Seligman and Maier’s famous experiment regarding Learned Helplessness takes the number four spot in the Top 5 Psychological Experiments list. Seligman and Maier split a starting group of dogs up into 3 separate groups. All three groups were placed into harnesses that they couldn’t escape from. The dogs in Group 1 were simply kept in the harness for a period of time and then let loose. The dogs in Group 2 were shocked, a process which could be stopped by depressing a lever. The dogs in Group 3 were also shocked, but their lever didn’t stop the shocks. The Group 3 dogs learned that the shocks started and stopped at random, and that they were powerless to stop them.
For the second part of the experiment the dogs from all 3 groups were put into a box to receive electric shocks. This time there was no harness and the dogs could easily escape the shocks by jumping over a small partition. The dogs in Group 1 and Group 2 immediately jumped over the partition to escape the shocks, but the vast majority of dogs in Group 3 simply lay down and whined as they were shocked over and over. The Group 3 dogs had learned they were powerless to change their circumstances, and this “learned helplessness” stopped them from trying to escape the shocks.
Wendell Johnson’s infamous experiment on positive and negative reinforcement with children. Johnson gathered 22 orphan children and split them into two groups. The orphan children believed they were there to receive speech therapy. Johnson praised the children in the first group for their fluency of speech, and told them they didn’t have any speech problems. He criticized and belittled the children in the second group, telling them they had serious speech problems and reinforcing the notion that they could not speak normally. The normal-speaking children who received this continued negative reinforcement in the experiment suffered severe negative psychological effects. Many of the orphan children developed or retained speech problems for the rest of their lives. Wendell Johnson’s peers dubbed this experiment The Monster Study, because of the lack of caution and concern he showed for the 22 orphan children.