Necessity breeds invention.  At one time I was reduced to living off of green beans. That motivated me into publishing a highly cited study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, with the help of a very kind professor

As a poor grad student at the University of Pennsylvania, by the end of the first term I had literally (not figuratively) run out of money.  In early February, I had exhausted any holiday gift money.  I was broke. I went shopping with a friend and ended up buying 10 pounds of green beans for about 10 cents.  They were cheap because the greengrocer at the Italian market in South Philly was going to throw them out at the end of the day .

That was about all that I had to eat for the next couple weeks.  Not a welcoming thought.  But necessity is the mother of invention, or so says Frank Zappa.

I went to Dolf Zillmann, one of my professors whom I wanted to work with and admired, and asked him if he could hire me as a research assistant.

He told me he had funding, but could only use it if he had a study he could undertake.  Then he provided a challenge: Come up with the methodology required to help understand a concept he was working on called Excitation Transfer.  He took a few minutes to explain the concept and what he was looking for and sent me on my way.

Motivated by the promise of better grub than green beans, I hastily sketched out a scenario, building on previous psychology experiments I had done in undergraduate school.  I wrote it up and brought it back to Professor Zillmann.  He mused on it and declared that it would work.  We tweaked it, challenged it and then he hired me.

The end of the month I received a cheque for more than $30!  Big cash for me in those days, and I was on my way to finer dining.

We had to write scripts, locate machinery: a polygraph, an exercise cycle that could be controlled for work levels, a stethoscope, manometer, and a machine that gave electric shocks to people’s wrists.

For the next couple months, I ran undergraduates through our methodology.  Some students had to be given electric shocks, some not.  Nothing very painful. Kind of like the scene from Ghostbusters where the student spits out the gum.

During the course of the experiment, I carefully monitored responses and tallied the data.  Plus I logged the hours that kept me away from falling back into my green bean diet.

At the end of the experiment we ran statistical analyses and had significant findings.  The paper was good enough to get published in the prestigious Journal of Experimental Social Psychology and Dr. Zillmann was kind enough to include me as one of the authors. The study is still quoted to this day.  A recent Google got me more than 80 references.

So thank you Dr. Zillmann.  Whenever I see green beans, I remember your kindness.

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