Blogs: Impossible Experiments

PT bloggers discuss fantasy experiments in their fields and more.

By Matthew Hutson, published July 1, 2008 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

We asked several of PT's bloggers (read their rants, raves, and revelations at what experiment they would love to carry out if neither ethics nor practical reality stood in their way. Here's a sampling of their fantasy investigations:

Baby Swapping

I would collect all newborn babies and randomly reassign them to new parents. I'm confident that we will confirm the 50-0-50 rule: Adult personality is roughly 50 percent genetic, 0 percent how we were raised by our parents, and 50 percent socialization by peers and friends. I think we will discover that, within a broad range, it doesn't really matter how parents raise their children. —Satoshi Kanazawa (The Scientific Fundamentalist) is an evolutionary psychologist at the London School of Economics.

Universal Grammar

I would entirely determine the sentences and words children are presented with during infancy and childhood. For instance, you could deprive children of examples of some linguistic constructions. You could also add numerous nongrammatical constructions. Then see whether children develop a normal linguistic competence. If so, that would be very strong evidence that we possess a dedicated cognitive mechanism to help us acquire language. —Edouard Machery (Experiments in Philosophy) is a philosopher of psychology at the University of Pittsburgh.

The $64,000 Question

I've done some research on gambling and financial risk-taking, usually with payouts of a few dollars. But people might make different decisions about high- and low-stakes financial risks. And they might make different decisions about real vs. hypothetical gambles. So, what I modestly request is a billion dollars, so I can offer 1,000 people million-dollar payouts. That should appease my curiosity. —Dan Goldstein (Decisions, Decisions) is a psychologist at London Business School.

Love and Marriage

I would assign single people to a spouse who is chosen at random, or to a spouse who fits their description of their perfect partner, or to stay single. Now take happily married couples and randomly assign half of them to divorce! Who do you think would end up the happiest a decade later? —Bella DePaulo (Living Single) is a psychologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

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