Friday, January 25, 2008


I took a psychology class in college that required me to spend a certain number of hours as a guinea pig in psychological research classes. I was assured that this was so I could further my understanding of the methodology involved with formal research, and had nothing to do with creating a cheap and constant source of test subjects. It said so in the syllabus. That same document also said that I would fail if I didn't participate, even if I aced every other part of the class. I guess this important "understanding of the methodology" I was getting couldn't be reflected in a test score.

But I did learn from the experience. I learned two things, in fact:

1. If you want someone to go out of their way to help you, one way is to arrange things so that they have no other choice.

2. Psychological researchers are liars, and mostly they just like to mess with people.

About two sessions into my indentured service I realized that every study was it's own little joke. No matter what the sign-up sheet SAID the research was about, it's actually about some other thing:

"We're testing the correlation between intelligence and memory!" (But really they want to know if you think better around an authority figure)

"We want to know how different colors affect people's reaction time!" (Actually, we just want to see if you'll shock someone to get a piece of chocolate.)

"What's the relationship between family history and career choice?" (Haha, you're about to be sprayed with WATER!)

Once you understand the kind of formula they're working under, every session becomes a little game called "What are they really testing?" You begin questioning every little detail of the experiment, wondering how many of the people with you are actually confederates. Eventually you develop a pretty good eye for it.

Which is why I know that the construction near the building I work in is a complete ruse.

It started innocently enough. Just a few fences to block off the work area. For a while a gate was left open, so people could cut through when walking to and from their cars. Then sometimes that gate would be locked, but another gate (around the corner where you couldn't see it) would be closed but NOT locked. That was a little suspicious, but still reasonable.

When they put big, black sheets across every fence, though, I knew something was up. They'd gotten their control data, now they were adding conditions to see how people would react. It's a rat maze. A real life, sociological rate maze, and it's getting more elaborate every day. Currently, going from my car to my office involves walking around the border of my parking lot, through the green space, then down a set of stairs before finally (and this is the best part) walking right past the little snack store.

At last, I see where it was all going. No doubt this study is being sold as "how minor inconvenience affects office morale" when really it's closer to "how a big black fence can make for crazy-good soda sales."

Any day now, I expect to find a piece of cheese on the sidewalk.*

*Before immediately being sprayed with WATER!

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