What’s the Most Important Psychological Experiment That’s Never Been Done?

That is the very good question posed on the British Psychological Society’s research blog. The answers, provided by leading psychologists, are even better. In many cases, it’s not that the experiments haven’t been done, but that they can’t be, often for ethical or practical reasons. But even if the proposed experiments are only thought experiments, they are well worth reading. Some of my favorites:

Switching the parents around,” by Judith Rich Harris (about whom we wrote a bit in Freakonomics, and whom Malcolm Gladwell wrote about at length here).

The ‘Truman Show’ experiment,” by Jeremy Dean.

Challenging the conclusions drawn from Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment,” by Alex Haslam.

Is it worth asking: what’s the most important economics experiment that’s never been done?

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  1. SuprKufr says:

    How can one have “unchecked communism” in the first place? Communism is, by definition, the abolition of individual property rights. How can you do that without checking on people to make sure they aren’t harboring any property that the state, by definition, does not allow them to have?

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  2. SuprKufr says:

    How can one have “unchecked communism” in the first place? Communism is, by definition, the abolition of individual property rights. How can you do that without checking on people to make sure they aren’t harboring any property that the state, by definition, does not allow them to have?

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  3. Silvanus says:

    Regarding the Psychological What If experiments- I like their current #1 entry- measuring death.
    http://bps-research-digest.blogspot.com/2007/09/watching-death.html

    @Carol: Here’s the thing- unrestrained free markets and communism are not polar opposites. On the contrary, they are very similar in terms of central planning. Unrestrained free market (corporatism) aggregates wealth in the hands of the few- the only difference is whose central authority is calling the (inefficient) shots. All you have to do is follow Marx’s thought experiment to the logical conclusion- it is government intervention (trust busting) that keeps economic sectors viscous and capital free flowing between the economic sectors, slowing the calcification of the market and limiting individual choice.

    A few suggestions from a social scientist- “success” must be a multivariable determination- which probably requires standard of living, personal happiness, suicide rate, etc., to determine the effectiveness of any proposed economic system as a “success” or “failure” to the populations it is supposed to serve.

    Here’s an economics experiment that would be difficult but worthwhile- one of the ideological principals of free market liberalism is the privatization of every service or good. I’d like to see a cross comparison of resource management with government run services and private for profit organizations with every service and good produced on the planet. My humble hypothesis? Some goods and services will be more a more efficient use of resources with private for profit groups and some will not. I suggest that some services are not cost effective or a satisfactory product/service with the private sector (education, energy, currency, security, research, healthcare, fire protection, etc. should favor government programs) at the helm. Likewise, government is probably ineffective at producing shoes, automobiles, luxury items, etc.

    However, there is a wide spectrum in terms of private ownership- from the centrally planned economy of corporatism and the widely disbursed capital/means of production scene of early capitalism.

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  4. Silvanus says:

    Regarding the Psychological What If experiments- I like their current #1 entry- measuring death.
    http://bps-research-digest.blogspot.com/2007/09/watching-death.html

    @Carol: Here’s the thing- unrestrained free markets and communism are not polar opposites. On the contrary, they are very similar in terms of central planning. Unrestrained free market (corporatism) aggregates wealth in the hands of the few- the only difference is whose central authority is calling the (inefficient) shots. All you have to do is follow Marx’s thought experiment to the logical conclusion- it is government intervention (trust busting) that keeps economic sectors viscous and capital free flowing between the economic sectors, slowing the calcification of the market and limiting individual choice.

    A few suggestions from a social scientist- “success” must be a multivariable determination- which probably requires standard of living, personal happiness, suicide rate, etc., to determine the effectiveness of any proposed economic system as a “success” or “failure” to the populations it is supposed to serve.

    Here’s an economics experiment that would be difficult but worthwhile- one of the ideological principals of free market liberalism is the privatization of every service or good. I’d like to see a cross comparison of resource management with government run services and private for profit organizations with every service and good produced on the planet. My humble hypothesis? Some goods and services will be more a more efficient use of resources with private for profit groups and some will not. I suggest that some services are not cost effective or a satisfactory product/service with the private sector (education, energy, currency, security, research, healthcare, fire protection, etc. should favor government programs) at the helm. Likewise, government is probably ineffective at producing shoes, automobiles, luxury items, etc.

    However, there is a wide spectrum in terms of private ownership- from the centrally planned economy of corporatism and the widely disbursed capital/means of production scene of early capitalism.

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  5. James says:

    Can money actually buy happiness, and if so, how much?

    I bet at the end of the day you’d have some kind of normal distribution for happiness on the y and money on the x. Getting given $5 probably won’t make you terribly happy, but getting given $500 billion might well make you miserable too due to all the attention and fame you’d attract.

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  6. James says:

    Can money actually buy happiness, and if so, how much?

    I bet at the end of the day you’d have some kind of normal distribution for happiness on the y and money on the x. Getting given $5 probably won’t make you terribly happy, but getting given $500 billion might well make you miserable too due to all the attention and fame you’d attract.

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  7. Paul says:

    Here’s an econ experiment that’s never been tried: a truly free-market economy.

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  8. Paul says:

    Here’s an econ experiment that’s never been tried: a truly free-market economy.

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