to conduct a true experiment that involves controlling and manipulating an independent variable, you will need to take care to choose a topic that will work within the guidelines of your assignment.

Types of Psychology Experiments

There are many different types of psychology experiments that students could perform. Examples of psychological research methods you might use include:

Correlational Study

This type of study examines the relationship between two variables. Students could collect data on two variables of interest, such as stress and academic performance, and see if there is a correlation between the two.

Experimental Study

In an experimental study, students manipulate one variable and observe the effect on another variable. For example, students could manipulate the type of music participants listen to and observe its effect on their mood.

Observational Study

Observational studies involve observing behavior in a natural setting . Students could observe how people interact in a public space and analyze the patterns they see.

Survey Study

Students could design a survey to collect data on a specific topic, such as attitudes toward social media, and analyze the results.

A case study involves in-depth analysis of a single individual or group. Students could conduct a case study of a person with a particular disorder, such as anxiety or depression, and examine their experiences and treatment options.

Quasi-Experimental Study

Quasi-experimental studies are similar to experimental studies, but participants are not randomly assigned to groups. Students could investigate the effects of a treatment or intervention on a particular group, such as a classroom of students who receive a new teaching method.

Longitudinal Study

Longitudinal studies involve following participants over an extended period of time. Students could conduct a longitudinal study on the development of language skills in children or the effects of aging on cognitive abilities.

These are just a few examples of the many different types of psychology experiments that students could perform. The specific type of experiment will depend on the research question and the resources available.

Steps for Doing a Psychology Experiment

When conducting a psychology experiment, students should follow several important steps. Here is a general outline of the process:

Define the Research Question

Before conducting an experiment, students should define the research question they are trying to answer. This will help them to focus their study and determine the variables they need to manipulate and measure.

Develop a Hypothesis

Based on the research question, students should develop a hypothesis that predicts the experiment’s outcome. The hypothesis should be testable and measurable.

Select Participants

Students should select participants who meet the criteria for the study. Participants should be informed about the study and give informed consent to participate.

Design the Experiment

Students should design the experiment to test their hypothesis. This includes selecting the appropriate variables, creating a plan for manipulating and measuring them, and determining the appropriate control conditions.

Collect Data

Once the experiment is designed, students should collect data by following the procedures they have developed. They should record all data accurately and completely.

Analyze the Data

After collecting the data, students should analyze it to determine if their hypothesis was supported or not. They can use statistical analyses to determine if there are significant differences between groups or if there are correlations between variables.

Interpret the Results

Based on the analysis, students should interpret the results and draw conclusions about their hypothesis. They should consider the study’s limitations and their findings’ implications.

Report the Results

Finally, students should report the results of their study. This may include writing a research paper or presenting their findings in a poster or oral presentation.

Britt MA. Psych Experiments . Avon, MA: Adams Media; 2007.

Martin DW. Doing Psychology Experiments. Belmont, CA: Cengage Learning; 2008.

Kendra Cherry

Kendra Cherry, MS.Ed., is an author, educator, and founder of Explore Psychology, an online psychology resource. She is a health writer and editor specializing in psychology, mental health, and wellness. She also writes for Verywell Mind and is the author of the Everything Psychology book (Adams Media). Follow her on Twitter , Facebook , Instagram , and Pinterest .

Experimental Method In Psychology

Saul Mcleod, PhD

Editor-in-Chief for Simply Psychology

BSc (Hons) Psychology, MRes, PhD, University of Manchester

Saul Mcleod, Ph.D., is a qualified psychology teacher with over 18 years experience of working in further and higher education. He has been published in peer-reviewed journals, including the Journal of Clinical Psychology.

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Associate Editor for Simply Psychology

BSc (Hons) Psychology, MSc Psychology of Education

Olivia Guy-Evans is a writer and associate editor for Simply Psychology. She has previously worked in healthcare and educational sectors.

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The experimental method involves the manipulation of variables to establish cause-and-effect relationships. The key features are controlled methods and the random allocation of participants into controlled and experimental groups .

What is an Experiment?

An experiment is an investigation in which a hypothesis is scientifically tested. An independent variable (the cause) is manipulated in an experiment, and the dependent variable (the effect) is measured; any extraneous variables are controlled.

An advantage is that experiments should be objective. The researcher’s views and opinions should not affect a study’s results. This is good as it makes the data more valid  and less biased.

There are three types of experiments you need to know:

1. Lab Experiment

A laboratory experiment in psychology is a research method in which the experimenter manipulates one or more independent variables and measures the effects on the dependent variable under controlled conditions.

A laboratory experiment is conducted under highly controlled conditions (not necessarily a laboratory) where accurate measurements are possible.

The researcher uses a standardized procedure to determine where the experiment will take place, at what time, with which participants, and in what circumstances.

Participants are randomly allocated to each independent variable group.

Examples are Milgram’s experiment on obedience and  Loftus and Palmer’s car crash study .

  • Strength : It is easier to replicate (i.e., copy) a laboratory experiment. This is because a standardized procedure is used.
  • Strength : They allow for precise control of extraneous and independent variables. This allows a cause-and-effect relationship to be established.
  • Limitation : The artificiality of the setting may produce unnatural behavior that does not reflect real life, i.e., low ecological validity. This means it would not be possible to generalize the findings to a real-life setting.
  • Limitation : Demand characteristics or experimenter effects may bias the results and become confounding variables .

2. Field Experiment

A field experiment is a research method in psychology that takes place in a natural, real-world setting. It is similar to a laboratory experiment in that the experimenter manipulates one or more independent variables and measures the effects on the dependent variable.

However, in a field experiment, the participants are unaware they are being studied, and the experimenter has less control over the extraneous variables .

Field experiments are often used to study social phenomena, such as altruism, obedience, and persuasion. They are also used to test the effectiveness of interventions in real-world settings, such as educational programs and public health campaigns.

An example is Holfing’s hospital study on obedience .

  • Strength : behavior in a field experiment is more likely to reflect real life because of its natural setting, i.e., higher ecological validity than a lab experiment.
  • Strength : Demand characteristics are less likely to affect the results, as participants may not know they are being studied. This occurs when the study is covert.
  • Limitation : There is less control over extraneous variables that might bias the results. This makes it difficult for another researcher to replicate the study in exactly the same way.

3. Natural Experiment

A natural experiment in psychology is a research method in which the experimenter observes the effects of a naturally occurring event or situation on the dependent variable without manipulating any variables.

Natural experiments are conducted in the day (i.e., real life) environment of the participants, but here, the experimenter has no control over the independent variable as it occurs naturally in real life.

Natural experiments are often used to study psychological phenomena that would be difficult or unethical to study in a laboratory setting, such as the effects of natural disasters, policy changes, or social movements.

For example, Hodges and Tizard’s attachment research (1989) compared the long-term development of children who have been adopted, fostered, or returned to their mothers with a control group of children who had spent all their lives in their biological families.

Here is a fictional example of a natural experiment in psychology:

Researchers might compare academic achievement rates among students born before and after a major policy change that increased funding for education.

In this case, the independent variable is the timing of the policy change, and the dependent variable is academic achievement. The researchers would not be able to manipulate the independent variable, but they could observe its effects on the dependent variable.

  • Strength : behavior in a natural experiment is more likely to reflect real life because of its natural setting, i.e., very high ecological validity.
  • Strength : Demand characteristics are less likely to affect the results, as participants may not know they are being studied.
  • Strength : It can be used in situations in which it would be ethically unacceptable to manipulate the independent variable, e.g., researching stress .
  • Limitation : They may be more expensive and time-consuming than lab experiments.
  • Limitation : There is no control over extraneous variables that might bias the results. This makes it difficult for another researcher to replicate the study in exactly the same way.

Key Terminology

Ecological validity.

The degree to which an investigation represents real-life experiences.

Experimenter effects

These are the ways that the experimenter can accidentally influence the participant through their appearance or behavior.

Demand characteristics

The clues in an experiment lead the participants to think they know what the researcher is looking for (e.g., the experimenter’s body language).

Independent variable (IV)

The variable the experimenter manipulates (i.e., changes) is assumed to have a direct effect on the dependent variable.

Dependent variable (DV)

Variable the experimenter measures. This is the outcome (i.e., the result) of a study.

Extraneous variables (EV)

All variables which are not independent variables but could affect the results (DV) of the experiment. EVs should be controlled where possible.

Confounding variables

Variable(s) that have affected the results (DV), apart from the IV. A confounding variable could be an extraneous variable that has not been controlled.

Random Allocation

Randomly allocating participants to independent variable conditions means that all participants should have an equal chance of participating in each condition.

The principle of random allocation is to avoid bias in how the experiment is carried out and limit the effects of participant variables.

Order effects

Changes in participants’ performance due to their repeating the same or similar test more than once. Examples of order effects include:

(i) practice effect: an improvement in performance on a task due to repetition, for example, because of familiarity with the task;

(ii) fatigue effect: a decrease in performance of a task due to repetition, for example, because of boredom or tiredness.

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7 Famous Psychology Experiments

Picture of a piece of art used for psychological experiments

Many famous experiments studying human behavior have impacted our fundamental understanding of psychology. Though some could not be repeated today due to breaches in ethical boundaries, that does not diminish the significance of those psychological studies. Some of these important findings include a greater awareness of depression and its symptoms, how people learn behaviors through the process of association and how individuals conform to a group.

Below, we take a look at seven famous psychological experiments that greatly influenced the field of psychology and our understanding of human behavior.

The Little Albert Experiment, 1920

A John’s Hopkins University professor, Dr. John B. Watson, and a graduate student wanted to test a learning process called classical conditioning. Classical conditioning involves learning involuntary or automatic behaviors by association, and Dr. Watson thought it formed the bedrock of human psychology.

A nine-month-old toddler, dubbed “Albert B,” was volunteered for Dr. Watson and Rosalie Rayner ‘s experiment. Albert played with white furry objects, and at first, the toddler displayed joy and affection. Over time, as he played with the objects, Dr. Watson would make a loud noise behind the child’s head to frighten him. After numerous trials, Albert was conditioned to be afraid when he saw white furry objects.

The study proved that humans could be conditioned to enjoy or fear something, which many psychologists believe could explain why people have irrational fears and how they may have developed early in life. This is a great example of experimental study psychology.

Stanford Prison Experiment, 1971

Stanford professor Philip Zimbardo wanted to learn how individuals conformed to societal roles. He wondered, for example, whether the tense relationship between prison guards and inmates in jails had more to do with the personalities of each or the environment.

During Zimbardo’s experiment , 24 male college students were assigned to be either a prisoner or a guard. The prisoners were held in a makeshift prison inside the basement of Stanford’s psychology department. They went through a standard booking process designed to take away their individuality and make them feel anonymous. Guards were given eight-hour shifts and tasked to treat the prisoners just like they would in real life.

Zimbardo found rather quickly that both the guards and prisoners fully adapted to their roles; in fact, he had to shut down the experiment after six days because it became too dangerous. Zimbardo even admitted he began thinking of himself as a police superintendent rather than a psychologist. The study confirmed that people will conform to the social roles they’re expected to play, especially overly stereotyped ones such as prison guards.

“We realized how ordinary people could be readily transformed from the good Dr. Jekyll to the evil Mr. Hyde,” Zimbardo wrote.

The Asch Conformity Study, 1951

Solomon Asch, a Polish-American social psychologist, was determined to see whether an individual would conform to a group’s decision, even if the individual knew it was incorrect. Conformity is defined by the American Psychological Association as the adjustment of a person’s opinions or thoughts so that they fall closer in line with those of other people or the normative standards of a social group or situation.

In his experiment , Asch selected 50 male college students to participate in a “vision test.” Individuals would have to determine which line on a card was longer. However, the individuals at the center of the experiment did not know that the other people taking the test were actors following scripts, and at times selected the wrong answer on purpose. Asch found that, on average over 12 trials, nearly one-third of the naive participants conformed with the incorrect majority, and only 25 percent never conformed to the incorrect majority. In the control group that featured only the participants and no actors, less than one percent of participants ever chose the wrong answer.

Asch’s experiment showed that people will conform to groups to fit in (normative influence) because of the belief that the group was better informed than the individual. This explains why some people change behaviors or beliefs when in a new group or social setting, even when it goes against past behaviors or beliefs.

The Bobo Doll Experiment, 1961, 1963

Stanford University professor Albert Bandura wanted to put the social learning theory into action. Social learning theory suggests that people can acquire new behaviors “through direct experience or by observing the behavior of others.” Using a Bobo doll , which is a blow-up toy in the shape of a life-size bowling pin, Bandura and his team tested whether children witnessing acts of aggression would copy them.

Bandura and two colleagues selected 36 boys and 36 girls between the ages of 3 and 6 from the Stanford University nursery and split them into three groups of 24. One group watched adults behaving aggressively toward the Bobo doll. In some cases, the adult subjects hit the doll with a hammer or threw it in the air. Another group was shown an adult playing with the Bobo doll in a non-aggressive manner, and the last group was not shown a model at all, just the Bobo doll.

After each session, children were taken to a room with toys and studied to see how their play patterns changed. In a room with aggressive toys (a mallet, dart guns, and a Bobo doll) and non-aggressive toys (a tea set, crayons, and plastic farm animals), Bandura and his colleagues observed that children who watched the aggressive adults were more likely to imitate the aggressive responses.

Unexpectedly, Bandura found that female children acted more physically aggressive after watching a male subject and more verbally aggressive after watching a female subject. The results of the study highlight how children learn behaviors from observing others.

The Learned Helplessness Experiment, 1965

Martin Seligman wanted to research a different angle related to Dr. Watson’s study of classical conditioning. In studying conditioning with dogs, Seligman made an astute observation : the subjects, which had already been conditioned to expect a light electric shock if they heard a bell, would sometimes give up after another negative outcome, rather than searching for the positive outcome.

Under normal circumstances, animals will always try to get away from negative outcomes. When Seligman tested his experiment on animals who hadn’t been previously conditioned, the animals attempted to find a positive outcome. Oppositely, the dogs who had been already conditioned to expect a negative response assumed there would be another negative response waiting for them, even in a different situation.

The conditioned dogs’ behavior became known as learned helplessness, the idea that some subjects won’t try to get out of a negative situation because past experiences have forced them to believe they are helpless. The study’s findings shed light on depression and its symptoms in humans.

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The Milgram Experiment, 1963

In the wake of the horrific atrocities carried out by Nazi Germany during World War II, Stanley Milgram wanted to test the levels of obedience to authority. The Yale University professor wanted to study if people would obey commands, even when it conflicted with the person’s conscience.

Participants of the condensed study , 40 males between the ages of 20 and 50, were split into learners and teachers. Though it seemed random, actors were always chosen as the learners, and unsuspecting participants were always the teachers. A learner was strapped to a chair with electrodes in one room while the experimenter äóñ another actor äóñ and a teacher went into another.

The teacher and learner went over a list of word pairs that the learner was told to memorize. When the learner incorrectly paired a set of words together, the teacher would shock the learner. The teacher believed the shocks ranged from mild all the way to life-threatening. In reality, the learner, who intentionally made mistakes, was not being shocked.

As the voltage of the shocks increased and the teachers became aware of the believed pain caused by them, some refused to continue the experiment. After prodding by the experimenter, 65 percent resumed. From the study, Milgram devised the agency theory , which suggests that people allow others to direct their actions because they believe the authority figure is qualified and will accept responsibility for the outcomes. Milgram’s findings help explain how people can make decisions against their own conscience, such as when participating in a war or genocide.

The Halo Effect Experiment, 1977

University of Michigan professors Richard Nisbett and Timothy Wilson were interested in following up a study from 50 years earlier on a concept known as the halo effect . In the 1920s, American psychologist Edward Thorndike researched a phenomenon in the U.S. military that showed cognitive bias. This is an error in how we think that affects how we perceive people and make judgements and decisions based on those perceptions.

In 1977, Nisbett and Wilson tested the halo effect using 118 college students (62 males, 56 females). Students were divided into two groups and were asked to evaluate a male Belgian teacher who spoke English with a heavy accent. Participants were shown one of two videotaped interviews with the teacher on a television monitor. The first interview showed the teacher interacting cordially with students, and the second interview showed the teacher behaving inhospitably. The subjects were then asked to rate the teacher’s physical appearance, mannerisms, and accent on an eight-point scale from appealing to irritating.

Nisbett and Wilson found that on physical appearance alone, 70 percent of the subjects rated the teacher as appealing when he was being respectful and irritating when he was cold. When the teacher was rude, 80 percent of the subjects rated his accent as irritating, as compared to nearly 50 percent when he was being kind.

The updated study on the halo effect shows that cognitive bias isn’t exclusive to a military environment. Cognitive bias can get in the way of making the correct decision, whether it’s during a job interview or deciding whether to buy a product that’s been endorsed by a celebrity we admire.

How Experiments Have Impacted Psychology Today

Contemporary psychologists have built on the findings of these studies to better understand human behaviors, mental illnesses, and the link between the mind and body. For their contributions to psychology, Watson, Bandura, Nisbett and Zimbardo were all awarded Gold Medals for Life Achievement from the American Psychological Foundation. Become part of the next generation of influential psychologists with King University’s online bachelor’s in psychology . Take advantage of King University’s flexible online schedule and complete the major coursework of your degree in as little as 16 months. Plus, as a psychology major, King University will prepare you for graduate school with original research on student projects as you pursue your goal of being a psychologist.

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What do you think of when you hear the word "laboratory"? Do you picture people in white coats and goggles and gloves standing over a table with beakers and tubes? Well, that picture is pretty close to reality in some cases. In others, laboratory experiments, especially in psychology, focus more on observing behaviours in highly controlled settings to establish causal conclusions. Let's explore lab experiments further. 

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What do you think of when you hear the word "laboratory"? Do you picture people in white coats and goggles and gloves standing over a table with beakers and tubes? Well, that picture is pretty close to reality in some cases. In others, laboratory experiments, especially in psychology, focus more on observing behaviours in highly controlled settings to establish causal conclusions. Let's explore lab experiments further.

  • We are going to delve into the topic of lab experiments in the context of psychology.
  • We will start by looking at the lab experiment definition and how lab experiments are used in psychology.
  • Moving on from this, we will look at how lab experiment examples in psychology and cognitive lab experiments may be conducted.
  • And to finish off, we will also explore the strengths and weaknesses of lab experiments.

Lab Experiment Psychology Definition

You can probably guess from the name that lab experiments occur in lab settings. Although this is not always the case, they can sometimes occur in other controlled environments. The purpose of lab experiments is to identify the cause and effect of a phenomenon through experimentation.

A lab experiment is an experiment that uses a carefully controlled setting and standardised procedure to accurately measure how changes in the independent variable (IV; variable that changes) affects the dependent variable (DV; variable measured).

In lab experiments, the IV is what the researcher predicts as the cause of a phenomenon, and the dependent variable is what the researcher predicts as the effect of a phenomenon.

Lab Experiment: P sychology

Lab experiments in psychology are used when trying to establish causal relationships between variables . For example, a researcher would use a lab experiment if they were investigating how sleep affects memory recall.

The majority of psychologists think of psychology as a form of science. Therefore, they argue that the protocol used in psychological research should resemble those used in the natural sciences. For research to be established as scientific , three essential features should be considered:

  • Empiricism - the findings should be observable via the five senses.
  • Reliability - if the study was replicated, similar results should be found.
  • Validity - the investigation should accurately measure what it intends to.

But do lab experiments fulfil these requirements of natural sciences research? If done correctly, then yes. Lab experiments are empirical as they involve the researcher observing changes occurring in the DV. Reliability is established by using a standardised procedure in lab experiments .

A standardised procedure is a protocol that states how the experiment will be carried out. This allows the researcher to ensure the same protocol is used for each participant, increasing the study's internal reliability.

Standardised procedures are also used to help other researchers replicate the study to identify if they measure similar results.

Dissimilar results reflect low reliability.

Validity is another feature of a lab experiment considered. Lab experiments are conducted in a carefully controlled setting where the researcher has the most control compared to other experiments to prevent extraneous variables from affecting the DV .

Extraneous variables are factors other than the IV that affect the DV; as these are variables that the researcher is not interested in investigating, these reduce the validity of the research.

