Monday, October 6, 2014

What's the Use of Social Experiments?

My weekly art requirement is met by my weekend movie (or two or three). Last week, I watched a TV movie called The Pregnancy Project. It’s an adaptation of true-story about a Washington State high schooler - Gaby Rodriguez - who pretended to be pregnant to study the social stigma towards teen moms. This was, I learned, a social experiment.

                 I’ve never thought of society as a laboratory, and I’ve never dreamed of testing my hypotheses. But that is exactly what Gaby Rodriguez did- she had a hypothesis: that girls who accidentally became pregnant in high school were stereotyped and belittled for their mistake, and she had her model to test the hypothesis: pretending to have an unplanned teen pregnancy. What she found were what was expected, people sighing about her being a waste, and classmates jeering at her unideal future prospects.


              An organized and passionate student, Gaby rushed into the experiment as a research project without thinking of the social consequences. Deceiving such a large number of people as the entire student body and her family (save her mother) on such a large issue can be hard carry out, and also hard to comprehend. Cheating and lying, testing how people behave in a controlled circumstance makes them guinea pigs. Stimulating people’s emotions for observation purposes just doesn’t seem right - it’s like leading someone on.
              It’s all in the name of science, you may say. But I believe that experiments, scientific or not, must only be carried out when people are aware that they are being experimented on. In the case of social experiments, that just might defeat the purpose, but that’s the point isn’t it? Society is volatile. Carrying out an experiment with such wavering creatures as humans is pointless; there can never be a group which can accurately reflect society as a whole - every single person is different, and every single person changes their mind occasionally. What is accepted as largely true (from social experiments, surveys etc.) is useless knowledge because no one is truly like another in any view (even if two people agree on something, they may have different motivations, values etc. to do so), and no one stays the same (“I changed my mind” isn’t a fickle thing to say, it’s really very human).

                    General statements about society are things we have to stay away from; statistical data is almost never accurate and is constantly being updated (to versions that are antithetical to old ones). There are some facts about people’s thinking that are generally regarded as true, and maybe those who deny it need to have actual data to prove it to them, (See the Fat Girl Tinder Date social experiment where a woman put her profile up on an online dating website - Tinder- and then dressed up in a fat suit during her date with the men who checked her profile out..Almost all the men left citing the fact that she had “lied” about her appearance to them as a reason. In other words, they hated that she was fat. This experiment proved that men who date online like honesty right? No. This experiment apparently proved that most men don’t like fat women. That was a strong thesis, but it wasn’t really proven - I mean, what about the millions of men who actually don’t care about a woman’s body fat level (I think they exist) who didn’t show up for a date with this woman? There can never be solid facts in society- now that’s a solid facr) but it never works!

              Social experiments are like surveys, they can never really reflect society accurately; they can only provide a story of a likely majority, which might tip over anytime: tomorrow or ten years from now. Society cannot be experimented on because there is no typical behavior really! Everyone has their own minds that may seem to act in ways that are similar to others, but they act so for different reasons, incentives, and motivations..
                    While Gaby Rodriguez’ pregnancy project was illuminating about the social taboo that is teenage pregnancy, it wasn’t really a breakthrough in social thought. Everyone knew of the social stigma; it didn’t really need proving because it could been seen in the tone of print and online articles etc. Besides, a fake stimulation of people’s thoughts could be easily replaced by simply observing people’s thought processes when they encounter unstimulated, real circumstances. Such an experiment doesn’t do much good other than restate an already accepted thesis. What we must do is voice our concerns and wait for society to change because it is going to happen, not throw statistical data in people’s faces while also owning up to have manipulated their thoughts during an uninformed experiment.