Studying Behavior on Candid Camera
by Ron Kurtus (revised 14 December 2011)
Candid Camera was a hidden-camera television show that was popular during the 1950s and 1960s. Unsuspecting participants were filmed reacting to some unusual situation. Similar prank-type shows have been broadcast since then.
The original Candid Camera show was a great study of how people behaved in unusual circumstances. The issue in each Candid Camera event was: "How would a person respond to this crazy situation?" The results were often amusing to the viewer. The participant also was usually amused after he or she found out it was a joke.
The Candid Camera originator, Allen Funt said the show was about "catching people in the act of being themselves." Thus, the show was a study of human behavior, although I doubt the producers of the show ever thought of it that way.
Classification of some of the stunts concern how people conform, how they react to something puzzling, and how they react to annoyances. I've added analyses of these situations.
Questions you may have include:
- What are examples of people conforming?
- What stunts involve people being puzzled by something strange?
- How do people react when annoyed?
This lesson will answer those questions.
In some of the stunts, the behavior trait being studied was conformity.
For example, how would a person respond if he was:
- On an elevator and everyone else faced the rear?
- Applying for a job and other applicants did strange things?
An unsuspecting person gets on an elevator in an office building. Everyone else who gets on (all actors) turn to face the rear of the elevator. The person looks puzzled and then finally sheepishly also turns to the rear.
Personnel office stunt
An unsuspecting person is sitting in a personnel office with several other applicants (all actors). Soon one after an other gets up and takes a pencil out of a box. The person follows suit.
Each person does a number of unusual activities, as if this is what they were supposed to do. The final action is that each person goes up to a calendar on the wall and tears off a month. The unsuspecting person does what everyone else has done.
The various situations showed how people conform to what others do, even if it doesn't make sense. Of course, to the all-knowing audience, it is very amusing to see people do these things.
The reason people conform is that they are uncertain of what to do in a strange situation. They assume the others know what they are doing—even if it doesn't make sense—and that there must be a reason for the actions, so they do the same thing.
Rule of behavior
The rule of behavior in this case is:
If you are in a new situation, there are other people in the same situation who seem to know what they are doing, then you follow their actions.
In some of the stunts, the unsuspecting person saw something puzzling or strange, and his or her reaction was recorded for the amusement of the audience.
For example, hHow would a person respond if he:
- Tried to fix a car without an engine?
- Was confronted with a talking mailbox?
- Returned to a dry cleaners that had turned into a different business?
Car without an engine
An actress is in a car that had the engine removed. The car rolls down a hill into a filling station, as if she had driven there. She tells the mechanic that her has been acting up.
When he looks under the hood, he finds there is no engine. He is baffled at the situation. He says to himself, "How is this possible?"
In New York city, a man is about to put a letter in a mailbox, when it talks to him via a speaker inside. The mailbox says it is a new service from the Post Office. The man converses with the mailbox when a policeman idles over to see what is going on.
The man says to the cop, "Look, a talking mailbox." But then nothing happens.
The man says to the mailbox, "Say something to the cop." Still silence from the mailbox.
The policeman looks at the guy as if he is crazy.
A man brings in some clothes to a dry cleaners and is told by Allen Funt, acting as the proprietor, that he can pick them up in a few hours.
When the man comes back, the dry cleaners is now a travel agency. Allen Funt is still the proprietor.
The man is puzzled and wants his clothes, but Funt says this has always been a travel agency.
Of course, a person confronted with something that just didn't make sense would be puzzled and confused. That was funny to watch (which is an interesting behavior in itself).
The reason people act puzzled is because they expect things to be as they have seen them.
Rules of behavior
The rules of behavior in this case are:
If you see something one way, then you expect to see it the same way again.
If something does not follow the rules of consistency and logic, then you act puzzled and even confused.
In some it was miscellaneous annoyances. The question was: How would a person respond if he:
- Was repeatedly squirted in the face in a restaurant with a neighbor's grapefruit?
- Repeatedly had the coffee cup filled in a restaurant?
- Was given a much smaller helping that someone else?
The reaction is almost predictable, and it is funny because we can watch the person being annoyed.
Candid Camera showed how people would respond when confronted with unusual or strange situations. This was a study of human behavior for the sake of entertaining an audience. It also demonstrated the fact that people like to see how others respond to confusing situations.
Smile. You're on Candid Camera.
Resources and references
Candid Camera - Site for the new Candid Camera show, featuring the late Allen Funt's son, Peter Funt.
Candid Camera - History of show from Wikipedia
Funny Camera - Take-off of Candid Camera with short videos
Questions and comments
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Studying Behavior on Candid Camera