There are issues of validity in lab experiments, which we'll get into a bit later!

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Lab Experiment Examples: Asch's Conformity Study

The Asch (1951) conformity study is an example of a lab experiment. The investigation aimed to identify if the presence and influence of others would pressure participants to change their response to a straightforward question. Participants were given two pieces of paper, one depicting a 'target line' and another three, one of which resembled the 'target line' and the others of different lengths.

The participants were put in groups of eight. Unknown to the participants, the other seven were confederates (participants who were secretly part of the research team) who were instructed to give the wrong answer. If the actual participant changed their answer in response, this would be an example of conformity .

Asch controlled the location where the investigation took place, constructed a contrived scenario and even controlled the confederates who would affect the behaviour of the actual participants to measure the DV.

Some other famous examples of research that are lab experiment examples include research conducted by Milgram (the obedience study) and Loftus and Palmer's eyewitness testimony accuracy study . These researchers likely used this method because of some of their strengths , e.g., their high level of control .

Lab Experiment Examples: Cognitive Lab Experiments

Let's look at what a cognitive lab experiment may entail. Suppose a researcher is interested in investigating how sleep affects memory scores using the MMSE test. In the theoretical study , an equal number of participants were randomly allocated into two groups; sleep-deprived versus well-rested. Both groups completed the memory test after a whole night of sleep or staying awake all night.

In this research scenario , the DV can be identified as memory test scores and the IV as whether participants were sleep-deprived or well-rested.

Some examples of extraneous variables the study controlled include researchers ensuring participants did not fall asleep, the participants took the test at the same time, and participants in the well-rested group slept for the same time.

Lab Experiment Advantages and Disadvantages

It's important to consider the advantages and disadvantages of laboratory experiments . Advantages include the highly controlled setting of lab experiments, the standardised procedures and causal conclusions that can be drawn. Disadvantages include the low ecological validity of lab experiments and demand characteristics participants may present.

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Strengths of Lab Experiments: Highly Controlled

Laboratory experiments are conducted in a well-controlled setting. All the variables, including extraneous and confounding variables , are rigidly controlled in the investigation. Therefore, the risk of experimental findings being affected by extraneous or confounding variables is reduced . As a result, the well-controlled design of laboratory experiments implies the research has high internal validity .

Internal validity means the study uses measures and protocols that measure exactly what it intends to, i.e. how only the changes in the IV affect the DV.

Strengths of Lab Experiments: Standardised Procedures

Laboratory experiments have standardised procedures, which means the experiments are replicable , and all participants are tested under the same conditions. T herefore, standardised procedures allow others to replicate the study to identify whether the research is reliable and that the findings are not a one-off result. As a result, the replicability of laboratory experiments allows researchers to verify the study's reliability .

Strengths of Lab Experiments: Causal Conclusions

A well-designed laboratory experiment can draw causal conclusions. Ideally, a laboratory experiment can rigidly control all the variables , including extraneous and confounding variables. Therefore, laboratory experiments provide great confidence to researchers that the IV causes any observed changes in DV.

Weaknesses of Lab Experiments

In the following, we will present the disadvantages of laboratory experiments. This discusses ecological validity and demand characteristics.

Weaknesses of Lab Experiments: Low Ecological Validity

Laboratory experiments have low ecological validity because they are conducted in an artificial study that does not reflect a real-life setting . As a result, findings generated in laboratory experiments can be difficult to generalise to real life due to the low mundane realism. Mundane realism reflects the extent to which lab experiment materials are similar to real-life events.

Weaknesses of Lab Experiments: Demand Characteristics

A disadvantage of laboratory experiments is that the research setting may lead to demand characteristics .

Demand characteristics are the cues that make participants aware of what the experimenter expects to find or how participants are expected to behave.

The participants are aware they are involved in an experiment. So, participants may have some ideas of what is expected of them in the investigation, which may influence their behaviours. As a result, the demand characteristics presented in laboratory experiments can arguably change the research outcome , reducing the findings' validity .

Lab Experiment - Key takeaways

The lab experiment definition is an experiment that uses a carefully controlled setting and standardised procedure to establish how changes in the independent variable (IV; variable that changes) affect the dependent variable (DV; variable measured).

Psychologists aim to ensure that lab experiments are scientific and must be empirical, reliable and valid.

The Asch (1951) conformity study is an example of a lab experiment. The investigation aimed to identify if the presence and influence of others would pressure participants to change their response to a straightforward question.

The advantages of lab experiments are high internal validity, standardised procedures and the ability to draw causal conclusions.

The disadvantages of lab experiments are low ecological validity and demand characteristics.

Frequently Asked Questions about Lab Experiment

--> what is a lab experiment.

A lab experiment is an experiment that uses a carefully controlled setting and standardised procedure to establish how changes in the independent variable (IV; variable that changes) affects the dependent variable (DV; variable measured).

--> What is the purpose of lab experiments?

Lab experiments investigate cause-and-effect. They aim to determine the effect of changes in the independent variable on the dependent variable. 

--> What is a lab experiment and field experiment?

A field experiment is an experiment conducted in a natural, everyday setting. The experimenter still controls the IV; however, extraneous and confounding variables may be difficult to control due to the natural setting.

Similar, to filed experiments researchers, can control the IV and extraneous variables. However, this takes place in an artificial setting such as a lab. 

--> Why would a psychologist use a laboratory experiment? 

A psychologist may use a lab experiment when trying to establish the causal relationships between variables to explain a phenomenon. 

--> Why is lab experience important?

Lab experience allows researchers to scientifically determine whether a hypothesis/ theory should be accepted or rejected. 

--> What is a lab experiment example? 

The research conducted by Loftus and Palmer (accuracy of eyewitness testimony) and Milgram (obedience) used a lab experiment design. These experimental designs give the researcher high control, allowing them to control extraneous and independent variables.

Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

Are lab experiments easy to replicate? 

True or false: Participants are aware that they are taking part in the lab experiment and sometimes may not know the aim of the investigation.

The aim of lab experiments is to identify if observed changes in the      are caused by the      .

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What is a laboratory experiment?

A laboratory experiment is an experiment conducted in a highly controlled environment. 

Why are laboratory experiments criticised for having demand characteristics?

The participants may be aware of the experiment’s aims and how the researcher expects them to act, which may influence their behaviours.

Why are laboratory experiments criticised for having low ecological validity?

Laboratory experiments have low ecological validity as contrived or artificial materials are employed.

What are the advantages of laboratory experiments?

Laboratory experiments are conducted in a well-controlled setting, which implies good internal validity, standardised procedures and the ability to draw causal conclusions.

What is a field experiment?

A field experiment is an experiment conducted in a natural, everyday setting. 

What are the advantages of a field experiment?

Field experiments have high mundane realism and reduced demand characteristics which implies good external validity.


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  • The 25 Most Influential Psychological Experiments in History

Most Influential Psychological Experiments in History

While each year thousands and thousands of studies are completed in the many specialty areas of psychology, there are a handful that, over the years, have had a lasting impact in the psychological community as a whole. Some of these were dutifully conducted, keeping within the confines of ethical and practical guidelines. Others pushed the boundaries of human behavior during their psychological experiments and created controversies that still linger to this day. And still others were not designed to be true psychological experiments, but ended up as beacons to the psychological community in proving or disproving theories.

This is a list of the 25 most influential psychological experiments still being taught to psychology students of today.

1. A Class Divided

Study conducted by: jane elliott.

Study Conducted in 1968 in an Iowa classroom

A Class Divided Study Conducted By: Jane Elliott

Experiment Details: Jane Elliott’s famous experiment was inspired by the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the inspirational life that he led. The third grade teacher developed an exercise, or better yet, a psychological experiment, to help her Caucasian students understand the effects of racism and prejudice.

Elliott divided her class into two separate groups: blue-eyed students and brown-eyed students. On the first day, she labeled the blue-eyed group as the superior group and from that point forward they had extra privileges, leaving the brown-eyed children to represent the minority group. She discouraged the groups from interacting and singled out individual students to stress the negative characteristics of the children in the minority group. What this exercise showed was that the children’s behavior changed almost instantaneously. The group of blue-eyed students performed better academically and even began bullying their brown-eyed classmates. The brown-eyed group experienced lower self-confidence and worse academic performance. The next day, she reversed the roles of the two groups and the blue-eyed students became the minority group.

At the end of the experiment, the children were so relieved that they were reported to have embraced one another and agreed that people should not be judged based on outward appearances. This exercise has since been repeated many times with similar outcomes.

For more information click here

2. Asch Conformity Study

Study conducted by: dr. solomon asch.

Study Conducted in 1951 at Swarthmore College

Asch Conformity Study

Experiment Details: Dr. Solomon Asch conducted a groundbreaking study that was designed to evaluate a person’s likelihood to conform to a standard when there is pressure to do so.

A group of participants were shown pictures with lines of various lengths and were then asked a simple question: Which line is longest? The tricky part of this study was that in each group only one person was a true participant. The others were actors with a script. Most of the actors were instructed to give the wrong answer. Strangely, the one true participant almost always agreed with the majority, even though they knew they were giving the wrong answer.

The results of this study are important when we study social interactions among individuals in groups. This study is a famous example of the temptation many of us experience to conform to a standard during group situations and it showed that people often care more about being the same as others than they do about being right. It is still recognized as one of the most influential psychological experiments for understanding human behavior.

3. Bobo Doll Experiment

Study conducted by: dr. alburt bandura.

Study Conducted between 1961-1963 at Stanford University

Bobo Doll Experiment

In his groundbreaking study he separated participants into three groups:

  • one was exposed to a video of an adult showing aggressive behavior towards a Bobo doll
  • another was exposed to video of a passive adult playing with the Bobo doll
  • the third formed a control group

Children watched their assigned video and then were sent to a room with the same doll they had seen in the video (with the exception of those in the control group). What the researcher found was that children exposed to the aggressive model were more likely to exhibit aggressive behavior towards the doll themselves. The other groups showed little imitative aggressive behavior. For those children exposed to the aggressive model, the number of derivative physical aggressions shown by the boys was 38.2 and 12.7 for the girls.

The study also showed that boys exhibited more aggression when exposed to aggressive male models than boys exposed to aggressive female models. When exposed to aggressive male models, the number of aggressive instances exhibited by boys averaged 104. This is compared to 48.4 aggressive instances exhibited by boys who were exposed to aggressive female models.

While the results for the girls show similar findings, the results were less drastic. When exposed to aggressive female models, the number of aggressive instances exhibited by girls averaged 57.7. This is compared to 36.3 aggressive instances exhibited by girls who were exposed to aggressive male models. The results concerning gender differences strongly supported Bandura’s secondary prediction that children will be more strongly influenced by same-sex models. The Bobo Doll Experiment showed a groundbreaking way to study human behavior and it’s influences.

4. Car Crash Experiment

Study conducted by: elizabeth loftus and john palmer.

Study Conducted in 1974 at The University of California in Irvine

Car Crash Experiment

The participants watched slides of a car accident and were asked to describe what had happened as if they were eyewitnesses to the scene. The participants were put into two groups and each group was questioned using different wording such as “how fast was the car driving at the time of impact?” versus “how fast was the car going when it smashed into the other car?” The experimenters found that the use of different verbs affected the participants’ memories of the accident, showing that memory can be easily distorted.

This research suggests that memory can be easily manipulated by questioning technique. This means that information gathered after the event can merge with original memory causing incorrect recall or reconstructive memory. The addition of false details to a memory of an event is now referred to as confabulation. This concept has very important implications for the questions used in police interviews of eyewitnesses.

5. Cognitive Dissonance Experiment

Study conducted by: leon festinger and james carlsmith.

Study Conducted in 1957 at Stanford University

Experiment Details: The concept of cognitive dissonance refers to a situation involving conflicting:

This conflict produces an inherent feeling of discomfort leading to a change in one of the attitudes, beliefs or behaviors to minimize or eliminate the discomfort and restore balance.

Cognitive dissonance was first investigated by Leon Festinger, after an observational study of a cult that believed that the earth was going to be destroyed by a flood. Out of this study was born an intriguing experiment conducted by Festinger and Carlsmith where participants were asked to perform a series of dull tasks (such as turning pegs in a peg board for an hour). Participant’s initial attitudes toward this task were highly negative.

They were then paid either $1 or $20 to tell a participant waiting in the lobby that the tasks were really interesting. Almost all of the participants agreed to walk into the waiting room and persuade the next participant that the boring experiment would be fun. When the participants were later asked to evaluate the experiment, the participants who were paid only $1 rated the tedious task as more fun and enjoyable than the participants who were paid $20 to lie.

Being paid only $1 is not sufficient incentive for lying and so those who were paid $1 experienced dissonance. They could only overcome that cognitive dissonance by coming to believe that the tasks really were interesting and enjoyable. Being paid $20 provides a reason for turning pegs and there is therefore no dissonance.

6. Fantz’s Looking Chamber

Study conducted by: robert l. fantz.

Study Conducted in 1961 at the University of Illinois

Experiment Details: The study conducted by Robert L. Fantz is among the simplest, yet most important in the field of infant development and vision. In 1961, when this experiment was conducted, there very few ways to study what was going on in the mind of an infant. Fantz realized that the best way was to simply watch the actions and reactions of infants. He understood the fundamental factor that if there is something of interest near humans, they generally look at it.

To test this concept, Fantz set up a display board with two pictures attached. On one was a bulls-eye. On the other was the sketch of a human face. This board was hung in a chamber where a baby could lie safely underneath and see both images. Then, from behind the board, invisible to the baby, he peeked through a hole to watch what the baby looked at. This study showed that a two-month old baby looked twice as much at the human face as it did at the bulls-eye. This suggests that human babies have some powers of pattern and form selection. Before this experiment it was thought that babies looked out onto a chaotic world of which they could make little sense.

7. Hawthorne Effect

Study conducted by: henry a. landsberger.

Study Conducted in 1955 at Hawthorne Works in Chicago, Illinois

Hawthorne Effect

Landsberger performed the study by analyzing data from experiments conducted between 1924 and 1932, by Elton Mayo, at the Hawthorne Works near Chicago. The company had commissioned studies to evaluate whether the level of light in a building changed the productivity of the workers. What Mayo found was that the level of light made no difference in productivity. The workers increased their output whenever the amount of light was switched from a low level to a high level, or vice versa.

The researchers noticed a tendency that the workers’ level of efficiency increased when any variable was manipulated. The study showed that the output changed simply because the workers were aware that they were under observation. The conclusion was that the workers felt important because they were pleased to be singled out. They increased productivity as a result. Being singled out was the factor dictating increased productivity, not the changing lighting levels, or any of the other factors that they experimented upon.

The Hawthorne Effect has become one of the hardest inbuilt biases to eliminate or factor into the design of any experiment in psychology and beyond.

8. Kitty Genovese Case

Study conducted by: new york police force.

Study Conducted in 1964 in New York City

Experiment Details: The murder case of Kitty Genovese was never intended to be a psychological experiment, however it ended up having serious implications for the field.

According to a New York Times article, almost 40 neighbors witnessed Kitty Genovese being savagely attacked and murdered in Queens, New York in 1964. Not one neighbor called the police for help. Some reports state that the attacker briefly left the scene and later returned to “finish off” his victim. It was later uncovered that many of these facts were exaggerated. (There were more likely only a dozen witnesses and records show that some calls to police were made).

What this case later become famous for is the “Bystander Effect,” which states that the more bystanders that are present in a social situation, the less likely it is that anyone will step in and help. This effect has led to changes in medicine, psychology and many other areas. One famous example is the way CPR is taught to new learners. All students in CPR courses learn that they must assign one bystander the job of alerting authorities which minimizes the chances of no one calling for assistance.

9. Learned Helplessness Experiment

Study conducted by: martin seligman.

Study Conducted in 1967 at the University of Pennsylvania

Learned Helplessness Experiment

Seligman’s experiment involved the ringing of a bell and then the administration of a light shock to a dog. After a number of pairings, the dog reacted to the shock even before it happened. As soon as the dog heard the bell, he reacted as though he’d already been shocked.

During the course of this study something unexpected happened. Each dog was placed in a large crate that was divided down the middle with a low fence. The dog could see and jump over the fence easily. The floor on one side of the fence was electrified, but not on the other side of the fence. Seligman placed each dog on the electrified side and administered a light shock. He expected the dog to jump to the non-shocking side of the fence. In an unexpected turn, the dogs simply laid down.

The hypothesis was that as the dogs learned from the first part of the experiment that there was nothing they could do to avoid the shocks, they gave up in the second part of the experiment. To prove this hypothesis the experimenters brought in a new set of animals and found that dogs with no history in the experiment would jump over the fence.

This condition was described as learned helplessness. A human or animal does not attempt to get out of a negative situation because the past has taught them that they are helpless.

10. Little Albert Experiment

Study conducted by: john b. watson and rosalie rayner.

Study Conducted in 1920 at Johns Hopkins University

Little Albert Experiment

The experiment began by placing a white rat in front of the infant, who initially had no fear of the animal. Watson then produced a loud sound by striking a steel bar with a hammer every time little Albert was presented with the rat. After several pairings (the noise and the presentation of the white rat), the boy began to cry and exhibit signs of fear every time the rat appeared in the room. Watson also created similar conditioned reflexes with other common animals and objects (rabbits, Santa beard, etc.) until Albert feared them all.

This study proved that classical conditioning works on humans. One of its most important implications is that adult fears are often connected to early childhood experiences.

11. Magical Number Seven

Study conducted by: george a. miller.

Study Conducted in 1956 at Princeton University

Experiment Details:   Frequently referred to as “ Miller’s Law,” the Magical Number Seven experiment purports that the number of objects an average human can hold in working memory is 7 ± 2. This means that the human memory capacity typically includes strings of words or concepts ranging from 5-9. This information on the limits to the capacity for processing information became one of the most highly cited papers in psychology.

The Magical Number Seven Experiment was published in 1956 by cognitive psychologist George A. Miller of Princeton University’s Department of Psychology in Psychological Review .  In the article, Miller discussed a concurrence between the limits of one-dimensional absolute judgment and the limits of short-term memory.

In a one-dimensional absolute-judgment task, a person is presented with a number of stimuli that vary on one dimension (such as 10 different tones varying only in pitch). The person responds to each stimulus with a corresponding response (learned before).

Performance is almost perfect up to five or six different stimuli but declines as the number of different stimuli is increased. This means that a human’s maximum performance on one-dimensional absolute judgment can be described as an information store with the maximum capacity of approximately 2 to 3 bits of information There is the ability to distinguish between four and eight alternatives.

12. Pavlov’s Dog Experiment

Study conducted by: ivan pavlov.

Study Conducted in the 1890s at the Military Medical Academy in St. Petersburg, Russia

Pavlov’s Dog Experiment

Pavlov began with the simple idea that there are some things that a dog does not need to learn. He observed that dogs do not learn to salivate when they see food. This reflex is “hard wired” into the dog. This is an unconditioned response (a stimulus-response connection that required no learning).

Pavlov outlined that there are unconditioned responses in the animal by presenting a dog with a bowl of food and then measuring its salivary secretions. In the experiment, Pavlov used a bell as his neutral stimulus. Whenever he gave food to his dogs, he also rang a bell. After a number of repeats of this procedure, he tried the bell on its own. What he found was that the bell on its own now caused an increase in salivation. The dog had learned to associate the bell and the food. This learning created a new behavior. The dog salivated when he heard the bell. Because this response was learned (or conditioned), it is called a conditioned response. The neutral stimulus has become a conditioned stimulus.

This theory came to be known as classical conditioning.

13. Robbers Cave Experiment

Study conducted by: muzafer and carolyn sherif.

Study Conducted in 1954 at the University of Oklahoma

Experiment Details: This experiment, which studied group conflict, is considered by most to be outside the lines of what is considered ethically sound.

