Friday, 5 October 2007

What's the most important psychology experiment that's Never been done...?

To mark 100 email issues of the Research Digest - the British Psychological Society's free roundup of the world's best new psychology research - and to inspire the next generation of researchers, I asked leading psychologists and bloggers to write about 'The most important psychology experiment that's Never been done.'

This feature is sponsored by the not-for-profit Centre for Applied Positive Psychology. CAPP Press, their publishing arm, is proud to announce the forthcoming publication of two titles in its "Strengthening the World" series. See

I'd like to thank our contributors sincerely for taking their time to participate in this special feature and being prepared to put their ideas on the line.

We have 13 contributions in all, which have been published daily over the past fortnight.

1. Watching death, by Susan Blackmore
2. Reducing prejudice and discriminatory behaviour, by Pam Maras
3. Caring for psychotic patients with maximum kindness and minimum medication, by Richard Bentall
4. Personal psychology experiments, by Will Meek
5. Can psychology save the world? by Scott O Lilienfeld
6. Why is learning slow? by Richard L Gregory
7. Switching the parents around, by Judith Rich Harris
8. Expanding the frontiers of human cognition, by Chris Chatham
9. Testing foetal cognition, by Annette Karmiloff-Smith
10. Hiring private detectives to investigate paranoid delusions, by Vaughan Bell
11. Challenging the conclusions drawn from Zimbardo's Stanford Prison Experiment, by Alex Haslam
12. The Truman Show experiment, by Jeremy Dean
13. Changing the focus of psychotherapy to what is good in your life, by Martin Seligman

What do you think is the most important psychology experiment that's never been done? Have your say via comments.

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.


Anonymous said...

I think the most important psychological experiment(s) yet to be performed have to do with the question of whether consciousness continues after death, etc.

We hear of near-death and out-of-body experiments. Seems to me that we could create a massive experiment that would, say, allow us to guage if it is true...or just the mind tricking us. For example, what if we placed a "secret" number on top of the light over the operating table? No one could see it...unless they were floating up near the ceiling (and perhaps even the number might be a LED readout that changes ever few moments). Well, obviously, if someone sees the number after a near death experience, we'd start thinking a bit differently.

Further, there is some thinking that the end of consciousness is somewhere beyond brain death. But for all we know, that consciousness goes on for eternity. We simply do not know...and I think there have to be psychological tests that we can perform about the nature of the soul, eternity, etc.

Very simply, are we truly eternal beings...or is all of religion really a farce?

Anonymous said...

I think that the most obvious experiment that has never been done is one to examine the question of what damage is or is not done to children and young teenagers who are exposed to relatively benign adult sexual content, in particular adult nudity or George Carlin's "Seven Words You Can't Say on Television."

We have always taken it as an article of faith that children, even most teenagers, must be protected from any exposure to the unclothed figure or to graphic language. Massive effort is put into censorship, ratings systems, even criminal laws to "protect" the delicate sensibilities of the young.

Has anybody ever actually studied the effects of such exposure? I would be very interested to see the results of such a research project.

Anonymous said...

I think the most important psychological experiment that has not been done is the Quantification of Fear.The differences and nature of the fear that arises out of circumstances like imminent danger,other implicit prototypes of fear such as failure,guilt et al. or the fear of death.
I'm not an authority on this subject.Please let me know if some kind of quantification of fear studies have been conducted earlier.

Anonymous said...

How about the question of where psychology would be if they cut all ties with government and corporations? If, instead of being used as a means to force conformism to the status quo, and, usually, the petite bourgeoisie lifestyle, psychologists would focus their attention toward actual social good? Or, how about, re-establishing the foundation of psychology--the bifurcation of the self, in order to be a more legitimate discipline, as opposed to being based on a fallacy?

Dan said...

I think a neat experiment that would probably be half case study half performance art would be for someone to try to make themselves have multiple personalities. Not through the horrific abuse that people say is the 'usual' cause, but a gradual process of trying to radically alter their own mental state.

Anonymous said...

