One of my favourite social psychology studies is Latane & Darley's (1968) smoke filled room study. In the first condition, participants sat alone in a room, filling out a questionnaire, whilst the researchers pumped smoke into the room. 75% of the participants got up and reported the suspicious smoke (although strangely some 25% didn't do anything).
In the second condition, 3 naive participants were sat together in the room, filling out their questionnaires and again smoke was pumped into the room. This time only 38% of people reported the smoke (where the remaining 62% continued with their task).
Finally there was a third condition, where a single naive participant was joined by 2 confederates of the researchers (who were told not to do anything as the smoke was pumped in). In this condition only 10% of the participants got up to report the smoke, even when it was so thick that the questionnaire was hard to read!
So why is this interesting? Because if you were sat in a room, which was filling with smoke and nobody else moved, you would more than likely just stay where you were. If that smoke had been a real threat to the participants life, they would have made the wrong choice. Using other people as indicators of reality can be very unreliable. Is it any wonder that people get into trouble following idiots? You've got a brain, use it!Go Top