In 1954 researchers at the University of Oklahoma assigned 22 eleven- and twelve-year-old boys from similar backgrounds into two groups. The two groups were taken to separate areas of a summer camp facility where they were able to bond as social units. The groups were housed in separate cabins and neither group knew of the other’s existence for an entire week. The boys bonded with their cabin mates during that time. Once the two groups were allowed to have contact, they showed definite signs of prejudice and hostility toward each other even though they had only been given a very short time to develop their social group. To increase the conflict between the groups, the experimenters had them compete against each other in a series of activities. This created even more hostility and eventually the groups refused to eat in the same room. The final phase of the experiment involved turning the rival groups into friends. The fun activities the experimenters had planned like shooting firecrackers and watching movies did not initially work, so they created teamwork exercises where the two groups were forced to collaborate. At the end of the experiment, the boys decided to ride the same bus home, demonstrating that conflict can be resolved and prejudice overcome through cooperation.

Many critics have compared this study to Golding’s Lord of the Flies novel as a classic example of prejudice and conflict resolution.

14. Ross’ False Consensus Effect Study

Study conducted by: lee ross.

Study Conducted in 1977 at Stanford University

Experiment Details: In 1977, a social psychology professor at Stanford University named Lee Ross conducted an experiment that, in lay terms, focuses on how people can incorrectly conclude that others think the same way they do, or form a “false consensus” about the beliefs and preferences of others. Ross conducted the study in order to outline how the “false consensus effect” functions in humans.

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In the first part of the study, participants were asked to read about situations in which a conflict occurred and then were told two alternative ways of responding to the situation. They were asked to do three things:

  • Guess which option other people would choose
  • Say which option they themselves would choose
  • Describe the attributes of the person who would likely choose each of the two options

What the study showed was that most of the subjects believed that other people would do the same as them, regardless of which of the two responses they actually chose themselves. This phenomenon is referred to as the false consensus effect, where an individual thinks that other people think the same way they do when they may not. The second observation coming from this important study is that when participants were asked to describe the attributes of the people who will likely make the choice opposite of their own, they made bold and sometimes negative predictions about the personalities of those who did not share their choice.

15. The Schacter and Singer Experiment on Emotion

Study conducted by: stanley schachter and jerome e. singer.

Study Conducted in 1962 at Columbia University

Experiment Details: In 1962 Schachter and Singer conducted a ground breaking experiment to prove their theory of emotion.

In the study, a group of 184 male participants were injected with epinephrine, a hormone that induces arousal including increased heartbeat, trembling, and rapid breathing. The research participants were told that they were being injected with a new medication to test their eyesight. The first group of participants was informed the possible side effects that the injection might cause while the second group of participants were not. The participants were then placed in a room with someone they thought was another participant, but was actually a confederate in the experiment. The confederate acted in one of two ways: euphoric or angry. Participants who had not been informed about the effects of the injection were more likely to feel either happier or angrier than those who had been informed.

What Schachter and Singer were trying to understand was the ways in which cognition or thoughts influence human emotion. Their study illustrates the importance of how people interpret their physiological states, which form an important component of your emotions. Though their cognitive theory of emotional arousal dominated the field for two decades, it has been criticized for two main reasons: the size of the effect seen in the experiment was not that significant and other researchers had difficulties repeating the experiment.

16. Selective Attention / Invisible Gorilla Experiment

Study conducted by: daniel simons and christopher chabris.

Study Conducted in 1999 at Harvard University

Experiment Details: In 1999 Simons and Chabris conducted their famous awareness test at Harvard University.

Participants in the study were asked to watch a video and count how many passes occurred between basketball players on the white team. The video moves at a moderate pace and keeping track of the passes is a relatively easy task. What most people fail to notice amidst their counting is that in the middle of the test, a man in a gorilla suit walked onto the court and stood in the center before walking off-screen.

The study found that the majority of the subjects did not notice the gorilla at all, proving that humans often overestimate their ability to effectively multi-task. What the study set out to prove is that when people are asked to attend to one task, they focus so strongly on that element that they may miss other important details.

17. Stanford Prison Study

Study conducted by philip zimbardo.

Study Conducted in 1971 at Stanford University

Stanford Prison Study

The Stanford Prison Experiment was designed to study behavior of “normal” individuals when assigned a role of prisoner or guard. College students were recruited to participate. They were assigned roles of “guard” or “inmate.”  Zimbardo played the role of the warden. The basement of the psychology building was the set of the prison. Great care was taken to make it look and feel as realistic as possible.

The prison guards were told to run a prison for two weeks. They were told not to physically harm any of the inmates during the study. After a few days, the prison guards became very abusive verbally towards the inmates. Many of the prisoners became submissive to those in authority roles. The Stanford Prison Experiment inevitably had to be cancelled because some of the participants displayed troubling signs of breaking down mentally.

Although the experiment was conducted very unethically, many psychologists believe that the findings showed how much human behavior is situational. People will conform to certain roles if the conditions are right. The Stanford Prison Experiment remains one of the most famous psychology experiments of all time.

18. Stanley Milgram Experiment

Study conducted by stanley milgram.

Study Conducted in 1961 at Stanford University

Experiment Details: This 1961 study was conducted by Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram. It was designed to measure people’s willingness to obey authority figures when instructed to perform acts that conflicted with their morals. The study was based on the premise that humans will inherently take direction from authority figures from very early in life.

Participants were told they were participating in a study on memory. They were asked to watch another person (an actor) do a memory test. They were instructed to press a button that gave an electric shock each time the person got a wrong answer. (The actor did not actually receive the shocks, but pretended they did).

Participants were told to play the role of “teacher” and administer electric shocks to “the learner,” every time they answered a question incorrectly. The experimenters asked the participants to keep increasing the shocks. Most of them obeyed even though the individual completing the memory test appeared to be in great pain. Despite these protests, many participants continued the experiment when the authority figure urged them to. They increased the voltage after each wrong answer until some eventually administered what would be lethal electric shocks.

This experiment showed that humans are conditioned to obey authority and will usually do so even if it goes against their natural morals or common sense.

19. Surrogate Mother Experiment

Study conducted by: harry harlow.

Study Conducted from 1957-1963 at the University of Wisconsin

Experiment Details: In a series of controversial experiments during the late 1950s and early 1960s, Harry Harlow studied the importance of a mother’s love for healthy childhood development.

In order to do this he separated infant rhesus monkeys from their mothers a few hours after birth and left them to be raised by two “surrogate mothers.” One of the surrogates was made of wire with an attached bottle for food. The other was made of soft terrycloth but lacked food. The researcher found that the baby monkeys spent much more time with the cloth mother than the wire mother, thereby proving that affection plays a greater role than sustenance when it comes to childhood development. They also found that the monkeys that spent more time cuddling the soft mother grew up to healthier.

This experiment showed that love, as demonstrated by physical body contact, is a more important aspect of the parent-child bond than the provision of basic needs. These findings also had implications in the attachment between fathers and their infants when the mother is the source of nourishment.

20. The Good Samaritan Experiment

Study conducted by: john darley and daniel batson.

Study Conducted in 1973 at The Princeton Theological Seminary (Researchers were from Princeton University)

Experiment Details: In 1973, an experiment was created by John Darley and Daniel Batson, to investigate the potential causes that underlie altruistic behavior. The researchers set out three hypotheses they wanted to test:

  • People thinking about religion and higher principles would be no more inclined to show helping behavior than laymen.
  • People in a rush would be much less likely to show helping behavior.
  • People who are religious for personal gain would be less likely to help than people who are religious because they want to gain some spiritual and personal insights into the meaning of life.

Student participants were given some religious teaching and instruction. They were then were told to travel from one building to the next. Between the two buildings was a man lying injured and appearing to be in dire need of assistance. The first variable being tested was the degree of urgency impressed upon the subjects, with some being told not to rush and others being informed that speed was of the essence.

The results of the experiment were intriguing, with the haste of the subject proving to be the overriding factor. When the subject was in no hurry, nearly two-thirds of people stopped to lend assistance. When the subject was in a rush, this dropped to one in ten.

People who were on the way to deliver a speech about helping others were nearly twice as likely to help as those delivering other sermons,. This showed that the thoughts of the individual were a factor in determining helping behavior. Religious beliefs did not appear to make much difference on the results. Being religious for personal gain, or as part of a spiritual quest, did not appear to make much of an impact on the amount of helping behavior shown.

21. The Halo Effect Experiment

Study conducted by: richard e. nisbett and timothy decamp wilson.

Study Conducted in 1977 at the University of Michigan

Experiment Details: The Halo Effect states that people generally assume that people who are physically attractive are more likely to:

  • be intelligent
  • be friendly
  • display good judgment

To prove their theory, Nisbett and DeCamp Wilson created a study to prove that people have little awareness of the nature of the Halo Effect. They’re not aware that it influences:

  • their personal judgments
  • the production of a more complex social behavior

In the experiment, college students were the research participants. They were asked to evaluate a psychology instructor as they view him in a videotaped interview. The students were randomly assigned to one of two groups. Each group was shown one of two different interviews with the same instructor. The instructor is a native French-speaking Belgian who spoke English with a noticeable accent. In the first video, the instructor presented himself as someone:

  • respectful of his students’ intelligence and motives
  • flexible in his approach to teaching
  • enthusiastic about his subject matter

In the second interview, he presented himself as much more unlikable. He was cold and distrustful toward the students and was quite rigid in his teaching style.

After watching the videos, the subjects were asked to rate the lecturer on:

  • physical appearance

His mannerisms and accent were kept the same in both versions of videos. The subjects were asked to rate the professor on an 8-point scale ranging from “like extremely” to “dislike extremely.” Subjects were also told that the researchers were interested in knowing “how much their liking for the teacher influenced the ratings they just made.” Other subjects were asked to identify how much the characteristics they just rated influenced their liking of the teacher.

After responding to the questionnaire, the respondents were puzzled about their reactions to the videotapes and to the questionnaire items. The students had no idea why they gave one lecturer higher ratings. Most said that how much they liked the lecturer had not affected their evaluation of his individual characteristics at all.

The interesting thing about this study is that people can understand the phenomenon, but they are unaware when it is occurring. Without realizing it, humans make judgments. Even when it is pointed out, they may still deny that it is a product of the halo effect phenomenon.

22. The Marshmallow Test

Study conducted by: walter mischel.

Study Conducted in 1972 at Stanford University

The Marshmallow Test

In his 1972 Marshmallow Experiment, children ages four to six were taken into a room where a marshmallow was placed in front of them on a table. Before leaving each of the children alone in the room, the experimenter informed them that they would receive a second marshmallow if the first one was still on the table after they returned in 15 minutes. The examiner recorded how long each child resisted eating the marshmallow and noted whether it correlated with the child’s success in adulthood. A small number of the 600 children ate the marshmallow immediately and one-third delayed gratification long enough to receive the second marshmallow.

In follow-up studies, Mischel found that those who deferred gratification were significantly more competent and received higher SAT scores than their peers. This characteristic likely remains with a person for life. While this study seems simplistic, the findings outline some of the foundational differences in individual traits that can predict success.

23. The Monster Study

Study conducted by: wendell johnson.

Study Conducted in 1939 at the University of Iowa

Experiment Details: The Monster Study received this negative title due to the unethical methods that were used to determine the effects of positive and negative speech therapy on children.

Wendell Johnson of the University of Iowa selected 22 orphaned children, some with stutters and some without. The children were in two groups. The group of children with stutters was placed in positive speech therapy, where they were praised for their fluency. The non-stutterers were placed in negative speech therapy, where they were disparaged for every mistake in grammar that they made.

As a result of the experiment, some of the children who received negative speech therapy suffered psychological effects and retained speech problems for the rest of their lives. They were examples of the significance of positive reinforcement in education.

The initial goal of the study was to investigate positive and negative speech therapy. However, the implication spanned much further into methods of teaching for young children.

24. Violinist at the Metro Experiment

Study conducted by: staff at the washington post.

Study Conducted in 2007 at a Washington D.C. Metro Train Station

Grammy-winning musician, Joshua Bell

During the study, pedestrians rushed by without realizing that the musician playing at the entrance to the metro stop was Grammy-winning musician, Joshua Bell. Two days before playing in the subway, he sold out at a theater in Boston where the seats average $100. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written with a violin worth 3.5 million dollars. In the 45 minutes the musician played his violin, only 6 people stopped and stayed for a while. Around 20 gave him money, but continued to walk their normal pace. He collected $32.

The study and the subsequent article organized by the Washington Post was part of a social experiment looking at:

  • the priorities of people

Gene Weingarten wrote about the social experiment: “In a banal setting at an inconvenient time, would beauty transcend?” Later he won a Pulitzer Prize for his story. Some of the questions the article addresses are:

  • Do we perceive beauty?
  • Do we stop to appreciate it?
  • Do we recognize the talent in an unexpected context?

As it turns out, many of us are not nearly as perceptive to our environment as we might like to think.

25. Visual Cliff Experiment

Study conducted by: eleanor gibson and richard walk.

Study Conducted in 1959 at Cornell University

Experiment Details: In 1959, psychologists Eleanor Gibson and Richard Walk set out to study depth perception in infants. They wanted to know if depth perception is a learned behavior or if it is something that we are born with. To study this, Gibson and Walk conducted the visual cliff experiment.

They studied 36 infants between the ages of six and 14 months, all of whom could crawl. The infants were placed one at a time on a visual cliff. A visual cliff was created using a large glass table that was raised about a foot off the floor. Half of the glass table had a checker pattern underneath in order to create the appearance of a ‘shallow side.’

In order to create a ‘deep side,’ a checker pattern was created on the floor; this side is the visual cliff. The placement of the checker pattern on the floor creates the illusion of a sudden drop-off. Researchers placed a foot-wide centerboard between the shallow side and the deep side. Gibson and Walk found the following:

  • Nine of the infants did not move off the centerboard.
  • All of the 27 infants who did move crossed into the shallow side when their mothers called them from the shallow side.
  • Three of the infants crawled off the visual cliff toward their mother when called from the deep side.
  • When called from the deep side, the remaining 24 children either crawled to the shallow side or cried because they could not cross the visual cliff and make it to their mother.

What this study helped demonstrate is that depth perception is likely an inborn train in humans.

Among these experiments and psychological tests, we see boundaries pushed and theories taking on a life of their own. It is through the endless stream of psychological experimentation that we can see simple hypotheses become guiding theories for those in this field. The greater field of psychology became a formal field of experimental study in 1879, when Wilhelm Wundt established the first laboratory dedicated solely to psychological research in Leipzig, Germany. Wundt was the first person to refer to himself as a psychologist. Since 1879, psychology has grown into a massive collection of:

  • methods of practice

It’s also a specialty area in the field of healthcare. None of this would have been possible without these and many other important psychological experiments that have stood the test of time.

  • 20 Most Unethical Experiments in Psychology
  • What Careers are in Experimental Psychology?
  • 10 Things to Know About the Psychology of Psychotherapy

About Education: Psychology


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About the Author

After earning a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Rutgers University and then a Master of Science in Clinical and Forensic Psychology from Drexel University, Kristen began a career as a therapist at two prisons in Philadelphia. At the same time she volunteered as a rape crisis counselor, also in Philadelphia. After a few years in the field she accepted a teaching position at a local college where she currently teaches online psychology courses. Kristen began writing in college and still enjoys her work as a writer, editor, professor and mother.

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Research Entities/Labs/Projects

Applied psychology.

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Advocacy and Community-Based Trauma Studies (ACTS) Lab  

The ACTS Lab is directed by  Alisha Ali, Ph.D.  Our lab conducts research on treatments and interventions designed to help groups and individuals who have experienced trauma, violence, discrimination, and other forms of oppression. We are currently conducting a series of studies on the DE-CRUIT program which uses techniques from theatre and classical actor training in combination with elements from cognitive and narrative therapy modalities to treat trauma in military veterans. These studies are supported by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Military Psychology Division of the American Psychological Association, the Humanities Council of New York, and the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund.

CSRP Chicago School Readiness Project logo

Chicago School Readiness Project

Launched in 2003, CSRP is a federally-funded randomized control-trial intervention, which included low-income, preschool-aged children living in Chicago. The aim of CSRP is to improve preschool-aged children's chances of success in school. CSRP targets young children's emotional and behavioral adjustment through a comprehensive, classroom-based intervention in Head Start.

CSRP is currently following the children from the original sample through high school, offering a rich opportunity to model children’s trajectories of both their self-regulation and behavioral health from preschool through high school. The study is also exploring the impact of the intervention on college and career readiness.

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Chinese Families Lab (CFL)

The project draws from both the Nanjing Adolescent and Nanjing MetroBaby study, which are longitudinal, mix-methods studies with over 1100 Chinese families and children starting at 7th grade for the adolescent study and birth for the MetroBaby study. The project is led by  Dr. Niobe Way,   Dr. Hirokazu Yoshikawa ,  Dr. Sumie Okazaki,  and  Dr. Sebastian Cherng  from NYU, and is a collaboration across NYU, NYU-Shanghai, NYU-Abu Dhabi, University of Pennsylvania, and Southeast University in China. We are interested in how the changing social, economic, and cultural context influences Chinese parents' parenting practices and children’s development. The project has finished a ten-year follow-up from the MetroBaby project in 2016. Ongoing research papers under development include examining Chinese mothers’ and fathers gender socialization, adolescents' gender beliefs and their academic achievements, gender beliefs and friendship quality, parents' workplace climate and families' mental health, etc. 

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Strengthening Connections & Opportunities for Learning in and out of Schools

The  CONNECT  lab at NYU conducts research to understand and strengthen contexts for learning and mental health in low-income education settings. We study natural opportunities for academic, social, and emotional learning via productive relationships and quality interactions.

Using social network approaches, we investigate and enhance connections among children, between children and non-familial adults (educators, practitioners), and among adults who work with youth. We collaborate with school and community partners to activate internal resources to support children with and without behavioral difficulties.

The long-term goal is to increase the likelihood that more young people will have the connections and opportunities they need to succeed in school and life.

The CONNECT lab is led by  Dr. Elise Cappella , Associate Professor of Applied Psychology at NYU Steinhardt and Director of the Institute of Human Development and Social Change. 

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The Culture, Emotion, and Health Lab (CEH)

CEH is directed by  William Tsai, Ph.D.  The lab studies how people regulate their emotions, cope with stress, and how these processes lead to health and well-being. We focus our research questions on how cultural tendencies and values can shape the development and use of these processes. Our work is interdisciplinary, spanning across social, clinical, and health psychology. Recently, we have begun a line of research with ethnic minority cancer survivors, which is a population that experiences significant cancer health disparities. We are interested in applying cultural psychology theories with psychosocial interventions to overcome cultural barriers to reduce the undue burden of cancer experienced by ethnic minority cancer survivors.

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Culture, Families and Early Development (CFD) lab

CFD is directed by Dr. Gigliana Melzi . Our research focuses on family practices and the role these play in young children’s early learning and development. In our scholarship, we adopt a collaborative research stance, working in partnership with families from culturally and linguistically diverse communities. Our goal is to identify and understand the unique ways primary caregivers, especially those from Spanish-speaking and Spanish-English bilingual families, support their young children’s early learning at home and at school.

Through our research, we aim to contribute to the current body of knowledge by centering culturally and linguistically diverse families’ voices and perspectives. The priorities of the CFD lab stem from our commitment to address systemic inequities faced by children from minoritized and marginalized communities.  Our work focuses on three main areas: Family Literacy Practices, Family STEM Practices, and Family-School Connections.


Exploring People in Context

The E.P.I.C. Lab (Exploring People in Context) is directed by Selçuk Şirin Ph.D., Professor in the Applied Psychology Department at NYU Steinhardt.  The primary focus of the lab is to better understand and to enhance the lives of marginalized youth, including immigrant-origin children in New York, Muslim youth in the U.S, refugees in Turkey and Norway, and students at risk in U.S schools.  Using empirical methods with development in context as a general framework, our mission is to better understand children’s and families’ needs and to arm professionals and policymakers with this knowledge to better address the needs of the most vulnerable.

Children at the FACES Lab

The Families and Children Experiencing Success (FACES) Lab

FACES is directed by  Anil Chacko, Ph.D . The lab was developed to serve the families of youth exhibiting disruptive behavior disorders such as Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, Oppositional-Defiant Disorder, and other conduct disorders. Its research aims to understand how to develop the most effective prevention, intervention, and service models for youth with disruptive behavior disorders and related conditions, or those at high risk for developing them.

