I have always been an enthused spectator to science, particularly when it aims to show off just how messed up we humans can be. I wrote about the Milgram Experiment, in which doctors talked their subjects into inflicting painful electrical jolts through innocent people, and I’ve also touched on some of the more questionably ethical ways sciencey-types have tortured people in the name of figuring stuff out. It’s fun!
And there’s no shortage of potentially awful ideas in the psychological wheelhouse: hypotheses to explain our deviancy, antiquated pseudo-torture to test our malleability, and even borderline clinical dares, just to see how weak is our collective resolve. Prior to the drafting of the American Psychological Association’s code of ethics, all sorts of shenanigans were on the table.
Just as McDonald’s has successfully proven that our culture will go mad for a grotesque slab of questionable meatstuff, provided it’s a “limited time special” (a phenomenon I call McRibitis), a handful of strange experiments have exposed our tendencies for conformity in disturbing and stomach-swooshing ways.
Dr. John B. Watson, founder of behavioral psychology and apparently a part-time sadist, developed an exercise in experimental classical conditioning back in 1920. Working out of Johns Hopkins University, he and his assistant Rosalie Rayner wanted to see if they could implant an unnatural fear in an otherwise normal child’s mind. Watson observed that a child’s natural unconditioned response to a loud noise was fear. He wanted to use that un-doctored terror to condition a child to develop new fears.
I know, what an asshole right? Wait until you hear how he did it. Read more…
The esteemed American poet James Joseph Brown Jr. once wrote, “But when I get funky, I do the sap. And when I want lovin’, mother, she got to have. Say, you got to have a mother for me. Yeah, popcorn.”
And so it was.
Popcorn is one of the most universally beloved snacks by folks who don’t wear braces. It can exude so many personalities, from the puckish kiss of sweet caramel to the warm seductive sploosh of melted butter to that weird pink stuff in the box with the elephant on the front. That’s the popcorn the other popcorns don’t talk to at parties. There’s something not right about that guy.
But for the most part popcorn is a friendly snack, sharing our greatest movie experiences with us and even reminding us about the importance of flossing when one of its stubborn husks decides to take refuge behind a molar. And popcorn is a big business. Americans snarf down more than sixteen billion quarts of popcorn a year, which works out to about 51 quarts per person. That’s a lot of popcorn.
Having been raised with the metric system, I can only assume that 51 quarts looks something like this.
There’s an old legend about the Native Americans giving popcorn to the newly-landed Europeans, but a fair amount of archeological poking around the US has uncovered absolutely no evidence to support it. Corn was, however, a major crop down South America way, around where Peru sits today, and there’s evidence of popcorn having been consumed there close to seven thousand years ago. To be clear, they found corncobs that date from around 4700 B.C. – how they extrapolated that the corn was devoured in pop form, I have no clue. But the Smithsonian Museum said it happened, so who am I to argue? Read more…