Mind Matters: Pranks

When I was completing a PhD in clinical psychology, one of my classmates, Bob, came up with an idea for a prank.

A few of us would fill the office of a classmate, Dan, with balloons.

Bob, a financially strapped student like the rest of us, rented an air compressor and bought hundreds of large balloons.

He somehow gained access to Dan's office at night.

Then our merry band filled hundreds of balloons with air.

The tedious work would not have been too bad except that some balloons popped in our faces.

The loud sound was both unpleasant and dangerous to our hearing.

The next morning Dan was surprised to open his office door and see a room full of balloons.

During the day, one balloon or another popped randomly every few minutes.

Dan received a tongue lashing from an instructor who was trying to teach in an adjacent classroom.

Years later when I was an academic, I noticed one evening down the hall from my office crime scene tape.

I went to investigate and found a new ceiling crack, caused by the earth shifting under the building. Someone had put up the tape to keep people away from the crack.

Later that night, two of my research assistants and I drew the outline of a body on the floor near the crime-scene tape. Proud of our cleverness, I led a class of students to the area the next day "to see something interesting".

When we arrived, I saw a police officer looking at everything. I turned the group around immediately, without saying a word.

Later, I found out that a professor with an office near the body outline thought that it was a death threat and had called the police. Now that the prank statute of limitations has run out, I feel free to tell the tale.

I am not the only one to get involved in pranks. TV shows such as The Chasers' War on Everything featured prank after prank.

In one prank, a Chaser went into stores wearing a clear stocking over his head and acting like a normal customer.

What motivates pranksters? They usually do it for kicks, with little thought about the likely effects on the pranked individual.

I just moved a fake human tongue from an office shelf to a more conspicuous place on my desk. It will serve as a little prank.

What could go wrong?

John Malouff is an Associate Professor at the School of Behavioural, Cognitive and Social Sciences, University of New England.