How noble in reason! How infinite in faculties!

I’ve just started a book called ‘Irrationality’, about the irrational behaviour of human beings. So far, much of the general drift has been fairly familiar, but no matter how many times you get told about the untrustworthy tendencies of the human mind, the specific experiments are still startling. Three that happened to jump out at me:

‘In one study, a telephone call was made to a nurse by someone claiming to be a doctor in the hospital whom she had never met. he told her to give a patient a 20 mg dose of a drug called Aspoten (in reality a placebo), adding that she must give it immediately because he wanted the drug to take effect before he saw the patient, when he came to the ward. He added that he would sign the prescription then. Despite the fact that he had ordered twice the maximum dose set out on the label and that there was a rule that no one should administer a drug before the doctor had signed the prescription, 95 per cent of nurses approached complied.’

‘Subjects were encouraged to give (sham) electric shocks to a stooge. When they were dressed like nurses they became less aggressive than those normally dressed, while wearing Ku Klux Klan outfits made them very much more aggressive.’

‘In a simple experiment, four short lines were each labelled ‘A’ and four slightly longer ones ‘B’. People saw a bigger difference in the average length of the two sets of lines when they were labelled in this way than when no labels were attached.’

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