People are more likely to return a lost wallet if it has cash in it than if its empty
In a recent field experiment researchers posing as members of the public dropped off 17000 lost wallets at reception desks of banks, hotels and museums in cities in 40 countries.
Some wallets contained no money and others £10 cash, and each had a shopping list, a key and business cards with contact details for the owner.
Only 40% of the empty wallets were returned compared to 51% of wallets with £10. The researchers also tried the experiment with £75 in which case the wallet was returned in 72% of cases.
There were significant cross-national variations: In China less than 20% of wallets were returned while in Switzerland the figure was 75%.
Relevance to A-level sociology
This is a great example of a field experiment and a cross national study combined, which seems to be designed to test levels honesty in different countries.
It’s mainly relevant to the Crime and Deviance module and seems (at face value) to be supporting evidence for the view that 60% of the reception staff in hotels around the world won’t go out of their way to return a wallet with no money it to its owner – but progressively more of them will if there is more money in the wallet – this seems to be suggesting reasonably high levels of empathy/ honesty – if 75% of people return a wallet with £75 in, that’s higher than I would have expected. (Then again perhaps I’m just dishonest scum?).
Limitations of the experiment
Despite the 40 countries, it’s not very representative of the populations within those countries – basically reception staff in hotels/ banks/ museums – that’s a very thin cross section of the class structure.
The experiment also tells us very little about the reasons why people didn’t return the wallets, and very little about why the return rates varied so widely.
The low return rates in China could be because the Chinese are inherently less honest, and the high return rates in Switzerland might be because the Swiss are inherently more honest.
However, it might just be showing variations in cultural norms and values.
In China, for example, the low return rates may be due to a collectivist culture resulting in everyone thinking a lost wallet is no big deal, as everyone’s going to be OK whatever happens to them, due to a collective safety net.
Also, people may not have bothered to return the wallets because very few people actually use cash in China (at least in the cities) – money transfers are done by phone, and people increasingly use their phones to access their properties. Thus, maybe the low levels of return there are because the wallets were seen as something of a ‘back up’ or an ‘eccentricity’?
In Switzerland on the other hand, maybe the high return rates signify the high levels of individualism?
As with many things sociological/ psychological, more research required to dig deeper!
No More Boys and Girls (BBC, August 2017) BBC programme documents a 6 week experiment in gender neutrality carried out with one year 3 primary school class in primary school on the Isle of White…. Can our kids go gender free?
Doctor Javid Abdelmoneim (*) believes that these attitudes are not just the result of biology, but down to socialisation, and so establishes a gender neutrality experiment, conducted on one class of year 3s, in which he removes all traces of gender differentiation for a 6 week period, finally testing them to see if ‘typical gender differences’in things such as self-confidence and spatial awareness have been reduced (*I recommend you check out the above profile, on Al Jazeera, he seems like an interesting character!)
The rational for doing this research now is that these children have lived their entire lives under the equality act, which was passed in 2010, emphasizing that men and women should be treated the same.
Thankfully, some generous sole has kindly done the BBC’s job for them and provided an effective and just service to license fee payers by uploading the documentary to YouTube, which the BBC itself only made available for a short time on iplayer, a totally unreasonable action given the cost of the licence fee. Here is said video:
The documentary finding, however, suggest that this is far from the case, and there are several differences in terms of attitudes about what boys and girls should do, and how the teachers treat boys and girls.
The programme starts with a few clips of boys’ and girls’ attitudes towards gender, which suggests that they have very set views about what they suited to do in the future, in which various girls and boys say that:
‘If a woman has a baby, the man will have to get a job to look after them.’
‘Men are better at being in charge.’
‘Men are more successful because they could have harder jobs and earn more.’
‘I’d describe girls as pretty, dresses, lipstick and lovehearts’
‘boys are cleverer than girls because they get into president more easily’.
There are also early observations of one class in which the teacher clearly uses gender specific terms for girls and boys – calling the girls ‘love’, and boys ‘mate’, for example.
