why does sticking a fork in a power socket electrocute you?


I swear this isn’t a troll question, it’s always been my understanding that electricity takes the path of least resistance, and silver is one of the best conducting metals, so if you did the sterotypical stick a fork in a power socket why does the power do anything to you when it can go through the much less resistive silver?

In: Physics

Electricity follows the pathetic of least resistance to the ground. You’re holding the fork, so the electricity goes through the fork to you, and then through you to the ground. This hurts a lot.

It goes thru the fork into you and then into the ground. Ur completing the circuit between the outlet and the ground.

Well, the electricity in the power socket doesn’t just sit there, it’s kind of under pressure. It wants to go somewhere neutral. It will happily take the path through a device, like a light bulb or a video game console, but in the absence of these things, it will go through the fork, through you and into the ground.

The power isn’t one continuous cylinder choosing which way to go. Some of it chooses to flow into you. I like to use a water analogy when explaining electricity.

Normally you have a faucet pouring water over stuff that falls down into the sink. Easy peasy and good.

But if you put a spoon in the path of the water, the water will splash every which way. It still might ultimately flow down into the drain, but the path it takes is bad for anyone is splash range.

And to get away from the analogy, your body is part of a parallel circuit. Upon sticking in the fork, your body has zero charge and for a split second all that power will want to flow to you rather than the path over the fork to the negative socket. That’s bad, and you get zapped. After that initial flow to your skin capacitance, it might still want to flow inside of you and overcome your skin’s resistance. That’s also bad cause heat happens. But let’s say you reach an equilibrium there. Even then an electron in the fork has a choice of flowing out the other tong of the fork to the ground socket, or flowing through you. MOST of the electrons will flow straight to ground and ignore you. But SOME will still go through your body and then back through the fork to ground, simply because so many other electrons are going over the fork and pushing them out.

So in a socket you got 3 wires, live, neutral and earth.

Earth is used to detect leaking current from an appliance and trip a breaker so you don’t get electrocuted when you for example, drop a toaster in your bathtub.

If you stuck a fork between live and neutral (socket neutral > fork > socket live), you would complete the circuit between those wires and not get shocked (don’t try it though), since that’s the path of least resistance. In this case, the fork will also become very hot, but by then you’ll have either blown a fuse or breaker will have tripped.

If you only touched live (or neutral, wires may be switched up in your building for any reason), with your body not isolated from the ground, you will complete the circuit between the fork and the ground. So, ground > body > fork > live wire from outlet.

This means even if the silver fork has the least resistance, current still has to pass through YOU, and it will!

I advise not to take chances and try the first one either. A big chance you’ll touch one slot first and get zapped anyway.

I didn’t see an explanation here that fully answers this. When electricity flows through anything, it creates resistance. When you close the circuit with the fork, some of the current continues to thresher through the fork, increasing the resistance in that circuit, at which point you become the path of least resistance and it starts traveling through you. This is why you get less voltage and not zero past you in the circuit.

AC = Alternating Current. Once you place the conduit (Fork) into the source (socket) you are completing the circuit as it travels through you (Ground)

there is resistance in the powerlines all the way to the generator. there is less ressistance going through a human than kilometers of metal

If you get a fork time in both slots there will be an arc flash as most of it goes through the fork to complete the loop. This will probably be enough to trip the breaker and cut the power. Problem is, your hand holding it provides a second route to the ground, and some to all of the current will take the path through you as the easier option depending on resistance. If you stick the fork in only one side, all of the electricity will go to you as the only route available.

It depends on how the fork is stuck into the socket.

In most countries, an electrical socket has three contacts: Hot, Neutral and Ground.

I’ll stick to North American sockets, because those are the ones I know.

If everything’s really wired up correctly in a North American socket, the Neutral and Ground should be tied together at the breaker panel, so there should be no harm in connecting Neutral to Ground. And indeed if you connect either one of those to Hot, the electricity should preferentially flow through the fork, making a nasty arc and popping the circuit breaker.

It’s comparatively much more dangerous to touch only the Hot: Depending on things like the material the floor is built out of, the material your shoes are made of, or if another part of your body is touching something grounded like a faucet knob or the side of your oven… you may conduct enough electricity well enough that you’ll be able to feel it, or it might even injure or kill you.