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January 19, 2024 5 mins

In the early 1900s, psychologists went to great lengths to study their subjects without letting them know they were being watched. Learn more about their research (and about how ethical standards would prevent it from happening today) in this episode of BrainStuff, based on this article: https://history.howstuffworks.com/historical-events/ridiculous-history-when-scientists-hid-beds-do-research.htm

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Speaker 1 (00:01):
Welcome to Brainstuff, a production of iHeartRadio. Hey, Brainstuff. Lauren
Vogelbaum here, it's quite a conundrum needing to conduct research
on people who don't know your conducting research on them.
After all, when people know they're being watched, they may
very well behave differently than they otherwise would. This is

(00:24):
a scientific predicament as old as the science of psychology.
But today we're talking about researchers Mary Henley and Marian B.
Hubble and a study that they did in the nineteen thirties.
By the way, Henley went on to be an important
expert in the stalt psychology. And I tried to look
up how she pronounced her name but couldn't find it.
Henla is the traditional German way of saying it, but

(00:45):
it's often Henlee in English, so I'm going with that
at any rate. As part of Henley's psychology graduate work
at britainmar College, a women's school in Pennsylvania, Henley and
Hubble were trying to determine whether children become less ego
centric as they grow older. In order for the researchers
to get a real feel for the conversations of college students,

(01:06):
they took any means necessary, but to quote their paper
Egocentricity and Adult Conversation, published in the Journal of Social
Psychology in May of nineteen thirty eight. In order not
to introduce artifacts into the conversations, the investigators took special
precautions to keep the students ignorant of the fact that
their remarks were being recorded. They concealed themselves under beds

(01:27):
in students rooms where tea parties were being held, eavesdropped
in dormitory smoking rooms and dormitory washrooms, and listened to
telephone conversations. And the researchers didn't confine themselves just to
students campus activities. They also captured remarks in waiting rooms,
hotel lobbies, theaters, and restaurants, even on the street car.

(01:50):
They pursued their unsuspecting subjects in the streets, in department stores,
and into their homes. In each case, the researchers jotted
down a verbatim record of the remarks on the scene
before the article. This episode is based on how Stfforks
spoke about email doctor Ali Mattou, a clinical psychologist. He
explained the hallmark of psychological science is experimentation, highly controlling

(02:14):
an environment and only manipulating one experimental variable. While this
type of research can tell us a lot about the
relationship between cause and effect, experimental studies can sometimes lack
external validity, which is to say, the more control a
researcher exerts on an experiment, the less it seems like

(02:34):
real life. Observational studies like the one Henley and Hubble
carried out pose a way to mitigate that effect, although
they have their own drawbacks. The duo hoped to get
good data without the biasing effect of letting their subjects
know they were being observed. Because again, knowing you're being
observed changes your behavior, Mattu said, this is called objective

(02:57):
self awareness. This can be helped full in a lot
of situations. Banks and other high security environments show you
camera security footage of yourself to trigger objective self awareness
and reduce the chances you might do something stupid for
the purposes of research. Knowing that you are being observed
can lead to reactivity. People might act the way they

(03:18):
think an experimenter wants them to act, or they might
act more in line with cultural expectations. They might also
act the opposite of what is expected because they know
that this is an artificial situation back in Henley. In
Hubble's time, though the concept of objective self awareness hadn't
been defined, they also lacked something else critical to research

(03:40):
studies today, informed consent that would arise from the Nuremberg Code,
created after World War II, an important set of ethical
standards for the treatment of human subjects and scientific experiments
of all kinds, upon which many international regulations and guidelines
have been based. Mattus said. The rules now state that

(04:00):
people must be fully aware of an experiment's risks and
benefits before they sign on to participate. Additionally, you cannot
involve anyone in any type of research without their complete consent,
and if at any time they want to pull out
of a study, they can. Scientists could do a sort
of modern take on Henley and Hubble's experiment today, but

(04:22):
in a much more controlled and etical way. All research
has to go through institutional review boards that work to
protect participants from studies that would have scientists hiding under
their beds. Mattu said. Researchers can easily study behavior in
public spaces without getting informed consent from others, as long
as they don't reveal any identifying information about the people

(04:43):
being observed. Researchers typically do this by showing results in aggregate.
For example, someone studying public behavior in times square could
describe how many times people help each other out, as
long as they don't describe specifics of individuals, a meaning
that if the authors of the nineteen thirty eight study

(05:04):
wanted to get their results today, their methodology would need
to be drastically different to conform to ethical standards. In
case you're curious, Henley and Hubble found that adults don't
shed their egocentricity after all, and they've had a lot
of time to think about it, hiding under beds and
sneaking around campus. Today's episode is based on the article

(05:29):
Ridiculous History when scientists hit under beds to do research
on HowStuffWorks dot com, written by Brian young a brain
Stuff is production of iHeartRadio in partnership with hastuffworks dot
Com and is produced by Tyler Klang. Four more podcasts
from my heart Radio visit the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts,
or wherever you listen to your favorite shows.

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