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How to Get Trick-or-Treaters to Cheat the System

·353 words·2 mins
Psyched for the Weekend

Hello folks! Welcome to a very spooooooky Halloween edition of Psyched for the Weekend.

Well, kinda. Today I’m covering a classic Halloween-themed psychological research study. Yes, really. It’s called “ Effects of deindividuation variables on stealing among Halloween trick-or-treaters.”


You’re not scared? Well, whatever. I’m covering it. It’s related to another feature I did in this series about how people generally behave better when they feel like they’re being watched — BUT HALLOWEEN! So here’s the nitty gritty of today’s study:

In 1976 researchers set up an experiment using a few dozen different homes. Basically, at each house, a researcher would greet the trick-or-treating children and tell them they could take a single piece of candy from the bowl they’d set out. Then after telling the children that, they’d go back inside their house, leaving the candy unguarded, telling the children they had work to do.

At that point, the kids were left unattended and left to take the one piece, like they were instructed. Or scoop up as much as they wanted.

While this happened, a second researcher secretly observed and noted what the children did. The research team paid particular attention to the following:

  • Was the child part of a group or trick-or-treating alone?
  • Did they wear a mask?
  • How much candy did they take?

Here’s what the researchers found: If a child was all alone and wore no mask, they only took one piece of candy the overwhelming majority of the time (92.5%).

The children who were in groups and wearing masks were the most likely to take more than they were instructed to. They took extra candy almost 60% of the time.

This was thought to be because of a phenomenon called “deindividuation.” Essentially, the children felt more anonymous and less responsible for their actions when they were part of a group and wearing a mask.


This post is part of an ongoing Poly Land feature called Psyched for the Weekend, in which I geek out with brief takes about some of my favorite psychological studies and concepts. For the entire series, please see this link.



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