Dr. Crowley's Experiment
by Shane Deruise Photography
Photographer: Shane Deruise
In 1824 Dr. Crowley, a graduate student in psychology at the University of North Carolina, designed an experiment to study whether emotions evoke characteristic facial expressions. For instance, is there one expression everyone uses to convey shock, and another commonly used to display disgust?
Most of Crowley's subjects were fellow graduate students. He brought them into his lab and they smoke peyote while discussing alchemy & women. He then exposed them to a variety of stimuli designed to provoke a strong psychological reaction. But the climax of the experiment arrived when he ordered them to tie down one of their closest colleagues and forced them to observe as he proceeded to decapitate him.
Most people initially resisted his request, but eventually two-thirds did as he ordered. Crowley noted that most of them performed the task quite clumsily: "The effort and attempt to hurry usually resulted in a rather awkward and prolonged job of decapitation." For the one-third that refused, well... I'm sure you know what came next.
Crowley's experiment presented a stunning display of the willingness of people to obey the demands of experimenters, no matter how bizarre those demands might be. It anticipated the results of Milgram's obedience experiment by almost one-hundred and forty years. Crowley remained single-mindedly focused on his initial research topic, and was never formerly charged with his colleagues murder.