But why do gender differences between boys and girls exist?
Dr Javid visits a neuro-scientist who helpfully tells us that there appears to be very few structural differences in the brains of boys and girls, and thus gender differences are not biologically determined, but exist because of socialisataion – their experiences have taught them different skills and different mental attitudes.
Research from Stanford University suggests that seven is a key age in the development of gender identity, because it is at this age that boys and girls start to develop fixed ideas about what it means to be a man or a woman, thus Dr Javid’s experiment should be able to change gendered expectations of boys and girls.
Dr Stella Something now comes in from the UCL psychometric lab to subject boys and girls to what seems to be a pretty rigorous series of activities aimed to measure….
Their levels of self-esteem
Their perceived intelligence
Their understanding and levels of empathy
Their levels of assertiveness
How good they are at resisting impulses
How much vocabulary they have to describe their emotions
Levels of classroom behavior, hyperactivity and
The basic findings (which are corroborated by the class teacher) are that:
Girls underestimate their levels of self-esteem, intelligence and assertiveness: three times as many boys overestimated their perceived intelligence, and girls were more likely to underestimate it. 50% of the boys described themselves as ‘the best’, compared to only 10% of girls.
Boys cannot seem to express their emotions – girls were more able than boys to provide ‘similar words’ to describe every emotional cue-word given to them, except for anger.
Girls tendED to describe themselves through words about looks (such as ‘pretty’ and ‘lipstick’)
The Control Group
Another, very similar year 3 class which had a regular 6 weeks of teaching was also tested alongside the experimental group to act as a control.
Dr Javid turns up on day one and tells the pupils about the experiment – he basically tells them he wants to ensure than boys and girls are treated the same, because they can all do as well as each other, and he then gives them a load of signs saying such things as ‘girls are strong’ to challenge gender stereotypes, which they put up around the classroom.
For further details you’ll need to watch the programme…. for now – I’ll update with the rest when I get time!
The school where this experiment took place is Lanesend Primary School, on the Isle of Wight, with 300 boys and girls aged 5 to 11,
In 1999 Sugata Mitra put a computer connected to the internet in a hole in the wall in a slum in Delhi and just left it there, to see what would happen.
The computer attracted a number of illiterate, slum children, who, by the end of the first day had taught themselves to surf the internet, despite not knowing what a computer or the internet were, or being able to read.
Over the next five years Mitra progressed his hole in the wall experiment to focus on delivering more specific knowledge – by posing questions via the computer in the hole in the wall. One question he asked, for example, was ‘why does hair grow’? After a few days, non-English speaking Tamil students were able to answer this question with reference to cell-biology.
Mitra then advanced his experiment even further in the UK – bringing his methods to Schools of Gateshead – where, without the English language barrier, students as young as nine were able to teach themselves about Quantum Entanglement, just from the internet.
The absence of a teacher was acting as a pedagogical tool – with students as young as young as nine.
Mitra’s basic theory of learning is that children simply need two things to learn effectively:
Firstly, they need to be allowed to crowd around computers which are connected to the internet.
Secondly, they need the absence of a teacher.
This is the absolute opposite of our current model of education, which Mitra argues was built to meet the needs of the British Empire, when people had to do the work of machines, and the system needed identical people who needed to be taught to not ask questions, and under no circumstances be creative.
We still have this model today – which is also a ‘just in case’ model of education – we teach people to be able to do things (e.g. solve quadratic equations) just in case they need to be able to do so.
According to Mitra, this model is completely out of date and out of touch with (post?) modern times – now that all knowledge is available online, the idea of individual knowledge is simply redundant: we don’t need to know until we need to know – and we need to move to a ‘just in time’ model of education, in which kids are allowed to learn quickly from the internet what they need when they need it.
Interestingly Mitra says he finds the idea of the redundancy of individual knowledge distasteful, but he has to report what the data from his Hole in the Wall Experiment reveals.
