In school, social interaction plays a crucial role and forms the core of one’s academic life. Have you ever been curious about what others are thinking? Have you ever found yourself wondering about the thoughts and opinions of others? This is something that crosses everyone’s mind. The study of social psychology gives you a peek into some of these interesting stances.
Social psychology is a field of psychology that investigates how the social environment shapes people’s thoughts, beliefs, and behavior. By studying social psychology, one can gain a deeper understanding of people’s actions and the consequences they have. Furthermore, engaging in practical experiments and activities can make this subject even more fascinating.
In this post, you will find such engaging specific activities that will offer students valuable hands-on experience in the field of social psychology, allowing them to gain practical knowledge and insights into this fascinating subject matter.
Social psychology experiments and activities for high school students
Here are a few interesting experiments and activities for high school students to learn about social psychology :
1. Bystander effect simulation
The bystander effect is a social psychology phenomenon that studies how an individual is unlikely to help in an urgent situation if surrounded by other people. Students can conduct experiments to study this effect in controlled settings. They can choose a social setting and select one person to pretend to need help, such as someone with a false injury struggling to cross the road or gather scattered items.
The remaining students can observe their behavior while amongst the public. This experiment aims to display the phenomenon called “diffusion of responsibility”. It will also help one understand the importance of helping people, acts of kindness, and empathetic understanding. Understanding the Bystander effect helps one understand the concept of social initiation, and can further be useful when a real social situation needs their intervention.
2. Conformity experiment
People tend to change their beliefs to match what they think is normal, which is called conformity bias. An experiment can be done to test this by asking a group of students to guess the length of a rod from three choices (25 cm, 30 cm, and 40 cm), with 25 cm being the correct answer.
Some students might be told to give the wrong answer (like 40 cm) and act like they are sure it’s right, giving confident explanations for the same. This creates a situation of peer pressure and social conformity, making the students want to fit in and therefore agree with the group.
Other students might start to do the same thing as well to fit in with their friends. This experiment shows how conformity bias works. It also teaches students about the effects of peer pressure and social conformity, and how acting like others can affect things like confidence.
3. The marshmallow test
The marshmallow test is a study about delaying pleasure, called delayed gratification. This happens when something else gets in the way of enjoying something right away. In an experiment such as this, immediate gratification can be understood as being given something delicious and eating it immediately. High school students can perform this experiment on preschoolers who are between three and five years old.
The students will randomly select a few children and observe them individually. Each child will be given one marshmallow at a time and will be told that they will be given one more marshmallow if they resist eating this one until the observer returns. This is the process of delayed gratification
The students would then observe and note the number of kids who attempted and succeeded in doing the same, and see if it agrees with their hypothesis. This test can help the students learn the importance of delayed gratification and how one can apply it to build virtues like discipline and organization.
4. Group polarization experiments
The society contributes tremendously to forming one’s beliefs, prejudices, stereotypes, and notions. This particular experiment focuses on how societal agreements and discussions can strengthen already existing beliefs, lead them to extremities, and increase the rigidity of one’s thoughts.
These experiments can take place both in classrooms and among peer groups. The first step is for students to express their opinions on a specific societal topic, such as gender norms. Then, the teacher can split the students into pairs, each holding a different viewpoint.
The pairs will engage in discussions about the topic, sharing their personal opinions and biases. This increases their insight into the topic and open to more agreeable or disagreeable opinions. As the next step, the students will be asked their personal stance on the same topics again after the discussion.
As per the hypothesis, their opinions will be more diversely spread and will have an increased intensity. This will help them notice any changes in the level of emphasis, aggressiveness, and rigidity of their opinions before and after the discussion. This experiment helps one realize the social effect on the rigidity of one’s thought formation and how social construct plays a role in molding one’s beliefs and values to polarized extremities.
5. Mirror neurons
The brain has a fascinating component called mirror neurons. Just like mirror images, these are activated by subconsciously copying or adapting to performing any action or feeling a certain emotion, because others are doing so.
