Human Behavior Experiments: Euphoria, Anger, and Body Chemistry

About a human behavior experiment, a study on the effects of adrenaline and emotional responses in the feelings of euphoria and anger.


Many psychologists maintain that while environment and one's associates are important influences on behavior, body chemistry is the all-important factor in behavior. Stanley Schachter and Jerome E. Singer, of Columbia University and Pennsylvania State University, set out to discover to what degree behavior can be changed by altering a person's body chemistry.

Their subjects were told they were about to participate in an experiment which would test the effect of a chemical called epinephrine on vision. They were given an injection of epinephrine, which is actually another name for adrenaline. Some of the subjects were injected with a placebo to form a control group for comparison. All were told that the drug would take 15 or so minutes to enter their bloodstream sufficiently for the vision tests. In the meantime, a situation was set up to test their receptivity to 2 emotions, euphoria and anger.

In the euphoria situation, an actor, introduced as another subject, remained in the room with the 1st subject. They were left with a good supply of paper, pencils, and rubber bands and told they could doodle and generally amuse themselves until the drug had taken effect. The actor then began playing with the paper and rubber bands, making paper airplanes, playing a mock basketball game with balls of paper, and so on. The actor invited the subject to join in, and the subject was rated according to how he responded to this suggestion.

In the 2nd or anger experiment, both the subject and the actor were asked to fill out a long, personal, and often embarrassing questionnaire while waiting for the drug to take effect. The actor began by complaining about the 1st few questions and worked himself up into a fury over the later embarrassing ones. Subjects were rated according to how angry they got after 1st observing the actor and then having to answer the same questions.

One further factor was involved. One third of the subjects in the 1st experiment were told that the drug often would cause a more rapid heartbeat and pulse--the real side effects of adrenaline. Another 3rd were told to expect such side effects as numbness and itching, which do not actually occur in conjunction with adrenaline. The 3rd group was told nothing at all.

In the euphoria experiment, the subjects who had been misinformed reacted the most, followed by the ones who had been told nothing of side effects. Finally came those who had been correctly informed about what to expect and those who had been given the placebo. In the anger experiment, no subjects were misinformed, but those who were told nothing about side effects became considerably angrier than those who had been told what to expect or those who had been given a placebo.

The experimenters concluded that given unexplained physiological arousal, a person will experience heightened reaction to his surroundings. When given the correct explanation for the feeling of arousal, the individual is unlikely to respond as strongly to external stimuli. A person will feel more "centered." A person with wrong information as to an aroused state responds much the same as an uninformed person, since he is expecting other symptoms. Finally, given the same external stimuli, a person will react to these stimuli to a greater degree the more that he or she is physiologically aroused. One can see from this experiment that physiological factors are important in determining to what degree a person is susceptible to his or her surroundings (including its social pressures), but the experiment does not attempt to explain why some people release adrenaline spontaneously in certain situations, while others do not.

We are left with the same question: What makes some individuals victims of social roles and expectations to a greater degree than others? The final experiment discussed here touches on this question.

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