By Billy Wang
Confused faces adorned the original inhabitants of a Brody Atrium study room one sunny Tuesday afternoon when freshmen students Tamara Villalon, Daniel Park, and Jane Shin barged in and promptly sat down to began studying.
After a few minutes, the new, unwelcome group of freshmen left the room in a huff, exclaiming that the previous occupants were too loud. Now why were these three being so annoying? It was for science, of course. They wanted to see how people at Hopkins would react to socially deviant behaviors.
“We’re really looking to explore people’s reactions,” Tamara explained.
“Let’s give people a situation they’re not used to dealing with and see how they handle it.”
Reactions to the experiment ranged from shock and disbelief to anger and annoyance. Outsiders sitting at the high tables adjacent to the study room reacted to the experiment with raised eyebrows and small smiles.
“This is absolutely hilarious,” exclaimed junior Jalen Doherty, who witnessed the event [on what day?] . “Do you think they’ll let me join them?”
This was just a taste of what these three sociology students were doing.
They were assigned to create, observe, and report upon an act of socially deviant behavior as part of learning about social deviation for their Introduction to Sociology class taught by Professor Timothy Nelson. Tamara Villalon, Daniel Park, and Jane Shin decided to run the experiment at the Brody Learning Center. According to You May Ask Yourself by Dalton Conley, the recommended textbook of Introduction to Sociology, social deviance is the transgression of any type of socially accepted norms. Breaching these norms usually results in a negative reaction from the public. These reactions can vary depending on the seriousness of the deviance.
“Brody is kind of like the heart of campus,” Park said. “It’s currently midterm season and Brody will be packed with students. This is a prime spot to disrupt social norms.”
The three freshmen wandered the Brody atrium for a few minutes to scope out possible study rooms that would be the subject of their experiment.
“We want to find a room that’s inhabited by more than one student,” Shin said. “This way we can get an accurate assessment of behavior in response to what we’re doing. Usually the behavior of people will be different if there’s one person compared to multiple people. An individual will be more accepting of social norm deviation if the they’re alone, which is not what we want.”
Shin referenced the popular elevator experiment originally conducted as part of a 1962 Candid Camera episode. In the experiment, a group of people rush into an elevator and face the wall rather than the doors. Again and again, those already in the elevator would follow the crowd and turn around to face the wrong way. “The people in the elevator reacted with acceptance and conformed,” Jane said. “However, if there was a large group of subjects that didn’t believe in facing the back wall, they would probably just regard the deviants with caution and curiosity. That’s the reaction we’re hoping to observe.”
Villalon quickly located a room in the Brody Atrium. The inhabitants were deep in discussion, coffee was scattered around the table, and material was being hastily scribbled on the whiteboards. In short, this was the perfect room to disrupt with a sociology experiment.
Our three sociologists quickly prepped for the plan and entered the room without hesitation.
“Oh is this room busy?” asked Tamara. Without waiting for a response, Tamara continued. “That’s ok we’ll just sit on the floor.”
Without missing a beat, the three researchers pulled out folders full of course material and began to study aloud. Everyone in the room stopped and stared at the researching group, exchanging angry and bewildered looks.
“We thought it would be best to practice [speaking] Chinese as a group,” laughed Jane. “I think one of the guys in the room was a native speaker. He was so perplexed at what we were doing.”
With step one of the experiment done, the three freshmen moved onto step two. Now whenever any of their victims spoke, the researching freshmen would snap at them and ask them to be quiet.
“I felt so bad.” said Villalon. “I felt so obnoxious and rude, but the reactions and responses we obtained for displaying such socially deviant behavior was very helpful.”
The original inhabitants whispered amongst themselves and shot confused looks at the freshmen group. Not satisfied with their reaction, Park decided to take things up a notch by commandeering the sole working marker of the room. This ended up being the last straw, and the original group decided to confront the researching freshmen.
“I was so scared,” Shin said. “This was the reaction we were expecting, but it was still a frightening experience.”
“I’m just surprised they didn’t yell at us,” remarked Park. “We were doing some pretty obnoxious things and they handled it very maturely.”
In response to the confrontation, our experimenters left the room, accusing their legitimate study neighbors of being too loud and disrupting the learning environment.
After consolidating and reviewing their information, the freshmen sociology group went back into the study room to explain their experiment and apologize for disruptions. The two groups shared a few laughs and it was all water under the bridge.
“This was a really rewarding experience,” remarked Jane. “It’s one thing to read about how society reacts to deviations from the norm, but it’s something else to experience it first-hand.”