Village women with young children waiting to see a healthcare worker in a healthcare tent.

Global TIES for Children

NYU Global TIES for Children is an international research center embedded within NYU’s  Institute of Human Development and Social Change (IHDSC)  and supported by the  NYU Abu Dhabi Research Institute  and NYU New York. Established in 2014, Global TIES for Children was developed to lead efforts in generating rigorous evidence to support the best and most effective humanitarian and development aid. To date, Global TIES for Children has secured a position at the front lines of advances in methods and measures for assessing child development and for understanding variation in program impacts at multiple levels in low-income and crisis-affected contexts. 

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The Homeplace Research Collective (Homeplace)

The Homeplace Research Collective (Homeplace), directed by Dr. Lauren Mims, studies the brilliance of Black children and their families through community-engaged, child-centered Black child development research. The Homeplace Research Collective’s name is inspired by a bell hooks essay, “Homeplace (a site of resistance).” In the essay, hooks explains that for African-American people, having a homeplace meant having a place “to restore to ourselves the dignity denied to us on the outside in the public world.

Homeplace in hooks’ articulation and our research collective is a space where Black children and Black families are prioritized, valued, and affirmed. Homeplace is resistance. Homeplace is liberation. Homeplace is “where we can heal our wounds and become whole.”

Title of lab

Home School Connections Research Team

Directed by Dr. Adina Schick , the Home School Connections Team broadly addresses the socio-cultural context of children’s early literacy development, focusing on children from culturally and/or linguistically diverse backgrounds. Our work spans two main areas: (1) ways in which classrooms can incorporate culturally grounded family practices to support children’s school-based learning, and (2) discourse and linguistic features of early literacy home and school interactions, in particular oral storytelling and book sharing between teachers and the children in their classes, as well as between caregivers and children. 

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The Infant Studies of Language and Neurocognitive Development  (ISLAND)

The Infant Studies of Language and Neurocognitive Development, directed by  Dr. Natalie Brito  is a developmental psychology lab interested in the impact of the social and language environment on early neurocognitive development. The ultimate goal of the lab is to understand how to best support caregivers and create environments that foster optimal child development.

Mindful Education Lab

Housed within the Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools, the Mindful Education Lab oversees two parallel but connected programs - research and teacher training. Our Mindful Research Lab looks at the psychological and neurological effects of mindfulness on student learning, teacher effectiveness, and school and classroom climate. This work, in turn, informs our Mindful Teacher Program (MTP), which offers professional development to schools by training educators (teachers, principals, school staff) in techniques to improve their lives both in and out of school. We also train high school students in mindfulness as part of the College Prep Academy, which prepares urban youth for success in college.

Educational interventions developed by Aronson and colleagues have been successful in boosting student achievement, well being, tests scores, and learning, and have been inducted into the Department of Education’s exclusive “What Works Clearinghouse,” a collection of school interventions of carefully vetted practices deemed worthy of using in America’s schools. Dr. Hill is among the nation’s most well respected and influential statisticians and methodologists.

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Play & Language Lab

The Play & Language Lab, directed by Catherine Tamis-LeMonda, Ph.D.  studies children’s learning and development across the first years of life, with a focus on how social and cultural contexts influence the skills that children acquire and how they engage with their physical and social environments. Our observations of children and parents in structured tasks and the natural setting of their home environments, provide us with rich video records for detailed coding of children, caregivers, and context.

Pach name inside circle

The Project for the Advancement of our Common Humanity (PACH)

PACH is directed by  Niobe Way, Ph.D . PACH is an emerging think tank, funded by the NoVo Foundation and based at New York University, that is designed to engage researchers, policymakers, practitioners, activists, educators, artists, and journalists in a series of conversations focused on what we have learned from science and practice regarding what lies at the root of our crisis of connection and what we can do to create a more just and humane world. Presently, PACH entails a public lecture series and monthly conversations with 50 senior-level professionals.


The Purpose Learning Action Young Children Lab (playLab)

The playLab is directed by  Jennifer Astuto, Ph.D. Their research designed to engage in the rigorous and socially responsible scientific examination of play in young children’s lives. We utilize randomized control designs, multilevel modeling, interviews and ethnographic methods to explore the unique context of play in promoting school readiness, learning and civic engagement for children who are growing up in poverty and/or are from immigrant families. By cultivating strong partnerships with the communities we work in, we generate empirically-driven knowledge that is culturally relevant and socially just. The playLab strives to produce actionable research and develop collaborations that are used to empower and strengthen the lives of young children through education and policy.

group photo of lab

The Researching Inequity in Society Ecologically (RISE)

RISE is directed by Erin Godfrey, Ph.D.,  and  Shabnam Javdani, Ph.D . The team’s research and activities serve traditionally marginalized populations, focusing on health and mental health disparities in women and youth who are involved, or at risk of involvement, with the justice system. As such, the RISE Team takes a contextual, multi-level and interdisciplinary approach to systems change and implementing evidence-based practices promoting health and well-being, working closely with community partners to bridge the gap between research and practice.

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SAFE Spaces: Systems Aligning For Equity

Developed in partnership with the NYC Administration for Children’s Services (ACS), SAFE Spaces uses evidence-based principles to provide training and coaching support for frontline staff working in ACS Close to Home (CTH) non-secure and limited-secure placement facilities.

Through unique skills-based staff training activities and guidance from a trained coach, SAFE Spaces aims to increase the professional development, job satisfaction, retention, and well-being in CTH staff who work directly with youth. By focusing on these staff outcomes and the environment in which they work, we also help to promote and encourage a healthier environment for youth’s lives and promote their safety, well-being and positive development. The efficacy of SAFE Spaces is being assessed through a cluster-randomized control trial supported by the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH). 

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SMART Beginnings

The SMART Beginnings project tests a comprehensive approach to the promotion of school readiness in low-income families, beginning shortly after the birth of the child, through enhancement of positive parenting practices (and when present, reduction of psychosocial stressors) within the pediatric primary care platform. We do so by integrating two evidence-based interventions: 1) a universal primary prevention strategy (Video Interaction Project [VIP]); and 2) a targeted secondary/tertiary prevention strategy (Family Check-up [FCU]) for families identified as having additional risks.  Drs. Pamela Morris-Perez (NYU) , Alan Mendelsohn (NYU School of Medicine), and Daniel Shaw (University of Pittsburgh) have received support and funding for this project from the National Institutes of Health.

Crayons with a coloring child in the backgroun

Strengthening the Architecture for High Quality Universal Pre-K (NYU UPK)

Since 2014, senior leaders in education research and practice at both New York University and the NYC Department of Education Division of Early Childhood Education (DOE-DECE) have fostered a research-practice partnership to support roll out of universal pre-kindergarten through Pre-K For All improving the quality of its programming. The purpose of this partnership is to provide quantitative and capacity-building solutions to educational problems faced by the DOE-DECE.

Research Labs and Projects

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Explore West

Take advantage of what the University of West Georgia has to offer. UWG boasts 87 programs of study.

UWG offers an exciting, diverse curriculum that allows its students to flourish and become community and world leaders.

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Learn by Experience.

UWG Psychology is committed to giving students at all levels the opportunity to conduct original research in a variety of innovative subject areas.

explore your interests

We welcome you to participate in our ongoing labs and projects—and find the one that is right for you. Please contact the faculty listed in each subject area below to get involved in research and gain valuable experience that you can apply to future careers in psychology.

Exceptional Experiences Research Lab (EERL)

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Dr. Christine Simmonds-Moore conducts research on exceptional experiences, including alterations in consciousness, experimental parapsychology (i.e. extrasensory perception and mind-matter interactions), subjective paranormal phenomena, and transpersonal/spiritual experiences. Her projects include psychometry, float tank experiences, and extrasensory perception, in addition to ecological consciousness and extrasensory perception. Other members of the lab include Dr. Jake Glazier who conducts research on local folklore.

Narrative Research

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Dr. James Christopher Head conducts narrative research that explores narrators’ experiential accounts in order to understand how they navigate the material conditions of their lives, construct meaning from those experiences, and negotiate the psychological complexity of those meanings. He is currently supporting a group of doctoral students to construct narrative research projects that investigate narrators’ navigation and negotiation of salient historical moments. This working group is an extension of the Narrative Psychology course (PSYC-7810B). 

Phenomenological Art Collective

abstract painting by student Robin Butler

The Phenomenological Art Collective is an arts-based research lab launched by Dr. Nisha Gupta that guides UWG students to disseminate qualitative research to the public through the expressive arts for community healing, psychoeducation, and social change. The lab teaches students a three-step process that follows the methodology of arts-based phenomenological research for public scholarship:

  • Conducting phenomenological research about people’s psychological and sociocultural experiences
  • Expressing research findings as art such as film, poetry, and paintings
  • Exploring ideas to disseminate the phenomenological art to the public to initiate therapeutic community dialogues through workshops, screenings, exhibitions, and events. 

Living Language Lab

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Dr. Marie-Cécile Bertau engages a group of graduate students in research around language viewed as a dialogical process that relates the interpersonal with the intrapersonal dimensions of experience. The group investigates:

  • How different voices are lived and experienced by individuals
  • How voices influence meaning-(form)-making
  • How the collective or cultural voice belonging to a community’s social-cultural norms and beliefs is represented through media, on objects and buildings, and through certain others.

Besides understanding and further developing theorizing, the lab allows common analyses of language data that translate into students’ research projects.

Psychological Studies of Science and Technology (PSST!)

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Dr. Lisa Osbeck works with students to explore the psychological dimensions of science—science as practiced by persons—which overlaps with the philosophical study of science and with science and technology studies (STS). Student projects have included studies relating to replication, generalizability, the psychology of model development, imagination in science, motivation for commitment to environmental science, psychological case studies of scientists, and values in psychology, using theoretical and qualitative inquiry. 

The Phenomenology of Moral Injury

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Dr. Richard La Fleur works with students on research that explores the challenges veterans face as they navigate the difficulties of transitioning to civilian life after life in the military. Moral injury has been one of the most misunderstood experiences of reintegration and moves into the psychological and transpersonal framework of a soul injury. Dr. La Fleur's students help examine the lived experiences of veterans through qualitative analysis to represent those who are suffering. Future work includes exploring moral injury in groups such as first responders, healthcare workers (especially as a response to COVID-19), and other high-stakes groups. Additionally, it would be important to take a closer look at moral injury in everyday living.

Clinical Ethnography Lab

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Dr. Talia Weiner works with students to use ethnographic research methodologies to explore the intersections of clinical interactions, cultural conventions, political processes, and lived experiences. By reading and producing ethnography, students in this working group analyze questions about the interplay between psychiatric expertise and individual experiences of mental illness, interrogate psychiatry and psychology as social institutions, and reflect on the role of the ethnographer’s situated subjectivity in the research process.

Discourse and Social Interaction Lab

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Dr. Neill Korobov works with graduate students to both conduct and read discourse analytic research—critical discourse analysis and applied conversation analysis—around a range of topics that include identity, gender, and romantic partnerships. For the last several years, he has worked with students to explore the ways couples pursue intimacy, connect, and create affiliation while bantering, telling stories, arguing, and sharing their desires. 

15 Famous Experiments and Case Studies in Psychology

psychology theories, explained below

Psychology has seen thousands upon thousands of research studies over the years. Most of these studies have helped shape our current understanding of human thoughts, behavior, and feelings.

The psychology case studies in this list are considered classic examples of psychological case studies and experiments, which are still being taught in introductory psychology courses up to this day.

Some studies, however, were downright shocking and controversial that you’d probably wonder why such studies were conducted back in the day. Imagine participating in an experiment for a small reward or extra class credit, only to be left scarred for life. These kinds of studies, however, paved the way for a more ethical approach to studying psychology and implementation of research standards such as the use of debriefing in psychology research .

Case Study vs. Experiment

Before we dive into the list of the most famous studies in psychology, let us first review the difference between case studies and experiments.

  • It is an in-depth study and analysis of an individual, group, community, or phenomenon. The results of a case study cannot be applied to the whole population, but they can provide insights for further studies.
  • It often uses qualitative research methods such as observations, surveys, and interviews.
  • It is often conducted in real-life settings rather than in controlled environments.
  • An experiment is a type of study done on a sample or group of random participants, the results of which can be generalized to the whole population.
  • It often uses quantitative research methods that rely on numbers and statistics.
  • It is conducted in controlled environments, wherein some things or situations are manipulated.

See Also: Experimental vs Observational Studies

Famous Experiments in Psychology

1. the marshmallow experiment.

Psychologist Walter Mischel conducted the marshmallow experiment at Stanford University in the 1960s to early 1970s. It was a simple test that aimed to define the connection between delayed gratification and success in life.

The instructions were fairly straightforward: children ages 4-6 were presented a piece of marshmallow on a table and they were told that they would receive a second piece if they could wait for 15 minutes without eating the first marshmallow.

About one-third of the 600 participants succeeded in delaying gratification to receive the second marshmallow. Mischel and his team followed up on these participants in the 1990s, learning that those who had the willpower to wait for a larger reward experienced more success in life in terms of SAT scores and other metrics.

This case study also supported self-control theory , a theory in criminology that holds that people with greater self-control are less likely to end up in trouble with the law!

The classic marshmallow experiment, however, was debunked in a 2018 replication study done by Tyler Watts and colleagues.

This more recent experiment had a larger group of participants (900) and a better representation of the general population when it comes to race and ethnicity. In this study, the researchers found out that the ability to wait for a second marshmallow does not depend on willpower alone but more so on the economic background and social status of the participants.

2. The Bystander Effect

In 1694, Kitty Genovese was murdered in the neighborhood of Kew Gardens, New York. It was told that there were up to 38 witnesses and onlookers in the vicinity of the crime scene, but nobody did anything to stop the murder or call for help.

Such tragedy was the catalyst that inspired social psychologists Bibb Latane and John Darley to formulate the phenomenon called bystander effect or bystander apathy .

Subsequent investigations showed that this story was exaggerated and inaccurate, as there were actually only about a dozen witnesses, at least two of whom called the police. But the case of Kitty Genovese led to various studies that aim to shed light on the bystander phenomenon.

Latane and Darley tested bystander intervention in an experimental study . Participants were asked to answer a questionnaire inside a room, and they would either be alone or with two other participants (who were actually actors or confederates in the study). Smoke would then come out from under the door. The reaction time of participants was tested — how long would it take them to report the smoke to the authorities or the experimenters?

The results showed that participants who were alone in the room reported the smoke faster than participants who were with two passive others. The study suggests that the more onlookers are present in an emergency situation, the less likely someone would step up to help, a social phenomenon now popularly called the bystander effect.

3. Asch Conformity Study

Have you ever made a decision against your better judgment just to fit in with your friends or family? The Asch Conformity Studies will help you understand this kind of situation better.

In this experiment, a group of participants were shown three numbered lines of different lengths and asked to identify the longest of them all. However, only one true participant was present in every group and the rest were actors, most of whom told the wrong answer.

Results showed that the participants went for the wrong answer, even though they knew which line was the longest one in the first place. When the participants were asked why they identified the wrong one, they said that they didn’t want to be branded as strange or peculiar.

This study goes to show that there are situations in life when people prefer fitting in than being right. It also tells that there is power in numbers — a group’s decision can overwhelm a person and make them doubt their judgment.

4. The Bobo Doll Experiment

The Bobo Doll Experiment was conducted by Dr. Albert Bandura, the proponent of social learning theory .

Back in the 1960s, the Nature vs. Nurture debate was a popular topic among psychologists. Bandura contributed to this discussion by proposing that human behavior is mostly influenced by environmental rather than genetic factors.

In the Bobo Doll Experiment, children were divided into three groups: one group was shown a video in which an adult acted aggressively toward the Bobo Doll, the second group was shown a video in which an adult play with the Bobo Doll, and the third group served as the control group where no video was shown.

The children were then led to a room with different kinds of toys, including the Bobo Doll they’ve seen in the video. Results showed that children tend to imitate the adults in the video. Those who were presented the aggressive model acted aggressively toward the Bobo Doll while those who were presented the passive model showed less aggression.

While the Bobo Doll Experiment can no longer be replicated because of ethical concerns, it has laid out the foundations of social learning theory and helped us understand the degree of influence adult behavior has on children.

5. Blue Eye / Brown Eye Experiment

Following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, third-grade teacher Jane Elliott conducted an experiment in her class. Although not a formal experiment in controlled settings, A Class Divided is a good example of a social experiment to help children understand the concept of racism and discrimination.

The class was divided into two groups: blue-eyed children and brown-eyed children. For one day, Elliott gave preferential treatment to her blue-eyed students, giving them more attention and pampering them with rewards. The next day, it was the brown-eyed students’ turn to receive extra favors and privileges.

As a result, whichever group of students was given preferential treatment performed exceptionally well in class, had higher quiz scores, and recited more frequently; students who were discriminated against felt humiliated, answered poorly in tests, and became uncertain with their answers in class.

This study is now widely taught in sociocultural psychology classes.

6. Stanford Prison Experiment

One of the most controversial and widely-cited studies in psychology is the Stanford Prison Experiment , conducted by Philip Zimbardo at the basement of the Stanford psychology building in 1971. The hypothesis was that abusive behavior in prisons is influenced by the personality traits of the prisoners and prison guards.

The participants in the experiment were college students who were randomly assigned as either a prisoner or a prison guard. The prison guards were then told to run the simulated prison for two weeks. However, the experiment had to be stopped in just 6 days.

The prison guards abused their authority and harassed the prisoners through verbal and physical means. The prisoners, on the other hand, showed submissive behavior. Zimbardo decided to stop the experiment because the prisoners were showing signs of emotional and physical breakdown.

Although the experiment wasn’t completed, the results strongly showed that people can easily get into a social role when others expect them to, especially when it’s highly stereotyped .

7. The Halo Effect

Have you ever wondered why toothpastes and other dental products are endorsed in advertisements by celebrities more often than dentists? The Halo Effect is one of the reasons!

The Halo Effect shows how one favorable attribute of a person can gain them positive perceptions in other attributes. In the case of product advertisements, attractive celebrities are also perceived as intelligent and knowledgeable of a certain subject matter even though they’re not technically experts.

The Halo Effect originated in a classic study done by Edward Thorndike in the early 1900s. He asked military commanding officers to rate their subordinates based on different qualities, such as physical appearance, leadership, dependability, and intelligence.

The results showed that high ratings of a particular quality influences the ratings of other qualities, producing a halo effect of overall high ratings. The opposite also applied, which means that a negative rating in one quality also correlated to negative ratings in other qualities.

Experiments on the Halo Effect came in various formats as well, supporting Thorndike’s original theory. This phenomenon suggests that our perception of other people’s overall personality is hugely influenced by a quality that we focus on.

8. Cognitive Dissonance

There are experiences in our lives when our beliefs and behaviors do not align with each other and we try to justify them in our minds. This is cognitive dissonance , which was studied in an experiment by Leon Festinger and James Carlsmith back in 1959.

In this experiment, participants had to go through a series of boring and repetitive tasks, such as spending an hour turning pegs in a wooden knob. After completing the tasks, they were then paid either $1 or $20 to tell the next participants that the tasks were extremely fun and enjoyable. Afterwards, participants were asked to rate the experiment. Those who were given $1 rated the experiment as more interesting and fun than those who received $20.

The results showed that those who received a smaller incentive to lie experienced cognitive dissonance — $1 wasn’t enough incentive for that one hour of painstakingly boring activity, so the participants had to justify that they had fun anyway.

Famous Case Studies in Psychology

9. little albert.

In 1920, behaviourist theorists John Watson and Rosalie Rayner experimented on a 9-month-old baby to test the effects of classical conditioning in instilling fear in humans.

This was such a controversial study that it gained popularity in psychology textbooks and syllabi because it is a classic example of unethical research studies done in the name of science.

In one of the experiments, Little Albert was presented with a harmless stimulus or object, a white rat, which he wasn’t scared of at first. But every time Little Albert would see the white rat, the researchers would play a scary sound of hammer and steel. After about 6 pairings, Little Albert learned to fear the rat even without the scary sound.

Little Albert developed signs of fear to different objects presented to him through classical conditioning . He even generalized his fear to other stimuli not present in the course of the experiment.

