The 9 Weirdest Psychology Studies Ever Performed

By Casey Wheeler

Out of all the parts of your body, your brain is undoubtedly the strangest. No one really understands exactly what goes on up there, and honestly, there are some things that many people probably don’t want to know about. But psychologists do! With all the weird things we think, do, and dream about, it was probably inevitable that researchers would perform some of these bizarre studies at some point.

  1. Does empathy make couples look alike?

    Have you ever noticed that couples who have been together for a long time start to resemble each other? While a shared diet and environment were seen as possible answers to this phenomenon, the researchers led by Robert Zajonc ruled them out and found empathy to be the cause. When people empathize, they tend to mimic the other person’s facial expression. Over time, this can lead to couples sharing similar smiles and other facial expressions that cause them to look alike.

  2. Do we learn to laugh when tickled?

    Tickling is apparently a very interesting topic to psychologists and scientists, because the matter of whether we learn to laugh when tickled (or if it’s instinctive), as well as whether humans are the only tickled laughers have been studied multiple times. Professor Clarence Leuba used his own children to test whether they would laugh when tickled if he never laughed while tickling them. He even wore a mask while tickling to keep his facial expression hidden. Both of his children eventually began laughing when tickled despite never learning it from their parents. This isn’t a human phenomenon. Both rats and apes have been found to laugh (or at least their equivalent of laughing) when tickled!

  3. Do beards make people more or less trustworthy?

    Apparently, researchers sit around pondering the merits of beards. It appears, though, that the perceptions have changed over time. A 1979 study by Jurgen Klapprott found that students found male university professors less reliable if they had facial hair than if they were clean shaven. But a 2010 study showed that the tables may have turned, as people who saw bearded and clean-shaven men in advertisements were more likely to trust the men with neat, medium-length beards.

  4. Is this dog psychic?

    Even dogs aren’t off-limits to psychology enthusiasts. This study wasn’t exactly carried out by leading psychologists; paranormal experts set up the research to test the claim that a dog, Jatyee, could detect when his owner was returning home. The dog seemed to go out to the porch at the same moment that his owner started heading home. The study involved randomizing the owner’s routine, having the owner drive a different car, not allowing anyone in the house to know when the owner was returning home, and looking for other reasons that the dog might go to the porch. In the end, the researchers found that the dog did not have psychic abilities, regardless of how much we wanted to believe it.

  5. Will people do bad things just because they’re told to?

    The famous Milgram experiment is weird in the sense that it turned out exactly how you hoped it wouldn’t. Stanley Milgram tested how far participants would go, even hurting someone else, just because an authority figure told them to. Participants were told to give a participant in another room (who was actually an accomplice) a shock each time they answered a question wrong. The shocks increased in intensity as time went on. Even when they knew they were administering painful levels of electricity, the majority of the participants continued to the highest voltage level because an experimenter told them to continue with the experiment. The frightening results help explain how terrible events like the Holocaust and other genocides are able to happen.

  6. Are we all just one experiment away from total chaos?

    The Stanford prison experiment is another one of those so-bad-we-don’t-want-to-believe-it studies. To study the psychology of imprisonment, participants in the study were randomly assigned roles as prisoners and as guards. The speed and intensity at which the subjects adapted to their roles was alarming. Guards used authoritarian measures and psychological torture to keep prisoners in line. Prisoners submitted to it after an initial rebellion, and even the researcher fell into a role where he let the abuse happen. The experiment ended after just six days, but showed us just how easy it is to lose our civility.

  7. Can you condition a baby like Pavlov conditioned dogs?

    The answer is sadly “yes.” Behaviorist John B. Watson wanted to find out if he could program humans to have emotional responses, much like Pavlov’s dogs were trained to salivate in anticipation of food when they heard a bell. A nine-month-old called Little Albert was used as the test subject, and Watson conditioned him to fear rats by making a loud noise whenever a rat was shown. Albert eventually would begin to cry as soon as he saw the rat (and by some accounts, as soon as he saw anything white and furry). Though little kids develop all kinds of unreasonable fears, we at least normally let them happen naturally! Poor kid didn’t stand a chance.

  8. Are dudes bladder-shy?

    This experiment is totally worth the time of researchers and grad students, don’t you think? Researchers wanted to see how men were affected when someone chose the urinal right next to them. The results: it takes men much longer to start urinating when someone is close to them.

  9. How can a man confuse his wife for a hat?

    This famous situation wasn’t an experiment, but a case study of one man with visual agnosia. Visual agnosia, or mental blindness, occurs when the visual parts of the brain are damaged. Though the subject, Dr. P, can see, he can’t make sense of what he sees and can’t recognize objects and people. He often would confuse inanimate objects for people.