15 Times Researchers Were Surprised By The Results Of Social Experiments

Published 4 years ago

Nowadays, the term “social experiment” has been ruined by social media. That’s because every silly prank or other nonsense things that annoying YouTubers do are labeled as “social experiments”. However, today we won’t be talking about those. Today we have a collection of actual social experiments performed by real researchers, and we’re pretty sure the results will surprise you as much as they did the people that came up with them.

Check out a handful of social experiments with unexpected results that left researchers surprised in the gallery below!

Read more

#1 How Do People See Themselves, And How Are They Seen By Strangers?

Image source: dandad

Idea: For the Real Beauty Sketches social experiment, Dove teamed up with an FBI forensic artist and had them draw portraits of women based on their own descriptions. Then they had the artist draw the same women based on the description of strangers. The two portraits turned out dramatically different.

Result: The women in the strangers’ descriptions look happier and generally more accurate. The researches concluded that people tend to exaggerate their flaws while strangers mostly focused on the positive features.

#2 If A Field Is Left Unattended, Would People Steal Agricultural Produce, Or Would They Pay For It?

Image source: Annemarie Rencken

Idea: The researchers placed boxes of fruit, vegetable, and flowers by the side of the road. They wrote the prices on a nearby stand where people could leave the money. And here’s the catch – there was no one around to control the transactions.

Result: There were no reported thefts and some people actually paid more than the price suggested on the sign.

#3 The “Violinist In The Metro” Experiment

Image source: Joshua Bell

Idea: Back in 2007, professional violinist Joshua Bell played a 45-minute-long concert in the subway of Washington, D.C. The man performed six pieces and used his handcrafted 1713 Stradivarius violin, estimated to be worth around $3.5 million.

Result: Only six people stopped to listen to Joshua, and about 20 gave him money. The violinist ended up collecting $32. No one noticed him finish playing and he received no applause in the end. This made people wonder whether we only value the presentation instead of the art itself. This theory becomes especially apparent when you realize that just three days before, Joshua played at Boston’s Symphony Hall where some of the seats cost as much as $100.

#4 Rosenhan Experiment

Image source: Wikipedia


Back in 1973, psychologist David Rosenhan released a paper titled On Being Sane in Insane Places where he criticized psychiatric hospitals and the treatment their patients were getting. The man and seven other experimenters acted as patients and got admitted to various psychiatric hospitals all over the U.S. After being admitted, they said that their hallucinations have disappeared and continued to behave completely normal.

Result: Despite the fact that the participants were acting normal, they were fed antipsychotic medicine which they would flush down the toilet. They would act in a calm, rational matter and even write down their observations, but even despite that, they were still treated as if they were mentally ill.

#5 Carlsberg Social Experiment

Image source: Carlsberg

Idea: Danish brewery Carlsberg performed a social experiment where unsuspecting couples would enter a crowded movie theater and realize that the only remaining seats were right in the middle where they would be surrounded by tough-looking bikers.

Result: Some of the couples ended up walking out after seeing all the bikers but the ones that sat down were greeted with cheers and a round of Carlsberg. The experiment wanted to show that we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Check out the full video here here!

#6 What Will Happen If All Foreign Products Are Removed From Supermarket Shelves?

Image source: heinzinger

Idea: The Edeka supermarket in Hamburg, Germany, removed all foreign-made products from their shelves, only leaving German-made products, for a day in a campaign that aimed to fight xenophobia.

Result: The customers found nearly empty shelves and the project helped raise awareness of how different life in Germany would be without cooperating with other countries.

#7 Smoke Filled Room Experiment

Image source: APA Psyc Net

Idea: In this experiment, the researchers had a participant sit in an empty room and fill out a questionnaire while the room slowly filled with smoke, and observed their reaction. They then repeated the experiment, only this time there were two other people who acted indifferent to the smoke.

Results: While alone, 75 percent of the people reported the smoke immediately, and the average time it took for them to notice the smoke was two minutes. However, when there were actors present, the number dropped to just 10 percent, and 9 out of 10 subjects simply continued to work on the questionnaire, despite the smoke. The researchers came up with the theory that we tend to heavily rely on the responses of others instead of our own instincts, leading to inaction.

#8 What Will Happen If Some Drivers Are Penalized And Others Are Rewarded?

Image source: thefuntheory

Idea: Another experiment from Volkswagen’s “Fun Theory” campaign wanted people to change their behavior and do the right thing. To do that, the researchers installed a speed camera that would fine speeders, and then use the funds to cover the lottery price for obedient drivers.

