Psychologist Jesse Bering has an interesting article in Scientific American about dangerous psychology studies where researchers have risked life and limb to carry out some of the more extreme experiments in psychology.
Some of the investigations are quite unethical by today’s standards – two researchers simulating a sexual assault in the street to see how people would react, putting periscopes in public urinals to measure urine flow – but are an interesting insight into studies of by gone years.
Actually, psychologists are wusses in comparison to sociologists and anthropologists who often do ethnographic research in the most extreme of situations.
One of my favourites examples is sociologist Simon Winlow who was in a research group studying violence in the night time economy.
After debating how one could research the sociology of night time violence in all its gory detail, he decided that the only way to fully understand the culture was to get a job as a bouncer and see what transpires.
As it turned out, what transpired was a fair amount of fighting, most of which he wrote up and published as a fascinating insight into the culture of commercial violence.
His paper, ‘Get Ready to Duck. Bouncers and the Realities of Ethnographic Research on Violent Groups’, is fascinating, and full of wonderfully euphemistic academic phrases.
I love: “Before our covert research could begin we debated the safety and ethical issues that would no doubt arise”. Translation: is it ethical to kick nine shades of shit out of your research subjects if they’re fronting up for a scrap?
He wrote the whole lot up as a book, which I’ve not read, but is apparently excellent.
However, he wasn’t the first sociologist to take a beating in the course of his research. In the paper he notes:
Sanchez-Jankowski (1990) in his ten-year study of gangs in Los Angeles, New York and Boston, was the subject of physical attack both as part of initiation rituals, and as a result of being falsely accused of being an informant, while Jacobs (1998) was robbed at gunpoint, and suffered telephone harassment by a crack dealer who was one of his research informants.
To return to Bering’s SciAm piece, it turns out he’s now writing a regular column for the magazine called ‘Bering in Mind’ which is freely available online.
As Bering is one of the most interesting evolutionary psychologists around, it should be a good read.