Blackmore's proposal stirs me most, of the dozen on offer - it selects a fundamental matter and suggests something to be done
surely there will be volunteers who will help psychologists set up means of observation and record - even if it currently involves rather apparently degrading b its of large machinery (I speak from having been in a body scanner - but not having had the pleasure of using brain imaging gadgets ...)

nobody asked me for an experiment - but anyway, here goes:
I would like to see someone investigate the role that listening to input (call it music, whatever) involving triple time might offer for individuals lucky enough to receive such input - even in utero. This is against a background that in utero the predominant auditory experience will be in dual time (mum's heart beat)and walking behaviour as it contributes to foetal proprioception and hearing. The dual time experience I hypothesise is limiting for later cognitive development. Triple time is, however, something for which a more advanced mental apparatus is required. Thus triple time input early on (and slow, withal) could be a most constructive "building block" for future cognitive sophistication. Something along the lines I suggest has been tried with studies which have tantalisingly fallen back on a likely-misleading label of the "Mozart effect". I am sure it is nothing magical to do with that genius - more a matter of which bits of Mozart's music was most successful in promoting such effects - I hypothesise they will have been slower items, and deploying triple time.
If anyone may intend to pick this one up and run with it - G-d bless you - and I'd be most interested to know what happens!
Mallory Wober

Anonymous said...

Related to the consciousness and death question, why do some people still believe in God?

My hypothesis would be that in early human societies, religious beliefs about god(s) and mythological external influences had some sort of survival advantage.

Over time, I'm sure these religious ideas helped bind human societies together and were the foundation of modern politics.

It's difficult to work out how to test it scientifically though.

Anonymous said...

I think that there are many empty spaces in dreams psychology!

L K Tucker said...

There have been no papers or experiments on visual Subliminal Distraction.

A survey of those with panic attacks and early episodes of brief psychotic disorder to determine how many of those victims have Subliminal Distraction exposure would be such an experiment.

There are activities in which SD appears because of the nature of the activity, Qi Gong and Kundalini Yoga. The "special circumstances" for this exposure are deep mental investment to the point of slight dissociation while there is repeating detectable movement in peripheral vision.

The psychotic episodes connected to these two exercises are known. No one has previously connected these activities with SD. Although there are individual cases that show SD exposure no one has written a paper on this.

VisionAndPsychosis.Net is a five-year research project to define and explain Subliminal Distraction.

Anonymous said...

I think that the most important experiment in psychology that has not to this date occured, is one in which velocity is multiplied by the autonomous nervous system in order to determine whether or not there is an extra dimension in which human consciousness is only skeptical about at this point in time. The ANS is the subconscious functioning of the body correct? The subconcious has been likened to the unexplainable phenomenon occuring in our everyday lives by the ever growing New Thought movement.

Anonymous said...

Although visual Subliminal Distraction was discovered in the 1960's when it caused mental breaks for office workers there have been no papers or studies since. Almost no one in mental health services is aware the problem exists.

So little is thought of this phenomenon that a design student in Australia tells me it does not appear in text books. Students of design there are expected to "pick it up" from lectures.

I began to research the problem when my wife had a psychotic break in the payroll office of the University of Alabama in 2002. This happen about thirty days after her workspace was redesigned eliminating Cubicle Level Protection.

By searching for activities that cause mental breaks and evaluating them for SD exposure I have been able to track the phenomenon.

Using the psychiatric outcomes of Qi Gong and Kundalini Yoga it is possible to see that intense short term exposure causes a temporary episode, ICU Psychosis. Low-level long-term significant exposure creates fixed psychotic-like mental states. Victims believe they can levitate, walk through solid objects, read your thought and control your actions through mental telepathy.

Although the etiology is not understood by contributors, there are YouTube video of examples of this. The links are on my website with an explanation of how this belief system is installed. (George Dillman, Dim-mak Fraud- Pentecostal Bedlam, holy laughter.)

I don't have the training or access to carryout the necessary experiments.

Surveys investigating SD exposure would show a connection for this phenomenon with depression and other disorders.

This would dramatically change the outlook for mental illness.

This phenomenon points to the fact that most mental illness is preventable but not treatable with any drug therapy. Positive results are an outcome of suggestibility and coincidence.