10. Phineas Gage

Phineas Gage is such a celebrity in Psych 101 classes, even though the way he rose to popularity began with a tragic accident. He was a resident of Central Vermont and worked in the construction of a new railway line in the mid-1800s. One day, an explosive went off prematurely, sending a tamping iron straight into his face and through his brain.

Gage survived the accident, fortunately, something that is considered a feat even up to this day. He managed to find a job as a stagecoach after the accident. However, his family and friends reported that his personality changed so much that “he was no longer Gage” (Harlow, 1868).

New evidence on the case of Phineas Gage has since come to light, thanks to modern scientific studies and medical tests. However, there are still plenty of mysteries revolving around his brain damage and subsequent recovery.

11. Anna O.

Anna O., a social worker and feminist of German Jewish descent, was one of the first patients to receive psychoanalytic treatment.

Her real name was Bertha Pappenheim and she inspired much of Sigmund Freud’s works and books on psychoanalytic theory, although they hadn’t met in person. Their connection was through Joseph Breuer, Freud’s mentor when he was still starting his clinical practice.

Anna O. suffered from paralysis, personality changes, hallucinations, and rambling speech, but her doctors could not find the cause. Joseph Breuer was then called to her house for intervention and he performed psychoanalysis, also called the “talking cure”, on her.

Breuer would tell Anna O. to say anything that came to her mind, such as her thoughts, feelings, and childhood experiences. It was noted that her symptoms subsided by talking things out.

However, Breuer later referred Anna O. to the Bellevue Sanatorium, where she recovered and set out to be a renowned writer and advocate of women and children.

12. Patient HM

H.M., or Henry Gustav Molaison, was a severe amnesiac who had been the subject of countless psychological and neurological studies.

Henry was 27 when he underwent brain surgery to cure the epilepsy that he had been experiencing since childhood. In an unfortunate turn of events, he lost his memory because of the surgery and his brain also became unable to store long-term memories.

He was then regarded as someone living solely in the present, forgetting an experience as soon as it happened and only remembering bits and pieces of his past. Over the years, his amnesia and the structure of his brain had helped neuropsychologists learn more about cognitive functions .

Suzanne Corkin, a researcher, writer, and good friend of H.M., recently published a book about his life. Entitled Permanent Present Tense , this book is both a memoir and a case study following the struggles and joys of Henry Gustav Molaison.

13. Chris Sizemore

Chris Sizemore gained celebrity status in the psychology community when she was diagnosed with multiple personality disorder, now known as dissociative identity disorder.

Sizemore has several alter egos, which included Eve Black, Eve White, and Jane. Various papers about her stated that these alter egos were formed as a coping mechanism against the traumatic experiences she underwent in her childhood.

Sizemore said that although she has succeeded in unifying her alter egos into one dominant personality, there were periods in the past experienced by only one of her alter egos. For example, her husband married her Eve White alter ego and not her.

Her story inspired her psychiatrists to write a book about her, entitled The Three Faces of Eve , which was then turned into a 1957 movie of the same title.

14. David Reimer

When David was just 8 months old, he lost his penis because of a botched circumcision operation.

Psychologist John Money then advised Reimer’s parents to raise him as a girl instead, naming him Brenda. His gender reassignment was supported by subsequent surgery and hormonal therapy.

Money described Reimer’s gender reassignment as a success, but problems started to arise as Reimer was growing up. His boyishness was not completely subdued by the hormonal therapy. When he was 14 years old, he learned about the secrets of his past and he underwent gender reassignment to become male again.

Reimer became an advocate for children undergoing the same difficult situation he had been. His life story ended when he was 38 as he took his own life.

15. Kim Peek

Kim Peek was the inspiration behind Rain Man , an Oscar-winning movie about an autistic savant character played by Dustin Hoffman.

The movie was released in 1988, a time when autism wasn’t widely known and acknowledged yet. So it was an eye-opener for many people who watched the film.

In reality, Kim Peek was a non-autistic savant. He was exceptionally intelligent despite the brain abnormalities he was born with. He was like a walking encyclopedia, knowledgeable about travel routes, US zip codes, historical facts, and classical music. He also read and memorized approximately 12,000 books in his lifetime.

This list of experiments and case studies in psychology is just the tip of the iceberg! There are still countless interesting psychology studies that you can explore if you want to learn more about human behavior and dynamics.

You can also conduct your own mini-experiment or participate in a study conducted in your school or neighborhood. Just remember that there are ethical standards to follow so as not to repeat the lasting physical and emotional harm done to Little Albert or the Stanford Prison Experiment participants.

Asch, S. E. (1956). Studies of independence and conformity: I. A minority of one against a unanimous majority. Psychological Monographs: General and Applied, 70 (9), 1–70. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0093718

Bandura, A., Ross, D., & Ross, S. A. (1961). Transmission of aggression through imitation of aggressive models. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 63 (3), 575–582. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0045925

Elliott, J., Yale University., WGBH (Television station : Boston, Mass.), & PBS DVD (Firm). (2003). A class divided. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Films.

Festinger, L., & Carlsmith, J. M. (1959). Cognitive consequences of forced compliance. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 58 (2), 203–210. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0041593

Haney, C., Banks, W. C., & Zimbardo, P. G. (1973). A study of prisoners and guards in a simulated prison. Naval Research Review , 30 , 4-17.

Latane, B., & Darley, J. M. (1968). Group inhibition of bystander intervention in emergencies. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 10 (3), 215–221. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0026570

Mischel, W. (2014). The Marshmallow Test: Mastering self-control. Little, Brown and Co.

Thorndike, E. (1920) A Constant Error in Psychological Ratings. Journal of Applied Psychology , 4 , 25-29. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/h0071663

Watson, J. B., & Rayner, R. (1920). Conditioned emotional reactions. Journal of experimental psychology , 3 (1), 1.


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Laboratory Experiments

Last updated 22 Mar 2021

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Experiments look for the effect that manipulated variables (independent variables, or IVs) have on measured variables (dependent variables, or DVs), i.e. causal effects.

Laboratory experiments pay particular attention to eliminating the effects of other, extraneous variables, by controlling them (i.e. removing or keeping them constant) in an artificial environment. This makes it more likely for researchers to find a causal effect, having confidence that no variables other than changes in an IV can affect a resulting DV. Laboratory experiments are the most heavily controlled form of experimental research.

Participants can also be randomly allocated to experimental conditions, to avoid experimenter bias (i.e. the experimenter cannot be accused of choosing who will be in each experimental condition, which could affect the results).

Evaluation of laboratory experiments:

- High control over extraneous variables means that they cannot confound the results, so a ‘cause and effect’ relationship between the IV and DV is often assumed.

- Results of laboratory experiments tend to be reliable, as the conditions created (and thus results produced) can be replicated.

- Variables can be measured accurately with the tools made available in a laboratory setting, which may otherwise be impossible for experiments conducted ‘in the field’ (field experiments).

- Data collected may lack ecological validity, as the artificial nature of laboratory experiments can cast doubt over whether the results reflect the nature of real life scenarios.

- There is a high risk of demand characteristics, i.e. participants may alter their behaviour based on their interpretation of the purpose of the experiment.

- There is also a risk of experimenter bias, e.g. researchers’ expectations may affect how they interact with participants (affecting participants’ behaviour), or alter their interpretation of the results.

  • Laboratory Experiment

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What Happens in a Psychology Laboratory?

  • By Sean Jackson
  • Published November 19, 2019
  • Last Updated November 14, 2023
  • Read Time 6 mins

psychology lab

Posted November 2019 by Sean Jackson, B.A. Social Studies Education, B.S.I.T.; M.S. Counseling; 6 updates since. Reading time: 6 min. Reading level: Grade 9+. Questions on psychology labs? Email Toni at: [email protected] .

The first experimental psychology laboratory was opened by Wilhelm Wundt at the University of Leipzig in 1879.

In the nearly 150 years since, psychologists have been researching human behavior in these controlled settings with great success, garnering much insight into human behavior.

But beyond “studying human behavior,” what happens in a psychology laboratory?

What is a Psychology Lab?

To explain what happens in a psychology lab, we must first answer the question, “What is a psychology lab?” The answer to this question really depends on the type of lab that’s being discussed.

As you well know, psychology is a widely varied discipline with dozens of areas of specialty. This means that there are many different areas of psychological research, each of which requires a lab environment that might vary from one specialty to the next.

We’ll get into some of the different types of psychology labs in a moment, but for now, just understand that the general purpose of any psychology lab is to create a controlled environment in which researchers can study human behavior. This level of control is of the utmost importance in psychology laboratory work.

This is because psychology labs are founded on the notion of the scientific method – that a hypothesis must be formed, tested, and accepted or rejected under very strictly designed conditions.

The goal, of course, is to manipulate the independent variable (the factor that causes behavior) and measure the dependent variable (or the effect caused by the independent variable) in a setting that minimizes confounding conditions.

The goal of doing so is to establish a better understanding of why people do the things they do. Of course, this is the whole purpose of psychology – to study human behavior. But to do so in an environment in which researchers have pinpoint control over what happens and when allows psychologists to study very fine details of human behavior and thought.

What Kind of Psychology Laboratories are There?

As noted earlier, psychology is a widely varied field, so depending on the research under study, psychology labs might have a very different look.

For example, let’s assume that the research being conducted is on cognition and brain functioning.

This being the case, the psychology lab might be equipped with a functional MRI machine that allows psychological researchers to measure and record a subject’s brain activity.

These measurements rely on the changes in blood flow in the brain – movement of blood in the brain goes hand in hand with the activation of neurons. That means that depending on the task the subject is performing, a different area of their brain will be activated. The fMRI shows this by highlighting the active areas of the brain.

So, a lab like this uses very sophisticated equipment to answer questions about how people think, factors that influence attention, and that might lead to insights on how people can improve their ability to focus as they complete a task.

On the other side of the spectrum is a psychology lab built to simply observe what the subject or subjects are doing.

For example, some labs have a room set up with a two-way mirror. This allows researchers behind the mirror to silently observe what’s going on on the other side. A lab like this might be used by developmental psychologists to observe the playmaking activities of toddlers in a social setting.

Likewise, many labs have small interview rooms in which a researcher can meet with a subject in a one-on-one setting for things like interviews or for administering a questionnaire or a test of some kind, like an IQ test.

There are even virtual psychology labs today where psychology students can engage in learning about classic psychology research, see how to design and carry out experiments, and learn about the science of investigation.

In other words, no two psychology labs are alike.

What Equipment is Used in Psychology Labs?

As you might have guessed, the psychology lab equipment list will be different from one lab to the next.

Most labs will have basic office equipment like computers and computer software, writing utensils, desks, chairs, and so forth. But as the type of research becomes more specialized, different kinds of lab equipment are necessary.

For example, if the research question relates to how attractive a person’s face is perceived to be based on the symmetry of the person’s face, researchers would need the appropriate software to create sample images of faces with varying degrees of symmetry. What’s more, they would need a computer and screen to display the faces of the experimental subjects.

As another example, if the research question relates to how viewing violent videos or video games affects one’s physiological functioning, researchers might utilize machines like an electrocardiogram to record the subject’s heart activity, or they might use a Biopac system, which records both the heart rate of the subject and their skin conductance, or the activity of sweat glands in response to arousal and stress.

Some labs look more like classroom settings, while others have more of an office feel. Yet others are full of complex machinery that’s used to collect or interpret data.

Despite these examples being quite different from one another, the ultimate goal of the lab is the same – to collect data from subjects in an environment that is as controlled as possible from outside variables or influence.

By controlling possible confounding variables in a lab setting, researchers can more clearly establish a cause and effect relationship between the independent and dependent variables.

What is the Importance of Psychology Laboratory Research?

As noted earlier, laboratory research allows psychologists to more clearly link cause and effect, thus pinpointing why certain behaviors occur in certain conditions. And since experiments are undertaken in a controlled environment using standardized procedures, they are much more easily replicated by other researchers.

This replication component is crucial, as it allows researchers to:

  • Identify potential mistakes in the original research
  • Provide an opportunity for other researchers to review the work
  • Publish their research (published work must have a section on experimental methods that allow others to replicate the study)
  • Check for confounding variables, or variables that unintentionally influenced the results of the study
  • Avoid retractions (if research is replicated and confirmed, the likelihood that a researcher has to retract their findings is minimized)

Aside from the research components above, psychology laboratory research is important for developing a better understanding of human behavior.

While other research methods like naturalistic observation and self-reporting are extremely valuable tools for psychological research, they cannot offer researchers nearly the same level of control over the environment as laboratory studies.

More Psychology Articles of Interest:

  • Tips For Designing Psychology Experiments
  • How Psychologists Use Deception
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  • How is the Field of Psychology Changing?
  • Top Ten Online Resources for Teaching Psychology

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Phylab – a virtual reality laboratory for experiments in physics: a pilot study on intervention effectiveness and gender differences.

Selma Korlat

  • 1 Department for Psychology of Development and Education, Faculty of Psychology, University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria
  • 2 Entertainment Computing, Faculty of Computer Science, University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria

Introduction: New technologies have great potential to facilitate students’ understanding and appreciation of one of the most abstract and challenging school subjects – physics. This study aimed to examine the effects of a game-based virtual reality teaching method on secondary school students’ self-beliefs, interest, and performance in physics through a quasi-experimental design using pre- and post-test data. The evaluation is based on the systemic actiotope model that explains a person’s goal-oriented actions by an interplay of their environment, action repertoire (i.e., students’ performance and interest in physics), and subjective action space (i.e., students’ self-efficacy, self-concept, and implicit theories regarding physics).

Method: A game-based virtual reality App to be used with Google cardboards was developed containing 10 teaching units from the secondary school physics class curriculum. Participants in the control group were taught using traditional teaching methods, while students in the experimental group went through the VR with the teacher and conducted the prepared VR experiments in addition to the traditionally presented content. Three tests measured students’ physics performance during the semester. In addition, students answered questionnaires assessing their interest, self-efficacy, self-concept, and entity implicit theories regarding physics before and after the intervention, resulting in a Pretest-Posttest Control Group Design.

Results: There were no significant differences between the control and experimental group in test scores on the first and second tests but compared to the control group, the experimental group achieved higher scores on the third test. In addition, the results indicate differential effects of the game-based virtual reality teaching method on students’ interest and self-efficacy regarding physics to the advantage of students identifying as male, but no effects on students’ self-concept, and entity implicit theories regarding physics.

Discussion: The results of our pilot study suggest that incorporating innovative didactic methods into secondary school physics classes could potentially contribute to higher performance in and motivation for physics during this crucial period of adolescence when students develop educational and career aspirations. However, game-based virtual reality teaching methods seem to favor students identifying as male, which should be considered in their development and presentation. Other practical implications for practitioners and researchers are discussed.


In the last few decades, there is a consistent growth of engineering and technical industry. Consequently, the importance of skills, as well as the earning potential of careers in physics and related STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields is increasing ( Diekman et al., 2017 ). Nevertheless, data consistently shows decreasing numbers of students who pursue scientific degrees and are interested in STEM fields ( Vu and Feinstein, 2017 ). The declining course enrollment in physical science subjects is due to the high perceived difficulty of these subjects even among high achieving students ( Osborne et al., 2003 ; Lyons, 2006 ). Indeed, studies suggest that students perceive physics as one of the most difficult and most disliked of all school subjects ( Osborne et al., 2003 ; Kessels, 2005 ). Accordingly, research has found that interest in physics continuously declines from ages 11–16 ( Bennett and Hogarth, 2009 ; Vahedi and Yari, 2014 ). Against this backdrop, scholars have called for interventions to motivate students for physics’ learning ( Graves et al., 2017 ), especially in the period of the transition to secondary school, ( Wang et al., 2017 ) when career aspirations are being developed and educational trajectories are being chosen ( Eccles, 2009 ). This is particularly important among girls, as women are significantly underrepresented in physics and STEM-related fields compared to men ( Eccles, 2009 ), which is already visible in their lower occupational aspirations in these fields during adolescence (e.g., OECD, 2012 ; Wegemer and Eccles, 2019 ). Intervention programs promoting physics engagement should promote performance and motivational factors in a comprehensive way to improve students’ education and career prospects regardless of gender and also be innovative and entertaining for students. Thereby new technologies have great potential to facilitate students’ understanding and appreciation of physics (e.g., Wieman and Perkins, 2005 ; Chandra and Watters, 2012 ). The goal of this study is to examine the effects of a game-based teaching method using virtual reality on secondary students’ performance, interest and self-beliefs regarding physics.

Physics in secondary school education

Learning to solve physics problems is an important goal of secondary education ( Pol et al., 2008 ). Students, however, perceive physics as a demanding, theoretical, abstract, and labor-intensive subject ( Angell et al., 2004 ). Many of them struggle to solve problems in which physics knowledge must be applied ( Pol et al., 2008 ). Kessels (2005) used the implicit association test and showed that students associate physics with difficulty more than ease and with unpleasantness more than pleasure. This seems to be particularly pronounced among girls who often report lower beliefs in their abilities and lower fitness in physics than boys (e.g., Nissen and Shemwell, 2016 ; Henderson et al., 2020 ). A binary representation of gender, as represented in these studies, is increasingly criticized, and more and more young people in Western Europe are identifying as non-binary (e.g., Paechter et al., 2021 ; Bower-Brown et al., 2023 ). Current approaches to analyzing gender explicitly incorporate “ideas of the fluidly embodied, socially constructed, and self-constructed aspects of social identity, along with the dynamic interaction and integration of these aspects of identity within the narratives of lived experiences” ( Nagoshi and Brzuzy, 2010 , p. 432). Nevertheless, the existing research on attitudes toward and motivation for physics focuses on differences between students identifying as male or female and traditional gender stereotypes in this domain.

Given its complexity and abstractness, it might be difficult for students to grasp and capture the link between the theoretical scientific background and physical representation of physics concepts. Accordingly, Dounas-Frazer and Lewandowski (2018) suggested explicitly supporting and visualizing such links during experimenting processes ( Thees et al., 2020 ). Moreover, learning scientific concepts in physics from different modes in which the content is presented and explained has been shown to be highly beneficial for students’ understanding ( Etkina et al., 2006 ; Treagust et al., 2017 ). However, the secondary school curriculum in Austria, unlike university laboratory courses, includes little experimental work and only a few opportunities for students to experience physics phenomena. Thus, traditional teaching methods at the secondary school level might be unsuitable for a deep understanding of physics concepts, especially in a rapidly evolving, technology-saturated world ( Figueroa-Flores, 2016 ).

Game-based learning

With the advancement in technology in the past decades, new forms of teaching have emerged ( Hussein and Natterdal, 2022 ), introducing gaming in primary and secondary school education (e.g., Rachels and Rockinson-Szapkiw, 2018 ; Zainuddin, 2018 ; Ioannou, 2019 ), as well as higher education (e.g., Huang and Hew, 2018 ) to promote desired behavior and learning outcomes ( Zainuddin, 2018 ). The term game-based learning (GBL) refers to the utilization of games in education. “Serious games” aim to achieve defined learning outcomes by involving playful problem-solving challenges which provide learners, who are also players, with a sense of achievement ( Qian and Clark, 2016 ). These didactic practices have been found to be accompanied by positive educational attainment, such as knowledge acquisition and content understanding ( Connolly et al., 2012 ; Vlachopoulos and Makri, 2017 ), as well as academic performance improvement (for a systematic review see Krath et al., 2021 ). For example, Chung and Chang (2014) investigated acquisition of first aid knowledge and language skills and found that the learning achievements of both genders in the experimental group who learned with GBL method were significantly higher than those of the control group that was taught by the traditional teaching method. Similarly, Chung and Chang (2014) showed that students who learned natural science content using the GBL environment significantly outperformed their peers who learned with the conventional e-learning approach. A systematic review ( Boyle et al., 2016 ) comprising 129 papers ranging from 2004 to 2009 and 143 papers from 2009 to 2014 showed that using serious games not only promoted students’ knowledge acquisition and performance but also led to positive behavioral changes in terms of cognitive, motivational, emotional, and social benefits. Previous studies applying GBL in STEM subjects confirmed its positive effects (e.g., Vu and Feinstein, 2017 ; Hussein et al., 2019 ). For instance, Sung and Hwang (2013) reported that students who learned with serious games had significantly higher learning performance and attitude toward science compared to students in the control group who played the standard version of the game. A recent study that focused on GBL in physics ( Kao et al., 2017 ) showed that students who learned with GBL scored significantly higher on their concept maps (knowledge acquisition measure) than those who did not use the game.