Mitra isn’t saying that we don’t need teachers, just that don’t need the type of teacher who gives uni-directional instructions, rather you need a teacher to be a friend, for moral support and a role model, to guide you through learning.
What children need is a a self-organised learning environment – and it does help if you have an adult who isn’t necessarily knowledgeable but is admiring who spurs children on (like his own Grandmother did).
All of this raises the question of whether we actually need schools? The general consensus of the programme seems to be that we do, but primarily because they are social environments, and children benefit from the social aspect of schooling, and that we don’t necessarily need traditional teachers.
Mitra also suggests that we need to re-think about what socialising actually is, and how technology might be changing this – when you’re floating around on Facebook, for example, is that socialising, or is it something completely different?
Sugata Mitra is Professor of Educational Technology at the School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences at Newcastle University.
Starting in Spring 2016, Channel 4’s ‘Return to Eden’ was a year long social experiment in which 23 people moved to Inverness-shire in the Scottish Highlands – their mission – to form a community and survive for one year.
The experiment was a somewhat artificial community-experiment – in that the people were selected by the show, on the basis of their having the different skills thought to be required for a community to survive for a year; and with the exception of electricity and modern technology (most significantly phones and computers) they were given a shed load of equipment necessary to meet their basic needs – although they did have to grow their own food.
Oh, and the community members all had cameras, along with a bunch of fixed position cameras to film the whole experience.
‘Return to Eden’ initially aired in summer 2016, documenting the first three months of the experiment. Originally, it seemed that Channel Four were going to provide updates on the community throughout the year, but after the initial summer raft of episodes, there was a near total media blackout until the show ‘returned’ as ‘Eden Lost‘ in summer 2017, 3 months after the year long experiment ended.
Eden Lost starts in the summer of 2016, following the participants from 3 months to the end of their stay (by the end, there are only 10 people left, 13 people dropped out, mostly women, before the conclusion of the experiment).
After the first three months – the camp has basically divided into three – a group of five males who have ‘bonded’, 2 ‘outsiders’ who are living in a cabin on their own, and everyone else.
Episode 1 of ‘Eden Lost’ focuses on the group of five males, seemingly led by a character (a plumber) called Titch who at one point proposes a ‘gendered division of labour’ which offends pretty much everyone else outside of the clique of five. This group of lads seems to be quite the ‘Laddish subculture’ – openly joking about ‘sharing women’ in front of, well, the women in the community, and teasing them for ‘getting emotional’ when they got upset about their laddish behaviour.
You can see them throughout the episode justifying their behaviour, employing various of Matza’s ‘techniques of neutralisation’, clearly never taking responsibility for or really ever seeming to care about how their juvenile misogyny was having a negative effect on group dynamics.
The formation of this group seems to have led to yet more women leaving, further entrenching their position of power in the wider community (five in a group of fifteen, which is roughly how many were left by this point is quite a significant number too!)
Episode two focuses on the two outsiders – who effectively get voted out (75% majority required) by the others. These two seem to have been used as a scapegoat, constructed as a venting point for certain people in the main community.
Episode three – ‘Valley Boys’ focuses on the developing split between the five ‘valley boys’ and the other six people left in the original group. These five increasingly isolated themselves from the wider community, wanting to focus more on ‘themselves’ rather than doing things for the community as a whole.
It also seems that the lads deteriorate further into their laddishness, with scenes of derogatory ‘banter’ directed against the gay guy in the group (justified as just ‘banter’ by the lads).
At one point, the lads start eating nothing but meat, pushing the slaughter rate of animals up from one a week to six a week, which offends Rob P, the vet who has respect for animals and can’t see to see so many ‘shot in the face to feed greedy wankers’ (or something along those lines – and he becomes another one who leaves, effectively forced out by the relentless laddish subculture.
NB – what’s particularly grim about they way they deal with their meat fest is that they leave bits of bone and carcass lying around the valley, which makes it ‘stink of death’.
