That Changed Psychology – Summary Essay Sample

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In this study, Rosenthal and Jacobson study the idea of the self-fulfilling prophecy as it relates to teacher expectations of students. The study asks the question “Do our expectations influence actual events?” This question was raised long before Rosenthal and Jacobson completed their experiments.

In the early 1900, a horse who became known as “Clever Hans” became the subject of an experiment when it appeared that he could actually provide the correct answer to math questions by stomping out the answers with his hoof. An experiment performed by a psychologist, O. Pfungst, found that Clever Hans was actually receiving very subtle cues from his owner that influenced his responses. When the owner looked down at his hoofs, Hans began tapping and when the owner looked up, Hans stopped. The horse wasn’t actually doing math, but was responding to his owner’s silent commands.

This experiment with Clever Hans led to other experiments relating to unintentional influence of behavior. The questions that followed as a result of Clever Hans included questions related to the potential that a person’s bias or expectation can also influence the way another person responds or behaves. The bias may be unconscious and unintentional, but even these very subtle cues, may have an influence.  This phenomenon can cause problems for researchers as the observers unconscious signals can influence the outcome of an experiment. This is known as “experimenter expectancy effect.” When this occurs, the experiments validity can be in question.

            Researcher Robert Rosenthal examined this issue when he completed an experiment with psychology students. He told one group of students that they were working with rats bred to be quick learners and told another group of students that they were working with rats that had been bred to be slow learners. Actually, the rats were assigned randomly and were simply regular lab rats. The experiment showed that the students with the “quick learners” reported better results than the students with the “slow learners”.

            Rosenthal followed the rat experiment with another experiment related to education. This experiment was conducted with the consent of a public elementary school and to the teachers involved, appeared to simply be the administration of a particular IQ test. Students in grades 1 through 6 were given a test that the researcher called the “Harvard Test of Inflected Acquisition.” This was not the true name of the test and was in fact, an important part of the experiment.  It was explained to the teachers, that this test could predict that a student was entering a period of academic” blooming” , an increase in the students learning ability that would occur within the coming  year Th

is was not at all true and not possible to predict with the test utilized.

justify;">Following the test, the teachers were given the names of students who scored high and as such were identified as “academic bloomers”. In actuality, the “academic bloomers” were chosen randomly. Children’s actual academic progress was actually measured and the difference from the beginning of the experiment to the end of the experiment was revealing. . The results shoed that the students teachers expected to see excel, excelled in reality. For younger children, the difference was particularly noticeable. The younger children identified as bloomers, made significantly higher academic gains than those students not identified as academic bloomers did.

Rosenthal and Jacobson were able to conclude that there is proof for the notion that what you expect is what you get. They were also able to make an important finding related to education. With younger children particularly, high expectations can have a positive effect in the actual academic progress. Rosenthal and Jacobson conclude that the ability to influence teacher’s expectations is influenced by the age of the student’s. Teachers may already have a set of expectations for older students and so the results of one test may not be enough to influence the teacher.

For younger children, teachers may not have formed opinions or bias and may see the younger students as more malleable. Teacher’s expectations do have a component of the self-fulfilling prophecy.” When teachers expected that certain children would show greater intellectual development, those children did show greater intellectual development” (Rosenthal & Jacobson, 1968, p. 85). Rosenthal and Jacobson’s findings focus important attention to the influence teacher expectations have on the academic progress and long-term success of students.


Gibson, E. & Walk, R.D. (1960)


 Eleanor Gibson and Richard Walk created the visual cliff in order to conduct an experiment regarding depth perception. One question that Gibson and Walk wanted to explore was “are we born with depth perception, or is it learned?” The related question that Gibson and Walk wanted answered was; “Do infants learn by experience to avoid falls, or is it the development of depth perception that decreases the number of falls?” Their study examined the development of depth perception in humans as well as animals.

Gibson and Walk developed the experiment and constructed the visual cliff with safety of the infants involved, as well as the need to control all other stimuli except for what is necessary for the experiment. The visual cliff was built using a table that had a thick piece of glass on one-half of the table. The other half of the table was solid. A patterned cloth was placed over the solid part of the table and then draped down at the point where the glass section began. The effect of this construction gave the illusion of a cliff, without any real danger.

Infants between the ages of 6 and 18 months were placed on the table at the solid end, while their mothers were placed at the glass end of the able.  Each mother encouraged her baby to come to her, across the table. Of the thirty infants in the study, only three refused to move across the glass. Some of the babies crawled away from their mother even when encouraged to move over the “cliff”. Some of the babies cried in apparent frustration. It seemed quite apparent from the start of the experiment that infants have developed depth perception by the time they have the ability to crawl.

The same experiment was conducted with goats and chickens and none of the animals crossed over the glass end of the table. With baby rats, the results were different because rats are nocturnal animals accustomed to using senses other than sight for direction.

Gibson and Walker concluded that depth perception is inborn, but simply does not develop fully in humans until about the age of six months, at which time most infants can move independently.  Goats and chickens are able to move independently at birth. Gibson and Walk concluded that both humans and animals are able to discriminate depth from the time that they can are mobile.

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