My site is a collection of notes gathered over five years. It is a difficult read because if is not intuitively organized.

Consider this question:

Can you cite a case of a blind from birth person having panic attacks ICU Psychosis, or schizophrenia? The completely bind cannot have SD exposure.

L K Tucker

Anonymous said...

I am trying to find an "important psychology experiment that's never been done" of my own.. I'm a junior in high school and am trying to decide what to do my senior thesis on. Psychology has been my favorite class so far so I would like to do something at least vaguely related to it. .
At the moment I'm leaning towards a study on whether latent toxoplasmosis has an effect on male criminal behavior but I'm not sure if it will work out. I have concerns about how exactly I would go about collecting my data, if i will find a mentor in my area, etc, so I'm looking for other options.
Our thesis has to be something that expands/adds to existing knowledge: it can't be something previously done. It also can't take over a year to complete. Does anyone have ideas about any viable research or experimental studies I could complete? I'm interested in things related to emotion and personality.. I was considering doing something related to aggression and video games but there have already been way too many studies on that.
Any advice in general would be appreciated, such as the best way to go about the toxoplasmosis idea (i was thinking about administering blood tests to prisoners to determine whether the rate of it in the criminal population was significantly higher than that in the noncriminal population) or simply new ideas.

Anonymous said...

a true study of what is really going on during the Mushroom, lsd, Mescaline (and many others} experiences needs to be examined in a serious way to determine if these journeys of the self have a benificial potential for mankind as a catalist or bridge to an area of human conciousness that should not just be dismissed as undesirable. They may be the answer to many of our most serious human delemmas and have been too readaly dimissed

Anonymous said...

Ok lets be experiment on whether consciousness continues after death as suggested by someone here is one that would never and should never be taken seriously within psychological research...

My interest is in the area of psychosis and anti-social behaviour. I believe that we as humans have created an unnatural environment for ourselves that does not bode well with our evolved animal brains. We have houses, cars, computers etc which all seem very intelligent and advanced, yet we still have teenagers stabbing, shooting, raping etc. which seems to set us back a long way in terms of "intelligence".

What I propose as an experiment is to take a group of teenagers who are beginning to display signs of antisocial behaviour to an area of complete wilderness to almost entirely fend for themselves(of course some regulation being needed). Im not talking about the intense, military style of places such as "Brat Camp" etc, it would instead be a gradual long term project. In a hippie-ish term "to reconnect with nature" or more specifically our natural selves, and gain some understanding of how we are the way we are and why we have evolved the way we have...

However one could argue that it may be too late as anti-social behaviour may be genetically woven into society.....

Anonymous said...

Noise experiments needed - Can very loud percussive music over time have long-term effects on abilities to think? – especially to make connections, to think of more than one thing at once, and to persist with cognitive curiosity over time.
Can talks with background music of this type be comprehended and attended to as well as without background noise?
We know the risks of damage to hearing – but do loud factory-pattern drum-beats have, over time,cognitive consequences too?
These are important experiments that are needed to monitor what are now global mass cultural impositions that few can escape, not even babies or listeners to radio talks. There have been plenty of investigations into improving IQ – but less into how to prevent damage. The current world-wide rises in IQ are in technologically useful non-verbal abilities, such as pattern recognition and manipulation – but not in verbal areas of reasoning and judgement.

Anonymous said...

Literacy should be made far easier.
Urgently needed: experiments in innovations in the task of literacy. It is absurd that half the population under-functions because it cannot read adequately – because human engineering is not applied to the literacy task that they have been set.
That is, experiments are needed in the print and format of books; aids to fast-track reading such as three levels of text difficulty on the same page; and experiments in removing unnecessary spelling difficulties for new readers, so that they can read an ‘easy spelling’ version on the same page as standard spelling. These experiments can be cheap, on-line, enable self-help by learners, and enhance the value of teachers.
There is so much that cognitive psychologists know about the processes of learning and reading – and it is not applied to these areas of literacy. The costs of teaching English spelling as it is are ridiculous. Radical change is not needed, but elimination of unnecessary unpredictability, such as redundant letters in words. Every assumption needs to be challenged, as in every other area of scientific activity. The time for mere arguments is long past.
URLs - - pages on literacy, spelling and writing systems - cartoon video aid to prevent and reduce confusions, which demonstrates the advantages of reducing spelling unpredictability.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with those that say that the most important psychology experiment not done, is a true unbias look at the "lifstyle" that the modern world presents and it affects on the indivdual and presently labeled mental illnesses.