Virtual reality learning

Recently, game-based virtual reality (VR) learning environments, where learning content is incorporated into gameplay accessed through virtual reality, have garnered much attention among researchers due to their combination of usability and likability ( Virvou and Katsionis, 2008 ). Virtual reality simulates or replicates aspects of the physical world ( Makransky and Lilleholt, 2018 ), and can be presented through both non-immersive monitor interfaces and immersive head-mount devices (HMDs). This technology engenders realistic and engrossing experiences, expanding the scope of scenarios compared to traditional real-life teaching ( Howard and Gutworth, 2020 ). The application of VR in education can help to provide more active, constructivist learning, increase the frequency of authentic learning experiences, and provides an arena for visualizing abstract concepts concretely ( Hu Au and Lee, 2017 ), thereby promoting students’ engagement and motivation ( Araiza-Alba et al., 2021 ; Shi et al., 2022 ). As such, game-based virtual reality learning environments seem to be a well-suited medium for facilitating students’ comprehension of physics concepts. Especially with the increasing accessibility of Google Cardboard and its applicability and user-friendliness with any smartphone, VR became an obtainable and convenient instrument for newer generations’ learning process in and outside of the classroom ( Hussein and Natterdal, 2022 ). Thus, the utilization of such tools provides an opportunity of conducting experimental lab work in secondary school classes. Moreover, it could contribute to a decrease in gender disparities in this context, as significant gender differences in participation in lab work have been shown, with men mainly taking over the equipment and management of the apparatus in the onsite setting ( Holmes et al., 2014 ).

Studies integrating VR with GBL found significant improvement in students’ learning motivation, positive learning experiences ( Christopoulos et al., 2023 ) and learning outcomes, such as learners’ ability in recall processes, as well as enhancement of their cognitive thinking and problem-solving abilities (Shi et al., 2019). Previous studies have shown clear advantages of VR across different STEM fields in terms of students’ positive attitudes, engagement, and performance (for a review see Pellas et al., 2020 ). New studies that focused specifically on physics ( Bogusevschi et al., 2020 ) showed a significantly greater knowledge gain in students using a VR application compared to students who learned without VR. Pirker et al. (2022) reported increased motivation in students who used VR in physics education, as well as higher interest and positive emotions related to VR compared to traditional teaching methods.

Theoretical framework

The attempts to increase students’ proactivity in physics should focus not only on enhancing students’ current performance, but also promote the factors that ensure long-term engagement in the field. Against this backdrop, the actiotope model that explains human actions based on system theory ( Ziegler et al., 2006 , 2011 ) serves as a helpful framework for comprehensively evaluating intervention effectiveness (e.g., Kollmayer et al., 2019 ). According to the model, an individual’s actiotope consists of four interacting components: environment, goals, action repertoire, and subjective action space. The environment refers to the material and symbolic framework for an individual’s goal-oriented actions. Goals can be defined as an individual’s ambitions or desired results in a certain area of life. The action repertoire characterizes all forms of goal-oriented behavior which an individual is theoretically capable of performing. The subjective action space contains all behavior a person perceives as feasible for themselves. According to the actiotope model, the process of transforming the current situation into a desired future state is regulated by the individual’s action repertoire, subjective action space and the behavior options given in a specific environment ( Kollmayer et al., 2020 ). Thus, students’ learning environment in physics should promote their action repertoire and subjective action space in order to affect their educational and career goals in this field.

In our study, students’ action repertoire is represented by their academic performance and interest in physics, while their subjective action space is represented by their self-efficacy, academic self-concept, and implicit theories regarding physics (see Figure 1 ). Previous studies indicated self-efficacy (one’s judgment of how well or poorly one will cope with a situation or task; Bandura, 2001 ), academic self-concept (a description of one’s own perceived self in a given achievement situation which may include an evaluative judgment of self-worth; Guay et al., 2004 ) and entity implicit theories (beliefs that abilities in a specific field cannot be changed; Dweck et al., 1995 ) as self-beliefs that that strongly influence students’ persistence and later attainment in STEM field (e.g., Bong and Skaalvik, 2003 ; Fencl and Scheel, 2005 ; Cury et al., 2006 ; Shively and Ryan, 2013 ; Dai and Cromley, 2014 ; Sax et al., 2015 ). In addition to that, interest, as a content-specific motivational characteristic composed of intrinsic feeling-related and value-related valences, has been confirmed as an important predictor of student achievement, further engagement in advanced subject courses, and future career aspirations in STEM fields (e.g., Kang and Keinonen, 2018 ). A game-based VR learning environment incorporated in the traditional school environment as a new setting could promote students’ action repertoire and subjective action space, thus facilitating career and education goals in physics.


Figure 1 . The actiotope model.

Present study

This quasi-experimental study aimed to integrate game-based VR learning in secondary school physics curriculum to improve students’ actual action repertoire and subjective action space in this subject. First, we explored associations between the different facets of students’ actiotope to allow for deeper insights into students’ physics motivation ( Ziegler et al., 2006 , 2011 ). A recent systematic review ( Krath et al., 2021 ) showed that different theories of motivation and learning have been used to explain the positive effects of gamification, and that they share important conceptual connections: Game-based learning can illustrate learning goals and their relevance and support users in setting individual goals. Moreover, gamification can promote learning by providing specific learning paths and immediate feedback, reinforcing good performance, and helping to better divide and organize learning content. These principles have a positive impact on performance and a broad range of motivational variables. Therefore, we formulated the following hypotheses considering the reported advantages of VR and game-based learning for students’ learning performance and motivation ( Zainuddin, 2018 ; Krath et al., 2021 ): The experimental group will perform significantly better on physics tests than the control group (H1). The experimental group will report a stronger increase in interest (H2), self-efficacy (H3), and academic self-concept in physics (H4) than the control group–over time. The experimental group will report a significantly lower decrease in entity implicit theories than the control group over time (H5). Finally, we explore, whether using the game-based VR App has differential effects on students of different gender.

Data collection

Data was collected in the summer semester of 2021, with the pre-test (questionnaire assessment before the intervention) taking place at the beginning of the semester in March and the post-test (questionnaire assessment after the intervention) taking place at the end of the semester in June. The study sample in the pre-test consisted of 70 fourth graders (45.7% identifying as female and 54.3% identifying as male, M age  = 14.09, SD age  = 0.78; age-range 13–15) from a compulsory secondary school in Vienna predominantly attended by children from middle SES families. The post-test sample comprised 55 fourth graders from the same school (45.5% identified as female, 52.7% as male, and 1.8% as non-binary, M age  = 14.31, SD age  = 0.74; age-range 13–16). Only students who gave active consent were included in the data set. Anonymity and confidentiality of their data were guaranteed. Due to dropouts, the final sample of students who answered the questionnaire at both measurement times consisted of 43 students (30 from the control group and 23 from the experimental group; 23 identified as male and 20 identified as female).

In addition, we use the results from three tests with 77 students (57 from the control group and 20 from the experimental group; 31 identifying as male, 30 identifying as female, 16 missing) having completed the first test, 68 students (50 from the control group and 18 from the experimental group; 32 identifying as male, 27 identifying as female, 9 missing) having completed the second test, and 61 students (46 from the control group and 15 from the experimental group; 33 identifying as male, 28 identifying as female) having completed the third test.

VR lab design

In 2020, a game-based virtual reality App was developed containing 10 teaching units from the secondary school physics class curriculum: electricity, electrical voltage, electrical currency, electromagnetic spectrum, forces, climate, energy, temperature, magnetic coil and radioactivity. Table 1 presents learning material and information the App contained within each teaching unit. In addition to the interactive experiment, each unit contained a quiz with five questions on information presented in the individual unit. Students were able to accumulate numeric points in the learning process, as well as level up in the game and follow their own progress in a progress bar (see examples of the VR settings in Supplementary Figures S1–S9 ).


Table 1 . Topics and information covered in VR physics teaching units.

The units of the app were developed in individual sprints with very close thematic cooperation with the physics teacher. The units in the App were unlocked at the same time as the thematic was planned in the curriculum. When the App is opened, the first interface is a hub area with portals to each unlocked unit and an introduction is made by an App-integrated robot character. Throughout the app the students are accompanied by that flying robot which acts as the storyteller, quiz master and helper with introductions to the app spaces and each interactive experiment. All the information is fully voice recorded and communicated through the companion robot with a robotic voice effect.

The VR application was developed using the Unity 3D Engine with the LTS Version ‘2018.4’ and the Google VR SDK for Unity. For the building of the level geometry the Unity tools Polybrush and ProBuilder were used. While the more general models like trees and grass were imported from free assets on the Unity Asset Store, all the specific models and animations for the interactive experiments and the robot companion were created specifically for this project by hand with blender. All of the audio recordings were created with the free open-source software Audacity. For the data collection the VR application sent its information as JSON encoded data via HTTPS calls to a simple REST API running on a shared web server by the university.

Intervention implementation

The App was used with Google cardboards, which were provided for all students in the experimental group. As the App was developed for the Android operating system, participants with iOS mobile phones and a few participants who did not possess a mobile phone were assigned to the control group, whereas students with mobile phones with Android operating system were randomly assigned to both groups resulting in an approximately equal percentage of students in both groups. However, due to the pandemic context, not all students from the experiment group used the App, nor all of the students participated in both assessments, resulting in n  = 19 participants in the experimental group and n  = 51 in the control group in pre-test, and n  = 15 participants in the experimental and n  = 40 in the control group in post-test. The group assignment was done by the school principal and physics teacher. They assigned codes to the students, which they used in questionnaires, on tests, and in the App. The authors did not have access to the codes until the study was finished.

During the summer semester of 2021, participants in the control group were taught using traditional teaching methods whereby the teacher presented the content of the week’s teaching unit verbally in the classroom using the textbook and related teaching materials without any GBL or VR elements. The experimental group participated in the equally designed classes as the control group, but in addition to the traditionally presented content, the teaching unit material was demonstrated through the App in the classroom, whereby students went through the VR with the teacher and conducted the prepared VR experiments. The students from the experimental group also had the opportunity to use the App after the class to access VR laboratory while doing the homework, which was recommended but not mandatory nor controlled for.

Although data collection took place during a semester in which there were school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, during the study implementation teaching was conducted face-to-face in smaller groups. Hence, all participants under the study had equal presence-based teaching conditions. In both pre-and post-test, participants answered an online questionnaire containing the same items via Unipark ( Questback GmbH, 2016 ). Additionally, at the end of the semester, after three broader thematic units (noble and base metals, world of light and radioactivity), participants took short performance tests evaluating the knowledge related to each thematic unit (see T1, T2 and T3 in the supplementary material for task examples on the tests, and answered few questions on their experience with the unit and with the App (the latter was asked only in experimental group). To account for possible implementation effects in the effectiveness of the intervention, user behavior data was tracked in the App during the whole semester ( Schultes et al., 2015 ).

Since schools have little time for extracurricular activities due to the pressure to fulfill the curriculum, the survey instruments were designed to be as economical as possible in order to keep the data collection effort for students and teachers as low as possible and, at the same time, be able to make reliable statements. Students’ physics performance was measured with three short tests related to thematic units covered in the App at the end of the semester. All other actiotope variables were assessed at the beginning and the end of the semester using items from standardized instruments selected based on test-theoretical considerations. All items in the questionnaire were rated on a 5-point Likert-type scale, ranging from 1 (strongly agree) to 5 (strongly disagree). In order to simplify the interpretation of results, all analyses were conducted with recoded items so that higher values reflected higher agreement with the statements.

Actiotope variables

Students’ action repertoire.

Students’ action repertoire was operationalized by their performance and interest in physics.

Physics performance was measured with three short tests designed by the teacher with regard to three thematic teaching units covered with the App (“noble and base metals”; “world of light”; and “radioactivity”). Each test consisted of two tasks directly relating to the learning contents of the respective teaching unit (see Supplementary Figures S10–S12 ). The tests were corrected and evaluated by the teacher.

Interest in physics was measured with four items from Krapp (2002) , sample item: “Sometimes when I do a task in physics, I forget everything around me.”; α  = 0.780 in pre-test and α  = 0.805 in post-test.

Students’ subjective action space

Students’ subjective action space was operationalized by their self-efficacy, self-concept and implicit theories regarding physics.

To assess students’ self-efficacy in physics, two standardized items from Kunter et al. (2000) and one from Jerusalem and Satow (1999) were used to capture beliefs in their ability to succeed in or accomplish a task (sample item: “I am convinced that I can do well on class assignments and tests in physics; α  = 0.823 in pre-test and α  = 0.858 in post-test).

The academic self-concept scale ( Dickhäuser et al., 2002 ) was used to measure academic self-concept based on no reference norms (four items). The items were adapted to Physics (sample item: “A am for physics… 1-very talented, 5-not talented; α  = 0.924 in pre-test and α  = 0.926 in post-test).

To test students’ implicit theories regarding whether or not abilities in physics are malleable, four items from Wagner et al. (2010) were used (sample item: “I cannot change the fact that there are things in physics that I just cannot do; α  = 0.893 in pre-test and α  = 0.918 in post-test).

Data analysis

IBM SPSS 29 was used to conduct the data analysis. The dataset underwent a thorough review for inconsistencies to ensure usability. Only complete cases were considered for analyses. To test our hypotheses, we performed t -tests to analyze differences between the control group and the experimental group in physics performance and mixed ANOVAs to analyze changes in all other actiotope variables after testing for assumptions.

Descriptive analysis

Participant responsiveness.

The number of seconds the Apps was open in the foreground and the number of interactions made within the App were two main indicators of participants’ responsiveness tracked in the App. In total, data from 22 participants was tracked in the App. On average, App was open 12.43 min in the foreground ( SD  = 10.41), ranging from 1.5 to 33 min. On average, participants made 23.64 interactions in the App ( SD  = 29.62), ranging from 1 to 116 interactions.

Associations between different actiotope components

Table 2 provides bivariate correlations among all the actiotope variables pre-and post-test. Interest, self-efficacy and self-concept were highly interrelated at both measurement points. Entity implicit theories showed negative correlations with both self-efficacy and self-concept at the pretest, but only with self-concept at the posttest, while no significant correlations with interest were found at any measurement point.


Table 2 . Bivariate correlations between actiotope variables at the pre- and the posttest.

Differences in physics performance

Dependent t -tests were performed to analyze whether there was a performance difference in knowledge between the control and the experimental group in the three administered physics tests. There were no significant differences between the control and experimental group in test scores on the first (“noble and base metals” thematic unit) and second (“world of light” thematic unit) tests. Results showed that, compared to participants in the control group, participants in the experimental group achieved higher scores on the third test (“radioactivity” thematic unit). Results showed no significant differences between boys and girls in all three tests (see Table 3 ).


Table 3 . Mean, standard deviation and t -test statistics for experimental and control group and for boys and girls on physics tests.

Development of interest, self-efficacy, self-concept, and implicit theories regarding physics

To test our hypotheses a sequence of mixed ANOVAs was conducted with the measurement points (pretest and posttest) as with-in subject factor and the groups (experimental group and control group) and gender (female and male) as between subject factors, and with students’ interest, self-efficacy, self-concept, and implicit entity theories as dependent variables. Interaction effects and main effects are reported. To identify any outliers, boxplot diagrams were utilized. Two outliers were determined in the lower spectrum of self-efficacy and self-concept by a single individual in the control group, while two outliers were detected in the high-end spectrum of self-concept also in the control group. Despite their presence, these values are deemed important as they fall within the range of the scale, and therefore were not excluded from data analysis. Furthermore, Levene tests were performed for each actiotope variable to test for equality of variances and Box-tests for equality of the covariance matrixes. Descriptive statistics for all dependent variables are depicted in Table 4 .


Table 4 . Descriptive statistics of actiotope variables in pre- and posttest by group and gender.

In performing the mixed ANOVA to assess the devolvement of interest (H2) in physics between boys and girls in the control and the experimental group, homogeneity of error variances assessed by a Levene test for both measurement points (t1: p  = 0.25; t2: p  = 0.16) and homogeneity of covariances, assessed by a Box-test ( p  = 0.63) could be established.

No significant interaction of measurement points and groups, F (1, 39) = 0.00, p  = 0.93, partial η 2  < 0.00, or measurement points and genders, F (1, 39) = 1.57, p  = 0.22. η p 2  = 0.04, were found.

A statistically significant interaction between measurement points, groups and gender was found, F (1, 39) = 6.55, p  = 0.01, η p 2  = 0.14. The partial eta square indicates a medium to large effect. The result suggests that the effect of the intervention differs for male and female students in the control and experimental groups regarding their interest in physics.

No between-subject effects were found for the groups, F (1, 39) = 2.40, p  = 0.13, η p 2  = 0.06, gender, F (1, 39) = 0.13, p  = 72, η p 2  = 0.0, or group and gender, F (1, 39) = 0.01, p  = 0.91, η p 2  < 0.001.

The significant interaction effect was examined through the utilization of profile plots, revealing that students identifying as male exhibited a stronger decline in interest in physics within the control group compared to the experimental group. Conversely, among students identifying as female, an inverse pattern emerged, showcasing a stronger interest decline in the experimental group as opposed to the control group.

When performing the mixed ANOVA to assess the devolvement of self-efficacy (H3) in physics between the control and the experimental group and gender, the Levene test revealed homogeneity of error variances for both measurement points (t1: p  = 0.65; t2: p  = 0.26). The Box-test supports the assumption for homogeneity of covariances ( p  = 0.29). No statistically significant interaction between measurement points and groups, F (1, 39) = 2,35, p  = 0.13, η p 2  = 0.06, measurement points and gender, F (1, 39) = 0.38, p  = 0.54, partial η p 2  = 0.01, or measurement points, groups and gender, F (1, 39) = 3.28, p  = 0.08, η p 2  = 0.08, were found.

A significant between-subject effect was found for the groups, F (1, 39) = 6.73, p  = 0.01, η p 2  = 0.15, indicating a medium effect size. The result suggests that the intervention groups differ significantly regarding their self-efficacy. No significant between subject effects were found for gender, F (1, 39) = 0.09, p  = 0.76, η p 2  = 0.00, or groups and gender, F (1, 39) = 0.59, p  = 0.45, η p 2  = 0.02.

The Levene test when conducting the mixed ANOVA for self-concept in physics (H4) revealed homogeneity of error variances for both measurement points (t1: p  = 0.72; t2: p  = 0.45). The Box-test supports the assumption for homogeneity of covariances ( p  = 0.14). No significant interaction for measurement points and group, F (1, 39) = 0.07, p  = 0.80, η p 2  < 0.001, or measurement points and gender, F (1, 39) = 0.04, p  = 0.84, η p 2  < 0.001, were found.

A statistically significant interaction between measurement points, groups and gender was found, F (1, 39) = 5.75, p  = 0.02, η p 2  = 0.13. The effect size indicates a medium effect suggesting that the effect of the intervention in regard to the development of self-concepts in physics differs for male and female students in the control and experimental group.

A significant between-subject effect was found for the groups, F (1, 39) = 4.47, p  = 0.04, η p 2  = 0.10. No significant between subject effects were found for gender, F (1, 39) = 0.02, p  = 0.90, η p 2  < 0.001, or groups and gender, F (1, 39) = 0.25, p  = 0.62, η p 2  = 0.01.

The significant interaction effect was further analyzed by profile plots. The visualization revealed a rise in self-concept over time in students identifying as male in the experimental group and a decline for their counterparts in the control group. Conversely, among students identifying as female, an inverse pattern emerged, showcasing a decline in self-concept in the experimental group as opposed to the control group.

