Sometimes scientific experiments sound like pranks. Case in point: a recent study that managed to turn a bunch of young men into the embodiment of every stereotype about old people driving. And all that was need was a driving simulator and some carefully chosen words.
As powerful as the mind is, it's remarkable just how easy it can be to hack. Here's how the experiment worked:
Under the guise of evaluating a head-up display in a driving simulator, 11 participants (5 men), ages 21 to 35 years, completed scrambled-sentence tasks (while waiting at stop signs) designed to prime an elderly stereotype. Each driver completed both the Elderly Stereotype and Control conditions with order counterbalanced across participants. Further, order of presentation of word sets for each trial was random.
Doesn't seem like all that much, does it? And yet the "elderly" words had a remarkable effect:
Driving speed and driving time between stop signs in the Elderly Stereotype condition were compared to the Control condition in which nonspecific age words were substituted for elderly stereotyped words. Participants showed lower maximum speed and longer driving time in the Elderly Stereotype condition than in the Control condition, even though participants reported no awareness of the theme in the experimental condition.
So, all you need to do is subconsciously put a stereotype in someone's mind, and then they'll unwittingly start acting up to those expectations. I've got no idea when the ability to turn people into elderly drivers at will could possibly be useful, but I'm definitely filing this one away for later.
Via NCBI ROFL.