I am very troubled that psychology is constantly "finding" individuals "metally ill" because the do not conform to what they or those institutions that are established (government and social norms) believe "should be" the norm.

Kids that are active but not to the extreme labeled as having ADD because parents don't have time to handle raising them due to needing to work to "live". People with depression consider "ill" simply because the "experts" believe that a "normal" person shouldn't have problem with dealing with modern influences of society. Did you now research suggests highly intelligent and creative people are show to be more at risk of depression? Why? because the "reflect" too much on things. So now thinking too much is close to being considered a "mental illness risk".

We as humans have come to expect to exert our influence and control over all aspects of our life. We make devices to control the climate. Devices to control information and vehicles to lessen distances. We seem to think that we should be able to control humans as well. A person too active for your liking? Give them a drug to make them calm. Not happy with the situation give them a drug that prevents them from feeling. It goes on and on. There seems to be a terrible push towards modifying the person to fit the desires of whatever forces are currently at work but none that actually question whether those forces are causing real problems and whether the symptoms seen are actually normal and natural responses.

To put it simple. As is the case with medications. The WHAT has become the focus. Not the WHY. Chemicals in the brain are known to be responsible for people feeling emotions or acting is certain manners. Today, medication is used to control those reactions by modifying what chemically is happening. It has become less and less important to researchers to search for the reasons why those reaction are happening in first place.

Mauro Mello said...

I would very much like to see the result of a well-conducted correlation study of personality profiles and DSM Axis II disorders.
As raw material for formulating the hypotheses to be tested, I would use Eve Delunas' clinical findings, reported in her 1992 book "Survival Games Personalities Play".
Heretically, I would prefer using MBTI, rather than, say, NEO-PI, as a profiling tool, because it explicitly leaves out dimensions such as "neuroticism", that could seriously correlate with the DSM Axis II classes.
My hypothesis is that there are common(innate?) factors that determine both personality and the kind of mental disorders one has propensity to develop. If confirmed, this would shed important light on the genetic versus environmental etiology models of mental disorders.

A said...

I'd like to think the biggest unanswered question is to figure out the true total potential of the human brain. Can we read each others' minds if we try hard enough? Can we 'read' the future? Can we possibly end sexism? Can we finally harness our full potentials?

And what would the experiment look like that could help us answer such a question?

Tee Azu said...

I am not sure if scientifically or psychologically, this research/experiment has been done and its findings. If not, I would like to establish the link if any on THE EFFECTS OF NAMES ON PERSONALITY. My personal experiences warrants this research.

The similarities in actions and behaviours of my 2yr old named after my granny(deceased) is astonishing. Same for between my nephew and my dad, and a few friends and family.
In some cases, the similarity is as close as to the sound of their voice, their walk and general mannerism wheher one is deceased or alive.

Is it gene related or is it the name?


Draxdon said...

Unseen staring phenomenon investigated via fMRI,fEITER technology.


Anonymous said...

I love that idea about the consciousness after death study...and why shouldn't it be investigated and taken seriously by the scientific community, if it were to yield results. Nothing worse than a close minded scientist.
One problem with the methodology suggested though, is that an out of body experience can happen when you are alive,(I have personal experience of one when I had a one off epileptic fit so I know these things do happen - very strange). It wouldnt confirm life after death.

Psicologo Barcelona said...

Hello. My name is Jordi and I am a psychologist at Barcelona. First of all congratulations to this blog for its interesting content area, and secondly, mencioanar for me, as a psychologist I am, the experiment "incredible and amazing" I think that has been done is that of Milgram's Prison ( It's amazing how people react in this experiment. People who are "normal" get aggressive and problematic. I think it's amazing because it shows how flexible is the human behavior and shows that people can come to perform genuine outrage if the circumstances are appropriate.
Anyway, I think many of the experiments that have been mentioned in this forum are worthy to be studied very carefully.
Sorry for my English.

