Experiments With People Book Summary By Robert P. Abelson, Kurt P. Frey and Aiden P. Gregg

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Experiments With People offers readers a comprehensive overview of the field of social psychology.

In this captivating book, you'll learn all about the hidden sides of human nature and how they affect our choices and behavior.

Over the years, these experiments have taught us a lot about ourselves and how we interact with one another.

From altruism to social intelligence, author Robert Levine takes us through different experiments conducted throughout the twentieth century that reveal surprising information about who we are as people.

He details each experiment; from the earliest ones conducted in laboratories to more recent ethnographic studies on modern populations.

The sum of these findings helps to provide an understanding of group dynamics and how these dynamics can be used to inform our interactions and decisions - making it invaluable reading for anyone interested in gaining insight into human behavior.

Experiments With People Book

Book Name: Experiments With People (Revelations From Social Psychology)

Author(s): Robert P. Abelson, Kurt P. Frey and Aiden P. Gregg

Rating: 4.4/5

Reading Time: 24 Minutes

Categories: Psychology

Author Bio

Robert Paul Abelson was an eminent psychologist and social scientist who served at Yale University.

He was well-respected in his field, having achieved the prestigious honor of becoming a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

His life's work - and his lasting legacy - remain in Experiments With People; a book he wrote on psychological experimentation which stands today as one of the seminal works in its field.

Filled with insightful observations and thought-provoking ideas, this exceptional work written by Robert Paul Abelson is truly a must-read for anyone interested in psychological experiments and research.

28 Groundbreaking Social Psychology Experiments That Reveal Why We Do What We Do

Social Psychology

Want to get up to date on the advancements of social psychological experiments since the twentieth century? Then you need to check out the Experiments With People Book Summary, which showcases some of the most influential experiments conducted in this field.

Through this book, you’ll get an understanding of how people’s behavior and decisions are influenced by their group and surrounding environment.

Not only will you gain insights on why our actions don’t always seem to make sense, but you’ll also learn why people spend so much effort on projects doomed for failure and explore gender roles as a way for us to make sense of inequality.

Furthermore, there are discussions about how certain situations cause people to act in ways that don’t necessarily conform with their naturally-predisposed personalities.

So if you’re wondering about human nature and its complexities, this book can certainly help provide further understanding.

We May Not Be Aware Of Our True Feelings And Memories, Proving That Introspection Is Unreliable

People often have misconceptions about their inner lives and how their emotions drive their behavior.

This is why the practice of introspection doesn’t always pan out the way we think it will.

For example, Richard E.

Nisbett and Nancy Bellows did an experiment in 1977 where they asked participants to rate a hypothetical job applicant named Jill based on certain characteristics with some participants being given information that Jill had recently been in a car accident.

Even though this information had no significant effect on the average likability score of Jill from the participants, those individuals asked later to be introspective cited the car accident as a major factor for liking Jill, indicating how unreliable introspection can be for understanding ourselves at times.

Another example of us being incorrect in our observations is illustrated by Cathy McFarland, Michael Ross and Nancy DeCourville who conducted an experiment where participants wrote daily reports about their menstrual cycles.

When they were asked two weeks later to recall how they felt during that time, they consistently overstated negative feelings and pain – due in part to their belief that menstruation can be a painful experience – even if that wasn’t necessarily true.

These experiments show us just how easily our minds can mislead us when it comes to comprehending our own emotions and behaviors which is why we need to take extra caution not to take everything at face value before making conclusions regarding our inner selves.

How Our Desires, Expectations, And Initial Sacrifices Shape Our Decisions

We tend to overly value things that we’ve put in some sort of effort or sacrifice to get.

This is what Elliot Aronson and Judson Mills demonstrated in their 1951 study.

In the study, participants read out a lewd passage to an experimenter as an initiation before they were allowed to join a discussion group – even though the discussion turned out to be extremely dull upon joining it.

Those who had undergone this trial still gave it a better rating than those didn’t undergo the same initiation, simply because of the amount of sacrifice they had gone through.

This tendency also makes it difficult for us to know when we have made bad decisions, thus hindering us from potentially cutting our losses.

A rational example would be if a government has spent $1billion developing a dam project which might cost another $2 billion, only to find out that would be inefficient once completed.

Instead of being stopped while they’re ahead, they go on with the project in spite of its emerging defects despite how much money it has already invested – resulting in an even greater loss afterwards.

Apart from the value placed on one’s own efforts or sacrifices towards something, we are also heavily influenced by how options are presented!

