“William James and Me”

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William James Hall                 Harvard University

Besides the baby sitting jobs on the board, there were frequent offers to participate in psychological experiments which took place in the imposing William James Hall. These jobs were very lucrative, paying $10 or $20 for one hour or two of participation. The descriptions of the experiments were very vague, and it was hard to determine what I would have to do to earn the money.

This was just a couple of years after Timothy Leary had done LSD experiments with Harvard students, though he had been fired. It was also around the same time that Stanley Milgram at Yale was using paid volunteers in his infamous experiments with subjects believing they were administering electric shocks to other subjects. In other words, some dangerous trials were going on in Ivy League labs.

Fortunately for me, I took part in perception studies involving shapes and colors. I don’t remember any of the particulars, just that they were quite boring and paid well. I am glad that I wasn’t asked to ingest any substances nor that I had to interact in a malevolent way with anyone else. I’m not sure that I would have known how to say no to a Harvard professor running such an experiment. And I am grateful for all the signed subject consent forms that protect people today.

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