Lastly, a mixed ANOVA was conducted to examine students’ implicit entity theories about abilities in physics (H5). The Levene test supported the assumption for homogeneity of error variances for both measurement points (t1: p  = 0.66; t2: p  = 0.79). However, the Box-test revealed heterogeneity of covariances ( p  < 0.001), suggesting caution in the interpretation of the results. No statistically significant interaction effects between measurement points and groups, F (1, 39) = 0.19, p  = 0.67, η p 2  = 0.01, measurement points and gender, F (1, 39) = 0.05, p  = 0.83, η p 2  < 0.001, or measurement points, groups and gender, F (1, 39) = 1.35, p  = 0.25, η p 2  = 0.03 were found.

However, there was a significant main effect for groups, meaning that the intervention groups differed significantly in students’ implicit entity theories about abilities in physics, F (1, 39) = 8.14, p = 0.01, η p 2 = 0.17. The partial eta square indicates a large effect.

No significant between-subject effects were found for gender, F (1, 39) = 0.78, p  = 0.38, η p 2  = 0.02 or groups and gender, F (1, 39) = 0.72, p  = 0.40, η p 2  = 0.02.

The goal of the present study was to test the effects of a game-based VR App in a secondary school physics class during one semester. The study is theoretically based on the actiotope model of motivation ( Ziegler et al., 2006 , 2011 ) that explains a person’s goal-oriented actions by an interplay of their environment, action repertoire, and subjective action space. The actiotope model provides a good framework to explain and predict action and engagement in STEM fields which is now needed more than ever before ( European Commission, 2022 ). Enhancing self-beliefs and interest, while supporting academic achievement, are essential and intertwined components of formal education and interventions should be conceptualized in a way to comprise learning holistically. We expected the game-based VR App to have positive effects on students’ action repertoire as measured by their physics performance in three physics tests and their interest in physics compared to traditional teaching methods. Moreover, we anticipated an increase of students’ subjective action space, operationalized as students’ self-efficacy, self-concept, and implicit theories regarding physics, when they used the game-based VR App in addition to traditional learning materials. In sum, we expected that students who used the game-based VR App in addition to traditional learning materials would believe more strongly in their ability to understand and master tasks in physics and show higher interest and better performances in physics. This would be an important prerequisite for students to aspire to careers in physics-related domains. The results only partially confirmed our hypotheses but show some indications of the App effectiveness.

Results regarding performance in our study (H1) showed no significant differences between the experimental and control groups on tests related to the first two thematic units (“noble and base metals” and “world of light”), but the experimental group achieved significantly better results, compared to the control group, on the third test (related to the thematic unit “radioactivity”).

Regarding the development of students’ interest in physics (H2), we did not find differences between the experimental group and the control group. This indicates that in general, students using the game-based VR App did not show a stronger increase or lower increase in interest than students in the control group who did not use the App. However, we found differential effects of the intervention on interest development in students of different genders as indicated by a three-way interaction of gender, experimental condition, and time. In students identifying as male, interest in physics declined over the semester in the control group but not in the experimental group, which aligns with our hypothesis that the game-based VR App has more positive effects on students’ action repertoire than traditional teaching methods. However, in students identifying as female, we found the opposite pattern. Although the effects are rather small, this could indicate that game-based virtual reality teaching methods favor students identifying as male. This might be explained by boys’ higher engagement with video games in general ( Drabowicz, 2014 ) and especially with 3D-animated computer games. Namely, studies show that female players are more attracted to 2D games while male players are more attracted to 3D games (e.g., Ziemek, 2006 ).

To assess the development of students’ subjective action space, we analyzed changes in students’ self-efficacy, self-concept, and entity implicit theories regarding physics over the course of the semester. While domain-specific self-efficacy and self-concept are facets of students’ physics-related self-image, entity implicit theories refer to the extent to which they generally believe that abilities in physics are unchangeable. Contrary to our hypothesis (H3), we found no significant differences in the development of students’ self-efficacy over the course of the semester between the control group and the experimental group. However, the effect sizes indicate medium differential effects of the intervention in students of different genders, as indicated by a marginally significant (<0.1) three-way interaction of gender, experimental condition, and time. Male students’ self-efficacy in physics tends to decline over the semester in the control group but not in the experimental group, while in female students’ self-efficacy did not develop differently in the two groups. However, this finding – although in line with our finding regarding students’ interest in physics – should be interpreted cautiously.

Regarding students’ domain-specific self-concept in physics (H4), we also did not find what we expected. Contrary to our expectations, students using the game-based VR App did not show a more positive development of their physics self-concept than students in the control group who did not use the App. However, we again found differential effects of the intervention in students of different genders as indicated by a three-way interaction of gender, experimental condition, and time. Boys’ self-concept in physics declined over the semester in the control group but not in the experimental group, which aligns with our hypothesis that the game-based VR App has more positive effects on students’ subjective action space than traditional teaching methods. However, in students identifying as female, we again found the opposite pattern. Contradicting our last hypothesis, no significant effects of the intervention were found regarding the development students’ implicit entity theories (H5).

Taken together, our findings indicate that the App might have a slight positive effect, and more so on male than female students’ motivation in physics. This result only partly aligns with a large body of literature showing unambiguous positive effects of game-based VR on psychological learning outcomes in physics (e.g., Pellas et al., 2020 ; Pirker et al., 2020 ). However, it is important to note that the App was not used as much as we hoped as can be seen in the user data analysis. The pandemic might be a reason for the generally low participation rate in the App use. As it has been found that students struggled to adequately organize and self-regulate their learning during the pandemic ( Pelikan et al., 2021 ; Holzer et al., 2021 ), they might have been overwhelmed with learning processes and challenges concerning health behavior which limited their resources to use the App more. Nevertheless, our study suggests that incorporating game-based VR learning materials into secondary school physics class could potentially exacerbate gender gaps in physics in these early stages of students’ acquainting with physics. This could be since both physics as a school subject ( Kessels et al., 2006 ) and the innovative learning material of a VR App are related to masculine stereotypes ( Ziemek, 2006 ). Research shows that gender disparities in STEM emerge in this period of adolescence when students are about to move into high school and choose their education and potentially career track (e.g., Osborne, 2007 ). Consequently, young girls are still less likely than boys and young men to engage in courses and majors related to physics and science ( Moss-Racusin et al., 2018 ). Thus, when developing and implementing innovative teaching materials, findings like ours should be considered.

Limitation and future directions

Several limitations of the present study should be noted. In general, the sample of our pilot study, especially in the control group, is very small, and the App was not used very much by students in the experimental group. Therefore, our results must be interpreted with caution and can only be seen as initial indications of the effectiveness of the intervention.

Further research with larger samples can learn from some methodological shortcomings of our study: First, since the App was developed only for one operating system, students could not be fully at random assigned to the experimental and control group limiting the generalizability of our results. Students with iPhones and those without phones assigned to the control group might differ from students with Android phones in terms of their socioeconomic status. Therefore, future studies should aim at developing applications for all common operating systems. Second, only a portion of students assigned to the experimental group used the App, but the context of the data collection in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as decreased control in the natural experimental environment prevented any tries to increase the participation rate. Third, our assessment of students’ physics performance could have been optimized if we assessed domain-specific prior knowledge tests before the intervention and conducted a more objective performance test with different items after the intervention. In relying on the tests designed by the teacher, we maybe did not assess students’ physics competencies, but rather how well they learned the test answers. Unfortunately, when cooperating with schools, we are restricted in how much data we can collect. Every data collection must be squeezed in by the teachers who are afraid to lose precious time for fulfilling the curriculum. This problem was exacerbated during the early COVID-19 pandemic (with the rather confusing situation of school closures, reduced group sizes and changing attendance of students). Fourth, we did not assess all actiotope variables with standardized scales. Although the internal consistencies of our shortened and/or adapted scales were good, future studies should not only assess students’ action repertoire and subjective action space but also their goals to be able to make better statements about the effects of the intervention on educational and career goals. Finally, future research should also include possible covariates such as student’s previous achievement level (e.g., Keller et al., 2021 ), attitudes toward, experiences with, and access to digital media, or teachers’ knowledge and motivation ( Keller et al., 2017 ).

Conclusion and practical implications

Albeit its limitations, this quasi-experimental study contributes to the body of literature showing that providing students with opportunities to experience physics phenomena in game-based VR environment can potentially have positive effects performance of students in secondary school physics class. Schools should provide students with a broader set of 21st century skills, which are labeled as survival skills in new generations ( Saavedra and Opfer, 2012 ), to thrive in a rapidly evolving, technology-saturated world. The simple technical solutions, such as mobile VR with Google cardboards can be considered as low cost ( Pellas et al., 2020 ) and might be available to most digital native learners as mobile applications, smartphones, and digital environments are a part of their daily lives ( Hussein and Natterdal, 2022 ). However, using these technologies as teaching materials might potentially increase gender differences in self-beliefs in a period crucial for development of career and educational aspirations and choices if no explicit attention is paid to this problem. Moreover, equal opportunities for students with different socio-economic and migration backgrounds should be ensured. Researchers should focus on multiple learning outcomes, including psychological variables (such as self-beliefs, interest and motivational factors, etc.), to investigate how educational games and VR contribute to learning broadly. Moreover, interdisciplinary approaches (e.g., cooperation between psychologists, physicists and computer scientists) should be practiced in order to develop successful and innovative interventions in this field.

Data availability statement

The raw data supporting the conclusions of this article will be made available by the authors, without undue reservation.

Ethics statement

Ethical approval was not required for the studies involving humans because the local legislation and institutional requirements do not require one. Participation in the study was completely voluntarily. Participants were informed about the approximate duration of the questionnaires/tests, inclusion criteria for participation, and the complete anonymity of their data. Only those who gave active consent were included in the dataset. The study was carried out in accordance with the European General Data Protection Regulation. The studies were conducted in accordance with the local legislation and institutional requirements. Written informed consent for participation was not required from the participants or the participants’ legal guardians/next of kin in accordance with the national legislation and institutional requirements because data was collected online due to circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic and only consent from the students themselves was collected. Written informed consent was obtained from the individual(s) for the publication of any potentially identifiable images or data included in this article.

Author contributions

SK: Conceptualization, Data curation, Formal analysis, Investigation, Methodology, Project administration, Validation, Visualization, Writing – original draft, Writing – review & editing. MK: Visualization, Writing – review & editing, Conceptualization. CH: Writing – review & editing, Formal analysis. HH: Conceptualization, Investigation, Writing – review & editing, Funding acquisition, Project administration, Resources, Supervision. DM: Conceptualization, Investigation, Software, Writing – review & editing. PP: Conceptualization, Investigation, Writing – review & editing, Software. CS: Conceptualization, Funding acquisition, Investigation, Project administration, Resources, Writing – review & editing.

The author(s) declare financial support was received for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article. This project was funded by the Innovationsstiftung für Bildung. Open Access funding provided by University of Vienna.


Special thanks go to Regina Krimmel-Mairinger, Wolfgang Rendchen and NMSI & JHS Konstanziagasse secondary school for their engagement and valuable support in the project implementation.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

Publisher’s note

All claims expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of their affiliated organizations, or those of the publisher, the editors and the reviewers. Any product that may be evaluated in this article, or claim that may be made by its manufacturer, is not guaranteed or endorsed by the publisher.

Supplementary material

The Supplementary material for this article can be found online at: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2024.1284597/full#supplementary-material

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Keywords: game-based learning, virtual reality, physics laboratory, intervention, gender differences

Citation: Korlat S, Kollmayer M, Haider C, Hlavacs H, Martinek D, Pazour P and Spiel C (2024) PhyLab – a virtual reality laboratory for experiments in physics: a pilot study on intervention effectiveness and gender differences. Front. Psychol . 15:1284597. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2024.1284597

Received: 28 August 2023; Accepted: 23 January 2024; Published: 19 February 2024.

Reviewed by:

Copyright © 2024 Korlat, Kollmayer, Haider, Hlavacs, Martinek, Pazour and Spiel. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY) . The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

*Correspondence: Selma Korlat, [email protected]

† ORCID: Selma Korlat, https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5719-5222 Marlene Kollmayer, https://orcid.org/0000-0001-8239-5330 Christian Haider, https://orcid.org/0000-0002-8325-9370 Helmut Hlavacs, https://orcid.org/0000-0001-6837-674X Daniel Martinek, https://orcid.org/0000-0003-4634-6704 Patrick Pazour, https://orcid.org/0000-0003-0905-8762 Christiane Spiel, https://orcid.org/0000-0002-7082-4879

Disclaimer: All claims expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of their affiliated organizations, or those of the publisher, the editors and the reviewers. Any product that may be evaluated in this article or claim that may be made by its manufacturer is not guaranteed or endorsed by the publisher.

psychology lab projects

Brain, Epigenetics, & Altered States of Consciousness Research (Lewis)

Brain, Epigenetics, & Altered States of Consciousness Research

Dr. Lewis is an assistant professor in the School of Life Sciences and Psychology. Her research focuses on 1) the impact of early life social experiences on epigenetic regulation of gene systems involved in mental health; 2) the relationships between peripheral epigenetics and brain structure, function, microbiome composition, and behavior; and 3) the potential of psychedelic-assisted therapy to reduce symptoms through psychological healing and epigenetic alterations. Dr. Lewis has been funded by the Science Foundation Arizona, Fulbright Association, and the National Institutes of Health (NICHD, ECHO, and NIA). 

If interested, please do not email Dr. Lewis directly. Email the following materials to:

[email protected]

  • goals (volunteer, research credit hours, or thesis)
  • availability for the semester you want to join the lab
  • CV or resume 
  • why do you want to join the BEAR lab? Which of our projects interests you?

Dr. Lewis and the BEAR lab are so excited to help students with their honors/research thesis projects. However, we prefer you join our lab no later than the beginning of your Junior year to have the best experience possible.

A Paradigm Shift in How Scientists Study Kids

Developmental psychology is notoriously reliant on certain demographics of children. A new tool is changing that.

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There is an open secret in the study of child development: Most of what we think we know about how babies develop is actually based on a specific subset of kids—those born to families from Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic (a.k.a. WEIRD) nations. The acronym was first coined in an influential 2010 paper to describe the wildly unrepresentative populations that many psychology studies have long relied on. This is an issue in the field generally, and certainly a thorny problem in developmental psychology, which primarily studies children: According to one paper , WEIRD subjects make up 96 percent of the data used in published developmental-science studies but represent only 12 percent of the world’s population.

As a result, it’s hard to be certain whether many things we think we know about babies’ development are truly universal elements of human nature. It means that we tell an incomplete story about the process of our own becoming. Yet the problem has remained hard to fix. Even within the U.S., similar demographic biases have arisen: The families that most often participate in research studies tend to be white, affluent, and highly educated. The type of parent who brings their baby to a study typically lives near a university, many of which are located in cities, and has the resources and free time to travel to a lab and wait. “Some labs can book a single baby for a day” to collect one data point, Elizabeth Bonawitz, a cognitive scientist at Harvard, told me.

The upheaval of the coronavirus pandemic, however, provided an unexpected opportunity. In spring 2020, Laura Schulz, a cognitive scientist at MIT, and collaborators released a tool called Lookit. At the time, in-person studies were hard to do and research groups had started running online ones instead. Lookit recruited families, connected them with institutions that needed subjects, and hosted virtual studies—including game-based experiments, surveys, and video interviews. Last year, the site merged with Children Helping Science, or CHS, a virtual bulletin board (also co-founded by Schulz) where researchers can advertise studies they need online participants for. Today, CHS has enrolled more than 8,000 children for studies spanning more than 200 labs in all 50 U.S. states and on multiple continents.

The basic technology that underlies CHS is straightforward: a combination of video capture, messaging, and gaming interfaces. In a typical experiment, a child might play a computer game devised by a researcher, the subject can be recorded during play, and both in-game responses and the video are reviewed by scholars later. The platform started in 2013 as a side project for Kim Scott, then a graduate student in Schulz’s lab, but it wasn’t an easy sell to many academics. “Some people still have attachments to doing developmental science in front of a child in their lab, controlling the environment,” Schulz told me. The pandemic meant that scholars had no choice but to relinquish some of that control.

Online experiments might have grown out of necessity, but they help address two of modern developmental psychology’s core problems. First, not enough children participate in experiments in general, so researchers are less likely to identify rarer or more subtle behaviors in them. Second, the WEIRD issue: When experiments consider just a slice of the world’s children, can they really claim that their conclusions are universal?

Take the famed marshmallow study of the 1970s, which offered preschoolers either one marshmallow immediately or two of them if they could wait. The study ultimately suggested that children who delayed short-term gratification in favor of a bigger reward had better outcomes later in life. But the original study was both small (32 children) and demographically specific (all were students of Bing Nursery School at Stanford University). Subsequent attempts to replicate the experiment found the effect diminished or absent altogether. In 2020, researchers even demonstrated that for children from low-socioeconomic-status backgrounds, snapping up that treat immediately could predict future success. In unstable environments, “it may be more effective for you to just go ahead, when you have an opportunity, to take advantage,” Candice Mills, a developmental psychologist at the University of Texas at Dallas, told me.

Read: Why rich kids are so good at the marshmallow test

Other developmental processes that scientists long thought were universal, such as language acquisition, can be affected by one’s environment too. For years, scientists believed that children gained language through one-on-one interactions with adults , but in an island community in Oceania, children largely learn from one another.

Scientists have tried various methods to tackle the field’s biases. The Stanford psychologist Anne Fernald, for example, traveled in an RV to a low-income community in Northern California in order to collect data on how children learn language. But this took time and money that not every experimenter has. In recent years, broader movements within academia at large—including Open Science and Big Team Science —have embraced sharing data among research groups and collaborating on studies. And in the developmental-science world, tools such as Databrary (a video and audio library) and CHILDES (primarily a repository of language transcripts) help scientists use existing data for new studies.

CHS is an extension of these efforts. Elena Tenenbaum, a clinical psychologist at Duke University, is studying younger siblings of autistic children, who are up to 17 times more likely to receive a diagnosis of autism compared with the general public. Yet this population is a particularly difficult one to bring into the lab. “These families that are already stretched thin from their appointments for their older child—if they need to come into the lab, it gets really challenging, really quickly,” Tenenbaum told me. With CHS, researchers can test this group—for example, measuring how many words they know or whether they can pay attention to and remember faces—to see if early hints precede more obvious symptoms of autism without needing them to come to a lab.

But the implications are bigger than any one study: Online testing tools have the potential to use technology to understand the whole child. For instance, one kid could participate in different studies at different labs—for example, to do with language, or motor skills, or causal reasoning—all connected through CHS. “How does change in one ability relate to changes in another ability?” Schulz said. “We’re going to get a much, much better window into a developing child.”

Crucially, the platform also has the potential to broaden geographic and ethnic sample diversity within the U.S. For instance, data supplied by CHS show that 13.1 percent of its subjects are Latino and 5.5 percent are Black. Many researchers don’t record the demographics of their in-person study subjects, but CHS’s figures are a striking increase from numbers reported by a survey of top journals, which estimated that more than 90 percent of subjects are so-called convenience samples—in other words, people who live near a university or research center, who tend to be white and affluent.

Even with a tool like CHS, developmental psychology still needs to reach more international, rural, and low-socioeconomic-status communities. Most of the world’s children are growing up in Africa and Asia, some of them “in rural settings, very often with some access to electricity, but not necessarily a tablet or easy access to internet,” Alejandrina Cristia, a linguist at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris, told me. And domestically, for CHS to expand further, researchers may need to bring laptops to recreational centers and libraries, Lisa Oakes, a developmental psychologist at UC Davis and an early CHS adopter, told me. Melissa Kline Struhl, the executive director of CHS, hopes that improving the platform’s functionality on smartphones will widen its reach too.

Indeed, forming truly universal theories of how children develop was never going to be an easy task, and still has a long way to go. Yet a shift to online studies is helping provide one thing that the smaller, less representative samples of the past couldn’t: kids who don’t typically come to university labs. For developmental psychology, that alone is a vital step.

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Classic Psychology Experiments

Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

psychology lab projects

Emily is a board-certified science editor who has worked with top digital publishing brands like Voices for Biodiversity, Study.com, GoodTherapy, Vox, and Verywell.

psychology lab projects

The history of psychology is filled with fascinating studies and classic psychology experiments that helped change the way we think about ourselves and human behavior. Sometimes the results of these experiments were so surprising they challenged conventional wisdom about the human mind and actions. In other cases, these experiments were also quite controversial.

