The Most Unbelievable Social Experiments Ever Conducted

Scientists have long felt the need to try and make sense of human behavior. This quest for knowledge about what makes humans tick led to a whole host of psychological experiments from the beginning of the 20th century onwards. The studies included in this list revealed surprising truths about us, but those findings — and the way they were arrived at — are not without some controversy. So without further ado, here are 13 of the most fascinating, controversial, and unbelievable psychological experiments in human history.

1. The Monopoly Experiment

A few years ago, psychologists led by a man named Paul Piff conducted the Monopoly Experiment at the University of California, Irvine. This experiment aimed to explore how accumulating wealth changes people.

As the name clearly suggests, the experiment required a Monopoly board, as well as pairs of strangers to play the game. But this was Monopoly with a difference: the game itself was totally rigged.

Disparity of rewards

Firstly, the strangers were made to flip a coin to decide who would be poor and who would be rich. Piff and his cohorts then provided the “rich” players with double the amount of money as their “poor” opponents at the start of the game.

Not only that, the “rich” players were allowed to throw the dice twice rather than once, enabling them to get around the board much faster than their “poor” opponents. They also received $200 when they passed “Go”, whilst their destitute opponents only collected $100.

Audible boasting about wealth

So, how did the “rich” players react to having more money and opportunities via the rigged game of monopoly? Dr. Piff told website Marketplace, “One possibility is that rich players are kind of embarrassed by the situation, doing what they can to help out this other person, who undeservedly is a poor player.”

Yet, as the academic noted from observing the game, the opposite was actually true. The undeserving rich were far from embarrassed, and actually lorded it over their “poor” opponents. This was illustrated through both their body language and audible boasting about their much-greater wealth.

Worrying findings

Yes, the “rich” players were observed mocking their “poor” opponents’ misfortune, at various points smacking their pieces down more aggressively against the board. Not only that, the “rich” players generally clearly acted as though they were deserving of their extra wealth, and essentially believed the good fortune was merited and because of their dice rolling. Tellingly, none of them attributed their success to luck in post-game interviews.

The Monopoly Experiment appeared to reveal a few startling things. Dr. Piff’s exploration of the empathy gap showed that having more money through good fortune didn’t tend to make that person more likely to share their wealth with others. Rather, the opposite was likely to be the case. As Dr. Piff told Marketplace, “When something good happens to you, we think about the things that we did that contributed to that success. That can be a problem when it comes to inequality, which has skyrocketed in advanced economies in recent decades.”