The final episode stars off with Christmas Day – which seems to be going fine until Artist Katie, the girlfriend of the vet who left in the previous month, decides to leave the party stating she doesn’t want to spend the day with any of the people there because they’re all revolting (as far as she’s concerned)
There’s an issue with people getting contraband smuggled into Eden, and a debacle over someone having been using a mobile phone, although we never actually find out who was using it. which kind of makes a mockery of the whole experiment.
By this final episode, the two groups are living entirely separate lives, but they come together for a final fire-party on the beach.
What does Channel 4’s recent social experiment tell us about ‘community’ and social life more generally?
Milgram’s obedience experiment is one of the most useful examples to illustrate the strengths and limitations of laboratory experiments in psychology/ sociology, as well as revealing the punishingly depressing findings that people are remarkably passive in the face of authority…
This post outlines details of the original experiment and two recent, televised repeats by the BBC (2008) and for Darren Brown’s ‘The Heist’ (2014).
The Original Obedience Experiment (1963)
Milgram (1963) was interested in researching how far people would go in obeying an instruction if it involved harming another person. Stanley Milgram was interested in how easily ordinary people could be influenced into committing atrocities for example, Germans in WWII.
The video below is quite long, but you can selectively watch it to get an idea of the procedure (which is outlined below)
Volunteers were recruited for a lab experiment investigating “learning” (re: ethics: deception). Participants were 40 males, aged between 20 and 50, whose jobs ranged from unskilled to professional, from the New Haven area. They were paid $4.50 for just turning up.
At the beginning of the experiment they were introduced to another participant, who was actually an associate of the experimenter (Milgram). They drew straws to determine their roles – learner or teacher – although this was fixed and the confederate was always the learner. There was also an “experimenter” dressed in a grey lab coat, played by an actor.
Two rooms in the Yale Interaction Laboratory were used – one for the learner (with an electric chair) and another for the teacher and experimenter with an electric shock generator.
The “learner” was strapped to a chair with electrodes. After he has learned a list of word pairs given him to learn, the “teacher” tests him by naming a word and asking the learner to recall its partner/pair from a list of four possible choices.
The teacher is told to administer an electric shock every time the learner makes a mistake, increasing the level of shock each time. There were 30 switches on the shock generator marked from 15 volts (slight shock) to 450 (danger – severe shock).
The learner gave mainly wrong answers (on purpose) and for each of these the teacher gave him an electric shock. When the teacher refused to administer a shock the experimenter was to give a series of orders / prods to ensure they continued. There were 4 prods and if one was not obeyed then the experimenter read out the next prod, and so on.
Prod 1: please continue.
Prod 2: the experiment requires you to continue.
Prod 3: It is absolutely essential that you continue.
Prod 4: you have no other choice but to continue.
65% (two-thirds) of participants (i.e. teachers) continued to the highest level of 450 volts. All the participants continued to 300 volts.
Milgram did more than one experiment – he carried out 18 variations of his study. All he did was alter the situation (IV) to see how this affected obedience (DV).
Ordinary people are likely to follow orders given by an authority figure, even to the extent of killing an innocent human being. Obedience to authority is ingrained in us all from the way we are brought up.
People tend to obey orders from other people if they recognize their authority as morally right and / or legally based. This response to legitimate authority is learned in a variety of situations, for example in the family, school and workplace.
Despite the many ethical pitfalls of this experiment, some participants still believed the benefits outweighed the costs – below is the view of one participant…“While I was a subject in 1964, though I believed that I was hurting someone, I was totally unaware of why I was doing so. Few people ever realize when they are acting according to their own beliefs and when they are meekly submitting to authority… To permit myself to be drafted with the understanding that I am submitting to authority’s demand to do something very wrong would make me frightened of myself… I am fully prepared to go to jail if I am not granted Conscientious Objector status. Indeed, it is the only course I could take to be faithful to what I believe. My only hope is that members of my board act equally according to their conscience…”
More recent video repeats of the Milgram experiment:
The BBC did a documentary in 2008 in which 12 people were subjected to what seems to be the same experiment, and a similar results found. Vimeo link here.
