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Scientists are hiding under your bed

Illustration for article titled Scientists are hiding under your bed

Do you hear a scritch-scritch-scritch sound coming from under your bed? Don't worry. It's just a scientists down there, recording your uninteresting, "egocentric" chatter and preserving it forever.


Ah, the 1930s were an invigorating time for science! They combined the beginnings of modern equipment and methodology with a complete lack of anything resembling ethics. For the next 40-something years, people could be drugged, diseased, and made to cut off rat heads on camera, before informed consent came in and ruined everything. While almost anyone during that time should have done almost anything to avoid a psychologist, this time the psychologists didn't give them the choice. The researchers wanted to know what people's conversations were like when they were alone. So they found a way to listen in on people when they thought they were alone.


The psychologists started this little project in an unpleasant but not unethical way. They sidled up to people who were in public, but had no reason to suppose that anyone was eavesdropping on their conversation, and started writing. Restaurants and stores and garages and even public bathrooms had researchers scribbling away, recording what people said. But what about when people really thought they were having a private conversation? What about when they took steps to ensure their privacy, like going into their rooms and closing the door?

Illustration for article titled Scientists are hiding under your bed

Private homes did not allow for easy ingress, or provide easy places to hide, for the researchers. Fortunately, they could always turn to the one animal that has been studied more extensively than the common lab rat — the university student. Students lived in dorms that were accessible with a master key. They lived in small rooms. And they lived in rooms that provided an easy hiding place. Researchers would tuck themselves under the students' beds and listen to them. Using shorthand, they'd take down every word of what students said. Generally, they were only there during the day, and claimed that they only spied on such things as "tea parties." (We're willing to bet they caught at least one student undressed and singing into a hairbrush. At best.)

What did they find from committing appallingly creepy acts of home invasion? What do people talk about in private? Most people, the researchers found, turn the talk towards themselves, and they do it as much as possible. Hence the title of the paper that was eventually published — "Egocentricity in Adult Conversation." Yes, a bunch of people who disregarded privacy, broke into people's homes, recorded their conversations, and published them, had the nerve to make moral judgments of others. What I'm saying is, check under your bed tonight or some scientists will record whatever you say and be mean about it later.


[Via Journal of Social Psychology, Mindhacks]

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Poet Desmond

It would be really, really nice if the authors who post things they heard on QI the week before would acknowledge that that's where they're getting the inspiration for their articles. Seriously. We do notice.