There is no meaning to life. That we know. But since we are here, what would be the ideal world? We’re smart, how should we use it? The following is a selection of telling experiments, that on one hand show what conditions could help us lead a happy and fulfilling life, and others which show how we can be manipulated into doing horrible things to each other. It’s a choice that we need to make personally and globally in order to create the world we want to live in: a paradise, or hell on earth. This is not in any means a definitive list; only a selection that influences my choices in life, and a good reminder for how I want to treat other people, and how I would like to be treated.
Experiments to note:
- Addiction. Rats in a solitary cage, given a choice between water and water laced with drugs will choose the latter. Rats in a “happy” cage, with other rats, and lots of toys will choose just water. Rats transferred from the drug cage to the happy cage will stop using drugs. reference
- Fairness. Two monkeys in separate cages, but able to see one another. Given the same task, but a different reward. One given a cucumber, the other a grape. The cucumber is a good reward until the other monkey receives a grape. This is when the monkey rewarded with cucumber gets angry for not getting a grape for the same job as the other one. reference
- Authority power. A person in a lab coat performs the experiment. The subject sits at a desk and asks test questions to another person (an actor), who is not visible to them. At every wrong answer, they administer an electric shock to the hidden person. The strength of the shock goes up with every wrong answer. The dial has marks of “danger! Extremely strong shocks” and “XXX”. When these get administered, the actor gives out sounds of progressive trauma, then goes silent. 63% of people tested went all the way to the “lethal” dose of electricity as instructed by the “figure of authority”. reference
- Societal norms transfer. Five monkeys in a room with stairs. A banana put on top of the stairs. One monkey tries to get it, and all the other monkeys get sprayed with cold water. The process repeats until monkeys themselves stop attempts at walking up stairs by beating the “offender”. Then one monkey gets replaced. The new monkey sees the banana, and tries to go up to get it. The other four attack it. Another monkey gets replaced. Tries to get the banana, and the other four attack it, including the previously “new” monkey. This repeats until no “old” monkeys remain in the experiment. Now none of the monkeys know the reason for not going up stairs apart from being stopped by their peers. reference
- Power corrupts. The Stanford prison experiment. Two groups of students were given roles. One was given the role of “offenders” and put into a made up “prison”, the other were given the role of police and prison wardens. Normal, healthy, even pacifist people were made into monsters with no empathy towards other human beings. Labelling provided by a figure of authority allowed for it. reference
- Self-determination. Edward Deci proves that punishment and reward do not create a lasting effect. Only until the feedback stops. Autonomous motivation is lasting and fosters creativity. The notable experiment was about young children who liked drawing. Half of the group were given rewards for drawing, the other wasn’t. After two weeks of rewarding, the feedback was stopped. The drawing stopped too. The children who didn’t receive the reward continued to draw, and continued to enjoy drawing. reference
- Statistical happiness. Study by the New Economics Foundation shows that economic prosperity only makes people happy to a certain point. After that, it has no effect. A list of “5 a day” of happiness inducing activities suggested: Connect, Be active, Take notice, Keep learning, Give. reference
- Giving vs squandering. $100 given to a person. Half of the people tested were told to spend it on themselves, half were to spend on others. The effect was that the “giver” were happier and for longer than the squanderers. Even more interesting is that when people are reminded of a happy memory correlated with giving, they are more likely to give in the future. reference
- Robbers Cave experiment. Two groups of twelve year old boys were manipulated first into bonding within their respective groups, then pressured into “winner takes it all” competition, and finally into productive cooperation. Not only this experiment showed that conditions can be created that foster competition, or cooperation BY CHOICE, but also the heavy influence that authority has on this process. The other side observation is the effect of authority on young minds. It ought to really make us think seriously about the opportunity that we have as adults in shaping the cooperative or competitive future. reference
Freedom, sharing, cooperation foster conditions of happiness, and a basis for thriving.
Squandering, authority, control create misery, scarcity, and want.
The choice is simple: LOVE instead of fear: