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Dr Stuart WG Derbyshire
senior lecturer at the School of Psychology at the University of Birmingham

I was 10 years old, and our schoolteacher played an excellent trick on us. He sent three of us outside to stand by the headmaster’s office, suggesting that we were in trouble. Moments later, one of the more ill-behaved boys – selected so as to be believable – left the class and came to talk to us. He explained that he was pretending to go to the toilet, and that we should know that Mr Tennant was planning to blindfold us and plunge our hands into boiling water on our return to the classroom.

Mr Tennant appeared next, went into the staff room, and then reappeared with a boiling kettle of water. Shortly after he returned to the classroom, Mr Tennant called the first student back in, and this was followed by loud shouting and screaming from the class. This happened again, and then it was my turn. Just as I had been warned, I was blindfolded on entering the classroom and led to a bucket of water. My hands were thrust into the water, and I screamed.

The water, of course, was merely tepid. After all the screaming and laughter, I couldn’t quite figure out if I had really felt it to be hot, or just anticipated that it would be hot. It was a bold experiment that energised the class for the remainder of the day, as we argued about the relationship between expectation and experience. Some 25 years later, I am still running experiments to try and figure out that relationship.

Stuart Derbyshire is a contributor to Animal Experimentation: Good or Bad? (buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)). See his website.