The Strip Search at McDonald's as an Example of Social Psychology Deviation

This terrifying story was reported on ABC News Primetime: a caller to a McDonald's restaurant pretended to be a police officer investigating a theft and demanded an 18 year old employee to be strip searched and do outrageous things in front of the McDonald's managers.

The criminal who made the phone call was discovered in part because the investigators ran a Google search and found that the event was not isolated. Now the caller and the people who participated in the strip search are on the way to get long prison sentences but the real question is how this terrible thing was allowed to happen in the first place.

The story was linked on the technology web site which uses the "wisdom of crowds" to promote stories to its front page. As one of the readers pointed out, the strip search story is an example of a deviation in social psychology confirmed by infamous experiments in the past:

- In the Milgram experiment, the experimenter (E) persuades the participant (S) to give what the participant believes are painful electric shocks to another participant (A), who is actually an actor. Many participants continued to give shocks despite pleas for mercy from the actor (source: Wikipedia)

- In the Stanford Prison Experiment, students ended up acting the role of guards all too realistically

These psychology experiments show that "common sense is not so common" (Voltaire) but there is something more. We all know that it is difficult to confront authority but if the directions given just do not make sense, somebody has to stand out and do the right thing. Knowing that we, as humans, are prone to blindly follow orders, hopefully will make us more vigilant in the future and help us to avoid repeats of the strip search story and similar abuses.

The New York Times recently featured an article about the Archives of the History of American Psychology. The museum is in the basement of a former department store in Akron, Ohio and contain more than 1,000 bizarre instruments including the uniforms and billy clubs used in the 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment. The Archives building is just 45 minutes from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland and two blocks from the Inventors Hall of Fame in Akron downtown.

Update 10/06/2007:
Jury: McDonald's should pay 6 millions for strip-search hoax. USA Today.

Restaurant Shift Turns Into Nightmare - ABC News Primetime.
A hoax most cruel - The Courier-Journal.
Milgram experiment - Wikipedia.
Stanford prison experiment - Wikipedia.
New Modeling Gig - Dr. Helen.
Bizarre and Infamous Join Scholarship in an Archive of Psychology - NY Times.
Image source: Wikipedia, created by Wapcaplet in Inkscape
Stanford Prison Experiment Videos on YouTube. Scientific American.
5 Psychological Experiments That Expose Humanity's Dark Side. Alexandra Gedrose


  1. "McDonald's training manual does include a section which cautions employees that "no legitimate law enforcement agency would ever ask you to conduct such a search.""

    It's amazing that anybody thought that such a section would be necessary.

  2. Better late than never- to the platypus I say this: good thing you weren't at McDonalds that night. How do you know McDonalds manual says that? How many employees ever got that manuel?


  3. I think the manager was really gulible, and idiotic. Now she’s trying to cover her ass with a bunch of excuses. The girl was obviously more experienced than she appeared in the report. No person, no 17 year old, would ever do something like what she did. She was stupid for talking to the television shows, because now anyone who knows her will harrasse her about this event. She tried to appear as a shy little girl, a victim of powerful adults. No teenager is this gullible. In this time an age, teenagers are more than likely the hardest to trick. The fiance of the manager obviously got what he deserved. The man that got off deserved to get off because he was not only having a laugh, but also bring to attention the idiots we have preparing out food. His actions were certainly not completely justified, but those that did what a simple voice on the phone said, deserve to have their eyes opened. They deserve the fruits of their own stupidity. Email me at if you would like to debate my reasoning.