This is clear in Alexander Rothman et al’s 1999 study which showed that people are more likely to order a free sample based on positive wording than negative wording―67 percent ordering from positive language compared to 47 percent from negative language!

These results demonstrate how persuasion used when providing choices can cause someone to choose one option over another regardless of true quality.

Sometimes It Makes Sense To Do The Opposite Of What We Want In Order To Reach Our Goals

Reach Our Goals

When it comes to our actions, situational factors often impact our behavior more than character traits do.

This was demonstrated in John Darley and Daniel Batson’s 1973 study, where the theology students who were running late only helped the actor in need 10% of the time whereas those who weren’t rushed helped him 63%.

The same concept was established in Edward Jones and Victor Harris’s 1967 study, which showed that we tend to explain our own behavior by our situation but attribute those of others to their character.

We also can find ourselves taking action against what we originally wanted despite having genuine intentions.

One example is trying to block out noise while trying to fall asleep; even if you’re stressed and want to sleep, your willpower could be too abortive for concentrating on such task–this confirms Matthew Ansfield et al.’s 1996 experiment.

We Rely On Quick Judgments And False Intimacy For Unfamiliar Situations

Our minds, it seems, can lead us astray in many ways.

This was demonstrated by a 1993 study by Daniel Gilbert et al., which found that when presented with true and false evidence about a defendant on trial, the participants who had to do arithmetic at the same time tended to suggest sentences eleven years longer for the wrongfully accused defendant.

In another case, Fred Ayeroff and Robert Abelson’s 1976 study found that two participants guessing which one of five cards the other participant would select were unable to successfully guess more than a chance rate – until they interacted face to face before conducting the experiment.

In this situation, even though their accuracy didn’t actually improve, participants estimated their success rate to be around 50%, believing they had some sort of telepathic connection to their partner.

This demonstrates how our mental processes cause us to misjudge certain situations — simply based off of feeling connected or “good vibes”.

People Use Deception And Stereotypes To Make Sense Of The World

As we strive to make sense of the world around us, we tend to accept fiction as reality.

In Experiments With People, George Quattrone and Amos Tversky’s 1980 study established that it’s often easier to rationalize our situations than acknowledge them, even when we suspect something is wrong.

If a person suspects they have a serious illness but have not lost their appetite yet, they are likely to ignore the suspicion and push themselves to eat instead.

Curt Hoffman and Nancy Hirst’s 1990 study showed that this trait also manifests in gender stereotypes – by forming stereotypes of different alien races that correspond with our own social roles or “Ackmians” and “Orinthians” – we quickly ascribe certain characteristics of each race without considering other factors.

In other words, if a certain species is predominantly involved in business and industry, then we assume these people naturally possess better assertiveness traits.

The experiments conducted in Experiments With People Book point out how this habit of ours—of accepting fiction as real—can ultimately lead us astray from recognizing the reality around us.

While accepting such fiction can prove helpful at times (such as creating positive mentalities which help motivate people), it can also unconsciously encourage bias against certain groups or individuals due to flawed reasoning concerning their genders and lifestyles.

Social Norms Give Us Strength And Safety, But We’re Illusionary Too: The Power Of Groupthink


Group loyalty and pressure have a major impact on our behavior.

This is evident in an experiment performed by Albert Hastorf and Hadley Cantril in 1954.

After asking Princeton and Dartmouth students their views on a contentious football game between the two schools, they found that 90 percent of Princeton fans blamed Dartmouth for starting the foul play, while the same held true for Dartmouth fans blaming Princeton in comparably high numbers.

It appears that people are more likely to identify with their team if it’s winning, or if they’re trying to protect their ego.

This was proven by Robert Cialdini et al.’s 1976 experiments which showed that participants used personal pronouns three times less often when describing home defeats than when describing home victories.

It seems that when people are feeling low, they try to push away any negative affiliations.

We also can’t forget about social norms, as Asch’s 1955 study shows us just how powerful these unspoken rules really are.

In this study, 99 percent of participants had no problem matching lines from two cards but, when put into a group of actors who gave wrong answers 31-37 percent of the time, these real participants followed suit.

But interestingly enough they only went back to giving correct answers below 10 percent once even one actor gave the right answer – proving conclusively just how influential conformity is on our decision making as individuals in groups.

The Negative Effects Of Group Pressure And Deindividuation On Human Behavior

It’s a fact that being in groups can bring out the worst in people.

Studies have shown that when we’re part of a group, individuals are less likely to take responsibility for their actions and more likely to behave badly.

