Psychological Experiments – Please. This is the second article of our series “Psychological Experiments and Their Meaning” where we explore the brilliant experiments scientists conducted to reveal how our minds work and what triggers them. We are still with the Influence-related experiments.
Experiment (2): Please
This experiment was carried out by social psychologist Ellen Langer (Langer, Blank, & Chanowitz, 1978) which demonstrated that humans are more likely to comply with a request if a reason is also given, even if that reason makes no sense. She asked a small favor of people waiting in line to use a library copying machine:
1- “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I’m in a rush?”
The effectiveness of this request plus-reason was nearly total: 94 percent of those asked let her skip ahead of them in line.
2- “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine?”
Under those circumstances only 60 percent of those asked complied.
3- “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I have to make some copies?”
The result was that once again nearly all (93 percent) agreed, even though no real reason, no new information was added to justify their compliance.
Psychological Experiments: Please – Explanation
Just as the sound of turkey chicks triggered an automatic mothering response from mother turkeys even when it emanated from a stuffed polecat, so the word “because” triggered an automatic compliance response from Langer’s subjects, even when they were given no subsequent reason to comply.
Psychological Experiments: Please Real-life Examples
If an expert says so, it must be true
It’s instructive that even though we often don’t take a complex approach to personally important topics, we wish our advisors, our physicians, accountants, lawyers, and brokers, to do precisely that for us.
Administration has noted that, frequently, an obvious error made by a flight captain was not corrected by the other crew members and resulted in a crash. It seems that, despite the clear and strong personal importance of the issues, the crew members were using the shortcut “If an expert says so, it must be true” rule in failing to attend or respond to the captain’s disastrous mistake.
In our experiment, the woman did not give a reason for asking to get ahead in line but we are pre-programmed in a way that makes us respond to certain triggers. The word because was the trigger in that experiment. In our lives, the trigger could be the assumption that someone else knows better because he/she is posing as an “expert” which might cost you a lot if you are not paying attention.
Explained in detail in article (1): “Psychological Experiments: Mother Turkey”
 Kahn, B. E., & Baron, J. (1995). An exploratory study of choice rules favored for highs-takes decisions. Journal of Consumer Psychology
 Harper, C. R., Kidera, C. J., & Cullen, J. F. (1971). Study of simulated airplane pilot inca-pacitation: Phase II, subtle or partial loss of function. Aerospace Medicine
Australia Unwrapped brings you a complete series of Psychological Experiments