Should humans participate in science experiments?
Some help us understand our behavior. In one experiment, children, left alone with cookies, were promised double that serving if they delayed eating 15 minutes. Those who complied did better in school. Hurrah for delayed gratification! For kids, anyway.
Years ago, I, a Psychology 101 freshman, was required to “volunteer” for graduate students’ experiments. The first involved mental manipulation of geometric figures. The experimenter asked me to rotate a dodecahedron x number of degrees.
“Dode what? Is that a dinosaur?”
By session’s end, he’d gnawed his nails to itty-bitty trapezoids.
I’d enjoyed messing with his mind. Maybe I’d wreak revenge on a second experimenter for absorbing my Saturday morning.
But he wound wires around my fingers. When told I’d receive shocks if I didn’t recall random words, my inner oink-oink alarm sounded.
“Leave anytime you want,” the Mad Scientist assured me.
But I wouldn’t receive credit. Sacrifice another Saturday morning? I’d remember that list if it killed me.
Bad choice of words.
I aced a preliminary run. By the end of a second no-shock trial, though, I couldn’t remember my name.
Oink-oink-oink! I prepared to die.
Mad Scientist removed the wires.
“What?” I protested. “I won’t receive credit.”
He smiled. “We’re required to inform participants beforehand about any actual use of shock. Today, I merely measured anxiety’s effect on your learning.”
I considered measuring the effect of wires wound around his nose.
Years later, when I worked at a medical center, residents asked if I’d participate in an experiment.
The young doctors insisted, “No shock involved. No geometry. Just harmless sunscreen tests. We’ll pay $150.”
Hubby was in medical school. Our car had skated on bald tires all winter.
“Okay. But if you’re lying,” I said, “I’ll screen your girlfriends’ calls so you never date again.”
I earned an easy $150. My car retired from the Interstate Ice Capades. And the doctors’ dating lives flourished.
Since then, I’ve played guinea pig only in my grandchildren’s experiments. (“Grandma, can you go down the curly slide backwards with a straw up your nose?”) Worth it, though they haven’t offered $150.
If you encounter a grandparent experiment — or one involving cookies or sunscreen — serving as guinea pig can prove downright pleasant.
But if Mad Scientists wind wires around your fingers?
Heed that oink–oink-oink alarm. Run, guinea pig, run!
Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Have you ever been the guinea pig in an experiment?