John Darley and Bibb Latané’s 1968 study on human behavior demonstrated this when they had participants each sit alone in a room listening to recordings of someone having a seizure.

The more people present, the less likely they were to offer help, as responsibility became diffused across the many people present.

The idea of deindividuation was explored by Edward Diener in 1976 with his Halloween study.

Here he placed candy and coins on the front porches of 27 homes and trick-or-treaters were instructed by an actor to only take one piece of candy before going back inside— but kids readily disobeyed when they were part of an anonymous group rather than singled out individually, taking more than one 57% percent of the time.

Finally, studies have even found links between exclusion from groups, antisocial behavior and even violence— as was seen in the tragic case with Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold who infamously went on a shooting spree at Columbine High School before taking their own lives.

It was found that both boys had been ostracized prior to this incident due to their exclusion from groups.

The Exposure Effect, Behavioral Confirmation, And Prejudice: What Makes Us Like Or Dislike People

People often believe the untrue statement that we are who we choose to be when it comes to attraction and prejudice.

However, Theodore Mita’s 1977 study found evidence of how exposure to a person can influence our preferences of them, something known as the exposure effect.

Similarly, believing someone is attractive or has certain qualities is enough for you to behave in a way that leads them to reciprocate positively – this is called behavioral confirmation.

At a deeper level, even though most people don’t recognize it, prejudice lurks at a subconscious level according to John Dovidio et al.’s 1997 experiment.

The study revealed how quickly participants associated negative words with black male faces after exposure to one photograph compared with white male faces.

Even further, their survey answers showed individuals weren’t aware of their own bias and weren’t actively trying to display preferences based on ethnicity.

This research clearly shows that attraction and prejudice are motivated by more than conscious choice; rather they result from exposure and unconscious beliefs about people we haven’t even met before.

How To Get People Think And Do What You Want: Seize Cognitive Dissonance And Authority


It’s startling to think about how easily people can be influenced, even to the point that they could be made to carry out evil acts.

Stanley Milgram’s classic 1963 study showed just this phenomenon.

In this experiment, participants were told that they would be playing an educational game in which a supposed coparticipant was receiving shocks if they answered incorrectly.

The fake shock machine used included switches supposedly ranging from 30 volts all the way up to 450 volts and even had an option marked “XXX.”

When the coparticipant in the experiment made mistakes, 65 percent of the participants actually gave a 450-volt shock, and some even used the “XXX” option.

This astonishing result proved that people are willing to do things – even inherently immoral acts – when blindly obeying orders.

Leon Festinger and James M.

Carlsmith also conducted an eye-opening experiment in 1959 which demonstrates how easily we can change opinions by simply getting people to act in opposition of their views.

In this test, participants who had gone through a tedious experiment were asked to tell the next participant if it had been enjoyable.

Though many of them found it awful, convincing them that passing along a positive impression would help with the study caused most of them to modify their views and say that it wasn’t so bad after all!

Is Altruism Real? Evidence Suggests We’Re Genuinely Concerned For Others And Even See Our Loved Ones As Part Of Ourselves

There is no denying it – humans are capable of doing bad things.

Despite this fact, there is still hope for the human species: altruism and love do exist.


Daniel Batson et al.’s 1988 study demonstrated this when it asked participants to listen empathically to a sad story and then encouraged them to sign up to help the person in need – 60 percent of the participants signed up!

This proves that people can have genuine concern for others and act altruistically even when they don’t have to.

But what is love? Experiments conducted by Arthur Aron et al.

in 1991 revealed that, when you love someone, you make them part of your sense of self.

In other words, their struggles become your struggles and their joy becomes your own – you consider yourself as one with them.

So, if you feel like something that’s true for your spouse is also true for yourself, then that could be a sign that you love them deeply as an inseparable part of yourself.

Altruism and love may both exist among us humans, but it requires us to put in an effort to foster these qualities in ourselves and our communities.

Wrap Up

Experiments With People Book Summary is a great resource for those looking to gain a better understanding of the dynamics at work in everyday life.

It looks at social psychology from the twentieth century and examines how our behaviour reflects our beliefs, emotions, desires, motivations and environmental influences.

In doing so, it gives us insight into why we act the way we do and what drives us as humans.

Ultimately, this book helps us uncover the intricacies of the human experience and our relationships with ourselves and others.

Arturo Miller

Hi, I am Arturo Miller, the Chief Editor of this blog. I'm a passionate reader, learner and blogger. Motivated by the desire to help others reach their fullest potential, I draw from my own experiences and insights to curate blogs.

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