This explains why laughter can be contagious, or when your friend feels sad without any apparent reason, you begin feeling down in the dumps too. This indicates how we have the natural ability to empathize and feel others’ emotions only by imagining us being in their shoes, or even by being in the same environment as they are. Conducting experiments and activities, such as imitation, can help us understand the workings of mirror neurons.
In a classroom or peer group setting, students can choose to perform a skit based on a story they know, but they must play a character they don’t particularly like. For instance, a student who dislikes Draco Malfoy from the Harry Potter series may be assigned to play that character. After the skit, the students can discuss the character traits of the parts they played and the qualities they possess.
In the end, it will be seen that the students have developed a sense of understanding and empathy towards the character that they previously disliked, by being in the same character for some time. Through these exercises, the students can learn how mirror neurons foster empathy, increase understanding, and make it easier to take on different perspectives.
6. Nonverbal cues and communication
Societal construct is built in a way that puts so much emphasis on communication skills but ironically conducts it more in nonverbal ways. For high school students, it is not only important for them to be aware of its importance, but to learn it through the perspective of social psychology. This can be manifested as a learning-based class activity similar to the game of dumb charades.
In this activity, the teacher or a peer will split the students into two teams. Then, one member from each team will be chosen to stand in front of the class and be given a list of emotions to express through facial expressions. Starting with simple emotions like happiness and sadness, they will gradually move on to more complex emotions like anticipation, confusion, grief, and sarcasm.
The other team members will have to guess the nonverbal cues being portrayed by their teammates and will earn five points for every correct guess. By working together, the class can gain a better understanding of nonverbal communication and its significant impact on even the smallest interactions. This fosters collaborative engagement and teamwork, along with increasing understanding and receptive levels.
7. Foot-in-the-door experiment
The foot-in-the-door technique is derived from the English idiom that means getting an initial start to something. This technique is studied in social psychology as a strategy used usually in the corporate or marketing sector. This social phenomenon can be observed in the form of organizing an activity like role play.
The class will be split into pairs, and each pair will act out a marketing scenario. For example, they might choose to sell a skincare product. In the scenario, the salesperson will start by offering a free sample product and explaining its qualities. This small request is more likely to be accepted by the customer as it does not require much attention or effort, or any form of financial demand.
Then, the salesperson will slowly follow up by convincing the customer to buy the product after trying it and agreeing with the description. In a social situation like this, it builds pressure on the customer to maintain the same agreeable behavior as before, which is why the customer will be more likely to buy the product. This experiment helps the student learn about social conformity and how society plays a role in shaping one’s moral values, categorizing their behavior as acceptable and non-acceptable.
8. Door-in-the-face experiment
This technique is the exact opposite of foot-in-the-door activity. In the case of a marketing strategy, it is used very smartly. High school students can conduct a social experiment with the permission and supervision of their teacher or faculty member.
The experiment involves inviting someone to a fundraiser organized by their school or institution. The students will start by making an unreasonable request, such as asking a random person to donate a thousand dollars to the charitable initiative of the fundraiser.
The person is likely to deny the request, but that denial can make the person feel guilty for responding negatively. The students will then follow up with a small request to attend the fundraiser event. This is now possible and easy for the person to agree to, and also calms down the guilt of denying the earlier request by forming an acceptable image of an agreeable person.
This experiment teaches students about the importance of social acceptability in building self-image and confidence. It also lets them get an insight into how society can play a role in both building their values and morals, while at the same time, inducing feelings of unease and guilt.
Wrapping it up
Already an intriguing subject, social psychology can be made even more fun by incorporating practical experiments and activities. The experiments done in social psychology are for observational and comprehensive purposes.
They aim to better one’s understanding of social settings and their impact on an individual’s mind, together forming a cohesive psycho-social educational experience. Additionally, students can also engage in psychology games and activities for more clarity on the subject matter. These activities will help you dive deeper into how society operates, and also get to look at it from an observer’s perspective, giving you a clear, unbiased, and non-judgmental view of social occurrences and phenomena.
- James M. Hudson, & Amy Bruckman. (2004). The Bystander Effect: A Lens for understanding patterns of participation. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 13(2), 165–195.
- Mischel Walter; Ebbesen, Ebbe B. (1970). “Attention in delay of gratification”. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 16 (2): 329–337.
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