Two filmmakers from Gothenburg, Sweden, decided to create an experiment using a 30-foot diving board at a swimming pool. They found a variety of willing volunteers to take part and then recorded the results. And what they discovered was fascinating.
Filmmakers Axel Danielson and Maximilien Van Aertryck offered volunteers the equivalent of $30 each to make the 30-foot jump from the diving board. Notably, the main requirement was that volunteers should not have dived from that height before. So, it would be a new experience for everyone involved.
As a result of an online ad that the filmmakers posted, they were able to attract 67 people to make the jump. The volunteers consisted of men and women of all ages. Each participant would climb the ladders to reach the top and then walk to the edge of the board.
The resulting short film Ten Meter Tower, titled Hopptornet in Swedish, is around 15 minutes long. It’s currently available to stream on The New York Times’ website, after being screened at the Sundance Film Festival. But why is the film so intriguing?
The two filmmakers said, “We filmed it all with six cameras and several microphones. It was important for us not to conceal the fact that this was an arranged situation, and thus we chose to show the microphones within the frame.”
In essence, Danielson and Van Aertryck sought to portray an emotion not often found in documentaries: doubt. They picked the 30-foot diving board because it would be a situation that everyone watching would be able to understand. Consequently, the film offers psychological insights.
On his website, Van Aertryck subsequently wrote, “Ten Meter Tower is an entertaining study of the human in a vulnerable position. People who have never been up there before have to choose whether to jump or climb down.”
One of the key elements of the experiment is peer pressure, since the other participants and the cameras force people into making a decision about whether to jump. Van Aertryck explained, “The situation itself highlights a dilemma: to weigh the instinctive fear of taking the step out against the humiliation of having to climb down.”
And given those circumstances, the film is very engaging. Viewers watch these strangers try to summon up the guts to make the jump, rooting for them. Additionally, we feel a person’s disappointment and frustration when they can’t bring themselves to make the leap.
“Ultimately, about 70 per cent of those who climbed did jump,” the directors told It’s Nice That. “We noticed that the presence of the camera, as well as the social pressure from those awaiting their turn beside the pool, pushed some of the participants to jump, which made their behavior even more interesting.”
The filmmakers felt that while the film is both short and amusing, it also offers an insight into human nature. “Overcoming our most cautious impulses with bravery unites all humankind,” they said. “It’s something that has shaped us through the ages.”
And the film certainly does offer up some amusing moments. One of the opening scenes consists of images of two divers in parallel shots: a young man on the left, and a little girl who is vocally psyching herself up on the right. The girl subsequently rushes and takes the leap, but the man stands on the edge, seemingly unable to move.
Moreover, the ability to take the leap wasn’t defined by age or gender. A tall young man tries to force himself off the edge, but has to give up and climb back down. In contrast, one female diver ends the film by fearlessly performing a backflip from the ledge, captured in slow motion.
Perhaps the most uplifting moment is that of an older lady in a blue swimming costume. Initially, she appears to struggle, her hands on her knees. At one point she even seems to give up, beginning the descent down the ladder, only to change her mind and jump from the edge.
The divers didn’t always have to go it alone, either. As an illustration, a couple named Linus and Frida ascended the tower together and then talked through the decision to jump for several minutes. Eventually, viewers are pleased to see them take the plunge, one after the other.
It is these interpersonal dynamics that make Ten Meter Tower such an interesting film. And there have been plenty of previous psychological experiments that explored similar themes. One prominent example is the Asch Conformity Study, which was conducted back in 1951.
Conceived by Dr. Solomon Asch, the experiment asked a simple question. A group of participants were given a sheet of paper with three lines drawn on it, each line a different length. Then, they were told to identify the longest line on the paper.
In truth, however, there was only one real participant per group. The rest were actors. And most of them would point to the wrong line, insisting that it was the longest. In this case, the experiment found that the peer pressure from the group would usually be enough to convince the real participant to give an answer that they knew was wrong.
Asch’s experiment demonstrated that the real participant would agree with the wrong answer most of the time. In other words, it showed that although we are intelligent individuals, our need to conform is generally a strong impulse. And that is a difficult thing to fight.
Both experiments show us that while we might think of ourselves in a certain way, our actions can clearly influenced by the attitudes of those around us. Whether we are showing signs of bravery or cowardice, individuality or conformity, we all have one thing in common. And that’s our humanity, warts and all.