Some of the most famous examples include Milgram's obedience experiment and Zimbardo's prison experiment. Explore some of these classic psychology experiments to learn more about some of the best-known research in psychology history.

Harlow’s Rhesus Monkey Experiments

In a series of controversial experiments conducted in the late 1950s and early 1960s, psychologist Harry Harlow demonstrated the powerful effects of love on normal development. By showing the devastating effects of deprivation on young rhesus monkeys , Harlow revealed the importance of love for healthy childhood development.

His experiments were often unethical and shockingly cruel, yet they uncovered fundamental truths that have heavily influenced our understanding of child development.

In one famous version of the experiments, infant monkeys were separated from their mothers immediately after birth and placed in an environment where they had access to either a wire monkey "mother" or a version of the faux-mother covered in a soft-terry cloth. While the wire mother provided food, the cloth mother provided only softness and comfort.

Harlow found that while the infant monkeys would go to the wire mother for food, they vastly preferred the company of the soft and comforting cloth mother. The study demonstrated that maternal bonds   were about much more than simply providing nourishment and that comfort and security played a major role in the formation of attachments .

Pavlov’s Classical Conditioning Experiments

The concept of classical conditioning is studied by every entry-level psychology student, so it may be surprising to learn that the man who first noted this phenomenon was not a psychologist at all. Pavlov was actually studying the digestive systems of dogs when he noticed that his subjects began to salivate whenever they saw his lab assistant.

What he soon discovered through his experiments was that certain responses (drooling) could be conditioned by associating a previously neutral stimulus (metronome or buzzer) with a stimulus that naturally and automatically triggers a response (food). Pavlov's experiments with dogs established classical conditioning.

The Asch Conformity Experiments

Researchers have long been interested in the degree to which people follow or rebel against social norms. During the 1950s, psychologist Solomon Asch conducted a series of experiments designed to demonstrate the powers of conformity in groups.  

The study revealed that people are surprisingly susceptible to going along with the group, even when they know the group is wrong.​ In Asch's studies, students were told that they were taking a vision test and were asked to identify which of three lines was the same length as a target line.

When asked alone, the students were highly accurate in their assessments. In other trials, confederate participants intentionally picked the incorrect line. As a result, many of the real participants gave the same answer as the other students, demonstrating how conformity could be both a powerful and subtle influence on human behavior.

Skinner's Operant Conditioning Experiments

Skinner studied how behavior can be reinforced to be repeated or weakened to be extinguished. He designed the Skinner Box where an animal, often a rodent, would be given a food pellet or an electric shock. A rat would learn that pressing a level delivered a food pellet. Or the rat would learn to press the lever in order to halt electric shocks.

Then, the animal may learn to associate a light or sound with being able to get the reward or halt negative stimuli by pressing the lever. Furthermore, he studied whether continuous, fixed ratio, fixed interval , variable ratio, and variable interval reinforcement led to faster response or learning.

Milgram’s Obedience Experiments

In Milgram's experiment , participants were asked to deliver electrical shocks to a "learner" whenever an incorrect answer was given. In reality, the learner was actually a confederate in the experiment who pretended to be shocked. The purpose of the experiment was to determine how far people were willing to go in order to obey the commands of an authority figure.

Milgram  found that 65% of participants were willing to deliver the maximum level of shocks   despite the fact that the learner seemed to be in serious distress or even unconscious.

Why This Experiment Is Notable

Milgram's experiment is one of the most controversial in psychology history. Many participants experienced considerable distress as a result of their participation and in many cases were never debriefed after the conclusion of the experiment. The experiment played a role in the development of ethical guidelines for the use of human participants in psychology experiments.

The Stanford Prison Experiment

Philip Zimbardo's famous experiment cast regular students in the roles of prisoners and prison guards. While the study was originally slated to last 2 weeks, it had to be halted after just 6 days because the guards became abusive and the prisoners began to show signs of extreme stress and anxiety.

Zimbardo's famous study was referred to after the abuses in Abu Ghraib came to light. Many experts believe that such group behaviors are heavily influenced by the power of the situation and the behavioral expectations placed on people cast in different roles.

It is worth noting criticisms of Zimbardo's experiment, however. While the general recollection of the experiment is that the guards became excessively abusive on their own as a natural response to their role, the reality is that they were explicitly instructed to mistreat the prisoners, potentially detracting from the conclusions of the study.

Van rosmalen L, Van der veer R, Van der horst FCP. The nature of love: Harlow, Bowlby and Bettelheim on affectionless mothers. Hist Psychiatry. 2020. doi:10.1177/0957154X19898997

Gantt WH . Ivan Pavlov . Encyclopaedia Brittanica .

Jeon, HL. The environmental factor within the Solomon Asch Line Test . International Journal of Social Science and Humanity. 2014;4(4):264-268. doi:10.7763/IJSSH.2014.V4.360 

Koren M. B.F. Skinner: The man who taught pigeons to play ping-pong and rats to pull levers . Smithsonian Magazine .

B.F. Skinner Foundation. A brief survey of operant behavior .

Gonzalez-franco M, Slater M, Birney ME, Swapp D, Haslam SA, Reicher SD. Participant concerns for the Learner in a Virtual Reality replication of the Milgram obedience study. PLoS ONE. 2018;13(12):e0209704. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0209704

Zimbardo PG. Philip G. Zimbardo on his career and the Stanford Prison Experiment's 40th anniversary. Interview by Scott Drury, Scott A. Hutchens, Duane E. Shuttlesworth, and Carole L. White. Hist Psychol. 2012;15(2):161-170. doi:10.1037/a0025884

Le texier T. Debunking the Stanford Prison Experiment. Am Psychol. 2019;74(7):823-839. doi:10.1037/amp0000401

Perry G. Deception and illusion in Milgram's accounts of the Obedience Experiments . Theoretical & Applied Ethics . 2013;2(2):79-92.

Specter M. Drool: How Everyone Gets Pavlov Wrong . The New Yorker. 2014; November 24.

By Kendra Cherry, MSEd Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."


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Guest Essay

I’m a Neuroscientist. We’re Thinking About Biden’s Memory and Age in the Wrong Way.

President Biden seated in a chair holding a stack of what looks like index cards.

By Charan Ranganath

Dr. Ranganath is a professor of psychology and neuroscience and the director of the Dynamic Memory Lab at the University of California, Davis, and the author of the forthcoming book “Why We Remember: Unlocking Memory’s Power to Hold On to What Matters.”

The special counsel Robert K. Hur’s report, in which he declined to prosecute President Biden for his handling of classified documents, also included a much-debated assessment of Mr. Biden’s cognitive abilities.

“Mr. Biden would likely present himself to a jury, as he did during our interview with him, as a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory.”

As an expert on memory, I can assure you that everyone forgets. In fact, most of the details of our lives — the people we meet, the things we do and the places we go — will inevitably be reduced to memories that capture only a small fraction of those experiences.

It is normal to be more forgetful as you get older. Generally, memory functions begin to decline in our 30s and continue to fade into old age. However, age in and of itself doesn’t indicate the presence of memory deficits that would affect an individual’s ability to perform in a demanding leadership role. And an apparent memory lapse may or may not be consequential, depending on the reasons it occurred.

There is forgetting, and there is Forgetting. If you’re over the age of 40, you’ve most likely experienced the frustration of trying to grasp that slippery word on the tip of your tongue. Colloquially, this might be described as forgetting, but most memory scientists would call this retrieval failure, meaning that the memory is there but we just can’t pull it up when we need it. On the other hand, Forgetting (with a capital F) is when a memory is seemingly lost or gone altogether. Inattentively conflating the names of the leaders of two countries would fall in the first category, whereas being unable to remember that you had ever met the president of Egypt would fall into the second.

Over the course of typical aging, we see changes in the functioning of the prefrontal cortex, a brain area that plays a starring role in many of our day-to-day memory successes and failures. These changes mean that as we get older, we tend to be more distractible and often struggle to pull up words or names we’re looking for. Remembering events takes longer, and it requires more effort, and we can’t catch errors as quickly as we used to. This translates to a lot more forgetting and a little more Forgetting.

Many of the special counsel’s observations about Mr. Biden’s memory seem to fall in the category of forgetting, meaning that they are more indicative of a problem with finding the right information from memory than Forgetting. Calling up the date that an event occurred, like the last year of Mr. Biden’s vice presidency or the year of his son’s death, is a complex measure of memory. Remembering that an event took place is different from being able to put a date on when it happened, which is more challenging with increased age. The president very likely has many memories, even though he could not immediately pull up dates in the stressful (and more immediately pressing) context of the Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

Other “memory” issues highlighted in the media are not so much cases of forgetting as they are of difficulties in the articulation of facts and knowledge. For instance, in July 2023, Mr. Biden mistakenly stated in a speech that “we have over 100 people dead,” when he should have said, “over one million.” He has struggled with a stutter since childhood, and research suggests that managing a stutter demands prefrontal resources that would normally enable people to find the right word or at least quickly correct errors after the fact.

Americans are understandably concerned about the advanced age of the two top contenders in the coming presidential election (Mr. Biden is 81, and Donald Trump is 77), although some of these concerns are rooted in cultural stereotypes and fears around aging. The fact is that there is a huge degree of variability in cognitive aging. Age is, on average, associated with decreased memory, but studies that follow up the same person over several years have shown that although some older adults show precipitous declines over time, other super-agers remain as sharp as ever.

Mr. Biden is the same age as Harrison Ford, Paul McCartney and Martin Scorsese. He’s also a bit younger than Jane Fonda (86) and a lot younger than the Berkshire Hathaway C.E.O., Warren Buffett (93). All these individuals are considered to be at the top of their professions, and yet I would not be surprised if they are more forgetful and absent-minded than when they were younger. In other words, an individual’s age does not say anything definitive about the person’s cognitive status or where it will head in the near future.

I can’t speak to the cognitive status of any of the presidential candidates, but I can say that, rather than focus on candidates’ ages per se, we should consider whether they have the capabilities to do the job. Public perception of a person’s cognitive state is often determined by superficial factors, such as physical presence, confidence and verbal fluency, but these aren’t necessarily relevant to one’s capacity to make consequential decisions about the fate of this country. Memory is surely relevant, but other characteristics, such as knowledge of the relevant facts and emotion regulation — both of which are relatively preserved and might even improve with age — are likely to be of equal or greater importance.

Ultimately, we are due for a national conversation about what we should expect in terms of the cognitive and emotional health of our leaders.

And that should be informed by science, not politics.

Charan Ranganath is a professor of psychology and neuroscience and the director of the Dynamic Memory Lab at the University of California, Davis, and the author of “ Why We Remember: Unlocking Memory’s Power to Hold On to What Matters .”

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips . And here’s our email: [email protected] .

Follow the New York Times Opinion section on Facebook , Instagram , TikTok , X and Threads .

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By deletion of Slc13a5 in our mouse models we found that elevated mineral citrate levels reduce bone mass, mineral density and strength. However, we do not know yet how the altered mineral citrate levels alter the hydroxyapatite structure such as crystal leaflet thickness, local calcium levels, collagen crosslinks, water content, organic matter, … This project, in collaboration with Markus Hartmann at the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute – Osteology in Vienna, will elucidate how differences in bone mineral citrate content affect the structure and composition of mineralized bone matrix using techniques such as quantitative Backscattered Electron Imaging (qBEI), Fourier transform infrared imaging (FTIRI) & Raman spectroscopic (RS).

While extensive research has been performed on endocrine regulation of plasma calcium levels by calciotropic hormones such as parathyroid hormone (PTH) and calcitonin with respective hypercalcemic and hypocalcemic functions, the hormonal regulation of citrate homeostasis has largely been ignored in biomedical research. However, since plasma calcium and citrate concentration often occur in concert (to prevent crystal nucleation and growth), a common factor in regulation is assumed. Indeed, parathyroidectomy and hypoparathyroidism mostly results in hypocalcemia and hypocitricemia while PTH administration or hyperparathyroidism evokes hypercalcemia and hypercitricemia in patients. The “citricemic” action of PTH on bone is assumed to arise from promoting osteoclastic bone resorption and thereby releasing calcium and citrate. Despite the association of PTH levels with renal citrate clearance, the molecular mechanisms remain elusive.

Although reduced urinary citrate secretion correlates with kidney stone formation and the prevalence of osteoporotic fractures is higher in patients with kidney stones the molecular mechanisms linking urinary citrate to bone mineral homeostasis have not been elucidated yet. Since more than 80% of the total body citrate is stored in the bone minerals, we believe that the skeleton is major player in controlling systemic citrate levels in response to physiological needs, and thus hormonal cues, not only on the level of osteoclast-mediated bone resorption but also specifically on the level of osteoblast mediated citrate uptake, production and release.

We recently discovered that Slc13a5 expression on osteoblasts is regulated by the calciotropic hormone PTH, which suggests a coupling between skeletal citrate partitioning and calcium homeostasis. Since bone mass deterioration, impairment of mineral homeostasis and disturbed signaling of calciotropic hormones are often associated with chronic kidney disease with kidney stone formation and hypocitraturia, we believe that targeting osteogenic SLC13A5 could be a step forward in understanding mineral diseases and development of treatment.

Reduced expression of the plasma membrane citrate transporter SLC13A5, also known as INDY, has been linked to increased longevity and mitigated age-related cardiovascular and metabolic issues. Citrate, a vital component of the tricarboxylic acid cycle, constitutes 1-5% of bone weight, binding to mineral apatite surfaces. Our previous research highlighted osteoblasts’ specialized metabolic pathway facilitated by SLC13A5, regulating citrate uptake, production, and deposition within bones. Disrupting this pathway impairs mineralization in young mice. Mendelian randomization analysis using UK Biobank data indicated that SNPs linked to reduced SLC13A5 function, lowered osteoporosis risk. Comparative studies of young (10 weeks) and aged (52 weeks) osteocalcin-cre driven osteoblast-specific Slc13a5 knockout mice (Slc13a5cKO) showed that aged females exhibited improved elasticity, while old males demonstrated enhanced bone strength due to reduced SLC13A5 function. These findings suggest that reduced SLC13A5 function could attenuate age-related bone loss, advocating for SLC13A5 inhibition as a potential osteoporosis treatment. This project will further elucidate why inhibiting SLC13A5 function in aged bones has differential effects compared to its inhibition during growth. Further translational studies will assess whether SLC13A5 inhibitors could be used as treatment for low bone mass disorders.

Genetic mutations in SLC13A5, the membrane transporter for extracellular citrate uptake, are associated with early onset epilepsy. Several disease-causing mutations in the citrate transporter SLC13A5 have been discovered and outcomes range from no protein translated to a malfunctioning transporter present in the membrane, all leading to a complete loss of citrate transport. Affected children have elevated citrate levels in blood and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) and develop seizures within 24 hours after birth and show a developmental delay with mild to severe intellectual disability. This form of epilepsy, is distinct from other epileptic disorders as affected children present with tooth hypoplasia or hypodontia, which is used for initial differential diagnosis. We have intensively studied the role of SLC13A5 in tissue mineralization and discovered a novel metabolic pathway in skeletal cells in which SLC13A5 partitions citrate in bone and regulates osteogenic mitochondrial citrate synthesis and secretion. In collaboration with TESS Research Foundation, CUREepilepsy and Dr. Mary McKenna we will start shedding light on the metabolic causes of SLC13A5 epilepsy to accelerate disease treatment.

Astrocytes and neurons undergo a continuous exchange of metabolites (e.g. glutamine) to 1) provide a carbon skeleton for the generation of neurotransmitters or energy in neurons and 2) prevent overexcitation by neurotransmitter recycling from the synaptic cleft and conversion into glutamine by astrocytes, ensuring a continues availability of glutamine for neurons. We postulate that due to a defective SLC13A5 transporter, astrocytes augment their endogenous mitochondrial citrate production to the expense of glutamine synthesis. This shift in metabolism leads on the one hand to an increased release of citrate in the extracellular space, similar to what we observed in osteoblasts, and on the other hand to reduced trafficking of glutamine to neurons. While the first could be explanatory for the elevated levels of citrate in the CSF in SLC13A5 epilepsy patients that could be toxic (e.g. changing pH; modulating NMDA receptors) and contribute to the seizures, the second would imply an imbalance in excitatory (glutamate) and inhibitory (GABA) neurotransmitter generation by neurons leading to seizures as well. We will evaluate this hypothesis using a combination of innovative techniques such as mass spectrometry and 13C-NMR. The latter technique is the only method that can determine changes in cell specific pathways of [1,6-13C]glucose metabolism, neurotransmitter synthesis and metabolite trafficking between neurons and astrocytes in whole brains. Identifying the molecular pathways and metabolite trafficking in SLC13A5 epilepsy will allow future development of small molecules targeting specific enzymes or transporters to aid in disease treatment and management by reversing the SLC13A5-deficiency induced metabolic changes.

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Ex-Tesla exec leading Ford skunkworks project to develop low-cost EV

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Ex-Tesla and Ford Advanced EV development boss Alan Clarke is leading a Ford skunkworks project to develop a low-cost electric vehicle, TechCrunch has learned.

Ford CEO Jim Farley made a brief reference Tuesday during the company’s fourth-quarter earnings call that a “skunkworks” team had been created to create a “low-cost” EV platform. TechCrunch has since confirmed that Clarke is leading the skunkworks project, which is about two years old and based in Irvine, California. It includes engineers from Auto Motive Power (AMP), the EV power startup that the automaker acquired in November 2023 . AMP founder Anil Paryani, who coincidentally overlapped with Clarke for about five years at Tesla, is also part of the skunkworks project.

The skunkworks project is working on a third-generation EV. A Ford spokesperson declined to provide more details around the project or its timeline. However, based on Farley’s comments Tuesday — and a year ago — it’s likely that the skunkworks project is focused on cost, smaller EVs and efficiency, including the battery.

“We’re also adjusting our capital, switching and more focused onto smaller EV products,” Farley said during the company’s earnings call. “Now, this is important because we made a bet in silence two years ago and we developed a super-talented skunkworks team to create a low-cost EV platform. It was a small group, a small team — some of the best EV engineers in the world — and it was separate from the Ford mothership. It was a startup and they’ve developed a flexible platform that will not only deploy to several types of vehicles, there will be a large install base for software and services that we’re now seeing at Pro [the company’s commercial unit].”

Ford has scaled back some of its EV investment plans in recent months — including the delay of $12 billion in investments — as it adjusts to softening demand for certain categories of battery-electric vehicles and an increased appetite for hybrids. But the automaker is still putting money toward future products. Last May, Farley revealed details for its second-generation EV platform, which will be the basis of the T3 electric truck and three-row SUV that are going into production in 2025.

“All of our EVs teams are ruthlessly focused on cost and efficiency in our EV products, because the ultimate competition is going to be the affordable Tesla and the Chinese OEMs,” Farley said.

In 2022, Ford restructured its company into three distinct units: its commercial business Ford Pro, its traditional internal combustion engine and its hybrid business Ford Blue and Ford Model e, which focuses on connectivity and electric vehicles.

The company’s profits have come from sales of gas-powered and hybrid vehicles as well as growth at Ford Pro. Ford’s EV business continues to drag down its earnings.

On Tuesday Ford reported revenue of $46 billion in the fourth quarter of 2023, a 4.5% increase from the same year-ago period. Of that, Ford Blue represented the largest slice of revenue at $26.2 billion while Ford Pro delivered $15.4 billion in revenue. Ford e, the company’s EV unit, generated $1.6 billion in revenue and Ford Credit brought in $2.7 billion.

Ford lost $526 million, or 13 cents a share, in the fourth quarter, compared to earnings of $1.3 billion, or 32 cents a share, in the year-ago period. The loss was largely due to special charges related to its employee pension programs and a reorganization of its overseas operations.

On an adjusted basis, the company earned $1.05 billion in the fourth quarter and $10.4 billion for the year.

The company said it expects to make between $10 billion and $12 billion in adjusted pre-tax earnings — a rosier-than-expected outlook that helped push shares 6.3% higher in after-hours trading.


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