Darren Brown also did a more recent re-run of the Milgram obedience experiment in order to test people’s responses to authority as part of his 2014 programme ‘The Heist’ – interestingly in this, one participant says they can’t carry on because they’ve heard of the experiment (even though they seem to have started it), while another who hadn’t heard of it comments that they needed more buttons on the shock machine.
Strengths and Limitations of Milgram’s Obedience Experiment
Some of the obvious advantages include the fact that it’s got excellent reliability, given the similar results gained on the two repeats, and it’s still a useful tool for waking us up to just how quiescent to authority many of us are, challenging theories such as the flight from deference.
It also illustrates many of the limitations of experiments – it is still extremely artificial, not true to real life because authority manifests itself in vastly different ways (as teachers, police and so on, not scientists), and the Hawthorne Effect is very nicely illustrate in the Darren Browne clip above (seriously has not EVERYONE heard of the Milgram experiment by now?!, or is that just my middle class cultural bias?), and then of course, there’s the ethics – Darren Browne actually comments that it took one of the respondents too long to recover from the experiment, so he doesn’t select her for the next stage of ‘The Heist’.
Milgram’s Experiment on Obedience to Authority, which cites Milgram, S. (1974). Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View. New York: Harper and Row. An excellent presentation of Milgram�s work is also found in Brown, R. (1986). Social Forces in Obedience and Rebellion. Social Psychology: The Second Edition. New York: The Free Press.
According to recent studies, China is home to one of the best education systems in the world, while Britain is trailing a long way behind. In some studies Chinese students are three years ahead of British students in reading and writing ability.
China is well known for its ‘tough education’ methods, but can these methods be used to improve the performance of British students? In a recent BBC documentary: ‘Are our kids tough enough? Chinese school’ a field experiment was conducted to find out.
five Chinese teachers took over the education of a class of fifty Year 9 pupils at Bohunt School in Liphook and taught them (in one class of 50!) using Chinese teaching methods for a month, and then tested in English, Maths, Science and Mandarin, and the results compared to other students who remained receiving a more typical British Education.
The main features of the Chinese School consisted of:
The school day being 12 hours long with a 7 a.m. start consisting of a flag raising ceremony and outdoor exercises.
In the classroom, most lessons were essentially lectures. Teachers stood at the front writing the theory on the board, while the students (were supposed to) take notes and learn.
PE was a compulsory – and students were timed, tested and ranked against each other.
The ultimate test of the experiment was to see if Chinese teaching methods improved educational performance – which they did (or at least appeared to have – see below). Students who attended the Chinese School for four weeks scored about 10% points (on average) higher in Mandarin, Maths and Science and they also did better in English, but with a smaller margin.
The experiment also revealed that there was something of a culture clash – those students were not particularly self-disciplined or well-behaved did not respond well to a Chinese style of teaching which is less student-centered and not as inclined to encourage individualism.
Limitations of the field experiment
I say that the Chinese-School kids achieved better test scores – what we’re not told is how much they improved, or what their ability was compared to the control group. I’m assuming all this was controlled for.
The Hawthorne Effect might apply – the improved results might be a result of the students knowing their involved in an experiment (and knowing they’re on TV) or the better results might simply exposing the kids to something different, rather than it being about those exact Chinese methods (a change is as good as a rest!)
It’s also not clear how representative this school is – Bohunt seems to be a brilliant school, enlightened (which is reflected in getting involved in this whole experiment in the first place). Would you get the same findings somewhere else?
Ethics: Some (wrong) individuals might try and argue that some of the children experienced harm to their self-esteem by being ranked in PE (other (right) individuals might argue this is just life, tough, get over it kiddo).
The Advantages and Disadvantages of Field Experiments in Sociology
Unstructured Interviews in the Context of Education
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