The 60s Had All Sorts of Messed Up Experiments

by Christopher Paul on March 1, 2012

Researchers really didn’t give a shit about people back in the day. One of the worst, in my mind, are the sadistic Milgram experiments. But this one studying depth perception is up there, too. From Brain Pickings:

The researchers placed 36 babies, one at a time, on a countertop, half solid plastic covered with a checkered cloth and half clear Plexiglas, on the other side of which was the baby’s mother. To the baby crawling along the countertop, an abyss gapes open where the Plexiglas begins, signaling danger of falling, yet the solid feel of the surface offers ambiguous input. “Will I fall, or will I reach mom?,” the baby ponders.

The researchers found that to make the assessment, the babies relied on the mothers’ facial expression — a reassuring, happy one meant they kept crawling, and an alarmed, angry one made them stop at the edge of the Plexiglas.

When faced with emotional ambiguity, most of us remain babies on Plexiglas — we search for feedback to resolve uncertainty, and often forget that the Plexiglas is there, unflinching — a solid, albeit invisible, support. We just have to take the leap… or crawl, as it were.

It’s not that the babies were hurt in the experiment and they probably didn’t remember anything of it into their adulthood. But it makes me wonder what other experiments they did on babies (and people in general) that really messed with their minds.

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