“The purpose of psychology is to give us a completely different idea of the things we know best.” Despite the convincing quote, psychology is a subject that is commonly shown as a fraudulent, yet referential field of science. When I say psychology, it is likely that many people consider psychology as an anti-scientific field.
However, as in the quote, there was a book that made me understand the ideal of psychology: Opening Skinner’s Box
|[A photo of me reading Opening Skinner’s Box. Photo Credit: Hyunhee Ahn]|
I was assigned to read Opening Skinner’s Box for an AP Psychology assignment. The book consists of ten chapters, each dealing with experiments conducted by various psychologists. Each chapter started with a short blurb with related theoretical background and then explained the scientific method and results of the experiment. Each chapter ended with evaluation from other psychologists who were associated with the experiment.
Opening Skinner’s Box gave me a totally different view of human beings, especially their minds. Out of all the intriguing experiments, the ones in chapter two and seven were most memorable as they raised a question in my mind. I began to doubt if these experiments are referential in understanding the human mind.
The foremost error for the experiments was that the subjects might be aware of the purpose of the experiment and act differently, whether voluntarily or involuntarily. Psychologically, this flaw is called the “Hawthorne Effect” -- this effect mostly happens during social experiments or humanistically approached experiments by the burden of pressure set toward the subjects to act morally righteous. Reading chapter two, I questioned myself about a situation where the subjects are aware of the intention of the experiment. This would inevitably lead to the subjects acting differently which would look unnatural. If my assumption is valid, there would have been side-effects that overturned the consequences.
|[A drawing of the “electrical shock machine” experiment described
in chapter two. Photo Credit: Minjung Kwon]
The photo above is a simple representation of the experiment process carried out by the psychologist Stanley Milgram. He conducted this experiment to test if people would follow orders to the point of lethally harming a person when they are faced with credible authority. To test this, Milgram created a fake but convincing “shock machine” that was connected to the chair of the learner. He had the subject (teacher) pronounce some words to the learner and if the learner got the pronunciation incorrect, the subject was told to give an electric shock. The shock increased in intensity every time the learner made a mistake. However, the learner was actually a co-worker of Milgram and there were in fact no electric shocks. The result showed that about 62~65% of the subjects followed orders to the point of lethally harming the learner. But as I mentioned, this result might be invalid if the subjects were aware that the learners were acting. This unrecognized mistake would have completely overturned the results.
Another flaw that I discovered throughout most of the chapters was that the psychologists failed to differentiate the dissimilarity of wildlife and humans. Specifically, chapter seven experimented on rats to test whether drug addiction was caused by environmental factors. However, humans are biologically more complex than other living species as a whole. The physical difference, communicative difference, and difference in the process of thinking between animals and humans are all factors that can affect the experiment. Due to such biological differences, I concluded that it is logically imprecise to use animal behavior as a framework to test the mental process and behaviors of humans.
Realizing these possible defects in the experiments, I noticed that not all psychological experiments appear to be downright valid. I specifically got closer towards the inaccuracy of psychological experiments. Reading this book was a great experience that made me contemplate the mental processes of humans in general. Overall, the book has given me a completely new perspective toward psychology.
Seoul Scholars International
Minjung Kwon firstname.lastname@example.org