"Very well-researched and delivered in an engaging, breezy, wink-wink tone similar to that of Mark Leyner and Billy Goldberg's Why Do Men Have Nipples?, this will likely be enjoyed equally by science buffs and casual aficionados of the curious. One of the finest science/history bathroom books of all time."
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Web Hoax Museum

#8: Facial expressions while decapitating a rat
imageIn 1924 Carney Landis, a graduate student in psychology at the University of Minnesota, 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 Landis's subjects were fellow graduate students. He brought them into his lab and painted lines on their faces so that he could more easily see the movement of their muscles. He then exposed them to a variety of stimuli designed to provoke a strong psychological reaction. As they reacted, he snapped pictures of their faces. He made them smell ammonia, look at pornographic pictures, and reach their hand into a bucket containing slimy frogs. But the climax of the experiment arrived when he carried out a live white rat on a tray and asked them to decapitate it.

Most people initially resisted his request, but eventually two-thirds did as he ordered. Landis 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, Landis eventually picked up the knife and decapitated the rat for them.

Landis'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 forty years. However, Landis never realized that the compliance of his subjects was far more interesting than their facial expressions. Landis remained single-mindedly focused on his initial research topic, even though he never was able to match up emotions and expressions. It turns out that people use a wide variety of expressions to convey the same emotion — even an emotion such as disgust at having to decapitate a rat.

Listed in chronological order. Newest comments at the end.
Interesting that 2/3 would kill the rat when instructed too - the same % that would electricute the actor in the obedience experiment
Posted by edgore  on  Thu Sep 13, 2007  at  01:42 PM
In his somewhat recent book, Emotions Revealed, Paul Ekman makes a convincing argument that emotions evoke characteristic facial expressions.
Posted by John  on  Thu Sep 13, 2007  at  02:45 PM
Perhaps, rather than using "a wide variety of expressions to convey the same emotion," people experience a wide variety of emotions when decapitating rats.
Posted by David  on  Fri Sep 14, 2007  at  09:15 AM
thats so mean.
were the rats alive whilst being decapitated?
Posted by frankie.  on  Mon Feb 04, 2008  at  02:36 AM
Of course they were alive. If they weren't, this pointless, sadistic waste of time wouldn't have been as fun for the barbarians involved.
Posted by Patrick  on  Thu Feb 21, 2008  at  11:54 AM
Posted by igor  on  Wed Apr 02, 2008  at  09:14 AM
What a sick f**k. I work as a vet tech at an animal hospital and rats are very friendly, social creatures. They also scream when they are being hurt. For these people to "clumsily" decapitate a rat is just repulsive!
Posted by Jenna  on  Sun Apr 27, 2008  at  04:27 PM
i wish some cracked out scientist told me to behead a rat. i would initially refuse, and when he beheaded it in front of my i would have popped him a real sweet one right in the kidney and boot fucked him until he was unconscious and in a pulp. that would learn the ignorant bastard i thing or two. then i would steal his wallet, all his lab equipment, sell it all at half price, then go on a 3 week drinking binge. any takers?
Posted by bloodclot  on  Tue Sep 16, 2008  at  10:33 PM
Decapitating a rat? well all that tells me is that he liked to hurt harmless creatures for fun
Posted by Anna  on  Mon Oct 25, 2010  at  06:35 PM

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