This is a question that has been bugging me for a very long time.

Let me illustrate with a silly example.
Suppose that a study finds out that the majority of the population associate the number 1 with the colour blue (again, this is is a very silly example). Suppose this study becomes very popular and the result comes to be known to most people.
How will this knowledge of the experiment change behaviour?
Will the result still be the same after the study is known to the entire population?

I am not talking about the kind of results where we do not have influence on our behaviours, like our heart rate during a tense situation or how we react when our life is threatened. I am talking about experiments where we can make a conscious choice and is apparently "inconsequential" (so, nothing that poses harm to us).

//New Example//
The use of canned laughter in sitcoms -- Many of us by now have realised that laugh tracks are used in sitcoms to direct how the audience should react and make them think that what they are watching is funnier than it actually is (Example of Social Proof, which is nicely explained by Robert Cialdini). After I knew this, I actually found TV shows employing the technique to be less funny and in some cases, even annoying. (I assume that many people reacted the same way after finding out about it).
So the study of this particular behaviour actually made me react in the opposite way that the TV show producers intended and how the study says I should be behaving. Thus, changing the results of the study.

Are there other studies like this? How do we design experiments that are tolerant to this?

  • $\begingroup$ I don't think that psychological studies would necessarily change behaviour but can help to understand behaviours. Look at Milgram's Conformity Experiment and Phil Zimbardo on TED Talks for examples $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 14, 2017 at 22:59
  • $\begingroup$ @Chris I was talking about studies we can make a conscious choice, like Baba Shiv's experiment. What if this result is known to the entire population? Won't there be people who will deliberately choose salad because they know the already established results and hence change the results? $\endgroup$
    – user14713
    Commented Jan 14, 2017 at 23:15
  • $\begingroup$ Baba Shiv's experiment is another case in point with what I was saying. Even if everyone on this tiny planet knew of the experiment and its conclusions, how can change be achieved if we don't have the prefrontal cortex structure to affect the change? The experiment just allows us to understand why these things are happening. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 14, 2017 at 23:40
  • $\begingroup$ Just saw your edit and my first 2 links refer to experiments where we do make conscious choices $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 14, 2017 at 23:45
  • $\begingroup$ @Chris (In the case of Baba Shiv's experiment) Once people know they are in an experiment, they can choose the salad over the cake simply because they want to disapprove the existing results. $\endgroup$
    – user14713
    Commented Jan 15, 2017 at 12:42

1 Answer 1


I do have to note this question is broad and opinion based, according to the stack conventions. Nonetheless, I think it's an important question, given that scientific publications may alter the behavior of people en mass and even generate entire movements that, e.g., argue and campaign against vital medical interventions.

A notorious example being the retracted Lancet publication of the adverse effects of vaccination causing autism, based on fraudulent data (Rao & Andrade, 2011) by Wakefield (1998). This unfortunate paper has resulted in global anti-vaccine movements based on the fictional assumption that vaccination can cause autism.

- Rao & Andrade, Indian J Psychiatry (2011); 53(2): 95–6
- Wakefield et al., The Lancet (Retracted)

  • $\begingroup$ I never thought about publications leading to the creation of entire movements! Thank you! But I was trying to ask about how the knowledge of the results of behavioural studies can in turn change its results. I have explained it better (tried to) with another example in my second edit (new one). Sorry, but it's incredibly hard to put my question into words. $\endgroup$
    – user14713
    Commented Jan 20, 2017 at 20:25
  • $\begingroup$ Probably another example worth knowing about is the huge influence the Pygmalion effect paper had on US education, as described in The Self-Fulfillment of the Self-Fulfilling Prophecy. Perhaps about to be repeated in a way with Duckworth's grit: nytimes.com/2016/03/27/opinion/sunday/… $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 13, 2018 at 0:44

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.