Category Archives: Behavior

A Few Interesting Research Questions

In the pursuit of my degree, I came across numerous studies covering a wide spectrum of topics. Most of these were presented as support for the topics we discussed in class; X is caused by Y, and here’s a study that proves it. Some of these studies, such as Pavlov’s work with his dogs, have moved beyond the field itself into the realm of popular culture. As a student, I discovered that research questions are found rather than created. The idea behind this is that new studies are based on the questions left unanswered by prior research. That being said, here are a few interesting research questions that left me wondering where the researchers found them.


1. How easy is it to cut in line?

Turns out, it’s surprisingly easier than we think. Stanley Milgrim, an American social psychologist, is better known for an earlier study, the infamous Milgram Experiment. However, in the 80’s he studied the effect of line cutting. Having his experimenters cut into naturally forming lines, they noted the reactions of people in the line. When all was said and done, the results showed that you could get away with it, without objection from the other people in the line, roughly half the time. Not bad odds if you are needing to get through a line faster.


2. Does semen have antidepressant qualities?

This one is a bit newer and originates with Gordon Gallup Jr., a psychologist working at the University at Albany. A lot of Gallup’s work seems to focus on animal psychology, his claim to fame being a test that measures the amount of self-awareness an animal has. So, this study seems to come out of left field. Surveying a group of 239 college-aged women who were sexually active, Gallup found that those who had sex without a condom and, in theory, had direct contact with semen scored lower for depression than those who used condoms regularly. An interesting result, but probably a poor excuse not to wear a condom.


3. Can pigeon’s fly bombs?

B.F. Skinner, a man whose research into behavior is prolific, asked this simple question. In his defense, it was during the middle of World War II and the US military was looking for anything to give them an advantage in the war. Skinner’s concept was relatively simple:


A pigeon trained to peck at an image of a ship on a piece of glass for food is placed inside a bomb. The image on the glass was removed so that the pigeon pecks on the actual target. Next thing you know, you have a pigeon guided bomb.


The whole question proved to be a moot point, as a skeptical National Defense Research committee canceled the project in 1944. It was revisited again after the war but nothing came from this experiment. The Smithsonian National Museum of American History currently has one of the prototype nosecones on display, which I was lucky enough to visit this summer. As for Skinner, he was given $25k for his research and went on to become a professor at Harvard. Not too shabby.




For more information on these studies, see the links below:

Cutting in Line

Semen acts as an anti-depressant

Project Pigeon


Improve Yourself Using Feedback Loops

Wired has this amazing article about harnessing feedback loops to make yourself better. The concept of feedback loops is discussed in the article, but basically it involves a change in behavior based on information generated by a previous behavior which in turn generates more information, and so on and so on. Circular definition, I know. The article uses the example of new signs near school zones that show your speed next to the posted speed limit. I’ve seen a few of these crop up in town lately, and it’s particularly interesting to see the reasoning behind them, let alone learning about the positive impact they have.