Coach Barcelona said...

Hi Jordi. I'm from Barcelona! Do not have enough blogs in Barcelona ???... jajajjaja ... I read the article you say and I liked, but there is something not quite understand. People in the experiment already knew they were participating in an experiment. Why is pussy crazy? might think: "I know this is an experiment and in a few days away". I think the reaction of the participants is exaggerated. I understand the reasons that explains the article, but I still think that the reaction of the participants is greatly exaggerated. Perhaps with other participants of the experiment would have had another result. They repeated the experiment?

L K Tucker said...

There should be an investigation or an experiment to determine why a massive number of subliminal failed attempts to execute the vision startle reflex, in a compact time frame, causes a dissociative mental break, possibly an episode of coma, psychosomatic medical complaints, then a manic or psychotic episode.

This problem was discovered and solved forty years ago. In nine years investigation using news stories about psychotic episodes on the Internet I found only one doctor who said he had seen these episodes while in residency.

I have an 'uneducated guess' as to the cause in the "background" section of the "Letters" page at VisionAndPsychosis.Net.

The Air Force has agreed to investigate the phenomenon as the proximate cause of service member suicides. There are two suicide clusters in China and France, where the companies failed to protect against this exposure with peripheral vision blocking schemes. The cubicle was designed to do that in offices to stop the problem by 1968.

Psicologo Barcelona said...

Hello Coach Barcelona. The experiment has been repeated ever. He is currently prohibited this type of experiments on people. Human behavior is unpredictable and depends on the circumstances. Think that these people overreacting? I recommend you read other experiments, such as Milgram ( This experiment was repeated many times by changing the conditions. Read the results ( You will be surprised!

Sigrun said...

1)Find out how many of psychologists' clients who have been harmed in therapy (for example because the therapist did not allow user participation) and what could be done to help harmed clients.

2)Study the relationship between staff and patients in locked wards in light of Zimbardo's Stanford Prison Experiment.

√úbersetzung said...

I don't have the training or access to carryout the necessary experiments.

Surveys investigating SD exposure would show a connection for this phenomenon with depression and other disorders.

Unknown said...

I think that Skinner's experiments were very important for Psychology and the knowing of human behaviour.

Daniel said...

'Why the human brain is liable to religious faith?'

Although i have no real methodology to test this, it is an area that could be given more attention in the future as religion and the role of 'God' is such a huge influence in the world and I think psychology could have an important contribution. Dawkins has said that we may have evolved the type of brain that is inclined to partake in religion or believe in 'God'. At first thought the advantages of community strength, 'psychological crutch/support', refusal of current life to be 'insignificant' in the broader scope of things and of course cultural conditioning are possible reasons but i am sure there are more specific ones. Is it possible that parts of the brain for persons with a devout faith based up bringing would differ in certain aspects to those up bringing as atheistic? e.g Brain activations during tasks (type of tasks i cannot currently think of). Could devout religious people experience less/more depression or life satisfaction than non-religious/atheists? There may be some existing research that involves religion but as it is such a sensitive topic it appears to be ignored, understandably due to funding issues and benefits of findings etc.. interesting nonetheless.

AJ said...

Toxoplasma gondii (or similar) being the cornerstone of Christianity?

Unknown said...

I think this has been done already several times in different ways. The young peope were in a farm and given responsibilities and chores related to animals, probably to motivate them, or they were trekking and camping in wild areas to give them a chance to discover a wild environment, versus a city environment, and to discover the 'real world' versus 'a world created by us human beings'.

I do, like you do, believe that the more we leave disconnected from nature the more uncomfortable we feel and we develop strange behaviours like animals in a zoo do.

Unknown said...

to be able to study something we would need to be able to detect it...
Have you ever heard of a machine that can detect any activity in a body after?

If yes... please send me an email!

Post a Comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.