Result: Before the camera was installed, the average speed on that stretch of the road was 20 miles per hour. After it was installed, it dropped by 22%. The success of this experiment led to the Swedish National Society for Road Safety installing more of these cameras along the highways.

#9 How Much Are We Alike?

Image source: momondo

Idea: Travel search company Momondo asked 67 people from all around the globe to take a DNA test to prove we have much more in common with other nationalities than we think.

Result: The results showed that neither of the 67 people were purely one race or ethnicity. The participants were so surprised by the results, they even suggested repeating the experiment to help fight racism and xenophobia.

#10 What Will Happen If A Piano Staircase Is Installed Near An Escalator?

Image source: strotokan

Idea: An experiment created for Volkswagen’s Fun Theory campaign had a staircase painted to look like a giant piano. The researchers wanted more people to take the stairs instead of the nearby escalator.

Result: The experiment worked, and the use of the staircase increased by a whopping 66 percent.

#11 How Does Music In A Taxi Affect Passengers?

Image source:  The Late Late Show with James Corden

Idea: A taxi driver changed the music in his car and noted how it affected the behavior of his passengers, as well as the rating they left. He would switch up the music every seven days.

Result: The driver noticed that the genre of music indeed impacted the ratings he received. Rock music, rap, and retro songs caused the rating to fall, while older hits and classical music caused it to increase.

#12 What Will Happen If Network Users Are Given Freedom Of Actions And A Little Bit Of Free Space?

Image source: egeesin

Idea: A little while ago, Reddit ran an experiment where they would allow users to draw on a blank online canvas for 72 hours. The users had to either wait 5 minutes to color a pixel or work as a team. There were also a few “guardians” that protected certain drawings from being destroyed.

Result: While the project started out rather peacefully, it quickly evolved into chaos with the “guardians” choosing which drawings to protect, while allowing others to perish. Other users started deliberately destroying people’s creations by placing random black pixels in the middle of drawings.

#13 How To Unite People With Different Views?

Image source: Heineken

Idea: Heineken conducted a small social experiment where they had three pairs of strangers with different backgrounds build various constructions and ask each other certain questions. The pairs would slowly realize that they have greatly different beliefs. In the end, the pairs would decide if they want to talk to their partner over a bottle of beer.

Result: In the end, all of the participants decided to grab a beer, despite having different beliefs, proving that a lot of them can be left aside if you just get to know the person. Check out a full video of the experiment here!

#14 How Much Does An Opinion Cost- A Little Or A Lot?

Image source: Pictures of Money , APA Psych Net

Study Conducted in 1957 at

Idea: Back in 1957, Stanford University conducted an experiment where they wanted to research cognitive dissonance – a concept that refers to a situation involving conflicting attitudes, beliefs, or behaviors. Researchers Leon Festinger and James Merrill Carlsmith asked the participants to perform a series of boring tasks for extended periods of time and observed their attitudes, which were mostly negative. They then paid the participants either $1 or $20 if they told the ones waiting in the lobby that the tasks were interesting.

Result: Nearly all of the participants ended up persuading the ones waiting that the experiment would be fun. In the end, all of them were asked to rate the tasks, and the ones that were paid $1 rated the tedious tasks as more enjoyable than the ones that were paid $20 to lie. It turned out that being paid $1 was not a sufficient incentive for lying, and the people experienced dissonance which they could only overcome by pretending the tasks were interesting and enjoyable. The ones that were paid $20 experienced no dissonance.

#15 What Will Happen If People Start Reading Bad News Every Day?

Image source: PNAS

Idea: A while ago, 689,003 Facebook users participated where researchers wanted to see what would happen if people only read bad news every day. The participants would be shown only bad news for a week while another group was only shown positive news.

Result: Only seeing bad news significantly changed the online behavior of the users. They were more prone to sharing negative news, and emphasized negative emotions. The positive news group, on the other hand, felt happier and more compassionate to others.

Aušrys Uptas

One day, this guy just kind of figured - "I spend most of my time on the internet anyway, why not turn it into a profession?" - and he did! Now he not only gets to browse the latest cat videos and fresh memes every day but also shares them with people all over the world, making sure they stay up to date with everything that's trending on the web. Some things that always pique his interest are old technologies, literature and all sorts of odd vintage goodness. So if you find something that's too bizarre not to share, make sure to hit him up!

Got wisdom to pour?



interesting social experiments, social experiments, unexpected results
Like deMilked on Facebook
Want more milk?
Hit like for a daily artshake!
Don't show this - I already like Demilked